Wilco's Spectacular Solid Sound Fest Returns to Mass. MoCA

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"This is really great," said Jeff Tweedy from the stage at the Solid Sound Fest in North Adams, Mass. on Saturday night. With the lofty Berkshires on one side and the sprawling facades of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, or Mass. MoCA, on the other, he addressed the vast expanse of humanity before him. "This is what we all need to do. As long as we are here all together, creating art or just enjoying it, then whatever it is — and you know what I'm talking about, whatever it is — cannot win.”

<p>Jeff Tweedy of Wilco at the 2017 Solid Sound Festival at Mass. MoCA</p>

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco at the 2017 Solid Sound Festival at Mass. MoCA

SUSIE DAVIDSON

He continued. “Woody Guthrie knew what he was talking about. And he probably said it a lot better than I can. But at least we got to work with some of his words." And Wilco went into "One By One" from Mermaid Avenue, the three-volume 1998 set they released with British musician Billy Bragg, who surely would have agreed with the sentiment.

Tweedy was in jovial form, at one point speculating that a feathered stage visitor could be an unmanned military drone. He had just released the solo acoustic Jeff Tweedy's Together At Last on June 23, and the prior week, had appeared twice on Late Night with Seth Meyers. On the previous night Wilco played their entire, fan-chosen 1996 LP “Being There,” and then, 2002’s classic, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.”

<p>Solid Sound Festival Poster</p>

Solid Sound Festival Poster

SOLIDSOUNDFESTIVAL.COM

The sold-out Solid Sound, a biennial fest that began in 2010, drew 8,500 attendees from 47 states and 21 countries to a modern-day, Woodstockian three days of music on four stages, as well as comedy, art, record and gift shops, great local food and drink, and kids’ activities. In addition to a scavenger hunt, another charmer was a live session with food author Mark Bittman, and those angling for a stretch could take guided naturalist hikes with the Berkshire Natural Resources Council.

We immediately headed to the heralded new wing via Courtyard D, but were waylaid there by Big Thief, an emotionally captivating indie quartet that pulled us right in.

<p>Big Thief at Solid Sound Festival 2017, Mass. MoCA</p>

Big Thief at Solid Sound Festival 2017, Mass. MoCA

SUSIE DAVIDSON

Heading back for coffee, we then caught the absurdly entertaining talk-show format of Jean Grae's The Show Show with DJ Quelle Chris at the Hunter Center. Their video takeoffs on benign themes such as Olive Garden led to a bizzaro interview with Nick Offerman. The weekend’s comedy also included John Hodgman's Comedy Stage, Michelle Buteau, Hari Kondabolu, and Eugene Mirman.

<p>Peter Wolf at Solid Sound Festival 2017</p>

Peter Wolf at Solid Sound Festival 2017

SUSIE DAVIDSON

Wolf was in perennial fine form, and delightfully revisited several J. Geils Band chestnuts. As last year’s “A Cure For Loneliness” LP proves, there’s no slowing down. His soulful, raw rock and R&B will never go out of style, and the crowd was likewise revved and rocking.

<p>Peter Wolf and the Midnight Travelers at Solid Sound Festival 2017</p>

Peter Wolf and the Midnight Travelers at Solid Sound Festival 2017

SUSIE DAVIDSON

We climbed up the side hill at Joe’s Field numerous times to catch some shade (the vista also provided a fun, aerial view of Bread and Puppet Theater’s colorfully-costumed antics), and finally, wandered through Building 6. Named for the museum’s longtime supporter, the Robert W. Wilson Building had just opened on May 28. Wilson, a hedge-fund founder and philanthropist, was 87 when, this past Dec. 23, he tragically leapt 16 stories to his death at his Central Park West residence.

Wilson’s legacy is well perpetuated within the boundless galleries of the eponymous building, situated upon divergent branches of the Hoosic River. Mindbending works by James Turrell; Jenny Holzer; Louise Bourgeois; Gunnar Schonbeck and others fill the gargantuan hallways, augmented by rotating exhibits by the likes of Nick Cave, whose “Until” features 16,000 colorfully spinning circles, some with sobering images of guns, bullets, tears and targets. Massive, almost grotesque, overhead chandeliers likewise harbor startling, racial lawn ornaments installed as a reaction to the escalation of police shootings of black men.

