Boston Globe September 2012

3/15/2013 15:04

Good vibes, family-friendly tunes flow at Life is good Festival

Boston Globe

By: Scott McLennan

September 25, 2012

Good vibes, family-friendly tunes flow at Life is good Festival


CANTON — Dave Matthews may have lent the Life is good Festival an anthem when he sang “Gaucho” during his headlining set with Tim Reynolds Sunday night at the sold-out fest at Prowse Farm.

“We gotta do more than believe if we really want to change things,” Matthews sang, and there was certainly more than wishful thinking happening down on the farm. The festival netted more than $1 million for Life is good Playmakers, the clothing company’s nonprofit organization responsible for programs that assist children in crisis.

The magnet for all that money was a superbly programmed music festival that featured the Matthews-Reynolds duo, Trombone Shorty, ALO, Sharon Jones, Infamous Stringdusters, Sarah Jarosz, Orange Television, and Air Traffic Controller on Sunday. On Saturday, Michael Franti, Sara Bareilles, Eric Hutchinson, Soulive, Katie Herzig, Ryan Montbleau, Allen Stone, and Muck & the Mires worked the festival’s two stages.

On both days, a family-music pavilion featured Dan Zanes, Kidz Bop Kids, and Josh and the Jamtones, which is the legacy of the original Life is good shows that were family concerts on the Boston Common. And in a bit of planning genius, the festival began each day with the Fresh Beat Band — think Rolling Stones for the knee-high set — playing on the main stage, pretty much packing the place from the opening bell.

The Life is good Festival is an unabashedly happy time that brings together a broad range of music fans into a no-hassle zone. Perhaps not overcrowding the field — Sunday’s bill sold out in advance and Saturday nearly matched that 15,000 attendance — gives everyone the space needed to get along.

The performers avoided pretense, so regardless of whether it was heartfelt pop or a mind-blowing banjo solo, the music seemed in service to the event’s practically trademarked good vibes.

Soulive’s jazzy jamming and Franti’s infectiously joyous iteration of Spearhead were the standouts Saturday. Violin player Boyd Tinsley, in Boston for a documentary screening, sat in with Franti for a rambunctious “I Got Love for You.”

Sunday was more diverse. Before arriving at Matthews’s and Reynolds’s stripped-down treatments of Dave Matthews Band nuggets (and some new material), the show moved through funk, soul, jam rock, and progressive bluegrass.

Orange Television from Northampton stood out early with a bit of darker blended rock. Likewise, ALO had enough edge to slice into a rollicking version of Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good.” For virtuoso playing, Jarosz’s trio, the Stringdusters, Trombone Shorty’s Orleans Avenue, and Jones’s renowned Dap-Kings deployed dizzying arrays of string and brass.

Matthews and Reynolds finely recast familiar tunes, casting old gems such as “Bartender” and “Don’t Drink the Water” in a fresh light. Matthews and Reynolds may have been the festival’s smallest “band,” but certainly the most transfixing.