Two-day music festival features 15 live bands
Members of Pink Talking Fish perform at Northlands in 2021.

Two-day music festival features 15 live bands

World-class bands and national and regional touring acts will converge on Northlands Festival this weekend at Cheshire Fairgrounds

There is quite the buzz going on in southern Vermont and just over the border in the Monadnock region about the inaugural Northlands Music & Arts Festival happening at Northlands, an outdoor performance compound (home of the Cheshire Fairgrounds) in Swanzey on Friday, June 24 and Saturday, June 25.

This distinctive festival, an easy 20-mile drive from Brattleboro, welcomes everyone of all ages and will feature 15 bands on two stages over two days.

Concert producers Seth McNally and Mike Chadinha, co-founders of M.E. productions, based in Peterborough, N.H., had to swivel quickly when COVID-19 shut down live music performances in 2020.

Before the pandemic, McNally and Chadinha produced 300 shows per year, primarily in New England. Almost overnight, they switched their performance model to Drive-in Live concerts, high-quality drive-in shows. In 2020, Northlands emerged as socially distant pod concerts at the Cheshire Fairgrounds.

The Drive-in Live concerts were so successful in supporting musicians, bands, and the local economy that McNally and Chadhina now have a huge following of musicians, bands and audience members.

“Now that it's 'back to normal,' we're having a two-day festival with 15 bands, and expect about 4,000 to 6,000 people to attend,” McNally said on a recent phone call.

“When COVID-19 shut everything down, we did what we had to do to pivot and held 60 successful socially distant outdoor events over the course of the last two years,” he continued.

He explained that with normal fair activity and venue use resuming, the Cheshire Fairgrounds will no longer be available as a full-time music venue, and the Northlands Festival will be one of the only productions this summer.

“It's been a unique time in history - these last two years,” he added.

Fifteen bands, two stages

Northlands Music & Arts Festival will include world-class bands and national and regional touring acts: Joe Russo's Almost Dead, Melvin Seals Grateful Revue, Lettuce, Lotus, Twiddle, Pink Talking Fish, Yonder Mountain String Band, Lespecial, Dopapod, Joe Samba, The Movement, Hayley Jane and the Primates, The Trichomes, Blue Star Radiation, and Dogs in a Pile.

The festival also includes 10 food trucks, 12 local craft vendors, performance art, a diverse beer garden, installation art, on-site camping, and many fun activities for kids.

“There will be a charitable component again this year, similar to last year's partnership and donation to Music Drives Us, a nonprofit that puts musical instruments and programs in the local public schools,” McNally noted.

The festival (rain or shine) is appropriate for all ages and offers many engaging activities for families and children. Only service animals will be allowed.

Sustainability initiatives

“There are some sustainability initiatives that we're really proud of,” McNally explained. “It's difficult with large events to be green, but we are taking strides and putting together a recycling team.”

The event organizers are also partnering with SAVRcup, which manufactures cups from 100% recyclable materials. The cups come with a clip “so you can carry it around with you,” he said. “They look really cool and it's a keepsake, so people can use those all day.”

“We're also going to have refillable water stations so people can fill up their own water bottles during the festival. We are trying to eliminate plastic bottles altogether,” McNally added.

Performance spotlights

Melvin Seals Grateful Revue: Melvin Seals “is best known for his long friendship and musical partnership with cultural icon and guitarist Jerry Garcia,” according to the band's website. In 1980, Seals joined the Jerry Garcia Band, where he played keys and a Hammond B-3 organ for 18 years and “in doing so helped pioneer and define what has now become 'Jam Band Music.'”

“We've stayed on the road as much as we could throughout the last two years, but it feels great to be playing with this lineup of musicians at Northlands,” Seals said, when reached by email on tour in Oregon. “Seeing each other and getting ready to perform this special set has been truly inspiring!”

The special lineup of Melvin Seals Grateful Revue includes a new configuration of musicians whom Seals doesn't get to perform with often. The lineup at Northlands features Seals (Jerry Garcia Band) on the Hammond B3 organ and keyboards, John Kadlecik on guitar, Vinnie Amico (moe.) on drums, Jennifer Hartswick (Trey Anastasio Band) on vocals and trumpet, Reed Mathis (Billy & The Kids, Electric Beethoven) on bass, and Roosevelt Collier on pedal steel guitar.

The Commons asked Seals what it is like to be in the driver's seat and play with this set of musicians at Northlands. “It's going to be pretty easy with this caliber of musicians,” Seals noted. “We can all drive together!”

Pink Talking Fish: Eric Gould, founding member and bass player of Boston-based band Pink Talking Fish, says that his band explores the concept of delving deep into the songbooks of Pink Floyd, Talking Heads and Phish. Pink Talking Fish formed in 2013 and by 2015 solidified its lineup.

In addition to Gould, on bass, the band includes Richard James on keyboards, Zack Burwick on drums and Cal Kehoe on guitar. The four professional full-time touring musicians are excited to play at Northlands.

When asked what he hopes audiences will take away from their performance at Northlands, Gould said that “the first and foremost is joy.”

“I want people to just lose themselves in the experience and just embrace themselves within live music,” he said. “We blur the lines between tribute band and originality and offer the songbooks that people know and love in a really unique way.”

“We hope they get to 'oh, wow' moments when [audience members] hear songs they love so much, a connection and a shift in the groove that they weren't expecting,” Gould continued.

“We've had the pleasure of working with Northlands since they started and to see how this organization has blossomed is incredible,” he said, praising organizers McNally and Chadinha for the Covid musical efforts and to the efforts to create the live venue.

“I'm really proud of everyone at Northlands who put in the hard work, to create an incredible spot for live music,” Gould said. “It's a beautiful tree-lined field, and an extra-special place to perform.”

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