<p>Nick Cave’s “Until” exhibit at Mass. MoCA’s B6: The Robert W. Wilson Building</p>

Nick Cave’s “Until” exhibit at Mass. MoCA’s B6: The Robert W. Wilson Building

MASSMOCA.ORG
<p>Nick Cave’s “Until” exhibit at Mass. MoCA’s B6: The Robert W. Wilson Building</p>

Nick Cave’s “Until” exhibit at Mass. MoCA’s B6: The Robert W. Wilson Building

MASSMOCA.ORG
<p>Laurie Anderson’s wall drawings at Mass. MoCA’s B6: The Robert W. Wilson Building</p>

Laurie Anderson’s wall drawings at Mass. MoCA’s B6: The Robert W. Wilson Building

SUSIE DAVIDSON

We checked out Laurie Anderson’s wall-sized drawings and Robert Rauschenberg’s “The Lurid Attack of the Monsters from the Postal News August 1875,” an eye-opening 1981 sculpture from his Kabal American Zephyr series.

<p>Dave takes in Robert Rauschenberg’s exhibits at Mass. MoCA’s massive B6: The Robert W. Wilson Building.</p>

Dave takes in Robert Rauschenberg’s exhibits at Mass. MoCA’s massive B6: The Robert W. Wilson Building.

SUSIE DAVIDSON

Joe Wardwell’s “Hello America: 40 Hits from the 50 States” (the subtitle inspired by a Negativland tune) stopped us in our tracks. The brightly-hued, mesmerizing giant wall piece by Wardwell, an associate professor of Fine Arts at Brandeis University, features quotes from presidential campaigns and song lyrics and words from, among others, Grandmaster Flash, Jello Biafra, Chuck D, Barack Obama, Maya Angelou, Abraham Lincoln, and Henry Rollins. Giant overshadowing letters spell out lines from Mission of Burma’s “Fame and Fortune.”

<p>Joe Wardwell’s “Hello America: 40 Hits from the 50 States” at Mass. MoCA’s B6: The Robert W. Wilson Building</p>

Joe Wardwell’s “Hello America: 40 Hits from the 50 States” at Mass. MoCA’s B6: The Robert W. Wilson Building

SUSIE DAVIDSON

Speaking of which, Burma co-founder and Alloy Orchestra keyboardist Roger C. Miller was over at the Hunter with film-score mates Terry Donahue (who plays “junk percussion,” “musical saw” and accordion) and Ken Winokur (percussion and clarinet), readying their evening soundscape for the 1926 Japanese film “Page of Madness.”

<p>Alloy Orchestra’s (l to r) Ken Winokur, Terry Donahue and Roger Miller prepare for their evening Solid Sound Festival show at Mass. MoCA’s Hunter Center.</p>

Alloy Orchestra’s (l to r) Ken Winokur, Terry Donahue and Roger Miller prepare for their evening Solid Sound Festival show at Mass. MoCA’s Hunter Center.

SUSIE DAVIDSON

I asked Miller if the madness motif invited extra experimenting and super outre instrumentation.

“Definitely. It allows us complete freedom to go all the way out,” he responded. “Besides Ken and Terry's usual bowing of metal and clanging/scraping things, I used some sounds I created years ago — marbles rolling inside a drum slowed down three octaves, children's toys altered to sound like messages from another dimension, that sort of thing.” The movie’s lengthy scenes allow for improvisation as well. “Usually our scores are fairly tightly scripted, but here we can let loose,” Miller explained.

On the prior night, Alloy performed their score for the 1929 USSR film “Man with a Movie Camera.”

Alloy has appeared many times at MassMoCA. “It's an extremely comfortable place for us,” Miller said, noting that Mission of Burma has played there as well, and the museum has also hosted his “Surrealist Games.” With Wardwell’s mural, he said they are pretty well embedded, but it is still always an honor.

Burma has opened for Wilco, and has shared bills with Tweedy.

