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Did you hear what I heard? Review of Woodstock 4 [PART 2] @ the Boston Common - 8/18+8/19

Posted by Jonathan Donaldson  August 31, 2012 10:36 AM

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[cont. from Part 1]

What I'm NOT trying to say for a second is that the performers at Woodstock 4 weren't amazing, because they were--from more traditional stuff like Hurricanes of Love (so intense and pure) and the sister-love harmonies of Gracious Calamity, Dawn Fauna and Rayvon Browne, to less traditional stuff like hiphop from Sweatshop, portable sound collage from Dinnersss or insanely impassioned mixtape performance art from Shea Mowat . What I AM saying is that many different shades of human talents were acknowledged here--not just the narrow mainstream that typically gets acknowledged as being 'good music' or even 'good performance art.' And also what I am saying is that the performers stuck around and not only supported each other, but also genuinely learned from one another.

[Photo: Kate Lee

Woodstock 4 was empowering. Maybe, just maybe, some members of the crowd who weren't performing walked away feeling like maybe they should be up there and could be up there....which is a beautiful thing. The one time I did see a 'big time' Boston music artist get up there in front a group of people and unload with the whole check out my mailing list/web-site/facebook/obligatory gig plug/how is everyone doing tonight?/me-me-me schtick, it was as out of place as tomatos are in the fruit family.

So how many people could say that they were there total? I'm guessing based on my time spent walking around between the four sites for both days that 1500-2000 people dedicated at least part of their day to checking it out over two days, and that included a good number of passersby that got sucked in.

When you have an event of this magnitude on the Boston Common you realize how big the space is. Not only did the 500 or so performers not even make a dent in the park, but quite the opposite happened. The park actually seemed to be being used for it's most correct purpose--as a gathering place for people to do their thing in Boston's backyard. For just as it makes sense for people to play frisbee, walk their dogs, loaf around, bring their kids to the park, etc, it makes perfect sense for people to make music and recite poetry and to dance and do weird performance art.

Think of all the little kids visiting Boston over this weekend, walking around with their families in the Commons and seeing/hearing all of this music being played all over the park. They must have thought, "Wow, Boston is a really cool/weird/interesting/noisy place." They must have thought at least something. And many of them will go through life thinking that this is what Boston is like--even though it's not. Or maybe it is? Maybe it is changing, and Woodstock 4 was a part of it. For although the event attracted a good number of hippies that looked EXACTLY like mid-60s US scenesters--not the flowery Grateful Dead types that we had in the '90s--the police that kept an eye on the event in their cruisers were gentle giants. The overall response from Johnny Law and the public seemed to be so positive (at the worst neutral) that there really is no reason why this couldn't be an annual event, or any reason why busking in the Commons couldn't turn into something beyond just something typically done by the regulars who make a living at it. Why couldn't artists put on an improptu show in an outdoor setting in lieu of dealing with a club? It's so nice to be outside, when there is no pressure to necessarily stay (especially when there are other things to check out if you take a little walk) and no pressure to buy a drink and just stand around.

And how about the good people strolling through the Boston Common checking out the various acts? What did they think? Yes, I did hear someone doing Beatles and Jimi Hendrix covers. That was the most karaoake-esque of it in terms of creativity. On the other end of the spectrum, I saw the men of Vehement Caress grinding little wooden and metal boxes around on the pavement, scooting the cubes around as though the objects themselves were demons. The grinding of the boxes made horrible noises, not to mention the smashing of them. It was excellent. Was I a little titilated seeing the girls on the party bus driving by near Beacon Hill leer at this spectacle? Yes, I admit that I was. But not because I wanted to shout "look how weird we are Boston. We put up with your Red Sox and your Sam Adams, so now it's time for you to put up with our box smashing." It was more because I felt like this is the way Boston should be. It should be a place where people feel free to express themselves safely and fairly within public spaces in accordance with acceptable volume levels and curfews. PLAY! Yes, this is what artists need to do, is just be allowed to do their thing, a priori to anyone making any value judgments as to whether it is good, or (egads) whether it is art.

Maybe your reaction to the event is that it was awesome. Which is what my reaction was, as I walked around from performance area to performance area for about 15 hours or so over the course of the weekend. If I liked what I heard, I stayed. If I didn't, I left. Usually I stayed. Sometimes I left if I wasn't in the mood, and sometimes I learned about a mood that I wasn't sure that I had. I liked those moments. Often I was judgmental, and more often than not, my judgments were proven wrong. I would be watching someone set up and say to myself, "oh this looks like it's going to be bad." And lo and behold, it was great. Three cheers to all of the electronic sound collage artists in particular who made the effort to bring low voltage power supplies to do their thing. It's not the kind of thing that I'm used to seeing in the busking environment, but I learned a lot about listening by watching you. There is something special about music that really needs to be watched to appreciate. Also to the many musicians who managed to keep guitars from sounding utterly boring. You did well. Keep writing those songs and as long as they come from a pure place in your heart, people will be listening. And most of all, cheers to the folks who made this happen. You did it! Congratulations. The children who walked by you and listened to you play will thank you in twenty years.

[Photo: Kate Lee]

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Jonathan Donaldson is a Boston-based musician, writer, and second-generation music junkie. An Ohio native who moved to Boston in 1998, Jonathan's musical loves include R&B, psych, punk, bubblegum, country, electronic, More »

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