July 31 2020 Greenfield MA Franklin County Fairgrounds
Well, 2020 has been a tough year for many reasons. The live music industry is, how shall we say, on life support. I don’t feel the need to rehash the happenings this year, everybody is up to speed I’m sure. But I personally have not seen a real show since late winter and here we are in the middle of the summer. It may be the longest length of time in between live shows for me since I was a teenager.
So I approached the Roll On In concert series in Greenfield as both an opportunity to experience live music, and a bit of a social experiment rapped into one evening. My traveling partners for the day are both very cautious people in today’s Corona laden environment and I stated “If any of us feels uncomfortable we can leave at any time.” We piled into our SUV, masks on, windows open and rolled up to Roll On In, located at the Franklin County Fairgrounds, in the heart of Massachusetts. We approached the gate and familiar faces from our Wormtown family and crew were there to greet us. Getting in was easy, and they waved us through and passed us from one ‘parking’ usher to another until we were safely parked in the audience. Even this preceding sentence illustrates how completely different this concert is from any other I have attended.
It was bright and sunny this late Friday afternoon and we pulled out our chairs to occupy our space next to our vehicle. They parked the vehicles in a checkerboard fashion to provide maximum spacing between people, which put us to ease a bit from the start. We settled in, saw a few more friends who were on the crew and turned our attention to the band on stage.
The New Motif is making waves in the jam scene and fall in the category of what I consider precision jamming- compositional in nature, orchestrated, fast and tight. I don’t know that it is fully instrumental, but I don’t recall vocals. It’s about the compositions, transitions, and jams for this band and they are very good. They are striving for the sounds of TAUK, Consider the Source, or the Breakfast / Kung Fu end of the jam world, so far as recent comparisons. You could easily liken them however to earlier prognosticators of this sound like Garaj Mahal, MMW, or even Herbie Hancock or Chick Corea electric band. I can’t remember if I have seen them before or not and they are a good band laying the groundwork for what feels like years of music creation to come. Be prepared for a lot of notes, time signature changes and creative explorations, and be prepared for them to be done well.
While the stage was changing over, an emcee kept us entertained. I didn’t catch who it was, but it was good and late in his set he was joined by Force who spit some lyrics while the stage was set for the Alchemystics to play next. A word on the setup: It was a very decently sized festival stage, with two colorful inflatable elephants on either side. There were also large screens on either side with nice live visuals happening. There were a few food vendors of the county fair variety, and there was plenty of porta potties, hand washing stations, and security to ensure that social distancing guidelines were adhered.
The Alchemystics took the stage in what is a standard personnel list for them of late: Freddie on drums, Chris Regan on bass (holding it down big time), Ian-I on guitar and vocals, Force on the mic, and John Corda on keyboards. They were surprisingly tight for having not played since the winter. They were playing songs I knew well, and the crowd was soaking it in along with the intense rays of the afternoon sun. ‘She Goes’ and ‘Like a Prayer’ were highlights. I was missing Tony Lee Thomas, when out of nowhere he appared to play guitar and sing strong backing vocals about half way through the set. He covers a lot of the vocal hooks previously handled by the departed Ras Jahn and he was in good spirits and good voice.
The band was tight and you would not have thought that anything was amiss at all. In general the vibe in the crowd was great- mellow, appreciative of the efforts of the musicians and the organizers, very respectful of each other, and enjoying a summer day. The whole dynamic is a personal experience- at times I was just so thankful that we were all together. At other times I was scanning the area around me to make sure nobody was getting too close. This is just how it is in the age of Corona- let’s get together, but not too close! The crowd was large enough to feel like a happening, but not even close to ‘too large’ or to make us feel overly nervous.
And, as we had all offered each other prior to the show, somewhat simultaneously we all felt ready to go. The day’s headliner had yet to appear, Moon Hooch. But you could tell that the crowd was ready for them and that they were going to play in front of a real warm audience.
Carla Racine shot these videos:
All in all this was a very enjoyable time. I think over time the public, and our group in particular- will grow more and more comfortable with properly distanced shows. Only time will tell if we can collectively figure out how to make them economical. Big ups to the bands, the promoters, the crew, and the crowd for coming together to make it happen.
The Roll On In concert continues next week with:
AUG 8 Beau Sasser’s Escape Plan w/s/g The Great Quarantino! FB EVENT
I’m sure as the summer progresses there will be more shows announced.
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