North Adams, nestled in the northwestern corner of Massachusetts, is a town where at Linda’s Cafe, Linda herself serves you sausage and French toast. Just a few miles away in Natural Bridge State Park, water gushes over stone channels deep in quarry caves, an old marble mine where the rocks are bowling-ball smooth from hundreds of years of current.
Every other summer, North Adams’ MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) hosts a music festival, headlined each night by indie-rock vets Wilco. On 13 acres of land in the Berkshires, visitors fill converted 19th-century brick factory buildings. They’ve come to listen to folk, Americana, blues, and jazz, taste craft beers brewed specifically for the festival, eat barbecue pulled pork and pan-fried dumplings from food trucks, and—since it’s an outdoor event—welcome the inevitable pouring rain with open arms.
Here are Sound of Boston’s takeaways from the 2015 Solid Sound Festival.
Hanging Harmonies on the Line: Luluc
Australian indie-folk duo Luluc (now Brooklyn-based) hung heavy harmonies on the line like soaked cotton. A grey sky dulled the courtyard and buzzed with blood-hungry mosquitos. People sank into lawn chairs on the pavement. Luluc played “Little Suitcase,” a song from their first record. “If I were to travel, will I find a new home or just more empty space?” sang Zoë Randell.
Featuring electric guitar played with a violin bow and tumbling folk lyrics, Luluc both soothed and shocked.
Everybody Dance Now: NRBQ
The unofficial “house band” for The Simpsons paid Solid Sound Festival a visit and turned the courtyard into a dance floor. Upbeat, block-party jazz-rock, each musician in NRBQ (New Rhythm and Blues Quartet) can cast out and reel in a solo like a seasoned fisherman—and have been since the late sixties. Their keyboardist, founding member Terry Adams, is the happiest-looking, most lively old person of all time. “We all got these wristbands—that means we’re locked in!” Adams exclaimed, his grey ponytail swishing from side to side.
Playing originals, bluesy Thelonious Monk covers, and un-mic’d cowbells, NRBQ spun the grey day into a jamboree.
Joan Baez Wannabe: Jessica Pratt
Just as NRBQ upped the energy, folk singer-songwriter Jessica Pratt sucked it back down. Pratt tuned her guitar while her musical partner, a mustachioed guitarist, gazed into the crowd. One would likely find more variation in style among Florida condominiums than in Pratt’s gloomy guitar-folk. “I’m just going to play one more song for you,” Pratt said, which sounded like an apology.
Kids played cornhole. A baby snoozed, draped over her dad’s shoulder like a bag of beans. Pratt strummed a final chord and vanished.
Pupu Platter of Pop: Cibo Matto
Italian for “crazy food,” Cibo Matto is a pupu platter of pop. Led by two Japanese women in sunglasses and a cross-dressing bassist, Cibo served up a mix of punk, grime-rock, and terrible rap. Unlike any other band at the festival, Cibo changed the pace of the day. It’s a good thing most of the art in the museum is wall paintings—had the art been hung Cibo might have rattled them off their nails.
Deep in the Pocket: Richard Thompson
The term “in the pocket” means grooving perfectly on-beat with other musicians. Richard Thompson grooved in the pocket deeper than cargo shorts Saturday on evening, rocking out to lawn loungers on the main field. His drummer stabbed at the set, hitting each drum with karate precision.
A freight train rolled by on the tracks behind the stage. A biplane zoomed above the green Berkshire bumps. “I wish I was a fool for you…” Thompson sang, a David Bowie-esque waver juggling his voice.
Canadian Comedy Bros: Mac DeMarco
Mac DeMarco is a bro. The 25-year-old jangle-pop musician from Canada resembles comedian Andy Samberg in both looks and goofiness. “Do we have any women in the audience tonight?” asked DeMarco. “This next song’s called ‘I’m a Man.’”
After an awesome, extended jam of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years,” DeMarco told the rain clouds to piss off. His bassist took off his shirt and asked the crowd if anyone had a floppy hat he could borrow. DeMarco’s other guitarist joked that mojitos were on him for the rest of the night. The troupe wrapped up their shtick and we waited for Wilco.
The Band the Rain Couldn’t Touch: Wilco
With two full-band sets—acoustic on Friday night, electric on Saturday—Wilco had the opportunity to crack open their extensive 20-year catalogue of songs. On Friday an acoustic “Jesus Etc.” had the field full of thousands singing along. “You’re the best singers, too,” frontman Jeff Tweedy said.
“Theologians” felt emptier than usual, piano taking a backseat, acoustic guitar driving the melody. A woman standing behind me talked to her friend; a few people turned around and shushed her.
On Saturday night Wilco opened with “I’m the Man That Loves You” from their 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and played a variety of songs—“Art of Almost,” “Kamera,” and “Box Full of Letters.” On “Impossible Germany” Wilco’s lead guitarist, Nels Cline, performed an impossible solo, each note howling out of his guitar, talking back to Tweedy’s guitar accompaniment. Rolling Stone included Cline in their list of 100 best guitarists of all time in 2011. Saturday night, I found out why.
After concluding their set, the crowd lured Wilco back to the stage for an encore. The beer tent kegs were running dry, the temperature dropping, the rain falling more steadily. Wilco played into the night.