“Exquisite torture” isn’t the first phrase that would leap to mind for most people if asked to characterize the Great Hudson River Revival, popularly known as the Clearwater Festival. Nonetheless, it’s an apt description for the two-day, environmentally themed roots-music blowout that has been happening every Fathers’ Day weekend for 35 years now. The problem, you see, is that there’s just so much going on at any given time that you’ll want to rip yourself in pieces so that you can be present at more than one stage at once.
At 2 p.m. this Saturday, for instance, you could be listening to the Afrobeat orchestra Antibalas, blues from the Guy Davis Band, zydeco from Jesse Lége and Bayou Brew or several other interesting acts. On Sunday at 6 p.m. you could catch iconic singer/songwriter/actor Kris Kristofferson; phrase-looping phenom Keller Williams, a/k/a K-Dub, jamming bluegrass with the Travelin’ McCourys (that’s the Del McCoury Band minus Del); satirical songwriter Jill Sobule; Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars; or local faves Magpie.
There are three main stages – Rainbow, Hudson and Sloop – plus a Dance Stage, a Family Stage for particularly kid-friendly acts, a Story Grove for spoken-word entertainment and the Circle of Song. The latter is where the “parkin’ lot pickin’” action primarily happens, with miscellaneous big names and amateur musicians gathering to swap songs or learn tricky licks, and where you can catch a workshop on humorous political songs, a jug-band jam or a convocation of mad ukulele players. Croton Point Park is spread-out enough that the sound rarely bleeds over from one stage to another, and you can find quiet spots easily enough if you want a break from the overflowing musical bounty.
Most folks are attracted by the headline performers, of course, and Clearwater never disappoints when it comes to folk-revival “legacy acts.” This year, Judy Collins, the David Bromberg Quintet, Hot Tuna unplugged, Mavis Staples, Tom Chapin, David Amram and Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk are all playing on Saturday, June 15. The Sunday lineup includes Pete Seeger with Lorre Wyatt, Buffy Sainte-Marie, more Hot Tuna with Steve Kimock sitting in, more David Amram, Josh White, Jr., Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience, Vieux Farka Touré, Levon Helm’s Dirt Farmer Band and the Klezmatics.
Just turned 94 and still chopping firewood daily at last report, Seeger will likely pop up all over the festival, not just during his headline slot; and every musician present will undoubtedly want to perform with the folk legend at some point. Also don’t miss the Sunday afternoon workshop “Remembering Richie Havens,” who was a longtime Hudson River Revival mainstay.
Younger generations of performers will be represented by such acts as Son Volt, Drive-By Truckers graduates Patterson Hood and Jason Isbell, Mike & Ruthy, the Last Bison, the Lone Bellow and Canadian Bhangra/Celtic fusion band Delhi 2 Dublin. Previously announced R & B stars Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings had to bow out, unfortunately, due to a medical emergency. But disappointed fans will find plenty of other great sounds to console them. One of the great pleasures of the Revival has always been the wealth of opportunities to discover fabulous bands that you may never have heard of before, just by wandering from stage to stage – especially in the “world music” sphere.
Then there are all the activist booths where you can stock up on tee-shirts, pamphlets, buttons and bumper stickers and sign petitions for every progressive cause imaginable, with special focus on sustainability and green energy. The looming presence of the Indian Point nuclear plant’s cooling towers across the bay is a constant reminder of why the need for the Clearwater organization does not diminish, even as the Hudson River becomes swimmable again and the PCBs get cleaned up further north.
The festival also boasts a crafts fair, a farmers’ market area devoted to locally sourced artisanal food and agriculture, a display of hand-built boats and rides around the bay on the Clearwater herself. Plus there are a gazillion things for kids to do, from face-painting to storytellers to making birdfeeders from recycled materials. Everything, including stage lighting and sound, is biodiesel- and solar-powered; there’s ample space set aside at each stage for handicapped access, and main-stage concerts typically are accompanied by American Sign Language interpreters (who are great fun to watch even if you’re not hearing-impaired).
If you’ve never been to the Revival, now is the time to find out why National Geographic Traveler cited it in its “Best Trips 2013” issue and why Outside Magazine calls it “one of the top four music festivals in the US.” Ticket prices range from $64 for an advance-purchase single-day pass for a Clearwater member to $200 for a full weekend pass including camping privileges for a non-member. Kids age 12 and under get in free with an adult, and students, seniors and the disabled get a 15 percent discount. Sails on the Clearwater and the Mystic Whaler cost extra and should be booked online in advance.
This event is the single biggest fundraiser for one of the Hudson Valley’s most important environmental watchdog and educational organizations. Visit www.clearwaterfestival.org for advance-purchase discount tickets and check out the full schedule. The gates open at 9 a.m.; the concerts start at 11 a.m. and run officially until 8:30 p.m. (but usually later) on Saturday and until 7 p.m. on Sunday.
For the reasonably fit, Croton Point Park is walking distance from the Croton Metro North station, but a free shuttle is provided. Onsite parking at the Park itself is very limited and carries a $10 fee; parking at the train station costs $5. Carpooling or utilizing public transportation is highly recommended.
Clearwater’s 35th annual Great Hudson River Revival, Saturday/Sunday, June 15/16, 9 a.m.-8:30 p.m., $64-$200, Croton Point Park, 1A Croton Point Avenue, Croton-on-Hudson; (845) 236-5596, www.clearwaterfestival.org.