Town officials: SoulFest music festival not coming to Northfield 

  • The Northfield Selectboard met Tuesday night and announced that The Moody Center will no longer be hosting the SoulFest Christian music festival. STAFF PHOTO / BELLA LEVAVI

Published: 2/8/2023 5:13:23 PM
Modified: 2/8/2023 5:12:43 PM

After months of controversy, the 2023 SoulFest Christian music festival will not be held in Northfield, town officials announced this week.

The proposal had been heavily scrutinized by the Northfield Selectboard and the organization is now in negotiations with the Topsfield Fairgrounds. According to the festival’s website, this year’s event will be held from Thursday, Aug. 3, through Saturday, Aug. 5. It had been slated for the D.L. Moody Center.

“We designed a special permit application process so that we could effectively and efficiently make a determination as to what is going to be allowed for events in Northfield,” Selectboard member Alex Meisner said Tuesday. “SoulFest did not formally apply and could not … make it work.”

Attempts to contact the SoulFest organization were unsuccessful.

At the Selectboard meeting on Tuesday night, town administrator Andrea Llamas confirmed SoulFest would not take place in Northfield this year. Board member Mary Sullivan-Bowen responded enthusiastically to the announcement.

The proposal had been met with a barrage of criticism from local residents who believed Northfield is an unfit place for a multi-day festival expected to draw up to 8,500 attendees. Northfield has a population of 2,866, according to the 2020 U.S. census, and the Moody Center can accommodate 10,000. SoulFest is already selling tickets for this year’s event and has announced several confirmed musical acts. The Moody Center is the birthplace of 19th-century Evangelical preacher Dwight L. Moody.

James Spencer, the venue’s vice president and chief operating officer, appeared before the Selectboard at a meeting in November and explained the plans for a main stage to the east of the Moody homestead, with smaller stages and roughly 30 other tents placed around the property that is shared with Thomas Aquinas College off Main Street (Route 63).

On Tuesday, Meisner said he feels humbled and respected that organizers wanted to hold a festival in Northfield but there were “too many unsolved variables.”

“I believe the SoulFest organization has good intentions, but Northfield is not the correct fit for them to have their festival, and that’s all there is to it,” he said.

Last month, Selectboard members outlined seven areas of concern, including public safety, traffic and noise, in a response letter they penned to SoulFest’s organizers. The Selectboard addressed the potential for SoulFest to project noise over a large radius and said “nearby communities will bear the oversized brunt of the noise level.”

“We’re affecting other communities because we’ve got New Hampshire and Vermont right there, too,” Selectboard Clerk Bernard “Bernie” Boudreau said. “I don’t know if we need to check with them. If you listen to the music from these bands, they’re very heavy on the metal drums and they’re going to hear that in Vernon and Winchester.”

Selectboard Chairwoman Barbara “Bee” Jacque also mentioned the Moody Center has no experience hosting events of such magnitude. If SoulFest is as large as Spencer has described, it would be about 3,000 attendees larger than the Green River Festival in Greenfield.

SoulFest had most recently been held at the Gunstock Mountain Resort in Gilford, New Hampshire. Event founder Dan Russell told the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper last year that nearly 10,000 people attended the 2022 event. The newspaper reported the Gunstock Area Commission meeting minutes recorded Gunstock management as saying the event was not profitable for the resort and required significant resources. But Russell was quoted as saying, “They just didn’t want us back.”

Tom Day, Gunstock’s president and general manager, wrote in an email the resort’s management has nothing to say about SoulFest.

“It is behind us,” he wrote.

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413-930-4120.

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