Finally, The Moment(ary): Long awaited music festival expands culture and community

Finally, The Moment(ary): Long awaited music festival expands culture and community

After multiple postponements and years in the making, the Momentary in Bentonville will finally host its very first music festival, FreshGrass, Oct. 1-2. The festival debuted in North Adams, Mass., at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in 2011 and has been on the road to a Bentonville premiere for some time.

The Momentary staff have been working closely with MASS MoCA since the multidisciplinary arts venue’s inception, and visitors to both would notice a lot of similarities between the two institutions, shares Senior Communications Manager Emily Neuman. For one thing, both brought new creative life to industrial spaces, transforming former factories into community cornerstones that foster boundary-crossing artwork by bringing visual and performing arts together in one central location.

“FreshGrass always features a diverse lineup encompassing the best in acoustic music — from traditional masters and iconic trailblazers to musical discoveries,” the music festival’s website details. The bluegrass/roots music festival celebrated its 10th anniversary Sept. 24-26 at its flagship location of North Adams, Mass., just ahead of its Southern debut Oct. 1-2 in Bentonville. (Courtesy Photo/Caleb Blansett, via MASS MoCA)

“There’s been a lot of visits to MASS MoCA, conversations with that team, research that we did with them of what it means to bring this type of space to an area that might not have had one before, and successes they’ve seen and how we might apply that here at the Momentary,” Neuman details. “You could almost say that the conversations [about the festival] started back when we even started looking at what the Momentary could be, what we wanted to do with this space, what we wanted to bring to our community.”

The FreshGrass Foundation, the nonprofit behind the festival’s organization, was formed to celebrate and create innovative grassroots music. Artists from across the country at “very different levels of their careers” will converge on Bentonville for the two-day, family-friendly festival.

“It’s been a wonderful collaboration,” Neuman enthuses. “We can bring some of the local musicians and some of the more seasoned ones that live all over the country together and show what bluegrass and roots music is here in Northwest Arkansas [and] what it is on that larger scale.”

If that ethos sounds familiar, it could be because another Bentonville-based, by way of Austin, arts organization has been facilitating collaboration among artists worldwide for more than a decade — and they’re in on the festival as well. The House of Songs nonprofit established its second permanent location, and new national headquarters, in Northwest Arkansas in 2017. Through artist residencies, songwriter summits, co-writing sessions, music series and arts service efforts, House of Songs has established itself as a conduit for bridging cultures through the universal language of music.

In that spirit, House of Songs partnered with FreshGrass to curate a group of artists who will premiere performances as part of the festival series FreshSongs.

“The format will be very similar to [our Songwriter] Summits of the past,” explains Graham Weber, program director for The House of Songs. Three artists with strong ties to Northwest Arkansas were chosen by THoS, and three from the northeast region of the country were chosen by FreshGrass to stay together at the Bentonville house.

“They will live together, every artist will be paired with the other five, to have the possibility of creating 15 new compositions, if not more,” Weber continues. “They will take the new songs to a recording studio (in this case, Haxton Road Recording Studio in Bentonville) and get versions of those songs (performed by the songwriters).”

The intention of the Summits is to create new collaborative intellectual property for the involved artists’ catalogues, and to take the artists out of their comfort zones by collaborating with artists who are stylistically diverse to create something new for both artists involved, Weber expounds.

New works from past Summits have been presented at such prestigious settings as Folk Alliance International (Kansas City/Montreal/ New Orleans), AmericanaFest (Nashville) and AmericanaFest UK (London). With the Bentonville house being only a few blocks from the Momentary campus, this group of six artists participating in the FreshSongs project will not have to travel to debut their new work.

“The Ozarks have meant everything to me. Because of poor soil, tough people, and old ways, many folks here haven’t entirely lost all of their vernacular music and cultural inheritances. … “Ultimately, as a writer, my teachers and folk heroes in the Ozarks led me to give up on lyric poetry and focus on folk music, which seems like it might actually be able to make a difference: it’s left and it’s right, it’s political and social, it’s anarchic and traditional. Everyone wants to feel grounded in place and time. Frankly, most roots music doesn’t do that for me, but rather signifies groundedness with costumes, accents and sonic signatures. The Ozarks, with several generations of self-aware ‘hillbilly’ tourism, its deep well of frontier self-reliance, and its slow adoption of postmodernity, is a place where that groundedness is still self-evident to me. It matters a ton to me that a cultural institution like the Momentary is championing it.” — Willi Carlisle (Courtesy Photo/Willi Carlisle)

The regional artists invited to participate are Willi Carlisle, Kalyn Fay and Bonnie Montgomery.

