New locale, same great music at Green River Festival

  • Jon Batiste, the New Orleans-bred pianist and singer who is the bandleader on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” will perform Saturday at the Green River Festival at the Franklin County Fairgrounds. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/LOUIS BROWNE

  • Sound guru John “Klondike” Koehler, graphics designer Nan Parati (also a Greenfield Recorder columnist) and Green River Festival Production Manager Peter Hamelin put their heads together to figure out the details of the Green River Festival coming to the Franklin County Fairgrounds this weekend. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Local acts have always been a big part of the Green River Festival. Local singer-songwriter Kimaya Diggs is included in this year’s lineup. Contributed photo

  • Local acts have always been a big part of the Green River Festival. Local folk artist Jeffrey Foucault is included in this year’s lineup.

For the Recorder
Published: 8/25/2021 2:27:48 PM
Modified: 8/25/2021 2:27:50 PM

GREENFIELD — Though it will look a bit different than longtime festival-goers remember with a new venue and new health safety guidelines, the city is welcoming back the annual Green River Festival.

The three-day event will return to Greenfield this weekend after being canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the impact of the virus, there will be some changes this year, the biggest being the festival’s move to the Franklin County Fairgrounds after being held at Greenfield Community College since its inception in 1986. The move came about because the college is not open this summer.

When the festival started in 1986, it was a small two-band event. Now in its 34th year, it has grown to be one of the premier summer music festivals in New England, one that has won high praise from publications like Rolling Stone magazine and the New York Times.

Festival-goers seem to be enthused to see the return of this popular event as tickets sold briskly, with weekend passes and Friday and Saturday tickets sold out.

“For safety reasons, we limited the number of tickets we are selling to 5,000 per day (it’s normally 6,000) to make sure there is enough space so that everyone can be comfortable,” said Festival Director Jim Olsen of Signature Sounds Recordings of Northampton, which presents the Green River Festival. “There are some tickets still left for Sunday, but not many.”

There are nearly 50 bands and solo acts performing on three stages. The music performed will cover a wide range of styles but primarily falls under the broad umbrella of American roots music. There will also be local food, beer and wine, the makers market that sells local crafts, and children’s activities.

Unfortunately, one of the defining aspects of the festival, the hot air balloons, is not possible this year as the fairground site is surrounded by wires and other obstructions. The new location is just not a suitable launch site for the beloved balloons.

New location

The festival, which is usually held in mid-July, was pushed back to late August to give people more time to be vaccinated and feel safe to attend. The rise of COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant has impacted this, however, and Signature Sounds is working closely with state and local health officials to ensure that the festival is safe.

“We are asking our audience to be vaccinated, be masked, don’t come if you are sick or have been around someone who is sick — and that is a message that we are going to hammer home now that we are in the home stretch,” Olsen said.

Putting on a festival is always a challenge and a lot of work, but even more so this year with COVID-19 concerns and dealing with a new location. After last year’s cancellation, Signature Sounds decided in January to move forward with plans to hold the festival in 2021. Organizers had originally hoped to simply reschedule the 2020 festival, but that proved impossible.

“We had to start the process all over in terms of booking the acts and around that same time we found out that Greenfield Community College said they probably weren’t going to be open over the summer,” Olsen said.

Fortunately, the festival had been using the fairgrounds for camping since 2016.

“We were very lucky to have the fairgrounds as an option,” Olsen said. “And as we have gotten further into the process, we are finding what a good site the fairgrounds is. It has more space and is a better infrastructure for us. I think it’s going to be great, and we are excited about it.”

One big advantage of the new site, which has 28 acres to use, is that it is more accessible for attendees with disabilities. There are paved walkways and roads to use, and fully accessible bathrooms.

“We are still going to have three stages, and I think it’s going to work out really well,” Olsen added. “The main stage will be in the middle of the infield, halfway down facing the entrance. And believe it or not, it’s a bigger space than the field at GCC.”

The campers will return, but the numbers have been kept way down and camping passes are sold out. Both the RVs and tent campers will have their own designated locations in the area behind the main stage and barns.

