Ahead of attending this year’s 10th edition of the Levitate Music & Arts Festival on the site of the Marshfield Fairgrounds, patrons were instructed as to what they could and couldn’t bring in, from bags of a certain size to outside food. Unwritten in the rules: No negative energy allowed.
The crowd at Levitate sways more than walks around the venue, and not merely from the influence of Red Stripes or other relaxants. People could be seen dancing to the music in front of stages, under the misting tent, and before the handful of colorful murals being painted during the event.
We attended the finale of the 3-day festival on Sunday under a mostly hazy cloud cover that was never able to dull this colorful event. The sea of tie-dye, flower halos, and glitter-speckled skin made sure of that, as did the larger presence of little kids than you see at a typical music festival—and they were kept entertained with a petting zoo, skateboard half-pipe, and an opportunity to jam on instruments. Adults kept themselves entertained in other ways, some outfitted with hula hoops and hacky sacks, and found sustenance at food booths ranging from a Broccoli Bar to a lobster roll shack.
A “Groovy Forever” t-shirt worn by one attendee said it all about this event, which attracted tens of thousands over three days.
While there were no Grateful Dead spinoffs at this year’s concert, as there was last year, the Dead’s influence was never far from Levitate. Nor was the spirit of Bob Marley, whose son Ziggy led a lively afternoon set with his band.
Blues and roots or indie rock seemed to dominate the smaller stages early on. While Ziggy played the main stage in the 3:00 hour, Veronica Lewis was showing off her piano and vocal chops on the smaller “Soul Stage.” All of 18 years old, Lewis belies her age. We’re not ready to call her the next Carole King, as some do according to Lewis’ website, but she’s off to a great start, having won numerous local awards. She won the 2020 Boston Blues Challenge and was 2020’s New England Music Hall of Fame Best Young Artist.
The first performance of the day, which featured a diverse collection of artists, was by a young pop-rock band called Copilot that won the “Get On Stage At Levitate” contest.
Our first stop upon arriving at Levitate was “Stoke Stage” to see Couch, a band that we’ve called attention to before because two of its players hail from Wellesley, one member’s dad grew up here, and lead singer Tema Siegel is from Newton. “It’s crazy to be performing on the same stage where Brandi Carlile will play, standing on the same tape,” Siegel said. This band, which infuses pop songs with funk, R&B, jazz, and rock influences, fills the stage with its eight members and a signature blue couch, but leaves plenty of room for on-stage dancing that inspires the crowd to do likewise. They ended their set with a funky rendition of “Conjunction Junction,” the old Saturday morning cartoon favorite from Schoolhouse Rock. We seem to be on the same circuit with Couch, having also just seen them perform at the Boston Calling festival in May (next up locally for Couch: A sold-out Nov. 10 show at the 1,000-plus capacity Royale in Boston).
Couch wasn’t our only Wellesley connection at the show. One of our favorite things about Levitate is that you’re allowed to bring in low-backed folding chairs to give your feet and legs a break and to just chill out (allowing chairs also serves to reduce the mass of fans standing in front of the stages). Many people arrange their seats in circles and chat away. We plunked ours down near the Stoke Stage and minutes later we hear “You’re from Wellesley?” (my Wellesley Health Department hat, scored from the RDF, gave me away). Turns out the couple behind us also made the trek from Wellesley, and the next thing you know we’re briefly discussing the proposed 8 Cliff Road housing development before turning our attention back to lighter thoughts.
Levitate attracted talent from well away from Wellesley, including the southern United States. My running mate this day particularly looked forward to hearing Nashville’s Larkin Poe, and lucky for us, we got to chat up one of the members while watching singer and guitarist Celisse perform her unique brand of soulful music. “This feels like the kind of festival where I should take my time, no?” Celisse said, though soon enough played her way off stage and right into the crowd to speed things up quite a bit, creating a cellphone swarm around her & her guitar. Celisse could be seen after her set mingling with the crowd and posing for photos, an example of the relaxed atmosphere at Levitate, which somehow still doesn’t feel too big despite big crowds—and big name performers.
When Celisse’s drummer flicked a drum stick into the crowd at the end of the show, a fan happily snagged it. She fared much better than the fan who later came away with Americana musician Shakey Graves’ super sweaty towel. “I sweat in the snow,” he confided in the crowd, and indeed later stuck a guitar pick to his forehead while continuing to perform.
During Larkin Poe‘s set, sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell reminded us all not to overlook the role that the blues has played in influencing American music, and hailed the rise of women in southern rock. They played an hour of blistering, blues-infused rock, starting with “Kick the Blues” from their most recent album, “Blood Harmony.” The tune gave both siblings the chance to show off their guitar chops, Rebecca on lead and Megan on lap steel, which she plays standing up. Other highlights included “Bad Spell,” which Rebecca said she wrote as a sort of follow-on to Screaming Jay Hawkins, “I Put a Spell on You.” (If you’ve only ever heard the Creedence Clearwater Revival version, do yourself a favor and look up the original.)
Another original, “She’s a Self Made Man” was a tribute to all the women in the crowd, and is also the title track of the band’s 2020 album, their fourth. Larkin Poe does have a local connection, albeit a tenuous one. The band is named for the Lovell sisters’ great-great-great-great-grandfather, who was a distant cousin to Edgar Allan Poe. That Poe, of course, was born in Boston. (Rebecca, when we raised the topic with her, was well aware of that fact.)
Later on, Grammy Award-winner Christone “Kingfish” Ingram thanked the crowd during his blazing blues guitar set for welcoming “southern folk” so warmly. He kept the blues vibe going for those who opted out of the Shakey Graves set on the main stage. Kingfish was a great complement to Celisse, playing a captivating electric blues guitar wed with similarly powerful vocals.
As tends to happen at festivals, the crowds start small and then grow and grow, with a huge audience blooming for California reggae rock band Rebelution’s set at 6:40pm.
The night’s headliner and festival’s final performer was Brandi Carlile, whose fans were whipped into a singalong frenzy BEFORE she got on stage with songs from Pat Benatar, Cyndi Lauper and Tyler Ward being piped through the speakers. Signs expressing love for Brandi peppered the crowd, then chants of “Brandi! Brandi! Brandi!” began, before Carlile and her band, including a strings section and familiar twins Phillip John and Timothy Jay Hanserot, who play bass and guitar, filled the stage. Later, Jess Wolfe (from earlier Levitate performer Lucius) and others joined Carlile for “You and Me on the Rock.” Carlile’s show featured great variety from three-party harmony to guitar rock to piano ballads, not to mention a medley of “Live and Let Die” and “We are the Champions.”
Carlile kicked things off quietly with “Stay Gentle,” which morphed appropriately enough into “Over the Rainbow” during a day that for many of us felt like we were in the rainbow.
Paul Desmond contributed to this report.
Thank you to Grandstand Media‘s Jessica Puchli & the Levitate team for its media support before and during the festival.
One percent of each ticket sold at the festival will be contributed to the Levitate Foundation, a non-profit whose mission is to cultivate vibrant communities by creating and conserving access to music, art and the outdoors.
More photos below
Invite us to cover your music festival: email@example.com