If you’re a wannabe hippie like me who didn’t go to Woodstock because you were too young — or if you were at Woodstock and have been wondering where all the East Coast hippies went, most of them were at the glorious NINES Festival in Devens, Massachusetts earlier this month. Although an embarrassing three weeks have elapsed, warm and strong remembrances of a pleasant and peaceful day in the sun with a truly stellar musical line-up, beautifully organized event and super-cool vibe is still putting a big smile on my face. This was the first year for this newly-minted festival that was presented by 3Rivers Arts and Great Northeast Productions, Inc., and I hope it’s just the first of a many-year tradition. If these fine folks can be accused of anything, it’s being overly ambitious for their first time out — but those lucky enough to be in attendance benefited from being at the best-kept secret in Massachusetts that weekend.
I’ll let the photos of this happy, crazy happening speak for themselves, with mentions of some personal highlights. There was the overall flavor of the day, which included as I said a jaw-dropping lineup of top-name musicians who gave us beautiful performances deep in the bucolic woods of Devens. A late start sadly robbed me of seeing one of my favorites, Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys, but I don’t have to guess how fabulous they were in that cool, hippie-dippie setting. I know they were amazing. I would go on about the cornucopia of soulful dark carnivale burlesque they brought with their Tom Waits meets Cirque du Soleil soaked in absinthe vibe, and how they blew away the unsuspecting moms, dads and kids in this family-friendly event — but if you caught ’em, you’ll already know that.
I arrived just in time to catch the charming, intelligent and rootsy sounds of Air Traffic Controller (we all know I’m a pushover for anything with a fiddle in it). This was followed by the legendary soulful and funky R&B sounds of Shuggie Otis, complete with 3-piece horn section. Amazing. Other highlights were the celebratory “by and for the people anthems” of Canadian group Walk Off The Earth, who proved once and for all that they really can pull off their famous 5 people, 1 guitar trick in a live setting. In addition, they gave us vibrant, ecstatic music with a multitude of eclectic instruments that all came together form a beautifully cohesive sound.
K. Flay was the biggest surprise of the day. I’m typically not a rap fan, but the powerful presentation of this Stanford graduate and her engaging style of dub-infused hip-hop instantly won me over. Delta Spirit is a familiar favorite, and they were especially explosive this day, feeding off some truly great energy from the deeply appreciative and demonstrative crowd.
Dr. Dog I had been wanting to see for a while, and they did not disappoint with their lowdown, swampy psych-folk. They were obvious audience favorites that day. But nothing could prepare me for the hallucinatory and life-altering set from Explosions in the Sky. If I still dropped acid, that would have been the time to do it. In fact, you know what? Halfway through their ethereal, instrumental deep-space onslaught, I felt like I had dropped acid. What with the beautiful crystal clear sounds, the awesome light show and the audience moving around like woodland hippies with their light bracelets dangling from hair and bodies, I was instantly transported back some 40+ years. The fire dancers roaming around on the field didn’t hurt, either.
And speaking of fire dancers… As mind-blowing as the musical fare was this glorious afternoon and evening, it wasn’t just about music. Far from it. There were stand-up comedians doing their thing in a big circus tent. There was a dizzying array of artists displaying their wares from booths and “live in the field.” There were roaming entertainers, a VIP “magic garden” area and interactive exhibits set up that delighted all ages. The emphasis was on eco-friendly, gentle living. Once again, my personal favorites. There was FireSeed Arts, a group that creates art from recycled materials, whom I believe were responsible for not only the giant fish made from old CDs, but also the reguritated musical instruments, constructed of popcorn tins and other household items. The gentleman at Groove Tubes makes gorgeously haunting light fixtures from his own homegrown bamboo plants. There was a communal xylophone which accommodated dozens of people at once. And roving entertainers included the amazing aforementioned fire dancers, and also the breathtaking gypsy violin of Mei Ohara.
I could go on further about how great this day was (the setting was lovely and serene, with some of the softest grass I’ve ever felt…), but you’ll have to take my word for it, hope they put this event on next year — and make sure you don’t miss it.