MASS MoCA’s crazy summer

MASS MoCA’s crazy summer

A day before the info is released to the public, The Alt is pleased to offer its readers an exclusive look at some exciting additions to MASS MoCA’s FreshGrass lineup. The newly announced artists include Shovels and Rope, Sarah Jarosz, Crooked Still (who reunites for their only show of 2017), The Lil Smokies, Red Baraat, Dom Flemons, Sunny Jain, Mike and Ruthy, Whiskey Treaty Roadshow, and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. Read more about FreshGrass below, and check out the artist bios at after May 18.  

As MASS MoCA prepares to unveil its massive Building 6 project, concert amenities, and expanded slate of long-term exhibitions, it’s easy to forget that the contemporary arts juggernaut is also fast at work preparing for its summer concerts and the start of the festival season. MASS MoCA’s festival business, which is already booming, shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, the opening of Building 6 will bring a round of applause from concertgoers and musicians alike for its new festival bathrooms, which are accessible from the concert field and courtyard; dressing rooms and social areas for performers; and a new catering kitchen. In addition, concertgoers will be able to wind their way through the massive circulation loops inside the Museum, which offer new views and sightlines of performances areas (and new areas for pop-up concerts). The improvements and the new installations will make the experience even more memorable and inimitable. A sampling of upcoming concerts include Cake, My Morning Jacket, Joan Osborne Plays Bob Dylan, and a showing of Mad Max with a live score performed by Morricone Youth. Those are all well and good on their own, but MASS MoCA also offers three major festivals between now and mid-September: Solid Sound, Bang on a Can, and FreshGrass.

Solid Sound Festival | June

Solid Sound, Wilco’s three-day music and arts festival, takes over the campus on June 23 through 25. Every two years, Solid Sound brings Wilco fans from all around the globe to North Adams. Some 9,000 concertgoers traverse the MASS MoCA campus, where the stunning, evocative contemporary art installations mingle with musicians, pop-up concerts, food, drink, comedy, and spectacle. This year’s line-up includes Television, The Autumn Defense, Kurt Vile and The Pyramids, Tweedy, Deep Sea Diver, Peter Wolf and the Midnight Travelers, and so many others, including comedians John Hodgman, Michael Ian Black, Nick Offerman, and Eugene Mirman. It is always electric, fun, and entertaining, especially when Wilco plays (Friday and Saturday nights). You get the sense that Wilco puts their heart and sweat into this festival, but it is also the case that MASS MoCA’s setting provides the perfect jumping off point for the band’s crazy, funky, ambitious ideas. “I can’t imagine a place more inspiring than MASS MoCA,’’ Jeff Tweedy remarked to the Boston Globe during the runup to the third festival (2013). More than a few times, Tweedy expressed his desire for a destination festival where the band was fully integrated into the overall experience – this is what Wilco and MASS MoCA have created, and it’s inspiring to see how Wilco brings their fans into the mix. This year, for example, Wilco asked people to vote on which album they should play in its entirely during the Friday set. (Being There is currently in the lead, with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot not far behind.) Much of Solid Sound has a carnival-like feel to it. It overflows with activities, which include theater, puppetry, storytelling, falconry, and comedy. You never know quite what to expect until you’re there. Whether you’re a fan of Wilco or not, this is one of the big festival events of the year.

Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival | July and August

Bang on a Can is MASS MoCA’s longest-running music festival, and it has a life of its own. The internationally renowned group was founded by Julia Wolfe, David Lang, and Michael Gordon, and they’ve been a shining beacon of contemporary classical and/or experimental music since the late 1980s. Fifteen years ago, Bang on a Can began hosting a Summer Institute for young composers and performers at MASS MoCA. Words cannot do it justice. For three week every summer, an army of genius musicians fills the galleries, halls, courtyards, theaters, and office spaces with contemporary classical music. The musicians at work (and play) form a sort of soundtrack to MASS MoCA’s mid-summer experience. This year’s festival features the World Premiere Composer Concert on July 31, in which 40 young composers and musicians will debut nine new works written for the festival; the annual Concert at the Lake on August 2, which offers an “avant-variety” show at Windsor Lake; After Hours at The Chalet, which pairs spontaneous music with MASS MoCA’s summer beer garden; the Bang on a Can All-Stars on July 29; and daily gallery recitals and pop-up concerts. On July 30, Mark Stewart (one of those geniuses mentioned above) and the Institute fellows will perform on the found-object instruments created by Gunnar Schonbeck. The Schonbeck instruments–and the gallery and interactive space devoted to showcasing them–are part of MASS MoCA’s Building 6 project, which opens to the public on May 28. And, of course, each festival concludes with the Bang on a Can Marathon, which is a six-hour marathon concert and music-going experience like no other. Visit MASS MoCA between July 19 and August 5, and you’ll see, hear, and feel the music as it zips, buzzes, and rings throughout the campus.   

FreshGrass | September

September is FreshGrass season. MASS MoCA’s collision of new grass, bluegrass, and art has only gotten more popular over the years. Now, its lineup of more than 50 bands plus workshops, luthier demonstrations, camping, and jam sessions rivals any roots-based music festival within driving distance of the Capital Region. It is the place to be on September 15, 16, to 17. Like Solid Sound, the festival offers multiple stages and an eclectic mix of music, art, food, and drink. I can’t say enough about how the Museum’s contemporary art takes the festival experience to new heights. From food trucks and farmstands to Robert Rauschenberg and James Turrell, from Brandi Carlile and The Wood Brothers to Sol Lewitt’s wall drawings and Spencer Finch’s “Cosmic Latte,” you will not find this experience anywhere else, no matter how hard you try. FreshGrass’ line-up just expanded to include Shovels and Rope, Sarah Jarosz, Crooked Still, The Lil Smokies, Red Baraat, Dom Flemons, Sunny Jain, Mike and Ruthy, Whiskey Treaty Roadshow, and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. The previously announced lineup was already fresh with Brandi Carlile, Railroad Earth, The Del McCoury Band, The Wood Brothers, Alison Brown, The Suitcase Junket and so many others. For fans of folk, roots, Americana, or whatever label you want to throw on it, FreshGrass is a can’t-miss festival of the year, complete with moonshine slushies.   

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