<p>BLUEBERNIE Kombucha from Aqua ViTea at Solid Sound Festival</p>

BLUEBERNIE Kombucha from Aqua ViTea at Solid Sound Festival

SUSIE DAVIDSON

After that, we stuffed our faces with Asian fare and pizza, and our stomachs with “BlueBernie” from Aqua ViTea Kombucha, but not before checking out some vinyl records and then taking in the Robert Glasper Experiment, a free-wheeling electronic ensemble featuring the Grammy-winning Glasper on keys. Was it sampling hip-hop? Jazzy R&B? Slow-tempo dance groove? Contemporary soul in a gospel style? We didn’t know, but joined the revelry of awe-struck spectators who were mentally and physically into their every note. Observing this, our only questioning quibble with the fest was the paucity of attendees of color, and we wondered why that was. The acts were certainly diverse, but there was no denying that it was an overwhelmingly lily-white crowd. Maybe 2019 will be different.

<p>The Robert Glasper Experiment at the Solid Sound Festival, 2017 at Mass. MoCA</p>

The Robert Glasper Experiment at the Solid Sound Festival, 2017 at Mass. MoCA

SUSIE DAVIDSON

We soon headed back to Joe’s Field for Television, where I queued in with photographers allowed to shoot under the stage for just the first three songs of each act.

<p>Tom Verlaine of Television at the Solid Sound Festival 2017</p>

Tom Verlaine of Television at the Solid Sound Festival 2017

SUSIE DAVIDSON

No worries; it is music to be savored from a distance, as the cult-favorites ably brought back the CBGB late-70s New York punk scene and showed why they still command massive appeal. Tom Verlaine’s distinctive and ever-influential guitarwork was accompanied by Blondie session guitarist Jimmy Rip, and fans were rewarded with a soaring "Marquee Moon," from the album rated Number 130 on Rolling Stone's 2003 list of the Greatest 500 Albums of All Time.

<p>Television perform at the Solid Sound Festival 2017.</p>

Television perform at the Solid Sound Festival 2017.

SUSIE DAVIDSON

Kurt Vile and The Violators followed, led by the endearing, modern-day troubadour Vile, who seems far older than his years.

<p>Kurt Vile and the Violators at the Solid Sound Festival, 2017</p>

Kurt Vile and the Violators at the Solid Sound Festival, 2017

SUSIE DAVIDSON
<p>Kurt Vile at the Solid Sound Festival 2017</p>

Kurt Vile at the Solid Sound Festival 2017

SUSIE DAVIDSON

We missed The Shaggs, Kevin Morby, Deep Sea Diver, the Jeff Parker Trio, and Kacy & Clayton ... and that was only Saturday! Weekend shows also included Dawn of Midi, Dave & Phil Alvin, Andy Shauf and others.

MassMoCA, listed in the National Historic Register, is a major player in the artistic revitalization of Massachusetts’ smallest and least populated city. North Adams is also among the state’s most economically distressed municipalities, largely attributed to the 1985 closing of Sprague Electric, where the museum now sits. Local mills concurrently ground to a slow but certain halt as Main Street became ghostly, and attendant social problems proliferated.

But MassMoCA’s 1999 takeover of the 26 dormant, 19th-century mill buildings on 16 acres spawned a new era. Its passages, courtyards, bridges, viaducts, alcoves and other unique structural attributes both reflect the past and add to the visitor experience. The museum’s 250,000 square feet of spaces, some naturally lit, allow for showcasing renowned and emerging artists. But with over 75 annual live events featuring dance, cabaret, world music, indie, alt-bluegrass, and artist workshops, educational programs, tours, theatre, and outdoor films with live music, it is hardly an exhibition center per se. Astride its campus is the 4.5 star-rated Porches Inn, a 47-room bed and breakfast set in renovated 19th century Victorian row houses.

Public art, festivals and events complement the nearly two dozen galleries and museums along Main Street, including, at number 51, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts’ Gallery 51.

North Adams may still have a ways to go, but with the awesome beauty of the Berkshires playing host to this cascading creative buzz, there’s every reason to believe it will get there. We’ll be back to see.

<p>Wilco closes out the Solid Sound Festival 2017 at Mass. MoCA.</p>

Wilco closes out the Solid Sound Festival 2017 at Mass. MoCA.

SUSIE DAVIDSON

Susie Davidson tweets at @SusieDavidsonMA.