The buzz of excitement that has been building for weeks for the 13th Roots on the River extravaganza extends beyond local music aficionados and far-flung "Fredheads." Anticipation is high not only for fans, but for the scheduled performers as well.
In a recent phone interview, festival first-timer Melissa Ferrick was as unabashedly pumped as anyone.
"I’d be going to this even if I wasn’t playing. It is a cool opportunity to be able to be part of something I would have checked out anyway," she said.
Not only does Ferrick -- who is scheduled for Saturday at 3:15 p.m. -- love playing outdoors, she relishes the opportunity to catch the performers she doesn’t usually get to see when she is touring. "I’ve been wanting to see Red Molly for years, and they are after me. I am so excited about that."
After touring persistently for more than 20 years, Ferrick has built a very loyal and fervent fan-base, much like headliner Fred Eaglesmith, whose followers shadow him across the continent. Ferrick has already got a taste of the Fredhead phenomena. "I have opened for Fred before, and I love him, and his audience is amazing. They are great listeners. It is great to play on a festival like this because I do feel like it is with fellow music lovers, fellow songwriter lovers."
Ferrick’s own passion for songwriters really took off when she had the chance to see one of her parents’
When Ferrick got to play the granddaddy of all roots fests, The Newport Folk Festival, a few years, back, she got to see one of her biggest inspirations up close, it was absolutely transformative. "I got to stand behind the stage as she took her band onstage. ... Just before her encore, where they all came off the stage -- I am standing right there, right outside the circle of her band. I watched her talk to her band about what they were gonna do next and saw her command their attention, and I was just blown away by her presence."
After two decades of touring and putting out 16 well-received albums of her own, Ferrick herself has begun to inspire and influence a cadre of young songwriters. Some of her followers are students that have attended the summer classes she now teaches at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. The classroom experience has helped Ferrick keep her artistic batteries charged.
"I feel sometimes that I am getting more out of it than they are. It is completely energizing and fulfilling. I love it -- I think I have it in my blood. I smile all day long. It’s not like it is not tiring and exhausting, or really frustrating. But in the end it’s the most rewarding job I have ever had. It is even more rewarding than my shows."
The energy that Ferrick feeds off of her students was reflected on her latest release "Still Right Here" which features some her finest compositions and vocal performances to date. One of the CD’s highlights is a collaboration with the extraordinary guitarist Kaki King.
In the next phase of her career, Ferrick hopes to join forces with some of her longtime musical inspirations. "I would love to have the opportunity to collaborate with more artists that I have adored over the years, to work with Annie Lennox or Joan Armatrading or Sheryl Crow or Emmylou Harris. These are dreams that I have, like a little kid. The dreams are good -- it keeps me a fan."
Immediately preceding Ferrick on Saturday is an all-star bluegrass outfit that rarely gets to play together and has never played an outdoor festival before. Southern Vermont favorite Mark Erelli explained the genesis of Barnstar!
"It’s the brainchild of Zack Hickman, who is Josh Ritter’s bassist, my friend and producer of my two most recent solo records. He’s kind of a one-man musical variety show, and he’s always roping me into all sorts of musical opportunities and gigs I’d never think to pursue on my own, like joining a bluegrass band."
Erelli has a longtime love for bluegrass, but worries that he won’t be able to keep pace with his highly skilled bandmates. "Though I can’t play very fast, I can sing pretty high, so I’m sort of halfway qualified. The other guys in Barnstar!, Jake and Taylor Armerding (fiddle and mandolin, respectively), Charlie Rose (banjo) and Zack (upright bass) have upwards of 70 years of collective experience playing bluegrass, and it’s really exhilarating to try and keep up. We just released our debut record ‘C’mon!’ last fall, and though we’re all very busy with our individual careers we manage a handful of gigs each year. We each do our share of picking, but we also each take turns singing the lead vocals, so it kind of reminds me of what it might have sounded like if The Band had played bluegrass. We do original songs, written exclusively for the group and stuff from our back catalogs, as well as offbeat and non-traditional covers with a bluegrass spin. We’ve never played a festival, or even outside of Boston, so we’re really excited to get to Bellows Falls."
Dave Madeloni writes a weekly music column for Ovation. He can be reached at email@example.com.