For its 15th year, Wachusett Mountain’s MusicFest delivers a rich earthiness to it. Headliners Little Texas blends country and rock; Orleans conjures indelible, generation-spanning pop anthems; and E Street Shuffle pays tribute to blue-collar rock hero Bruce Springsteen.
Similar musical values spill over to the festival’s side stage which features James Keyes and Andy Cummings, two guys who have built their followings with music full of grit and heart.
MusicFest takes place Sept. 9, and starts at noon. Tix are on sale now here on the Wachusett Web site. Check back here for news and weekly profiles on the bands playing the festival this year.
Catching up with Keyes recently, he was singing the praises of Alabama Shakes, the blues-rooted, indie rockers that bubbled up this year.
“They’re the only new band I feel is not trying to sell me something,” Keyes says. “It’s refreshing to hear a musical band, by that I mean a band that puts the music first and made it on its music, not an image.”
You could say the same about Keyes’s music, a smoky blend of country, folk, and rock. Keyes writes and sings like he’s riding shotgun with you on a long road trip. But his hard strumming, foot-stomping playing style keeps this from turning into idle conversation. There’s urgency and immediacy in Keyes’s work; he projects energy akin to that when he plays guitar in the punk rock band The Numbskulls.
“I’ve been in rock bands forever, and I had that kind of performance under control. I wanted to take just an acoustic guitar and still generate that kind of energy,” Keyes says. “I’ve got to make the song work. I’ve got to get somewhere. You can get somewhere in a Ferrari or with a skateboard. You just gotta make it work.”
And Keyes has been making it work pretty good. He’s toured around the region and out to the Midwest as a solo artist and is working on his new album “Yankee Peddler.”
While it took him a while to transition from band member to solo performer, the spirit of the music is much the same in both settings (volume, he says, being the biggest difference).
“As a kid, I listened to Oldies 103 _ Buddy Holly, the Platters, stuff like that while my friends were listening to Guns N’ Roses,” Keyes says. “Then I got into Nirvana and worked back to Black Flag to the Stooges to John Lee Hooker and the blues. Through Social Distortion, I worked back to Johnny Cash and country. And I kept going back to bands like from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s like the Carter Family and they were as heavy and bad as anything today.”