CANTON - Last year, the Life is good Festival was a curiosity, fusing a wholesome family show of the sort the namesake clothing company used to present for free on the Boston Common to a bona fide rock and pop fest. Year one raised a bunch of money for charity and the spirits of those hungry for a big music gathering that doesn’t skew to teens or metalheads.
Year two, which played out Saturday and yesterday at Prowse Farm, simply raised the bar in every way. A lineup featuring Ray LaMontagne, the Avett Brothers, and Boston Pops-enhanced performances by both Brandi Carlile and the Levon Helm Band lured audiences that surpassed 10,000 people each day. And through fest profits and associated fund-raising activities, more than $1 million was collected for the Life is good Kids Foundation.
Once again, the expansive site could handle two stages of “grown-up’’ bands and a tented pavilion for kid-specific artists, as well as a large area for games and activities for the young at heart. Watching adults challenge each other in sack races and tykes singing along to Michael Franti and Spearhead made it rough to tell whether this festival was a music event with a summer camp attached or a summer camp with some great music layered in.
The festival’s roots as a free family-music concert are intact with the care given to the curating of the children’s music tent. On both days, this enclave was packed with kids and their keepers, the lucky ones lounging on beanbag chairs. The lineup on the Good Kids stage repeated both days with Ben Rudnick, Keller Williams, Laurie Berkner, and Imagination Movers. Williams, better known for his freewheeling acoustic music in the “adult’’ world, held his own alongside the other veteran family acts (and after playing, he blended right into the audience with his two kids in tow).
LaMontagne, Helm, Carlile, Maceo Parker, and Zee Avi anchored the Life is good stage yesterday, while across the field on the Good Vibes stage, Raphael Saadiq, Robert Randolph, Ryan Montbleau, and Jenny Dee ran through a broad palette of styles.
LaMontagne closed last night with his rough-hewn tunes that sound soothing even when cut through with ache.
Helm’s big ensemble felt like “The Last Waltz’’ revisited as it presented many Band classics and tossed in an angelic version of the Grateful Dead’s “Attics of My Life,’’ bolstered by the Pops.
Carlile also used the Pops to great effect in her country-tinged repertoire. Parker’s band offered classic funk on the big stage right after Avi introduced a beguiling fresh sound there.