A Musician’s Experience as a Fan: Levitate Music & Arts Festival

“Beyond your own career, and given your current resources, in what ways do you hope to lend support to your new music community?”

This was the question posed a few months ago by New Music Gathering, during a #musochat discussion on Twitter.

And the responses sounded strikingly similar:

“Show up. Write reviews for outlets.”
“Go to concerts and tell others about the experiences that moved me.”
“Get the word out. If I can review a concert, I will.”
“Attend and promote as many performances as possible.”

We loved the idea of performance reviews, and we decided to create a space on our site for musicians to promote each other’s work.

Today’s post is the debut of concert reviews on our site. Our hope is that we can provide a space where you can promote the music you love while supporting your fellow musicians. How long we continue with this initiative depends on you! If you love it, we’ll keep doing it.

For me, summer means getting out of the city: revitalizing my lungs with breathable air and feeling refreshed by the ability to hear myself think without the interruption of a siren. And that’s exactly why I made the forty-five minute slog down to my hometown to pick up an old friend, followed by another forty-five minutes to get to The Levitate Music and Arts Festival held in Marshfield, Massachusetts.

In its fourth year of existence — and originally founded as the 10th anniversary party of Levitate Brand Skate and Surf Apparel — the festival grows each year, presenting a blend of rock, reggae and blues. For those partial to roots music, this is the place to go.

A Celebration of Music & the Arts

We parked beneath overcast skies, hearing the music half a mile away, humming through the landscape. When we got through the gates, there was a lot to see.

Booths sat in the center of the Marshfield Fairgrounds representing the local library, maritime camps (with live lobsters, crabs and shellfish to boot), and South Shore Conservatory.

Food trucks rung the far exterior, serving drinks from coconut shells and pineapple husks.

We passed yoga with paint. Psychedelic wall hangings. A halfpipe. “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro,” as they say.

Though there are three stages at the festival, only one band is going at a time. Set-up times are kept to a minimum and the music blasts for over eight straight hours. The crowds swill from stage to vendor to food. And we welcomed the freedom to roam. Don’t like the band? Shuck an oyster or down another IPA; something new will come along in the next thirty minutes.

By 12:30 we had the lay of the land and a beer in hand, just in time to catch the end of The Movement’s set (they’re a reggae-rock group hailing from Columbia, South Carolina). With nine more bands to go, we knew we were in it for the long hall — and we stayed until the closing notes of Tedeschi Trucks Band.

Three sets stood out: Lettuce, Nahko and Medicine for the People, and Los Lobos.

Noted Performances

There’s always that name that draws you to the festival. Lettuce, a seven-piece funk outfit, were the draw for me personally. Originally formed at Berklee College of Music in Boston, their name came about as they asked club promoters to “let us play.”

This group is funkier than that block of cheese you forgot you left on the back shelf of the fridge. As their set kicked off, everyone danced and grooved, enveloped in large clouds of smoke. Trumpeter Eric Bloom and saxophonist Ryan Zoidis had the crowd at their fingertips with their solos.

Nahko and Medicine for the People were another draw. Although I never had a chance to hear the group beforehand, they are labelmates (on SideOneDummy Records) with AJJ, Jeff Rosenstock, and Astronautalis.

While their Wikipedia page bills them as a “world music” group (and they refer to their genre as “Real Talk Music” on their Facebook page), I didn’t hear anything of the sort from them. Instead, it was light guitars, straight drum beats, and middle-of-the-road vocals. Their mission “to make changes, take action and spread awareness of how to live in harmony with Mother Gaia herself” is admirable, but overalI I didn’t feel a resonance with the music. Still, I would be willing to give them another shot because first impressions of music don’t always last.

Los Lobos were a bigger name than most on the billing that day. In addition to winning multiple Grammy Awards, they have also been nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

For those unfamiliar with the group, they describe themselves as “a Mexican American band, and no word describes America like immigrant. Most of us are children of immigrants, so it’s perhaps natural that the songs we create celebrate America in this way.”

Their professionalism struck me right away, with good reason. They have been in this game from the early 1970s. Everything about their set was spot on: tight arrangements, scorching solos, and unstopping rhythms.

Would I Go Again?

I had a blast at this festival. While there was a wide range of styles and aesthetics, there was still a cohesive through-line for the day. I would recommend Levitate to fans of rock, blues, or reggae music — especially those with an interest in roots and/or local music.

So get out to your local festival. Hear some bands you love, some you like, maybe even some you hate. You never know what you might encounter — and finding that gem outside your current awareness is always a treat worth digging for.

My Recommendations (& Yours!)

Here are a few festivals I recommend for those in or near the Northeast United States.

Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice (SICPP)
Outside the Box
Bang on a Can

Do you have any favorites? Drop your own recommendations in the comments below.

Gordon Williams is a composer, musician and educator in the Boston area. He has performed as a soloist with the Gordon College Wind Ensemble (Gordon Jacob’s Concerto for Timpani and Wind Band) and as marimba soloist, premiering a commission for Boston Children’s Chorus’ 10th year anniversary (Three Haiku by Dr. Ellen Gilson Voth). Gordon recently performed selections from his second piano suite at a local art show, entitled Inheritance.

Gordon believes strongly in the communal benefits of music and has worked with a number of community groups; serving on the board of directors for Ipswich’s Orchestra on the Hill, assistant directing Community Band- Wenham, and performing and conducting with the Ipswich Summer Band. Gordon works in nonprofit arts administration.


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