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Saturday, September 22-23, 2012 at Prowse Farm, Canton MA.
Featuring: Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Sara Bareilles, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Soulive, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Allen Stone, ALO, Eric Hutchinson, The Infamous Stringdusters, The Ryan Montbleau Band, Sarah Jarosz, Katie Herzig, Muck And The Mires, Orange Television, The Fresh Beat Band, Dan Zanes and Friends, The KIDZ BOP Kids, Josh & the Jamtones! Read our live coverage below!
Day 1: Saturday
A light rain came down over Prowse Farm in Canton, MA this Saturday as a line steadily formed outside the gates. The Life Is Good Festival was on the verge of opening it’s doors to hundreds of families, adults, students, and children eager to see the weekend’s acts.
Muck and the Mires were the first to take the stage after Nick Jr. tv show and touring group The Fresh Beat Band finished. The group came out dressed in matching outfits: red button-downs, black collars, and crisp black pants. “Does anybody feel like dancing? Cause right now it’s time to twist!” shouted frontman Evan “Muck” Shore Their set of Beatles-esque rock – like “Saturday Let Me Down Again” – had people swinging their hips to their Brit-invasion sound.
A giant framed poster of a man with his guitar and dog had “Where there is music, there is love” written underneath it. Just as everyone at the festival could identify with the relatively simple image, Allen Stone’s soulful vocals and excitement filtered through the crowd as if it were their own. Stone and his band, who hail from Washington, covered the famous Bob Marley song “Is This Love?” and their rendition unquestionably fit the mood of the festival. “Feel free to move a little bit,” said Stone “I love y’all to death, but you’re a little too stiff. It’s all good – life is good!” Allen Stone then launched into “Contact High” off of his 2012 self-titled album. The highlight, though, was his performance of “Sleep” where his band joined in with howls and spiked keys played on a beautifully revealing, backless keyboard.
Katie Herzig brought the first sprinkle of pop to the Life Is Good Festival with her upbeat and entrancing songs. Families couldn’t help but smile when she played the children’s song “Forevermore”, but that very well could have been a result of the adorable kazoo solos they slipped in, too. That’s part of what made her set so fun – the ability to play around with her setlist. Herzig’s voice could be pegged as a quieter and lower-pitched version of Tegan and Sara’s, but her music morphed into this Sharon Van Etten’s style, particularly with her live version of “Wish You Well”. Herzig is most well known for “Lost and Found”, a song which features brave, strong vocals during the chorus. It soared in the live setting and felt like sailing a ship to discover some new country. She ended with a cover Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” with extra bass that later smoothly snapped into the famous opening bass line of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”. Hurzig then fused the two together to form an amp-to-amp battle that left the crowd wanting round two.
Life Is Good founders Bert and John Jacobs didn’t forget to bring funk and soul back to Prouse Farm, either. Soulive took the main stage for song after song of grooving lines and ecstatic solos. The saxophonist, Ryan Zoidist, let himself go free on multiple occasions, fitting more notes into his solos than there were seconds. Guitarist Eric Krasno, on the other hand, took his time letting notes ring out, giving them space to reach their sweet spots before flying his fingers down the neck of the guitar for another chord. People stopped to hear their cover of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and wound up sitting down to hear more. The jazz funk group formed thirteen years ago and are still pushing through the airwaves with their infectious music that is simply too fun and genuine to go unnoticed.
“The world is made up of atoms, but we know the world is made up of stories,” said Bert and John Jacobs, “and our next band is a great storyteller.” With that, the Ryan Montbleau Band were welcomed to the stage. They brought out “Fix Your Wings” which had an upbeat, speedy ending to get people moving on the tip of their toes. Kids were in for a treat when they played “Hot Coffee In a Paper Cup”, a track that got children bouncing on their parents’ shoulders to the old-timey jazz bass line. During “Yeah Man”, the audience helped him out with singing, and during “Songbird”, the audience watched with emphatic eyes at music that was certainly at the height of its game. The crowd was almost entirely standing to get a good look at the group jam. One teen even brought a sign out with her to the festival just for their performance, showing interest in music does not begin or end at a certain age.
