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The Life Is Good Festival returned once again this fall and WERS was happy to support the two day, family-friendly festival on Prowse Farm in Canton, MA. Showcasing plenty of WERS artists, hands-on games, art activities, and various vendors, the festival raises money for kids in need, and this year they brought in over one million dollars for The Life is Good Kids Foundation. Optimism and charity were on everyone’s minds, but so were plenty of questions: how old is Quinn Sullivan? Will The Roots bring out Elvis Costello? Exactly how much facial hair to Hall & Oats still sport? One festival set out to solve them, and people swung in hammocks while hearing the answers.
“Today, everybody is a great kid,” said members of the Life Is Good Playmakers. They weren’t lying. First to take the stage was Yo Gabba Gabba! Creatures of all shapes and sizes joined DJ Lance Rock to get kids up and dancing. Songs about hugs, bugs, and love were equally infectious for children as they were for adults. A sign asking parents to sit so all kids could see was obeyed — those who couldn’t remain seated to dance had no issue getting up and skipping about in the back area, laughing from the fun simplicity of Yo Gabba Gabba!’s electronic play tunes.
For those who walked over late to Quinn Sullivan’s stage, the surprise on their faces was clear. His soulful voice could be heard over the whole farm, but there, front and center soloing for over five minutes on his guitar, was a fourteen-year-old boy. Born and raised in New Bedford, Sullivan performed in a v-neck and jeans for the crowd, seeming just as comfortable on the main stage as he would in his bedroom. The crowd was cheering between each song, giving their all after his closer “Things I Won’t Forget” had a Lynard Skynard riff. Calling him a prodigy is phrasing it lightly. He’s the type of musician who fools you into thinking playing an instrument is easy; luckily for him, talent comes naturally, and practicing just makes it more fun.
A surprise favorite of the day was Thao & the Get Down Stay Down. The name should be an indicator, but when you gather in front of a stage for Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, things are going to get funky. More a combination of folk, alternative rock, and funk, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down are the powerhouse force of combos. Frontwoman Thao Nguyen can shred a slide guitar solo with just as much vigor as she can dance or blow kisses from her mandolin. “We’re so happy to be at a festival where they donate all the money,” she said. “No one does this.” Then brought feel good tune “Kindness Be Concieved” which features Joanna Newsom (if only the elf-like singer were there to join them live). Nguyen has the mystery of Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino and the charm of Feist. She took her role modestly and with spirit before blowing up their sound on drums alongside the bassist and drummer to beat them in a sporadic frenzy, imploding with life. As they closed, their set, Nguyen burst out verses of Ludacris’ “What’s Your Fantasy” and fans smiled at the somewhat vulgar lyrics became cute with her half-joking delivery.
Trampled By Turtles brought the south up north. Originally from Minnesota, the five gentlemen brought fiddle, mandolin, banjo, and bluegrass folk to Saturday’s lineup with ease. The audience broke out into a hoedown for “Help You” and “Sorry,” a mandolin solo too youthful to let the audience stand still. It was remarkable to watch the fiddle strumming in person; I was sure the strings would burn off because of how fast they were strum.
Our Americana favorites Dawes got a rather large crowd set out for themselves, but we weren’t surprised. Playing a slew of their big hits (like “A Little Bit of Everything” and “If I Wanted Someone”), Dawes nailed their setlist. The highlight was getting to hear songs off their new album, Stories Don’t End, live. A characteristic and plot-driven record, the story becomes even more engrossing live. Thankfully Dawes were able to throw new material out with just as much breath and life live, and the open fields of Prowse Farm gave it plenty of space to grow.
It seemed like everyone’s favorite set, or at least the most infectious, was The Roots. Arriving late due to a plane time change, the band quickly rushed on stage and wasted no time getting in to their music. Grooving to “The Seed 2.0,” “Thought @ Work,” and “You Got Me” were easy when you get to hear the tuba live and can feel the bass notes pounding through you. Then seeing the band’s energetic turns and synchronized jumps in front of you pulled a smile out from inside of you straight to your face for hours to come. ?uestlove kept the drumming going nonstop, and no time was spared between songs and James Brown covers. The crowd didn’t need breathers anyway; it was all about letting loose and dancing.
Just before Daryl Hall & John Oats took the stage and brought everyone back in time, the founders of Life Is Good came onstage to update the crowd with the festivals raised profits and thank everyone again (with an old letter sent from two grateful disabled brothers getting an overwhelming cheer from the crowd when it was read aloud). “The music, the sunshine, the smiles–don’t you just feel grateful?” they asked. Even if no one cheered, it was obvious everyone at the festival was. Daryl Hall & John Oats played everything from “Out of Touch” to “Family Man” in addition to the regular classics, and the crowd was beyond grateful–for the chance to hear them live, the opportunity to breathe in the air, and time spent surrounded with with love on the farm.