Life Is Good Festival 2011 – Photo Gallery
by Amanda Macchia
Routed to parking lots, led onto busses, driven to a maze of fences, and wound into the concert field. It seems like a long process, but in reality Life Is Good’s system got me into the venue faster that any other music festival I’ve showed up on time for. Getting out was a different story, but for day events that’s always the case.
Walking into the concert grounds the skies were cloudy, casting a shade of blue-green over the landscape. It was like being underwater. The layout was simple – one main stage, one side stage, and a huge kid’s emporium. Walking under the bright white walls of the tent submerge you into darkness, where light pours in from the entrances and the stage. Kids whiz past from every direction, throwing themselves into piles of bean bags and wrapping up their friends like burritos, until red faced mothers scurry over to make sure the littlest of littlest is okay.
Mothers and fathers relax on bean bags, watching their children explore. A little boy with glasses can’t make it past the first few steps on a rock climbing wall, he gets lowered down and quietly tells his father he’s done trying. A smaller girl with long, wispy blonde curls is already halfway up the tower, and hasn’t looked down.
Once you walk out into the main area between the two stages you realize that the rest of the festival is an ocean of people – all lawn chairs, blankets, and dancing babies. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute of it. At times it’s hard to get around – families set up shop for the day in lines down the concert field, whole households sandwiched together, packed like sardines in a tin can. There were moments where I felt like I was at war with them. For the most part I felt enchanted by the good, clean vibes and the air of excitability that surrounds an audience of little ones. This festival was for them, and their socially conscious parental units (mostly middle-class yuppie-bred, but quite sincere in their efforts). With a goal of raising $1 million, (one they had never managed to meet) for children facing life threatening situations, Life Is Good was all about youthful energy and optimistic innocence – they’re a company that has proved good vibes go a long way. Young entrepreneurs turned global successes, Bert and John Jacobs have created a company that has the ability to capture sustainable environmental practices and family values and stimulate capital growth (Life Is Good apparel, hosting a large-scale, relatively mainstream music festival, etc.) while using all those resources and capital to raise money for the smallest and most undervalued generation of all – the kids.
The music was carefully picked, in order to maintain a vibe that promoted happiness and family values. In some senses this was a complete failure. Michael Franti’s supped up sense of “positive vibrations” fell apart as overly eager showmanship claimed overplayed and artificial. Sure it’s appropriate for an outfit like Franti’s to make fantastic “O” faces that last the length of their sets, and obviously an act like this is all about eccentricity and personality. Due to the fact that their set was geared toward the swarm of children (mostly little girls) melting over the front lines of the main stage, their song choices and stage antics gave them a passing grade. For any real fan, or music lover, Franti was nothing but disappointing – out of key and perpetually repetitive.
Other artists used their personality to bring a smile to the adults in the audience as well as the kids. Ingrid Michaelson surrounded her cutesy tunes with sarcastic remarks and quirky idiosyncrasies, joking about Paula Dean and loving butter on stage. Her music is transcendent because of the easy going atmosphere she creates. Michaelson projects an adorably quaint love of life, art, and music that can be grasped by young and old generations. It’s true, her songwriting is cutesy, simple, and poppy. Michaelson’s affability, including a sense of humor that is as brusque as it is bold, made her set surprisingly charming.
The Avett Brothers, without question, blew the entire day of music out of the water. Folk, bluegrass, songwriting, and soul that keeps it in the family. This band wears their hearts on their sleeves. They were cast in deep shadows during their set, spotlights drowning their faces in long pitches of darkness. Live, the Avett Brothers are marked by passion and energy. Since turning corporate, their sound has gotten all-too produced. Seeing the Avett Brothers live is a reminder of why this band is so special – their performance is physically compelling, and ridden with heartfelt sentimentality. Their music crosses genres while maintaining a soundness rooted in American folk. The excitement was palpable. For the first time in a long time, I couldn’t leave early to beat traffic.
After a late start, I arrived just in time for Ryan Montbleau on the side stage. Montbleau was the only act that let photographers shoot for the entirety of his set. It was laid back, more so than usual. Smiling, Ryan sat tuning his guitar on stage. As usual, he popped off half-way through the set, sitting with his notebook out behind the stage, scribbling feverishly. A riff-off with his lead guitarist Lyle Brewer landed the crowd plenty of laughs. Family-friendly singer songwriting that is always uplifting, Ryan Montbleau’s set inspired dancing babies and happy, laughing parents everywhere.
Robert Randolph followed Montbleau on the side stage. Immediately, the front lines of the crowd got remarkably younger. Eager fans leaned over the metal barriers excitedly posing for press and talking about how much they love Robert Randolph & The Family Band. His sunglasses masked his eyes for most of his set. Randolph sat behind his pedal steel guitar, his soulfulness moving the crowd. Randolph’s set is fueled by an orbital synergy between himself and the audience – a funk that jams, and a soul that shreds, with that light hearted, all-american air.
Levon Helm strolled onstage and took position behind the drums. The lights flashed quickly and I jumped. He caught me out of the corner of his eye and smiled, his hand and pointing towards the lighting truss, nodding in recognition of the surprise attack of bright white lights. Black gloves, eyes closed, and a grin pinned to his face he sat behind the drums for most of his set. Backed by the Boston Pops, Levon played folk twisted with classic rock. He covered The Band’s “The Weight”, and for a minute it felt like I was at the filming of “The Last Waltz”. Helm may be getting old, but the multi-instrumentalist is continually eternalized by his virtuosity. It was an honor watching him perform.
Raphael Saadiq hit Life Is Good as the sun dipped below the skyline. His entire band was dressed to the nines, re-awakening an era of jazz in style, performance, and musical prowess. Upbeat, performance-oriented Saadiq was on fire. His music is renders old-school images of Motown’s later years – funk, soul, R&B – with an open, hail-to-the-world set of pipes. Saadiq’s music is classic, Saadiq himself is dapper, and his set before Lamontagne was nothing short of super fly.
Cloaked in shadows, LaMontagne hid underneath a large-brimmed hat and the coarse forest of his beard. Bright lights washed over his bandmates who stand in a line beside him, sectioning the stage into strands of color. Nothing but the dark outline of musicians playing their instruments, and the throaty whisper of LaMontagne’s moans could be seen or heard. Photographers were restricted to the sound board, but it would be impossible to get a good shot.
LaMontagne has upped the ante in recent years – working on his stage presence and refining his live show with a bang-up cast of musicians. His image is possessed by a backwoods-professionalism that accents his mystique with simplicity, and clearly it works. LaMontagne’s folky grasp on soul is ridden with the blues, especially in songs like “Beg Steal or Borrow”. In many ways LaMontagne is the kind of musician who’s rise to popular appeal hasn’t completely taken away the modest honesty his music was born out of.