Sara Bareilles then stepped onstage, asked the audience to do the “mutual wave” and turn to their neighbors to say hello, and laughed. Now united, the crowd turned their eyes to the main stage again to hear “Gonna Get Over You” where it didn’t take long for them to start clapping and snapping along. Her cutesy piano chords charmed the audience as the sun lowered. “Uncharted”, “Come Round Soon”, and other tracks pleased devoted fans clumped towards the front of the stage. “If there’s one phrase that should permeate the world, that’s the one,” she said when reflecting on Life Is Good, “because it’s true.” Bareilles then walked over to the other side of the stage and sang her “self pep-talk” song “Many the Miles”. But when she forgot the words, the crowd backed her up with surprising confidence that was loud enough to be heard from the back of the field. Don’t worry – Bareilles did not forget her radio hits, “Love Song” and “King of Anything”, which she closed her set with.
With one hand to the sky and another on his belt loop, Eric Hutchinson galloped sideways across the stage much to the delight of the crowd who had already been waiting for a while for his set to begin. As an Emerson College alumnus, we could not be more excited to see Hutchinson nab the second-to-last performance of the night. Nearly a straight mix of Jason Mraz and Stevie Wonder, Hutchinson’s talent was well-balanced with his high spirits and good attitude, something the festival was nothing short of. The bass swapped to funk from “Best Days” to “Talk Is Cheap” – both of his new album Moving Up, Living Down – where he almost sang-rapped the lyrics. Kids kicked their feet out from under them and adults bobbed their babies on their shoulders. The group of girls next to me squealed, still excited that Hutchinson was finally onstage and feet away from them. With a cover of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, Hutchinson and his group reminded everyone how simple life can be, and certainly how good it is. He kept the crowd smiling with“All Over Now” and “OK, It’s Alright With Me” all the way until the sky dimmed.
Bubbles floated up towards the half moon before Michael Franti & Spearhead closed the evening with poppy, reggae fusion that allowed everyone to scrape off any bit of jam they had left in them. People started screaming and cheering before his name was even announced. People were jumping up and down, dancing as he walked out. Their danceable reggae music held U2-like guitar-riffs. “Everybody deserves music. It’s lovely, it’s lovely,” Franti sang as he caught a WERS beachball and threw it back to the audience. The group played “Yes I Will” before asking the crowd to howl at the bright half moon that was hanging high above. Franti made sure to slow things down for the crowd to catch their breath but never let the hope go. If anyone knows about letting loose in order to connect with the good, it’s him; Franti choose to go barefoot for three straight days in 2000 and has since gone shoeless every day (except for wearing flip-flops to board planes). As someone who frequently speaks out for social rights and justice, Michael Franti & Spearhead was the perfect act to close Life Is Good Festival’s first night.
“We can choose to focus on the obstacles or we can choose to focus on the opportunities. We have chosen opportunities,” said the Jacobs brothers. “That’s what’s so great about you guys coming out today to play, like little kids, no matter how old you are. You are helping a lot of kids who really need it.” With over $800,000 already raised, everyone left with high expectations for Sunday’s show and the opportunities it would most definitely hold.
Day 2: Sunday
The sun was the first to wake up for day two of the Life Is Good Festival in Canton, MA. Prouse Farm was treated to blue skies, green grass, and the rock songs of opening band Orange Television. OTV – as their fans call them (not to be confused with WERS’ own On the Verge segments) – sounded like a more modern version of Pearl Jam or a toned-down Foo Fighters. Their songs had a hypnotic feel that kept listeners in their spots at the front of the stage, especially for their heavy cover of “I Am the Walrus”.
Air Traffic Controller was next to face the crowd. “Test 1, 2” started off their set and instantly established their fun, friendly, and folk pop vibe we love them for. Casey Sullivan’s voice flew sweetly above the crowd as did the smooth violin parts. Steve Scott was playing “everything under the sun” while Dave Munro was “actually just a guitar tech,” he joked while fixing his instrument. “You Know Me” and “Bad Axe, MI” got the crowd going, especially when Scott ran on top of the bass drum, jumped off, and ran right up to the crowd as the song exploded into a faster and faster ending. WERS got a shoutout before their finale, “Hurry, Hurry”, to which the crowd gave a big cheer.
Armed with a mandolin and guitar, Sarah Jarosz walked onstage in a delicate black dress and soft voice to charm the audience. After playing about three songs, she stopped to give the crowd a grin before giggling “I love this festival!” It may have been her first time being here, but she and her band members claimed the stage like returners. Swelling cello lines and soft drumming gave way for a “dark” cover: The Decemberists’ “Shanhill Butchers”. Jarosz used the cover, as well as her own songs, to show blunt teeth that still can bite in their meaning. “Broussard’s Lament”, “Song Up In Her Head”, and “Annabel Lee” also reared their teeth at the crowd to flaunt her talent as a professional musician only at age nineteen.
