Before the headliner was introduced, idea man Ray Dalio took the stage to thank the sponsors, organizers, volunteers and attendees of the Greenwich Town Party. He briefly explained the genesis of the music festival, now in its third year. On a visit to Spain, Mr. Dalio and his wife had been impressed by the strong community spirit they found in each small town. Town parties are common, he recalled, some more elaborate than others. One fun-loving town goes no farther than the garden to guarantee a good time. That’s right – food fight! The entire town hurls ripe tomatoes at each other in a wet, slushy celebration of summer. Community spirit – Ray latched onto the concept, but not the tomatoes.
This year the Greenwich Town Party was equally wet, but no vegetables were harmed in a day-long celebration of music and community. It rained continuously, alternating between a light, chilly mist and sheets of water that made puddles on and off the stage. Boots, rain jackets, hats and gloves left only faces uncovered, highlighting the brightly colored butterflies painted on the children’s cheeks and their chocolate smiles. It was a good day, a very good day under the umbrellas and at the stage where the crowd grew in number throughout the afternoon, bonded to their neighbors by the music and the rain.
The music was excellent, the barbecue outstanding and the company first class. The weather proved a minor inconvenience, and a ready source of both conversation and survivalist pride. During James Taylor’s closing set, the rain fell harder than it had all day, and still he sang, pausing between tunes to wipe down his guitar and shake the water from his cap. The crowd stayed the course as well, smiling broadly through the raindrops at “Carolina in My Mind”, the song rendered in Taylor’s distinctive voice, smooth and familiar, and supported by back-up vocal harmonies that were beautifully blended. When he later covered a pair of Carole King songs including “You’ve Got a Friend”, the crowd spontaneously sang along, uninvited but with genuine warmth and enjoyment.
During Blues Traveler’s set the sun suddenly appeared and there was an audible reaction from the crowd gathered at the stage. John Popper was quick to claim credit for the break in the weather, then appeared perplexed when the rain returned. He later joked on Twitter, “We were worshiped as sun gods until it rained again & then they consumed Ben (keys player Ben Wilson) entirely raw until nothing remained!” Nah, but we ate up the music! John’s gritty, soulful vocals offered favorites old and new, including selections from 2012 album Suzie Cracks the Whip. His harmonica played an integral role in the band’s instrumentals, delivering and enhancing the melody line.
No one encapsulated the day’s theme of community friendship and fun more than Michael Franti. He was everywhere, stage right, left, front and then suddenly he was in the midst of the crowd with a guitar in his hands, encouraging a willing audience to crouch down low and then jump up high. There were smiles everywhere when Franti hoisted a young boy onto his shoulders and later invited all the children onto the stage for a closing performance of “Say Hey (I Love You)”. And they did…love him.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue played a lively, dynamic set that began on the main stage and finished on the town stage when wind and rain necessitated repairs. Troy (Trombone Shorty) and band moved Pied Piper style to the second platform where they continued to play funky, jazzy, horn centric music that had the crowd in motion, including a young family at the back whose unchoreographed dance signaled unbridled enthusiasm (and loose joints). His vocals were clear and pleasant and well phrased; a first listen to Trombone Shorty was a good start, but not nearly enough.
We had a grand time and made new friends in Greenwich on Saturday, and I learned something important about the town and its people. They have spirit and spunk and rain gear. They’d probably be willing to throw a tomato or two. Next year, Ray?
The Harlem Gospel Choir – first to the main stage with bright, energetic vocals and movement
Blues Traveler band – a family affair with one Kinchla brother on bass, the second on guitar
Fan favorite Michael Franti and friend strolling the grounds
John Popper of Blues Traveler – two mic man
Headliner James Taylor – wet and wonderful
Projection screens visbile from land and water…through the water!
Trombone Shorty – rocked our boat
Our spirits were up, too, at the Greenwich Town Party.