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Monday, September 24, 2012

To the FreshGrass Festival at Mass MoCa over the weekend, a pleasant fall excursion featuring interesting art, delicious food, happy music, and New England scenery. The festival commenced with the premier of The Porchlight Sessions, a fine documentary by Anna Schwaber about this distinctively American art form. In some ways, I think, bluegrass is to country as jazz is to blues: improvisational music built on a traditional foundation. Both look back to rural life, but are urban and urbane forms. Both inspire debate about what defines each-- one of the big topics in the movie. It is a complicated issue for both jazz and bluegrass but it is a particularly vexed question for the latter. Unlike calculus and rock and roll bluegrass has a single father, and Bill Monroe had very particular notions about what his music sounded like. It has expanded nevertheless, and we got to see some of the artists that have worked to enlarge the vision of what bluegrass is: Bill Evans, David Grisman, The Infamous Stringdusters....

At heart this is an un-ironic, exuberant music, which means that a festival full of it is bound to be a happy time, and this certainly was. It helped that the space at Mass MoCa is so quirky and engaging. Something about that space seems to encourage the artists who are invited to create and exhibit there. The piece pictured at right is part of an installation by Stanford Biggers called The Cartographer's Conundrum, and we found ourselves taken with an exhibit called Oh, Canada as well. Canada-- itself an exuberant, un-ironic place was a good fit with the music. Also good, lobster sliders.

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