ALO, or Animal Liberation Orchestra, brought their California roots over to Massachusetts for the afternoon to share jam band sounds with festivalgoers. They began with the upbeat and happy “Blew Out the Walls”, a perfect mirror image of the mood Life Is Good hopes to project. Blankets were spread near and far from the stage as people swayed back and forth to the funky guitar melody. ALO played a number of tracks off their new record Sounds Like This released earlier this year. “Thank goodness for that sun, though, right?” said lead singer Zach Gill. “Just make sure to put a little sunscreen on your noses – that’s what I always do.” Fans shouted requests, getting a chuckle out of Gill. But when ALO launched into “Plastic Bubble”, the crowd gave a cheer of excited acknowledgement and it was clear no matter which songs they chose, the audience would have a great time.
Just as I started to wonder why there had been a lack of bluegrass music at the festival, along came the Infamous Stringdusters to deliver my long-awaited banjo fix. Instead of originating in a southern state like most bluegrass groups, the Infamous Stringdusters are actually from both Nashville and our very own Boston! What also separates them is their combination of that aforementioned twang with the improvisation and open-endedness of a jam band. Opener “In God’s Country” by U2 demonstrated this right from the get-go. They each rocked their instrument, be it upright bass, banjo, or guitar. Audience members were pleased to catch them do a cover of Phish’s “Free”, too. Between their quicker tracks and a slower, cleaner tune with more static picking, The Infamous Stringdusters left the crowd with a lot to fit in their ears.
The main stage got a visit from Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue next. The New Orleans native dabbles in jazz, funk, and rap but brought a mix of the three for the evening. It seemed the main goal of the sun – which was nearly setting at this point – was to bring out that extra shine from Trombone Shorty’s brass section. Horns flared as powerfully as the guitars we had heard earlier on in the day. “But you’ll never find a hot trombone player like me,” Trombone Shorty called out, eliciting several whistles from the audience. They highlighted a bass solo to bring the funk out before they broke down into a traditional funk bit that could have starred James Brown with Shorty yelling “Get on up!” to the crowd, most of whom had already happily done so.
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings are leaders in reviving the ‘60s and ‘70s sound of R&B and funk. Whenever I see the label they’re on, Daptone Records, their band name immediately shoots into my head. The Dap-Kings came out first and gave a warm-up song before Miss Jones herself, “the star of the Dap-Kings universe,” appeared. Dressed in a vibrant lemon dress, she had as much flavor as the color of her very outfit. The Dap-Kings grew quieter, increased the bass, and followed her every word – the communication that made a set go flawlessly. Even with a smaller crowd due to the die-hards camping out for Dave Matthews, Jones had a roaring audience whose feet couldn’t stop moving. Their set included “I’m Not Gonna Cry”, “Without a Heart”, and “If You Call”. The highlight was when Jones had everyone take the soul train back to 1965 to teach us how to do the boogaloo, pony, funky chicken, jerk, twist, and other dance moves in “When I Come Home”. Everyone danced for the whole 10+ minute song. Having a group so important to our history – a group that has been around since 1996 – helped give this second day of the Life Is Good Festival a diverse sound and truly notable line-up.
“You’re good vibes have raised over a million dollars,” the Jacobs brothers finally revealed before the last set of the night. “We’re so proud of every person and we’re so grateful.”
A few minutes past 7pm, out came the musician with known following. Nearly everyone we quizzed at our booth about Dave Matthews knew he was from South Africa. That’s because out of all the acts, Matthews was the one everyone has been following for years and years – just ask the one WERS listener who said tonight was the 11th time he would see him… this year. Combine Matthews with Tim Reynolds, his touring guitarist who has been nominated for numerous Grammys, and you have an ideal headlining act. Not only can Reynolds play the guitar to a bone, but he’s a known multi-instrumentalist capable of playing the sitar, drums, djembe, and even harp. Reynolds came out first followed by Matthews and fans began singing the lyrics to “Everyday” even though he wasn’t singing them yet himself. His unmistakable voice could be heard from the back of the crowd, carrying everyone through “Crush”, “Mercy”, “Some Devil”, and “Ants Marching” – and into listeners’ memories as the festival came to a peaceful closing.