Solid Sound Festival: Music & Arts Curated by Wilco at MASS MoCA


North Adams, Massachusetts isn’t the most accessible location for a music festival, and our six-hour bus ride robbed us of the opening festivities, but Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art more than made up for its far-flung locale. Steeling ourselves for the usual festival gripes, we were pleasantly surprised by two days of laid-back tunes and comfortable surroundings in the gorgeous Berkshires, with affordable, local eats and drinks, short lines, and (gasp) indoor bathrooms. Jeff Tweedy himself hinted at a round two for next summer, so here’s hoping the inaugural Solid Sound was the first of many more to come.

Wilco’s takeover of the MASS MoCA was absolute.

Festivalgoers congregating on the courtyard in front of a stage

Waiting for Wilco in Joe’s Field

Dodging the high noon sun on the courtyard

Stellar graphic design + the appropriate cold beverage = a festivalgoer’s dream

Backstage in the courtyard, before Vetiver

Sneaking a peek of the “Solid Staff” T-shirts from inside the MASS MoCA

Brenda’s tight-knit, melodic rock was a good warm up for the coffee-swilling crowd.

Towards the end of Brenda’s set, Wilco could be heard sound-checking from Joe’s Field, and everyone rushed to a footbridge to listen. We were shooed off shortly after, but here’s a clip of “Say You Miss Me” from Being There.

Drag City family member Sir Richard Bishop mesmerized people on the smaller outdoor stage, with flamenco- and North African-tinged acoustic and electric guitar. According to Tweedy, the two met at a Sun City Girls show, of which Bishop was a founding member.

Devendra Banhart didn’t make an appearance, but Vetiver and their lush, calming strains needed no help in winning over the all-ages crowd, who were just beginning to feel the warm summer sun and plentiful Magic Hat.

Yes, this really happened. Jeff later blamed his raspy voice on getting dunked, calling it a “dumb idea,” but we’re pretty sure he was just being crotchety.

On the comedy stage, Kristen Schaal shared her new one-woman play with us: “The Taintologues.” We felt empowered. Or grossed out. You decide.

Mountain Man were, in fact, the sweet and striking voices of three women, and not of bearded masculine types. Currently on tour with Deer Tick, they’re reminiscent of Carter Family harmonies, making a strong statement amidst what had so far been a dudefest.

The Decapitalization Circus kept folks in line for Mavis Staples and Wilco entertained with their eff-the-system take on circus performance, employing a big band and DIY costumes and structures to make jabs at the World Bank and the American economy as a whole.

Legendary soul and gospel singer Mavis Staples’ new album You Are Not Alone is produced by Jeff Tweedy, so it’s only natural that she opened for Wilco at Joe’s Field. The most special moment of her set was a rendition of “The Weight,” which she performed with The Band in 1978’s The Last Waltz. She was quite a saleswoman, too, shilling for the new record before launching into the title track with Tweedy.

Wilco played for more than two hours, drawing from a fan-determined set list that festivalgoers could add to on the band’s website. Favorites like “A Shot in the Arm” and “Hate it Here” showed up, plus deeper cuts such as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot demo “A Magazine Called Sunset” (“for the six or seven fans of this song who are very good with the computer,” Tweedy cracked) and “California Stars” from Mermaid Avenue.

’90s vets Outrageous Cherry began the final day of Solid Sound.

The threat of rain chased folks inside to the dimly-lit theater where we had seen comedy the day before, which made for a less than festive atmosphere. No matter, as the the Autumn Defense (featuring Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche and bassist John Stirratt switching up their instruments) played as if they were still out in Saturday’s sun, with crunchy ’60s harmonies and the song “Every Day” from their new album, Once Around.

We popped into a gallery upstairs to check out Wall to Wall Wilco, an exhibit featuring silkscreened concert posters from 1996 to the present. We were also lucky enough to catch a silkscreen demonstration by Peter Cardoso of Ghost Town Design on our way in.

Those expecting Wilco, the Sequel from the Nels Cline Singers were to be disappointed, but we can honestly say that the Singers played the most creative and amazing set we had seen all weekend. A special guest appearance by Yuka Honda, founding member of Cibo Matto and musical force in her own right, only added to the surreal and brilliant chaos.

Reluctantly, we took our place on the line for Joe’s Field, where Jeff Tweedy and friends would perform the final set of Solid Sound. Light rain sprinkled the field, and after opening his set with “Sunken Treasure,” Tweedy remarked, “I brought the clouds.”

After covering Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate” and Loose Fur’s “The Ruling Class” (hey, where was Loose Fur anyway!?), Tweedy went on to bring members of virtually every band that played during the festival on stage to do a song they had chosen. A rendition of “Ingrid Bergman” with Nick Zammuto of The Books was probably our favorite moment, but it’s hard to choose between that and “Dash 7” with Nels Cline, or Neil Young’s “Look Out for My Love” with Avi Buffalo, or any of the other incredible songs in the set. Check out a clip of Wilco’s “Please Be Patient With Me” above.