“With a project like FreshSongs, or any of the collaborations that we facilitate, it is important to The House of Songs that we choose kind people who are open to the process of collaboration,” Weber says after stressing how wonderful all of the three artists are as both musicians and human beings.

“It would be unfair to the other participants otherwise, and by vetting and getting to know the artists we work with, we can provide the best opportunity for a successful end result. Hopefully a new piece of music or a new unexpected turn of phrase, but mostly a new relationship that will continue to benefit all parties involved well into the future.”

“House of Songs was (and, frankly, continues to be) a lifeline for me during the pandemic,” admits Carlisle, a multi-instrumentalist, folk singer and songwriter. “While opportunities dried up, there were phone calls to be made, connections to be had, and real discussions about how to set about making the best of things. I don’t owe any songs on my newest record — or any, for that matter — directly to House of Songs collaborations, but what I do owe them is something deeper: a connection with process and someone saying, ‘Hey, stop worrying about the bills for a second, here’s a chance to create something.’”

“I believe that taking time to work with artists coming from an international perspective helps me see and hear the world with a wider lens, which ultimately helps develop my personal artistry into a collaborative, expansive understanding, not just a singular one,” Cherokee folk artist Fay adds of her own involvement with the House. “The collaborative writing process helps me to be more sensitive to the experiences of others, not just my own, when I’m writing and performing.”

Along with the mainstage lineup, FreshGrass will also feature pop-up performances, kids’ activities, a pickers area, workshops and more. Each piece is another layer that will celebrate the culture, the music and community — within and outward, Neuman says.

“What this means to the Momentary, I think this kind of launches some of those events and festivals that we have not been able to hold yet, and look forward to holding more and more as the years go on,” she muses. “So I think it’ll be great to see everyone come together and come together safely, to enjoy music and enjoy one another and enjoy our community.”


“As a newer resident of the Ozarks and coming from Oklahoma, [the region’s musical heritage] has taken on a different meaning here. I definitely see it as less of a specific music genre and more of a regionally influenced way of storytelling, of recording the current moment and remembering historical moments through song. It’s been interesting to see the way it intersects with my Indigenous understanding of storytelling. Coming from my personal Indigenous perspective, place is not inherently important, it is made important by the relations we build with land and people in the place, the experiences we share and the exchange of knowledge there. I feel like that rings true in the music of the Ozarks, as well. It has been cool to see the ways in which two different cultures can find common ground through music.” — Kalyn Fay (Courtesy Photo/Kalyn Fay)

FreshGrass | Bentonville

WHEN — Gates open at 5 p.m. Oct. 1 & at 10 a.m. Oct. 2

WHERE — The Momentary Green, 507 S.E. E St. in Bentonville

COST — Single day tickets: $64-$80/adults; $23-$28/ages 7-16; younger than 6 free. Two-day pass: $39/kids; $96-$120/adults

INFO — 367-7500,;

FYI — Find more info on House of Songs’ projects at



FreshGrass | Bentonville

Full Lineup

Oct. 1

Old Crow Medicine Show

Steep Canyon Rangers

Aoife O’Donovan & Noam Pikelny

Flor de Toloache

Oct. 2

Billy Strings

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue

Alison Brown

Leyla McCalla

Martha Redbone

A tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe with Felecia Collins

Smokey & the Mirror

The Ozarks Highballers

The Irie Lions

FreshScores: Film with live music by Alison Brown, Leyla McCalla, and Smokey & the Mirror

FreshSongs: featuring Willi Carlisle, Kalyn Fay, Bonnie Montgomery, Mamie Minch, Sage Nizhoni, and Billy Keane



Covid Policy

Proof of full covid-19 vaccination or a negative covid-19 test result obtained within 72 hours of entering the festival will be required to attend FreshGrass | Bentonville 2021. Per the Momentary’s covid-19 policies, masks are required for all visitors age 2 and up for all indoor programs, and recommended during the FreshGrass outdoor programming when social distancing cannot occur. Masks will be available for free.

Categories: Music