Billstock showcases up-and-coming acts

Last weekend, in Hops & Vines’ intimate restaurant setting, an audience of several dozen from the community gathered to listen to local bands give creative and heartfelt performances. Often called “Williamstown’s Music Festival,” the third annual Billstock Music Festival’s name is a portmanteau of Williamstown’s affectionate nickname “Billsville” and the legendary three-day 1969 music festival Woodstock.The festival opened on Friday night at the local beer garden and restaurant on Water Street. It has dedicated itself to showcasing up-and-coming talents and veterans of the folk and indie music scene here in the Purple Valley. The event was an excellent opportunity to listen to our local artists and serves as a reminder to students to participate in local arts events outside of campus.

Although I was not able to attend Billstock’s opening night on Friday, I did make it to day two of the weekend-long festival. The entrance to Hops & Vines was beautifully lit and two bonfires added both light and warmth outside the front door on an otherwise cold and lightly snowy night. Few attendees arrived by the night’s early evening start time and were visibly enjoying themselves, dancing, nothing short of wildly, to the night’s opening acts, including smooth but upbeat guitarists and folksingers. While in the company of a few fellow Ephs who decided to venture to the festival, we listened to several hours’ worth of music and watched as more people of various ages joined in on the experience.

One band that was prominently featured earlier on in the night was The Grizzlies, with three members performing on bass, guitar, drums and vocals. The Grizzlies, formerly known as After the Monsoon, performed a mix of folksy, hip original pieces along with more classic covers of standby indie, punk, rock and pop bands such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blink 182, the Ramones, the Lumineers, Train and Green Day. The room continued to fill up as a larger crowd emerged throughout the night to support and enjoy the local musicians.

The lineup for Billstock this year can accurately be described as an embarrassment of riches, with simply too many great artists to listen to in one weekend. Among the artists in the lineup throughout the festival were both new bands and several veterans of Billstock including Good Good, Misty Blues, The Blind Reckoning Project, The Trophy Husbands and The Wandering Rocks. Solo artists also performed, including Jeff Hudson and Jen Crowell. Though I was not able to see several of the performers live – as the festival rocked on until 2 a.m. both nights – I was pleased to listen to some of their recorded work online, which is easily accessible through Billstock’s website. In particular, Jen Crowell’s jazzy, soulful folk music is catchy while almost haunting in its execution – with a deep, relaxing voice and soft guitar melodies, her music should definitely not be missed. Highly recommended are her songs “But Instead” and her latest release, “Cold Front.” Another gem, the band The Wandering Rocks, was described by Billstock as “an eclectic and versatile combo of beauty and attitude” and with a sound encompassing “chamberfolk, orchestral punk and ethereal bluegrass.” The band’s music – incorporating vocals with guitar, violin and cello – evokes the natural and relaxing beauty of the Berkshires. I especially recommend their single “O.”

Also performing at the festival was the College’s own Homage, a group formed in 2012 by 10 Williams students including Sevonna Brown ’15, Tirhakah Love ’15, Danny Schwartz ’13, Phillip Parnell ’13, Kevin Lawkins ’13, Charlie Sellars ’13, Paul Adeleke ’15, Andy Quinn ’13, Noah Wentzel ’15 and Hartley Greenwald ’16. Dedicated to hip hop, soul and jazz, the band utilizes a variety of instruments including keyboard, bass, violin, tenor sax and trombone to evoke the feel-good music of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.

In the end, the festival provided a fun and carefree environment to listen to original, local music. As the festival grows in years to come, it is sure to attract even more local artists, many of whom have albums for sale online. Billstock IV will premiere in 2014 on March 7 and 8.