Live Review: The elevation and expansion of Levitate Music Festival is hard to ignore

Photo Credit: Victoria Wasylak for Vanyaland

A Massachusetts suburb has a burgeoning sold-out music festival that’s filled with local music and touring acts — and it’s somehow still flying under the radar.

That’s soon about to change.

Marshfield’s Levitate Music and Arts Festival has spurred on the exact same support of New England music that Bostonians discuss at roundtable meetings, collectively agreeing that we need more outdoor events that showcase our own talent. Here’s the catch, though; while everyone at those meetings is pushing for acts on the pop, rock, and indie spectrum, Levitate is almost exclusively a celebration of reggae, roots, and jam bands. Apparently, what they’ve been missing the whole time is the target demographic.


The fifth iteration of the festival, which took place this weekend (July 8 and 9), stacked the lineup with Massachusetts-based talent. Lake Street Dive, SixFoxWhiskey, Ripe, Civic, Quinn Sullivan, Stick Figure’s Scott Woodruff, and headliners Dispatch are all from our home turf, while Deer Tick, Ghost of Paul Revere, and Twiddle also hail from the far reaches of New England.

Altogether, that’s nearly half the lineup — and altogether, it’s odd that few outside of this enlightened reggae community knows that local music is getting such an enthusiastic boost. Selling all of its allotted tickets this year, the event has grown substantially out of Marshfield’s Levitate Surf Shop, which was founded in 2003 and would go on to start the event a decade later.

This year’s gathering not only marked the fifth anniversary for the festival, but also doubled the event in size, making Levitate and all-weekend affair. For better or worse, the Marshfield Fairgrounds were not ready for it.

In light of the fest’s expansion, Levitate felt like it had outgrown itself. While the three stages onsite at the Fairgrounds were almost perfectly placed from each other, and sets offered little (if any) overlap, the fairgrounds felt too packed for comfort. While attendees could bring in lawn chairs and blankets (what feels like a huge bonus), the masses of chairs halted any and all mobility across a major part of the Stoke Stage area — and when the festivalgoers yo-yoing between stages returned every hour or two, they trickled into the cracks to make the crowd even more impenetrable. Perhaps the only advantage of new strangers encroaching on your beach blanket during every set was the potential shade they could provide, because the only other cool spots to be found were under three uber-popular “shade tents” in the polar opposite direction of all three stages.


But for all the overcrowding, Levitate got a lot right in its growth spurt. Areas of turf in front of each stage were strictly standing room only, preventing lazy squatters from hogging the sweet spots. The very-local bill wasn’t so Mass.-heavy that people outside of the area couldn’t enjoy or take interest in it; groups like Ziggy Marley, Rubblebucket, and Umphree’s McGee drew out-of-staters. And actually, the bathrooms — both porta-potties and flushing toilets — could be deemed “manageable,” a really rare and underappreciated gem in the summer festival world.

While Levitate makes its sprint towards mega-fest status, it accrued a lot of other staples of the “big ones,” with a few quirky additions. Food vendors erred more towards earthy crunchy chow than ever, offering beet burgers and broccoli dumplings, while the “arts” portion of the festival lined up vendors selling organic herbal-dyed hemp undies, dreadlock cleaner, and every kind of crystal you can dig up in your backyard. Tucked in with the vendors was a caged-in mini-skate park that accommodated five to 10 people at a time (wrong subculture, but still cool), along with a planting station for guests to pot and adopt tomato plants.

Nomads clutched drinks in open coconut shells as they migrated between stages. Twenty-somethings paced back and forth between beer vendors, refilling their collectable Levitate tin cups for the sake of sustainability (which cost $10 each, for reference). A dude with “need ride NYC” scrawled on the back his calf weaved through the beach chair army, one of the many free spirits who made the ride from outside of New England, among others from Pennsylvania, Florida, and Virginia. Whether this all sounds like a few lines from The Lonely Islands’ “Ras Trent” — an ode to white people who appropriate Rastafarianism because they dig weed and a couple reggae bands — is another discussion altogether.

Attending Levitate proved to be a mixture of dodging bare feet, exhaled pot smoke, and the blistering sun, but when you consider that all that hype and hardship comes from an effort to see bands from the ol’ stomping grounds, it’s kind of endearing.

All photos by Victoria Wasylak for Vanyaland; follow her on Twitter @VickiWrites.