Saturday, June 18 marks the return of a highly regarded local music event, the 10th annual Blackstone River Theatre Summer Solstice Festival at Diamond Hill Park in Cumberland.
I spoke to festival Producer, Russell Gusetti last week and got the scoop on this year’s event. The Celtic-themed festival has earned a great reputation for high-quality music and family fun. Gusetti had just gotten off the phone with noted WGBH DJ Brian O’Donovan, best known for the “Celtic Sojourn” program on the radio every Saturday.
Gusetti shared a few highlights from the diverse lineup scheduled to appear Saturday.
“We’ve got incredibly strong and talented musicians locally … everyone from Atwater Donnelly, the Vox Hunters, Eastern Medicine Singers, Kevin Doyle, and more. We’ve added a few Boston people … the Mary Black Band, she is an incredible award-winning fiddle player. I’ve also got Quebecois music with Genticorum, one of the most dynamic bands out today, powerhouse musicians almost like a traditional power trio,” he said.
Gusetti is also thrilled to bring the popular Celtic band RUNA to open and close the festival. “They are always a highlight – a five-piece powerhouse band. They incorporate step dancing, great vocals, not just Celtic music, they mix in Americana with little touches of jazz and bluegrass. They have been together 13 years and are really quite innovative … their reputation is growing.”
“One of the new acts at the festival is a group called Windborne,” continued Gusetti. “They do four-part harmony, specializing in vocal music, with very minimal backing, sometimes none at all. I’m very excited to get them to the festival.”
The daylong celebration is aimed to be family-friendly. “Our goal is to provide a full day of entertainment that will appeal to every age group,” added Gusetti, who is Executive Director of the Blackstone River Theatre. “For the price of a single concert ticket, audiences can see eight hours of music at a family-friendly festival.” Children’s activities include an interactive circus skills workshop run by Marvelous Marvin, face painting, a sand art station and more.
Another popular returning feature is an Irish session tent where patrons are invited to bring their instruments and sit in and play with many of the festival performers. There will again be Irish step dance featuring 35 young students from Tir Na Nog Irish Dance, a non-competitive school run out of the Blackstone River Theatre.
“I try to run the festival the way we run Blackstone River Theatre, with true respect for the artists, the musicians, and present them in their best possible light to try to reach a broad audience. I hope to see our regular fans, friends of Celtic music across the region, but I also want people who have never heard this before to get in there and see what it’s about,” explained Gusetti.
“I always joke, I’m Portuguese and Italian and all I’ve done is play Irish music since I was seventeen,” laughed Gusetti. “It doesn’t matter where you come from, great music is great music, and that’s what I really hope people will find.”
It’s been a challenging year to pull together routine events, never mind a four-stage music festival. Gusetti spoke about some of the challenges he faced while organizing the event.
“Our last one was 2019, three years ago. This is our 10th-anniversary festival, I’ve done ten of them before and I’ve done them at the same location so that helps for continuity. I certainly had a lot of things in place, but the toughest part of this year’s festival is that there are a lot of businesses that are no longer in business, or have different people working. It’s been tough to get phone calls returned, tough to get that institutional memory from people who I work with, there’s been a lot more back and forth, sometimes working with people that you haven’t worked with before. That adds an element of surprise and makes it a little harder,” explained Gusetti.
“Even something like food trucks, there were no food truck nights back when I last did this, now I’m competing against that. I did end up with about 30 craft vendors which I’m happy about. In many ways, the music and entertainment part of it has been the easiest to set up.”
The Festival takes place Saturday, June 18 at Diamond Hill Park, Rte. 114, Cumberland from 11AM-7PM. Rain date is June 19. The 2019 festival hosted around 1,300 people, so get your tickets early! Click here for complete details.