June 29, 2011

distance has no way of making love understandable

A few days after I got back from my own soul-refreshing weekend in the stunning musical hamlet of Telluride, my good friend and music buddy Dainon took off from Florida for the Solid Sound Festival in western Massachusetts, curated by our beloved Wilco. This is a festival I have wanted to go to since I heard of its inception last year, but the timing is never quite right.

So when Dainon wrote out this lovely reflection for me about the festival, I decided I had to post them up as a guest review for the weekend-that-wasn’t for me. It’s almost as good as being there. Enjoy.

PS – damn my friends can write purdy!

How Wilco saved the music festival.

by guest contributor Dainon Moody

At some point last year, I took it upon myself to swear off music festivals. The reason? I got old. My back hurt too much and they were way too long and camping in a hailstorm sure sucked on toast. I would no longer dedicate chunks of my calendar and paycheck and the soft parts of my feet to proving my worth as a music listener. I’d had enough! Festivals were the blockbuster films of the music industry and all I wanted was more dialogue, less in-my-face effects and a quality story.

And then Doe Bay sold me with a single recap video. And then I learned I could take a water taxi from the airport to the Newport Folk Festival for a whole 10 hard-earned dollars and have Gillian Welch offer up some lullabies. And then Wilco went and reinvented how a few days of music and celebration ought to happen, simply because they’ve reached the point in their career that they could and can. They built it last year and the Wilco fanatics came in droves. They did it again this year, it poured down big buckets of rain the entire time and the Wilco fanatics smiled Cheshire grins, bought $2 garbage bag ponchos, sang along and danced in the mud puddles.

So, what I’m saying is, logic came into play. Viewing myself as one of those highly sensible sorts, it made sense, in the absence of the band having a new album out (three months!), to go see them perform a couple times in as many days on their own terms, along with a handful of their more musically-inclined friends. It made sense for them to finally have their own label and that they’d chosen an art museum to play in and that they did so in the quiet picturesque Mayberry of a town of North Adams, MA. Why not, right?

So I did it. And it was just a pleasure to see Jeff Tweedy give us a couple of the best shows I’ve been a witness to. Most tender “Reservations” ever heard. Loudest “Misunderstood” ever displayed. And, in what may be one of my favorite Wilco moments ever, having the microphone give out just before the end of “Radio Cure” on account of a thunder clap, causing all the thousands of wet attendees there to scream out the ending when Tweedy’s couldn’t be heard, no prompting whatsoever —“Distance has no way of making love understandable!” — it made for a long, beautiful moment. It even caused him to respond with, “You know, maybe that ought to happen more often.”

Also, can I just say that there are few more satisfying things in live music (and especially while taking in the many varied sounds that make up the collective that Wilco is) than experiencing Nels Cline making his guitar speak? Some songs in the catalog exist simply as bookends to his guitar solo; the singing, the drumming, the lights are simply there to house his shaking and squeezing the right sounds out of it.

When there wasn’t music, there was art (live silkscreening, installations throughout the MASS MoCA, The Impossible Project wandering around), where there wasn’t art, there was really good food (vegetarians openly rejoiced) and, when there wasn’t any of that, there was a grizzled old volunteer of a band follower to tell you exactly when he first saw Wilco and details for that and the seven shows to follow that glorious moment in time.

Of course, there were other bands, too. There was Philadelphia’s Purling Hiss (where three Wilco members were quickly spotted in the crowd), Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion stomp-clapping and singing and playing acoustically on a raised wooden indoor stage, the brand of happiness preaching that is JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound, Liam Finn with dual thundering drums (Glenn Kotche helping out on a second), Jamie Lidell offering up his wry humor with his rendition of “Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water” making its way round the raindrops and The Handsome Family plunking their way through engaging tunes of suicide, drinking too much wine on Christmas and lovelorn puddles (yes, really).

There was more, too. There was “California Stars” playing at the ticket booth. There were kids flying homemade kites up and down hills, bits of cotton floating through the air like lazy snowflakes. There were clouds so close and surrounding the area that it felt like we may as well be resting atop a big, cushy pile of them. Do I digress? Yes. And purposefully so.

In essence, what Jeff Tweedy and his cohorts did was not just play the pied pipers to see who would gather around their feet, but they reinvented the festival as we’ve come to know it. They took the parts that they didn’t much care for and improved on them, offering sandpaper for the roughest edges. This wasn’t so much a rock concert as it was a carefully created community, one that lasted a few glorious days long.

