Life is good Festival Day 1 Review (The Avett Brothers, Michael Franti & more)

By Laura McWhorter

Someone sat on me on the T once. Yep. On my lap. The person was then quite bothered that I had the nerve to exist let alone sit in her desired seat. Boston doesn’t have the friendliest reputation. There are whole days that go by where I don’t interact with another human cordially. I, also, don’t drive (hence the T-sitting fiasco) so I never get to leave the city but yesterday I made an exception for Day 1 of the Life is good Music Festival. For all the 10 miles I had to go to get there…you would’ve thought I went to Mars.

Seth Avett nailed it when he said that too many music festivals (Lolla, Bonnaroo, etc) are all about the ‘cool factor’. The LIG Fest is the antidote to all that hard-to-pronounce hullabaloo. It’s a feel good festival that’s more concerned with bringing happy, loving families together for a good cause than it is with hype and ‘cool’. As I walked up to the festival grounds on an overcast Saturday AM, my Boston ‘tude was still very much in tact (driving in New England will do that to you…). Ten steps through the gates however and all of that immediately started to melt away. “Here Comes the Sun” was blasting from the main stage and volunteers were dancing and greeting everyone. Not even walking behind three baby strollers could wipe the huge grin off my face.

One note of caution to the 20-somethings that plan on attending this festival in the future (and you should…): it’s definitely a family festival. I was in the very tiny minority of people who didn’t have a baby or two in tow. There were tons of activities and vendors but they were all geared toward kids. Don’t go expecting to rage all day. They keep it very G-rated. There’s beer and wine and stuff but I get the feeling the tolerance for stumbling, puking and public urination is pretty low at this particular fest. Equally important to note…the kid vibe doesn’t take away from the experience at all. Definitely don’t see it as a deterrent.

Life is good co-founders, Bert and John Jacobs started this festival to help raise funds for children in life-threatening situations. 100 percent of the proceeds from the two-day festival go to this cause with the ultimate goal of reaching $1million at the end of the weekend. It’s a great cause and top-tier acts come out to give their support. This underlying mission lends itself to a palpable, positive buzz coursing through everything you see and everyone you meet. No matter where I turned I saw kids playing, adults playing, adults helping, kids helping. It was like a real-life ‘Barney’ episode only less creepy and more uplifting…with way better music. The Festival does a great job of securing bands that are not only nationally-known but also fit the bill (literally and figuratively).

Speaking of the bill…let’s get down to why I was able to be there – the music. The day kicked off at noon with local band, Barefoot Truth. The band played tracks off their new album, “Carry Us On” that dropped earlier this month as well as some of their older stuff. They’ve got an uplifting, casual sound that was the perfect start to the day. The best thing about the LIG festival is the size of the venue and the schedule it necessitates. The farm is relatively small so the stages are pretty close. You can hear one act from almost anywhere in the grounds. With all of the stuff to see and do, it’s nice to be able to walk around and still enjoy the tunes. On top of that…because of this, the schedule is completely free of overlap. They make it so you can comfortably see every band if you want to. There’s no lag in between so the day really is jam-packed with performances. I bounced back and forth between the two main stages all day and for 8-hours life really was good.

Blues outfit, Dwight & Nicole were up next and while I wasn’t super familiar with them before yesterday, I’ve since added them to the list. I’ll go see these guys anytime they’re in Boston. It was a great performance that was a perfect juxtaposition to Barefoot Truth. While BT, got everyone in the right frame of mind…Dwight and Nicole’s upbeat, sultry sound helped pick up the pace and got everyone’s blood pumping and then sent them dancing over to the main stage for The Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

While the rest of the crowd was carried down to New Orleans by DDBB for a while, I walked around enjoying the sights and waited for Tristan Prettyman. The San Diego song bird only played for 45 minutes but it was enough to lull the crowd into a blissful calm as we swayed along to “Echo”, “Madly” and “Marry You”. She’s hitting the studio in November to begin work on her next album and promised an accompanying tour early 2012 in support. Definitely catch it if she comes your way.

