Clearwater Festival: 16 June 2012 – Croton-on-Hudson, NY

The 2012 Clearwater Festival brought environmental sustainability, grass roots activism and great music to a beautiful riverside park.

The 2012 Clearwater Great Hudson River Revival Festival took place over a picture-perfect weekend in the gorgeous Croton Point Park, just a train ride away from New York City in “upstate” Croton-on-Hudson, New York. The festival’s mission to promote environmental and economic restoration to the Hudson River valley draws strong supporters and a lot of musicians. This year’s two-day lineup included Ani Difranco, Alejandro Escovedo, Deer Tick and more on Sunday, but I was only able to attend the first day.

Saturday’s impressive lineup included an incredibly strong showing on the main stage, one that would have kept me there all day if I had been one of the greedy folks who staked out a spot with their blankets early enough. But the festivities, food, information and family-friendly activity booths and multiple stages kept me moving across the grounds.

But I admit, the Malian desert musicians Tinariwen’s hour long set did keep me by the main Rainbow stage the whole time. I hadn’t seen them yet, but their last Grammy winning album Tassili was a favorite from last year, and I had to see them. (Little did I know I would be seeing them again two nights later when they taped their MTV Iggy special in NYC.) Their enchanting vocal drone had me transfixed, and when their breezey guitar music began, the day felt even brighter. Their colorful attire made them seem inconspicuous against the rainbow backdrop. I was wondering what the sign langaugage translator would do with their foreign dialect; it seemed best for her not to try, but at least she had a task when the band thanked the audience from time to time. After Tinariwen’s performance, several new fans were disappointed to find the band did not have Tassili available for sale on-site.

New Orleans’s dapper Preservation Hall Jazz Band followed up for a set before the, also dapper, Punch Brothers performed. Lead Brother, Chris Thile, was happy to be in the beautiful park and referenced the unique tree within sight of the stage numerous times. The band performed a set which included their dark cover of “Kid A” before transitioning into their more typical bluegrass style. Thile, referencing the tree again, noted there was nothing more beautiful than that, except for rye whiskey. This served as the perfect transition to their final song “Rye Whiskey”, followed by Thile commenting that he now couldn’t get the image of a giant bottle of whiskey out of his mind.

Next up was Josh Ritter backed with the Royal City Band (whose bassist had a moustache rivaling NYC’s Nicky Digital). I wasn’t around the stage for the whole performance, so I’m not sure if the band did “The Curse”. I did find Ritter’s performance to be entertaining, as did Thile who observed from the side of the stage and as did the crowd, encouraging Ritter to come back for a rare encore in tightly designed schedule. Joan Osborne, Bela Fleck (without the Flecktones) and the Guthrie Family closed out the night on the main stage.

Aside from the music, I was most impressed by the sailboat that was going out regularly. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to partake in a cruise, but also at the dock was the “OurHudson Barge”, a floating educational exhibit that offered information on methods to revitalize the waterfront area. I spoke with Roger Meyer for a while about the objectives of the OurHudson project (follow this link to get more information). He emphasized the importance of developing local businesses as opposed to providing tax incentives (at tax payer’s expense) to encourage companies to come to the region — especially if they end up failing. A documentary the organization has nearly completed called Hudson Rising! is expected to air on PBS in the near future, and it explores the grassroots efforts to recharge the downtown areas in riverside towns.

OurHudson’s objective to shape political discussion may not be fruitful in an election year; still, their agenda is to improve and develop sustainable local economies across several themes including agriculture, transportation and education. To further this cause, the organization is setting up a Floating Expo of ships to travel up the Hudson, spreading the message in 2013. The tall ships will celebrate the area and promote “green innovation and next-generation stewardship” by facilitating public engagement. The flotilla arriving in each town will surely be a sight to see. Alongside the Clearwater festival, it will be another event to look forward to.

View a full gallery of Clearwater Festival images over at PopMatters’ Facebook page!