The beauty of Solid Sound is the drastic difference between each day at the festival. Night one is an odd balance of calm and buzzy excitement, much like the feeling of ending a long day of work at a show, ready to have a few beers and enjoy the live music you’ve been looking forward to all week. Saturday is the long game, as you pace yourself moving between stages and trying to keep your energy up from breakfast to multiple encores that run late into the night. Sunday is quiet and slow, a good time to check out the Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA), pop over to spontaneous performances and savor the final moments of the festival. But somehow, Friday continues to be the best night of the weekend. Perhaps it’s the promise of what’s to come, the joy of getting reacclimated to the grounds, or the first sips of a fresh Lagunitas. Or perhaps it is because it’s the first Wilco show of the weekend, and it feels like nothing can top it.
This year’s opening night had Courtney Barnett to thank for firing up the crowd and keeping us satiated for whatever (no matter what) was ahead. Shredding on guitar as one third of her trio, Barnett gave the kind of performance she’s known for – a leave-it-all-on-the-stage explosion of personality that keeps you wanting more and more, even long after she’s gone. Playing songs like “Avant Gardener,” “City Looks Pretty,” “Everybody Here Hates You” and “Nameless, Faceless,” Barnett made the stage amidst the mountains her bitch, so to speak, rocking out and revving up the crowd. It was a perfect set of songs that could have started and ended the night on their own. Lucky for us, we still had an entire Wilco set ahead.
Typically the night where Wilco more closely engages with their fans, Friday has, in past years, found them playing a full fan-requested set to welcome everyone to the festival. But this year, in a twist, they brought on stage with them a handful of lucky fans for a little “karaoke.” Pre-selected fans who had submitted their “auditions” through social media (using the hashtag #wilcokaraoke) got to join the band for a rendition of one of their favorite songs from the Wilco canon. People like Henry from Maine and Courtney from Albany gave it their best shot, singing in front of the thousands of fans who had come far and wide from 49 states (including Washington D.C.). The lyrics to songs like “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” “Dawned On Me,” “Heavy Metal Drummer,” and “Nothing’severygonnastandinmyway(Again)” flashed on a giant screen behind the band in a kind of blown-up, hokey karaoke bar style. Brave singers each had a shot to lead their favorite Wilco songs from behind the mic, some with guitars in hand and others with just their voices and pure nerve. There were some true standouts, and ultimately, it was a well-intentioned, earnest stunt that kept the crowd on their toes.
Elsewhere in the set, Jeff Tweedy encouraged the crowd to sing along to any songs they knew the words to, including “Random Name Generator,” “Hummingbird,” “I Must Be High,” “Cry All Day” and “So Misunderstood,” covering a wide range of records and years, and pleasing fans of all ages. “This is a karaoke night,” he said. And whether it was a local singer from North Adams, Massachusetts, or Courtney Barnett herself all the way from Australia, for a fleeting moment, the playing field was equal and we were all in it together.
Photos by Andrew Benedict