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MUSIC REVIEW

What generation gap?

Family-oriented Life is good fest is fun for all ages

Jason Mraz Jason Mraz performed during the festival. (Robert E. Klein for The Boston Globe)
By Scott McLennan
Globe Correspondent / September 14, 2010

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CANTON — The Life is good Festival didn’t just deliver a new marquee event to the music scene last weekend, it introduced a whole new entertainment concept: a family event that wasn’t painfully wimpy, folded into a contemporary concert that wouldn’t make parents cringe in front of their children.

For years, the Life is good clothing company has staged family-oriented music festivals, typically free events at Boston Common. This year, though, the festival lined up more than two dozen performers to play multiple stages over two days at the 40-acre site of Prowse Farm. About 12,000 people attended on Saturday and 15,000 on Sunday. Proceeds went to the Life is good Kids Foundation, which funds projects to help at-risk children.

Life is good worked with seasoned festival architects Superfly Productions to transform the Blue Hills field into a whimsical playground festooned with balloon sculptures and murals and ringed by arts and crafts projects, games, food, and shopping. Family-music pros such as Dan Zanes, They Might Be Giants, and the Sippy Cups performed in a spacious, tented pavilion area. The main stages set up at opposite ends of the festival grounds presented an array that ran from Mavis Staples’ gospel to OK Go’s high-energy dance rock.

Yet when all the dust settled, and you came to realize that Zanes and They Might Be Giants rocked way harder than Sunday headliner Jason Mraz, the distinction between children’s music and adult music seemed irrelevant. On Saturday, that dividing line also washed away when Gaby La La from the Sippy Cups sat in with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals to pump sitar riffs into the psychedelic anthem “White Rabbit.’’ Kids, we ain’t in Mr. Rogers’s neighborhood anymore.

Ben Harper and Relentless7 closed the first day of the fest with the weekend’s hardest hitting set. Harper’s latest band is a raging, blues-based combo that plugged Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin tunes into its soul-stirring repertoire.

The main stage on Saturday offered a bounty of reggae, gospel, and Latin-tinged mash-ups with performances by Ziggy Marley, Staples, and LA’s Ozomatli. While the setting was ripe for a homecoming for Brookline’s Eli “Paperboy’’ Reed, his early-afternoon set of R&B came across as proficient, though not particularly passionate.

The smaller Good Vibes stage had a straight-up rock feel on Saturday, with Potter’s finale there hitting a full-tilt boogie. Donovan Frankenreiter’s mellow reworking of Tom Petty’s “American Girl’’ earned him King of the Chill honors. Another cool cover on Saturday had Bostonians Jenny Dee and Will Dailey belting out “Gimme Shelter.’’ Dr. Dog’s quirky and spacey sound rounded out the small-stage offerings on Saturday

On Sunday, Mraz topped the bill. While his abundant optimism certainly fit the Life is good vibe, his music was sugary and trite when stacked against all the other bands whose positivity was better shaded with more thoughtful approaches. Guster, for example, plumbed the occasional dark theme and maintained its nice-guy persona.

The New Orleans funk of Galactic and Trombone Shorty also exuded joy without avoiding grit. And Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars brightened the main stage with high-energy Afro-pop

Toubab Krewe’s transcendent fusion of African and American roots music on the Good Vibes stage was a triumph of originality and appeal. The diversity of Sunday’s smaller stage included the aw-shucks folk ’n’ soul of Brett Dennen, irreverent party tunes of OK Go, and ethereal elegance of Corinne Bailey Rae.

With its harmonic convergence of tattoos and strollers, Life is good succeeded in satisfying many tastes without watering down any of them.

Scott McLennan can be reached at smclennan1010@gmail.com.

Corrine Bailey Rae

Scenes from the Life is good Festival

See photos from Greater Boston's first two-day rock music festival, held Sept. 11 and 12 in Canton.

LIFE IS GOOD FESTIVAL Featuring Jason Mraz, Dan Zanes, They Might Be Giants, OK Go, Ziggy Marley, Guster, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Mavis Staples, and many others

At: Prowse Farm, Canton, Saturday and Sunday