Many buildings are at the site, but again, due to health concerns, they will not be open to the public this year.

It was recently announced that Paste Magazine will bring its streaming series “Paste Studio on the Road” to the festival. Exclusive sessions will be livestreamed from the Roundhouse with festival artists all weekend long, which will be available on Facebook or Paste’s YouTube channel.

There is less parking at the fairgrounds than was available at GCC and all onsite parking passes are sold out. The city of Greenfield is offering free parking all weekend in public lots and the parking garage. Free parking will also be available in the old Wedgewood Gardens site on Kimball Drive and free shuttles will continuously run from these locations to the fairgrounds.

The lineup

When asked who he was most excited to have booked, Olsen didn’t hesitate to say Jon Batiste, the New Orleans-bred pianist and singer who is the bandleader on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” His star is fast on the rise, thanks in part to his reputation as a fantastic live act.

Batiste will play Saturday night, and don’t be surprised if this is the last time he performs at a venue this size.

“We got a real coup in getting Jon Batiste,” said Olsen, who has been booking the talent for the festival since its beginning. (He took over as director in 2014.) “He has had such an amazing year and it really started with that Pixar movie ‘Soul’ that he won an Oscar for, and then he put out an incredible album and he keeps cranking out these amazing videos and live performances. He is such a unique talent.”

Americana artist Shakey Graves will take the stage Friday night, despite having canceled some recent festival appearances due to concerns over increasing COVID-19 cases.

“Shakey was touring in another part of the country that’s not doing so well, so he pulled out of some dates, but he’ll be here,” Olsen said.

One great thing about attending the Green River Festival is discovering new favorites, so Olsen made some recommendations.

“Sammy Rae & The Friends are the first band on Friday, and they’ve got a big buzz on them right now,” he said. “Don’t miss them.”

Other bands that will appear this year are alt-folk rocker Ani DiFranco, southern rockers Drive-By Truckers and rising honky-tonk musician Sierra Ferrell. A few acts that were scheduled to appear in 2020 will take part, including retro rocker JD McPherson and folk supergroup Bonny Light Horseman that includes Eric D. Johnson, Josh Kaufman and Anais Mitchell.

Local acts have always been a big part of the festival, and this year some of these will include singer-songwriter Kimaya Diggs, neo-soul funk band Soul Magnets and folk artists Kris Delmhorst and Jeffrey Foucault, who both record for the Signature Sounds record label. Little Roots is one of the bands that will be on hand for children.

In addition to the three days of music at the Franklin County Fairgrounds, Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center and Signature Sounds have teamed up to offer the Green River Festival Kick-Off Party on Thursday at 8 p.m. at the 289 Main St. venue. This show will feature music from Gabriel Bernini, Sun Parade and The Subletters.

Family friendly

The Green River Festival has always been a family-friendly event, with children romping around, marching in the Mardi Gras parade and enjoying shows particularly geared toward them. Children ages 10 and under will be admitted for free.

It is requested that those attending be vaccinated or have received a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of attending the festival. Patrons will be required to wear masks in the Yankee Candle Family Village as well as in the restrooms and on the shuttles. Masks are also strongly encouraged in other crowded areas like food lines.

Olsen went on to say that in preparation for the festival, organizers have been involved in research around COVID-19 to make sure they have a safe event. They have been following the lead of other outdoor venues in Massachusetts like MASS MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art), Fenway Park and Tanglewood.

“We are doing everything that is recommended to us by the local health officials to make this thing safe,” Olsen stressed. “We are very fortunate that we are in the highest vaccinated and lowest area of COVID hesitation. If you ask people to wear a mask, they will, and I think the combination of those things, and that we have a very mindful audience, we can make this thing safe. I have faith in our audience.”

To get tickets for Sunday — the only day that hasn’t already sold out — or for more information, visit

Sheryl Hunter’s Sounds Local column appears in the Greenfield Recorder on Thursdays.

E-Edition & Local Ads


athol forecast

Social Media

Athol Daily News

14 Hope Street,
Greenfield, MA 01301
Telephone: (413) 772-0261


Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.