Bryan Lasky shares his favorite moments and images from three plus days of music at Marshfield Fairgrounds.
The ninth annual Levitate Music Festival was supposed to take place in 2020 and then 2021, but COVID-19 derailed both plans. Organizers held on and staged one of the best weekends of the year so far in Marshfield, MA with their largest lineup yet. Jack Johnson and Phil Lesh remained, along with many others from the 2020 lineup, and as an added boost Vulfpeck was the third headliner, marking their first appearance since their Madison Square Garden show in 2019.
Before you listen to the music, you can see how family-friendly and regionally focused this festival is. The Kid Zone had a chalk wall, postcards to send to artists, and a makeup station with the whole area filled in every time you passed. There were local vendors set up all weekend selling everything from hats and clothes to paintings and other artwork. Artists also created paintings on the grounds throughout the weekend.
Something that stood out over the weekend was the representation of women on all stages. Amy Helm sang a beautiful “Stella Blue” late in the Phil Lesh & Friends set, pouring all her energy into a fan-favorite song, along with great backing harmony throughout the set. the blazing rocker of a flipturn set was kept on the low end, with some vocals, by Madeleine Jarman, and was quite the way to kick off the weekend. It was enough to hear a brief second of by Carly Kraft vocals to be sucked in while watching and listening to the entire Coral Moons set, which included great takes on Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” and Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” as well as a batch of originals. Melt, led by Veronica Stewart Frommer singing and Marlo Shankweiler on lead guitar, put on a funky, high-energy set that had the crowd dancing like a storm.
Elliott Peck’s vocals blasted offstage during Midnight North’s set, which included a three-song Mihali sit-in to close out the set. The set was watched by Phil Lesh from the side stage and Midnight North guitarist’s proud dad Grahame Lesh beamed with a smile the entire time.
Sal Johnson & The Crowded Table kicked off Sunday with a psychedelic jam, which at times leaned towards prog-rock, which really set the mood for the final day of the festival. Fruition’s Mimi Naja’s vocals and mandolin playing were fantastic, as the roots rock ‘n’ roll set had the steadily growing crowd throughout the set. Their brand of roots-rock inspired was truly something to behold.
Then there was Hannah Wicklund who just needs the right crowd to see her absolutely shred her guitar to become a big venue playing superstar. Last but not least was Samy Rae, who, along with his band Sammy Rae & The Friends, put on an hour-long, enthusiastic, non-stop rock ‘n’ roll show at the height of the day, not to be missed when they come to your town. She and the group were one of the tightest groups of the weekend.
There was plenty of reggae throughout the weekend, with some of the biggest crowds stretching almost as far as the fields went. Stephen Marley honored his father and played many originals, Stick Figure ended their summer tour with what was essentially a local show and the crowds came out strong for them, despite some of the hottest temperatures of the weekend during the set. The Elovaters, another very successful local band, drew a large crowd to open the main stage on Saturday. While it was hard for people to choose between Dirty Heads and Mike Love on Sunday, both had fantastic crowds for their sets.
There was also a lot of improvisation with moe. and Umphrey’s McGee both hold clinics of different jamming styles during each of their nearly 90-minute sets. The New Motif, which had extra horns in tow, wowed the crowd mid-afternoon as the up-and-coming jam act transitioned from funk to spacey psychedelia with barely a sweat. GA-20’s blues-infused old school rock ‘n’ roll saw the two guitarists go back and forth with slides and finger picking while Too Many Zooz used their two-horn line-up and a drummer to carry sunny summer day crowd in a late night dance club.
On Sunday, Twiddle frontman Mihali hosted the Golden Hour show which saw early G. Love guest and a horn section to bolster the sound. You could feel something in the air as the set continued to build, peaking during the final moments of the set and the crowd going absolutely crazy after the final note. Mihali’s solo band currently hold a special place with much to come on the horizon.
Durand Jones & The Indications have put together the most funky and soothing set of the weekend. Jones’ voice draws you in and never lets you go. A number not to be missed if it is playing at a festival or if it passes through your city.
Vulfpeck’s Friday headliner was stunning. From the minute they hit the stage in their “schvitzing” outfits until Theo Katzman took an ice bath, it was a dance party in the crowd. The smiles on everyone’s faces told the story of this set. Hopefully there are more shows on the horizon, because it would be a shame if this was just a one-off show.
The following night, Phil & Friends with Helm, Grahame Lesh, guitarists Luther Dickinson and Stu Allen, keyboardist Jason Crosby and drummer Cody Dickinson, went for the proverbial this, and I got there. The opening notes of “Viola Lee Blues” echoed across the field and crept into the early songs, much to the delight of the crowd. “Unbroken Chain” was perhaps the highlight of the set, leaving the limits of the song as the band explored some interesting territory before ending it and dropping straight into a “Help On The Way” in “Slipknot !” in the “Franklin’s Tower” suite. The end of the “One More Saturday Night” show left no time for an encore or a donor rap, but Phil made sure to introduce the band and thank everyone for coming.
Jack Johnson, by far the biggest name on the bill and a rare treat for the East Coast, closed the festival with a 25-song set relying heavily on covers due to his band contracting COVID-19. He had a lot of help from Fruition members G. Love, Mike Love and Donavon Frankenreiter throughout the set and you might not have known it wasn’t his regular band if he didn’t. hadn’t mentioned.
Its laid-back vibes were perfect for the weekend as the sun began to set on the 2022 festival.