Every June since 2009 we've been sifting through the news of the area's many summer music festivals to bring you our top picks. And the opening spiel for these roundups has usually been something along the lines of: "Hey, look at us, we've survived another brutal winter! And along with the beautiful warm weather we've been rewarded with all of this amazing music!" But one could make the case that this past winter, with its unusually unseasonal mildness, could scarcely even be called a winter. After 70-degree days in February, do we really deserve yet another summer filled with wonderful live music?
Of course we do! As Northeasterners, the chance to forget the stresses of daily life and the tumult in the world as we take in some of the region's many well-programmed, multiact musical events is practically our birthright. Put a couple of recent additions next to the roster of returning favorites and throw in current projections of actual—yes, indeed!—dropping gas prices, and any arguments for not getting out to dig some fine sounds quickly evaporate. So, once again, here's our guide to the season's best music festivals. Enjoy!
Brewery Ommegang Music Series (June 15-September 22)
Cooperstown's Brewery Ommegang opened on a 136-acre hop farm in 1997 and has since exploded as an award-winning maker of Belgian-style ales. It also seems the brewers are big fans of music as well as handcrafted beers: Recently, Ommegang has become a hot live venue and snared some of the festival circuit's biggest-drawing acts. Like who? How about Cake (June 15), Death Cab for Cutie (July 21), Lyle Lovett (July 27), Wilco (July 28), and Darius Rucker (September 22)? Complement the beer and the bands with a bite at gastropub Cafe Ommegang and the day is complete.
Maverick (Through September 16)
America's oldest continuous summer chamber music festival returns to its historic 1916 Woodstock shed for another three-month run of classical, jazz, and world music luminaries. This season's highlights include the Imani Winds (July 1), the Shanghai Quartet (July 8), the Four Nations Ensemble (July 14), composer Peter Schickele (July 21), cellist Zuill Bailey with pianist Robert Koenig (July 29), a young people's concert by Elizabeth Mitchell and Family (August 4), Trio Solisti (August 12), jazz pianist Fred Hirsch (September 8), violinist Tim Fain (September 9), and the Tokyo String Quartet (September 16).
Bethel Woods (Through September 29)
The site of the original 1969 Woodstock festival in Bethel rocks yet again. This time out the schedule promises the likes of Lady Antebellum (June 13), Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band (June16), the Beach Boys (June 17), the New York Philharmonic (July 7), the New York Doo-Wop Extravaganza (July 14), Furthur, featuring Bob Weir and Phil Lesh (July 15), Everclear, Sugar Ray, the Gin Blossoms, Lit, and Marcy Playground (July 20), Joe Cocker and Huey Lewis and the News (August 5), Southside Johnny (September 8), Steve Earle (September 29), and much more.
Belleayre (July 7-September 1)
The breathtaking views from Belleayre Mountain always make a stunning backdrop for live music, and this year is no exception. The 2012 listing of summer events at the Highmount ski resort is rich with rock, soul, jazz, opera, country, show tunes, and more. On the books are the Spinners (July 7), Josh Turner (July 14), Christine Ebersole (July 21), Puccini's "La Boheme" (July 28), Ed Palermo's Little Big Band with a tribute to Frank Zappa (August 3), a celebration of Lionel Hampton by Jason Marsalis and Dianne Schuur (August 4), Stefon Harris (August 10), Pat Metheny's Unity Band (August 11), and the Belleayre Festival Orchestra performing Led Zeppelin (September 1).
Camp Bisco (July 12-14)
This three-day jam-band/DJ/hip-hop throwdown founded by the Disco Biscuits in 2001 is held at the scenic Indian Lookout Country Club in rural Mariaville. Among its new-and-improved additions are wooded camping, a second stage in the main field, surround-sound PA systems in larger dance tents, a local artist stage, and shuttles from Albany, Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Burlington, New York, and Philadelphia. Besides the Biscuits themselves, the lineup of over 100 acts includes Bassnectar, Skrillex, Amon Tobin ISAM, Crystal Castles, Atmosphere, Big Boi, Portugal. The Man, Big Gigantic, Holy Fuck, Rubblebucket, and dozens more.
Green River (July 14-15)
On its way to becoming the Northeast's greatest roots music festival, Green River takes place on the grounds of Greenfield Community College in Greenfield, Massachusetts, and this year honors the 100th birthday of patron saint Woody Guthrie with a visit from Arlo Guthrie and the Guthrie Family Reunion. The stellar roster also features Los Lobos, Richard Thompson, Ozomatli, the David Wax Museum, C. J. Chenier, the Rebirth Brass Band, Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, the Lost Bayou Ramblers with Gordon Gano, Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express, Chris Smither, Lee Fields and the Expressions, the Deedle Deedle Dees, and others.
Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (July 27-29)
Not to be underestimated when it comes to roots sounds, however, is this august fest at Dodds Farm in Hillsdale, a favorite since 1988. On the bill for this edition are Aztec Two-Step, Eilen Jewell, Holly Near, the Grand Slambovians, Eddie from Ohio, Girlyman, Jubal's Kin, the Clayfoot Strutters, Nerissa and Katrina Nields, Todd Scheaffer, John Francis, and more to be announced. Dancing has long been a big part of the Falcon Ridge fun, and the site's 8,000-square-foot covered wooden floor features leading dance callers. The Workshop Stage has intimate performances, while the Family Stage offers kid-friendly activities. Along with on-site camping, there are food and craft vendors.
Phoenicia Festival of the Voice (August 2-5)
This Phoenicia happening was launched in 2009 by local mezzo-soprano Maria Todaro and baritones Louis Otey and Kerry Henderson with a mission "to promote the human voice as an instrument of peace, healing, and artistic expression through presenting world-class performances of opera, song, world music, Baroque, new vocal music, and choral music." This year boasts Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" conducted by the Metropolitan Opera's Steven White with a cast including Otey and tenor Richard Troxell; the operatic comedy "The Benefit" with Todaro and Michelle Jennings; a tribute to Peter Schickele with pianist Justin Kolb and a full chorus; and "Love's Kingdom," an evening of lieder featuring Henderson, Met tenor Barry Banks, and flutist Eugenia Zukerman.
Bard SummerScape (July-August 19)
The music and world of "the French Mozart," Camille Saint-Saëns, is the focus of the 23rd annual staging of this world-renowned series at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson. In addition to performances of works by the composer and his contemporaries—Ravel, DeBussy, Berlioz; Chabrier's comic opera "The King in Spite of Himself"—the celebration includes Moliere's comedic play "The Imaginary Invalid"; Beatrice Massin's dance company, Compagne Fêtes galantes, with "Let My Joy Remain"; plus lectures and films. The magical Spiegeltent also returns, with live music (Buckwheat Zydeco, Martha Wainwright, an Yves Montand tribute), cabaret (the Wau Wau Sisters), SpiegelClub DJ nights, family entertainment, and more.
FreshGrass (September 21-23)
Okay, late September technically isn't summer. But in only its second year this upstart event at Mass MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, continues to line up amazing talent, and warrants inclusion. Headlined by the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, the high lonesome hoot also stars Trampled by Turtles, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Lonesome River Band, Joy Kills Sorrow, Cahalen and Eli, Leyla McCalla, Devil Makes Three, the Infamous Stringdusters, and Spirit Family Reunion. There's also a banjo workshop with Alison Brown, events for kids, and local food and drink; ticketholders also get admission to MASS MoCA's sprawling, contemporary art-filled galleries, where they can enjoy pop-up concerts.
Also on the Horizon
June 16-17. Croton-on-Hudson. Ani DiFranco, Martin Sexton, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Bela Fleck, Josh Ritter, Arlo Guthrie, Tinariwen, the Punch Brothers, more.
June 22-23. Altamont. Bruce Molsky, Brother Sun, Sharon Katz and the Peace Train, the Andrew and Noah Band, Mulebone, John McCutcheon, Ron Gordon and Michael Eck, more.
July 7-August 25. Cooperstown. Verdi's "Aida," Meredith Wilson's "The Music Man," Lully's "Armide," Kurt Weill's "Lost in the Stars," Eric Owen singing Billy Eckstine, more.
July 18-August 15. Hudson. Chandler Travis Philharmonic, Wasted Lives, Pocatello, King of the Forest, Taina Asili y los Bande Rebelde, Sweet Soubrette, Bindlestiff Family Cirkus.
July19-22. Oak Hill. Del McCoury, Hot Rize, David Grisman, Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, David Bromberg, Tony Trischka, Punch Brothers, Jesse McReynolds, more.
Hudson Valley Jazz Festival
August 16-August 19. The renamed Warwick Valley Jazz Festival expands its venues this year into the greater Warwick area and Sugarloaf. Chris Persad Group, John Ellis, Mike Purcell Group, Gabriele Tranchina Quintet, New York Swing Exchange, Rick Savage Group, more.