If I were the demanding sort, I’d want the band to know that, having booked a flight (a solo flight, no less) to Albany, renting a car and driving the couple hours to North Adams, sleeping in the car in a forest after the downpour didn’t allow me to camp any other way for two nights and then braving lightning and a damaged camera while watching them, well, I’d want them to acknowledge that I’d earned some new stripes as a fan. That I deserved some kind of stars-next-to-my-damn-name recognition, be it a nod from the stage or whatever. But I’m not much the demanding sort. And there are so many others that’d done pretty much the same.

I came, I filled myself up with the goodness of their creation and left a happier, more fulfilled fan of their music and the way they chose to present it to the collected masses and, in effect, the rest of the world. And, as long as other festivals follow suit, I’ll continue to change my misguided ways, promise. I just hope this bit of an extended Thank You card suffices. Wilco, you did good.

Handsome Family

Purling Hiss

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  • Damn that’s well written. Bravo, Dainon. Sounds like a great experience.

    Adam — June 29, 2011 @ 7:47 pm

  • Next time, you can stay at our house buddy. Great job describing the music – if you read and didn’t click on the MASSMoCA link go do it. If you don’t know what the museum is all about do yourself a favor and learn. Staggering.

    Billsville House — June 29, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

  • I am probably twice the age of this fine writer and therefore decades beyond the age where music festivals make sense any more, so my gratitude and love of Wilco and what they have done with Solid Sound at MassMoca is beyond measure.
    My wife and I attended Solid Sound 1 last year (with two teenage daughters raised on Wilco) and camped nearby. I had not slept in a tent for a decade, yet it never felt like roughing it. The days were such a delightful blur of music, food, fascinating surroundings and artistic journeys.
    This year we stayed at Bascomb Lodge on top of Mt Greylock. Part of the adventure was driving through clouds at night to return to our beds. Sure the Friday night storm was a pain- it drove me away from the field at a critical time and I missed the first 5 songs, but I was happy to be back soaking it all in. It was a great weekend and amazing to see all the improvements from year 1 to year 2 – greater food variety and food locations, Joe’s field available to all for the full day as a place to establish your base camp, the town folk still puzzled about who we are, but happy to see us again.
    We live an hour northwest of Toronto, so it takes 8-9 hours driving each way to make it happen, but I swear that I will make it happen everytime Wilco decides it should.

    Still Kicking (Mark Kennedy) — July 1, 2011 @ 7:42 am

  • I sure like the way you operate, Mark.

    Dainon — July 1, 2011 @ 8:15 am

  • Well done recap! My wife and I have been to both Solid Sounds, and I can attest it is a special experience. A week later and my feet have still not fully touched back down. Something about the combination of the Berkshires, the music everywhere you turn in funky little courtyards, the art, comedy, incredibly reasonably priced food and beer and water, pop up record store, coffee shop, musicians checking out the performances, the people ,no lines, and of course all hosted by Wilco, makes this a joyous experience. Even in the pouring rain and mud. Hoping for Solid Sound 3.

    Worldrecordplayer — July 1, 2011 @ 7:10 pm

  • I’ve been both years, though this year I only made it on Sunday to see the Levon Helm Band and a bit more. Levon’s voice is gone but the band was great, and he (barely) croaked out a couple of tunes himself. One of the highlights was Larry Campbell, Amy Helm, and Teresa Williams doing a stunning cover of the Dead’s “Attics of My Life.”

    By contrast, while Wilco and Levon Helm use music to bring people together, I caught a few minutes of Thurston Moore and Nels Cline and was struck by how out of place their heads-down, self-indulgent wankathon of atonal bullshit seemed.

    Chris — July 9, 2011 @ 8:20 pm

  • Hi,

    Despite not having seen them, I just know Wilco wouldn’t be the kind of band to disappoint. Just as well after that ordeal! They’re touring the UK later this year and have made a pledge to finally see them. Especially if the new single, ‘I will’ is anything to go by.
    I saw the Handsome Family and Neko Case a number of years back at the Union Chapel, London. A fantastic, intimate venue and they were great. ‘So Much Wine’ was a definite highlight! A nice enjoyable write up.

    Brian — July 12, 2011 @ 4:16 am

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

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