Wilco Covers Artistic Gamut at Solid Sound Festival
Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy
Aside from the Grammy-winning band's headlining set Saturday night at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, many of the other attractions during the three-day festival will be an expression of Wilco — in some shape or form.
The MoCA property has become a canvas for the band's creative strokes, featuring happenings ranging from performances by each band member's side project; to drummer Glenn Kotche's interactive drum installation; to a Wilco-curated film series.
And to stage an event of that depth, Tweedy said there was no better venue than Mass MoCA.
"The space itself made the festival make sense," Tweedy said during a press conference Friday afternoon on the second floor of MoCA's Sol LeWitt exhibit. "The idea that this art museum is going to allow us to put on a three-day festival, that's great. It's an awesome art museum, so people will have a lot of stuff to look at. That's better than having people come out to a field somewhere.
"Obviously everybody in Wilco does a lot of stuff outside of Wilco. (Guitarist and keyboardist) Pat (Sansone) takes photographs and (keyboardist) Mike (Jorgensen's) wife does video installations. There's a lot of people around the band that makes stuff, and I'd like to think it's somewhat of a collective presentation. Having this space and having the opportunity to showcase all the different elements of what our band is about, it's exciting."
Tweedy, Jorgensen, John Stirratt (bass) and Nels Kline (guitar) were on hand for the press conference, and they were introduced by MoCA Executive Director Joseph Thompson. Kotche and Sansone (guitars, keyboards, vocals) were unable to attend the gathering.
Thousands of tourists flooded the city Friday for the opening night, with many more fans expected to pour in Saturday for Wilco's performance. The Chicago-based band formed in 1994 and has undergone several lineup changes; Tweedy and Stirratt are the only two remaining players since the group's inception. Wilco has released seven studio albums, with their latest offering — Wilco (The Album) — arriving in June 2009.
Saturday's performance — 8 p.m. on Joe's Field — will be the band's only East Coast gig this summer, and its destination is on par with their recent trend of playing non-traditional venues.
"The last few years we've been playing on minor-league baseball fields and places like Tanglewood (Music Center in Lenox) and different places that are really off the beaten path for rock bands," Tweedy said. "One of our managers lives in the area, and he got in contact with Joe (Thompson) and they hammered down an agreement. We were excited that a place like this could have people like us."
The band arrived in North Adams earlier this week, and the guys couldn't be more pleased with the setting offered by the Berkshires.
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Tweedy, 42, from Belleville, Illinois, added: "It's incredible. It's just amazing to have what feels like a smaller, more isolated type of community that has a major art center as part of its local identity."
"That's awesome, and that's exciting," he said. "Unfortunately, it's not very common. We've been super-impressed from day one."
The Solid Sound musical lineup features some of Wilco's favorite artists, though most of them are not as well known by the general public. The band had fun brainstorming the lineup, assembling somewhat of a dream team of artists that complement the festival's eclectic vibe.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Mavis Staples, a legendary soul and gospel singer, will open up for Wilco on Saturday, performing from 6:45 to 7:45 p.m. Tweedy is a huge fan of Staples, and the two collaborated on her latest project.
Each member of the band will perform with their respective side bands: Kotche’s On Fillmore, The Nels Cline Singers, The Autumn Defense featuring Stirratt and Sansone and Mikael Jorgensen’s Pronto.
Cline, who joined the band in 2004, raved about the work of young Avi Buffalo, whose band will perform Sunday afternoon in Courtyard C.
"I've known Avi Buffalo since he was 15 years old, and he's only 19 now," Cline said. "He just becomes more monstrous every second. I'm very excited because I haven't seen him live in over two years."
Sir Richard Bishop, a worldly composer who defies the limits of guitar playing, will perform Saturday at 1:15 p.m. in Courtyard C. Tweedy vividly remembers his first time watching Bishop play as a member of the experimental band Sun City Girls.
"I'm a fan from way back, except that they scared the hell out me," Tweedy said. "I was a teenager, and I think that may have been the first time I felt high."
Slated for the tail end of the festival is "Jeff Tweedy Solo Plus," an act slated for Sunday at 4 p.m. Tweedy said than anything is possible during the set, which could include contributions from other Wilco members or help from Staples and Avi Buffalo. He joked that even the fans could join the jam session: "Bring your guitars everyone."
For fans hoping to interact with Wilco, Saturday's festivities will present a unique opportunity to soak the band. A "Wilco Dunk Tank" has been set up in Courtyard D. At the cost of $10 for three tosses, fans can try to sink the internationally renowned musicians by hitting the bull's-eye. All proceeds will benefit the North Adams Arts Education Charities.