After a brief nap and iPhone charge in one of the vendor tents, I was ready for the day’s first real rock and roll performance, The Hold Steady. The Brooklyn band seemed to be to be an odd fit for this kind of festival. Their narrative lyrics tend to touch on subject matter that’s not entirely family-friendly and their sound (which I love…do not mistake) is a bit harder than the rest of their LIG counterparts. Like Brooklyn bulls in a New England china shop, The Hold Steady came out hard and fast with (appropriately titled) “Positive Jam” and “Stuck Between Stations”. If you could hear through the tunes, you’d hear a lot of crying babies who weren’t quite ready for it. Eventually, the mood leveled out and the kiddies were enjoying their first rock show. I even saw a baby (a BABY) playing air guitar. I kid you not, my friends…cutest thing ever. Noting the clientele, front man Craig Finn turned the set into a school lesson. Starting with science (“Hurricane J”) and into geography (“Sequestered in Memphis”), then health (“The Swish”). They filled the next 30 minutes with songs that spanned their deep catalogue and ended just as appropriately as they began with “Stay Positive”.

And stay positive we did as Michael Franti (or as I like to call him, “The Happiest Man Alive”) and Spearhead took the baton next in this musical relay. Now. It’s hard to really enjoy yourself at a concert when you go by yourself but let me tell you…it’s ten times harder to NOT enjoy yourself when watching Michael Franti & Spearhead. This band is positivity personified and packed the most energy of the day by far. From the time they started with “Everyone Deserves Music” to the time they ended with a full stage of kids and seniors alike for “Say Hey”, their infectious optimism held the crowd completely captive. The performance was punctuated by someone passing their baby up to the front and Franti holding him Lion King style.

While I wanted to catch Ingrid Michelson, I decided to stay back and snake my way up front for Saturday’s closers, The Avett Brothers (told you it was a good lineup). I honestly can’t think of a better way to end the day. Seth and Scott Avett are two of the most humble and (can’t say it enough) positive guys out there. You could tell they were genuinely honored to be included in the festivities and for a band that clearly places a lot of importance on family…this was their show to steal. Since this was the end of the night and WELL past the bed times of 50% of the attendees, this crowd was a bit more adult and we were certainly ready for a southern good time. With the longest set of a long day, the boys from NC pulled together a perfectly constructed set to get everyone across the finish line. It kept us up with fast-paced favorites like “I Killed Sally’s Lover”, “Kick Drum Heart” and “Talk on Indoloence” to keep us all moving and the heart-felt ballads like “Go To Sleep” and “January Wedding” to bring us back down. Scott and Seth did their solo thing with “Murder in the City” and “Ballad of Love and Hate” respectively. It’s really incredible to see how much admiration they have for each other and while you get that throughout the set…you really see it during these solos. Over the past few years, I’ve seen a lot of shows. The one thing that’s always been at the top of my list but has always eluded me was seeing “I and Love and You” performed live. I wasn’t ready for it. The boys closed the show with the ballad and I may or may not have wept like a child (I’d been around babies all day. Deal with it.). I missed the encore to miss the traffic but I’m kicking myself now. They closed with “Just Like a Woman” (Dylan cover) and “Laundry Room”. The temper tantrum I pitched upon receipt of this information isn’t something I’m proud of.

I met some people in the audience and when they told me they were from Cambridge, it was the first time all day that I even remembered I was still only 10 miles from Boston. It was like the entire day of good vibes and music had put a mental block on the hustle and bustle that I had waiting for me at home. I’m back in the city now and had to miss the second day of the festival to come into the office but all that was made much more bearable by the fantastic day provided to me by Life is good – and the baby playing air guitar didn’t hurt either, of course.

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  1. 2011 Life is good Festival Raises $1 Million for Kids in Need | The Audio Perv

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