Four days of live roots and Americana tunes from a plethora of sensational acts, along with workshops (including ones in fiddle and songwriting), barn dances, yoga, food trucks (lots of ’em!) and craft beer? Yes, please!
That’s what you’ll get at the annual Ossipee Valley Music Festival, which attracts 5,000 attendees and is celebrating its 25th anniversary this week. To help you pack all the activity in, you can camp right on the fairgrounds in South Hiram, as about two-thirds of festivalgoers do.
“The size of it is big enough that it feels like a party, but also small enough that you really can establish relationships with people and it feels tight-knit,” said Molly Griffin McKenna. She and her husband, Bill Johnson, are co-executive directors of nonprofit North Atlantic Arts Alliance and the festival’s promoters.
Rather than rattle off the entire list of acts, I’m going to focus on my three personal picks, as well as those of Griffin McKenna. But know this: The vibe at this festival is welcoming and fun, whether you know every band or none at all. If you choose to go for the whole shebang or just for one day, you’ll leave with at least a couple of new favorite musicians and possibly some new friends as well.
Nashville-based and Canadian born singer-songwriter Allison Russell won me over in a heartbeat when she released “Outside Child” in 2021. I already was a bit familiar with her from the bands Po’ Girl and Our Native Daughters, but when I heard “Outside Child,” my heart just about stopped, such is the power and honesty of songs like “Montreal” and “4th Day Prayer.” Her efforts garnered multiple Grammy nominations, and she won several other awards, including a Juno for Contemporary Roots Album of the Year. I’ve now seen her several times, including last month in England, where she played the title track of her forthcoming album, “The Returner,” due out in early September. Russell is among the the most gracious, joy-inspiring and hopeful musicians I’ve ever seen. With her voice, several instruments including banjo and clarinet, and an extraordinary backing band that includes the duo Sista Strings, Russell has a life force you want to be around.
The Mallett Brothers Band
I mean, come on, if you still haven’t managed to see The Mallett Brothers Band live, you can hardly call yourself a Mainer. I am semi-kidding but am entirely serious about how good they are when it comes to serving up righteous roots tunes. Arguably one of Maine’s hardest-working acts, they play a robust amount of shows in Maine and well beyond. Discography-wise, they’ve put out six full-length albums, plus a couple of live ones and a handful of singles. Sunday at the festival is Maine Day, which means anyone who lives within a 15-mile radius can attend for free, and the entire day’s lineup is Maine acts. In addition to the Mallet Brothers, that includes New Moon Ensemble, Tricky Britches, Breakin’ Strings and The Maine Middle Eastern Ensemble.
Last summer is when I became aware of the phenomenal acoustic fingerstyle guitarist Yasmin Williams. She played an early set at one of the Newport Folk Festival stages, so I thought I’d check her out, which ended up being a brilliant decision. My jaw was on the grass tent floor the entire time because Williams, from Virginia, was mesmerizing. Her album “Unwind” was released in 2018 and was followed by “Driftwood” in 2021. Often, the guitar is resting in her lap as she draws sounds from it that are percussive, complex and aurally phenomenal. Williams is the curator of the Yasmin & Friends Artists of Color showcase, happening Thursday. Other performers include local acts Kafari and CRYS, as well as Amadou Koyate out of Washington, D.C.
Tres Souls is Griffin McKenna’s top pick, though she made it clear she’s excited about all the acts, especially Russell. Tres Soul is the Los Angeles-based trio of Rocio Mendoza, Roberto Carlos and Jesus Martinez, whose sound is rooted in Bolero music. The band’s website says that they “relive the vintage sounds and songs of the 1940s-1960s, stylized during the Golden Era of Mexican Cinema.” Griffin said that in addition to the festival set, Tres Souls will be teaching a workshop of Mexican heritage music, including Bolero rhythms and styles. Sí, por favor!
The California Honeydrops
Griffin is also thrilled about the return of this band, which hails from the West Coast, but takes its musical inspiration from the South, playing R&B, Southern soul, Delta blues and New Orleans-influenced tunes. The last time they played at Ossipee was about eight years ago, and it was a night to remember, Griffin said. When their two-hour set ended, no one was ready to call it quits. “They unplugged all their instruments and sat down on the stage and then jumped off the front of the stage and started running around the campground with everybody following them like they were like these magical little woodland creatures.” Everyone would up at a late night stage on the festival grounds, and the party continued well past midnight. And if you miss them here, The California Honeydrops will be at the State Theatre on Oct. 24.