The small town of North Adams, Massachusetts, was hit hard by the economic downturn of the last decade. Enterprising artists, however, decided to take the initiative, and thus converted one of the town’s large, abandoned factories into MASS MoCA, one of the largest contemporary arts museums in America. In a show of support, Wilco created the Solid Sound Festival in 2010. Every Other Summer is a documentary about the 2013 festival, produced by Christoph Green and Brendan Canty, and the film does an excellent job of capturing the weekend’s wonderful, undeniable vibe.
For Wilco, a band that initially balked at being associated with the “jam band” scene, Solid Sound Festival is pretty much a hip (as in hippie) kind of vibe. It’s obvious that it’s a lot of fun for both performers and audience members, and as the filmmakers alternate between shots of happy, enthralled attendees and happy-to-be-here musicians. It’s refreshing, then, to see veteran bands like Yo La Tengo and The Dream Syndicate sounding as invigorated and as vital as younger bands such as Lucius, White Denim, and Foxygen. Canty and Green are able to capture these acts at their best, and the performances are top-notch.
Then there’s Wilco, founders of the festival. Surprisingly, they don’t dominate the majority of the film, though when they do, it’s not necessarily in musical terms. We see Jeff Tweedy riding about the grounds, asking people if they know who Jeff Tweedy is or what he looks like (they don’t). We see John Stirratt’s inventive art instillation—a rickshaw that has been loaded with an eight-track tape recorder featuring music and field recordings from India. We see Nels Cline and other members making experimental music and jamming seem so damn easy. But then we see Wilco, rehearsing for their first set of the festival—a cover-band set, with fan-selected songs—and we see the band–one of America’s consummate live acts–actually sweating it out, going out of their comfort zone in getting prepared for the show. In some cases, the members hadn’t even heard some of the songs they are to cover in a few days’ time. But the reward is there when they break out into dead-solid perfect versions of Pavement’s “Cut Your Hair” and The Replacements’ “Color Me Impressed,” which featured guest guitarist Tommy Stinson. (Note: you can download this awesome set here, via NYC Taper.)
Mainly, though, Every Other Summer is strictly about the vibe, the sense of community, and the unity that can be formed by artists coming together to share their creations with the world. If anything, this isn’t so much a documentary as it is a very well-directed commercial for the festival. Solid Sound Festival is a fun experience, because there’s no way that anything created with such good intentions and well-meaning desires could be anything but.
Watch the trailer:
Purchase the film: Every Other Summer
Categories: DVD Reviews