NORTHAMPTON - From "King of Rome" to "King of Spain," from blue skies to drenching downpours, from noon until after 10 p.m., the Folk Festival in the Pines Theater at Look Park Saturday did what it set out to do: join a critical mass of singer-songwriters with people who love their music.
Attendance at the festival, sponsored by the Union-News and Sunday Republican, peaked at about 1,200 in the afternoon and dwindled to a very wet few hundred by the end. But those who stayed were rewarded with one of the most exceptional hours of music in recent memory: the outrageous Bern at full force backed by the four quick-witted and gifted musicians of Moxy Fruvous.
With two performace spaces - and sometimes sound bleeding from one to the other - a lot was going on. The main stage was opened by Willie Porter, then Pamela Means, both with powerhouse voices. Then came John Gorka, Susan Werner, Vance Gilbert, Christine Lavin, Paul, Cheryl Wheeler, Fruvous and Bern.
As Paul said, "I don't think there's a better lineup in the country this summer."
On the second stage, the highlight was "Local Heroes," featuring a rare chance to hear the goose bump-raising harmonies of Katryna and Nerissa Neilds in duet, as well as masterful guitarist Brooks Williams, Mark Erelli and Stephen Kellogg.
Highlights of the long day included The Neilds sisters singing "Jennifer Falling Down," Gorka's hilarious "I'm from New Jersey," Lavin painting glittery polish on concert-goers' fingernails in the food court before her hilarious set, Werner's funny, stream-of-conscious performance style, and Dan Fox of the Ben Swift Band, getting more sounds out of a conch shell than many people could out of a guitar.
Also, Gilbert's stunning a cappella and off-mike "King of Rome," and his "Ta king it All to Tennessee," written about his friend, Paul; Paul's "Translucent Soul," written about Gilbert; the two men joining for a gorgeous medley of Beatles' songs.
The clever Fruvous guys (and their screaming female fans) did a wonderful set of new songs and old favorites such as "King of Spain" and "Michigan Militia." Bern, as always brutally honest, brave and brilliant, did "Oh Sister" and "Tiger Wood" solo before being joined by Fruvous for a magical hour of transcendent folk-rock that included his songs and a stunning version of Gordon Lightfoot's "Early Mornin' Rain." Joined by Erelli and Means, he closed with Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released."