If you live in Chicago and you’re a fan of Wilco, you’ve got plenty of opportunities to see the band and its leader, Jeff Tweedy, performing local concerts. So why bother trekking halfway across the country to see this Chicago rock group playing amid the green hills of northwest Massachusetts?

This past weekend, Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival once again showed that it’s worth the trip. Since 2010, Wilco has held this event eight times at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, usually every other year. This was the fifth one I’ve attended, and it renewed my appreciation for Wilco’s prodigious talent and creativity. Tweedy and his outfit always seem to be striving to give their fans something new and different, and there’s no better example of that than Solid Sound, where Wilco and its various offshoots do one-of-a-kind live sets that you can’t see anywhere else. As one fellow Chicagoan at the festival remarked to me, it’s like summer camp for Wilco nerds.

Jeff Tweedy and Mikael Jorgensen perform during Wilco’s “deep cuts” concert on Friday, June 28, 2024, at the Solid Sound Festival at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, Massachusetts.

The venue itself is a big part of the attraction. Mass MoCA, as it’s known, occupies a complex of brick buildings that began life as a printing factory in 1860. It’s hard to say how many Wilco fans also appreciate contemporary art, but many Solid Sound attendees seem to enjoy strolling through Mass MoCA’s galleries. 

Walking around the outdoor areas, where the main concert stages are set up in two courtyards and a big lawn, you’re surrounded by the rough grandeur of the 19th-century industrial architecture. There’s really nothing in Chicago quite like Mass MoCA. The closest equivalent might be the Salt Shed, which also reuses a former industrial structure, but to get some idea of what Mass MoCA is like, you’ll have to imagine the Salt Shed complex grafted onto a vastly enlarged Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit perform on Friday, June 28, 2024.

Like any music festival, Solid Sound is about more than just one band. In addition to Wilco, this year’s eclectic lineup was packed with notable artists who put on thrilling performances, including Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Nick Lowe & Los Straightjackets, Iris DeMent, Horse Lords, and Etran de L’Aïr, to name just a few. There was also comedy on Saturday, with Solid Sound regular John Hodgman serving as the master of ceremonies. 

The young Chicago bands Horsegirl and Ratboys roused the festival’s predominantly East Coast audience with their lively rock. Finom wasn’t even listed in the festival lineup, but after a pop-up concert was announced Sunday, the Chicago group played inside a gigantic gallery where artist Chris Doyle’s mesmerizing Hieronymus Bosch–influenced animation was scrolling across a screen the length of a football field. In that weird setting, the women of Finom enchanted a crowd of hundreds with their beguiling harmonies.

Finom performs a pop-up concert while Chris Doyle’s animated film The Coast of Industry is projected on the wall.

Typical for Solid Sound, many performances featured cameos: Jeff Tweedy made a surprise appearance to take lead vocals on one song by Water From Your Eyes, a noisy, energetic New York band that got its start in Chicago. And Wilco’s Nels Cline added a searing guitar solo to the set-closing song by England’s Dry Cleaning.

Wilco always plays a concert with a special theme on Solid Sound’s opening evening. This year, the band announced it would be performing “deep cuts.” This made for an unusual but fascinating night, as Wilco mostly played songs that were never included as tracks on the band’s main albums. Devoted fans knew many of these tunes — one of my personal favorites was the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot outtake “A Magazine Called Sunset” — but some of the obscurities were truly obscure. According to the song list posted at setlist.fm, this was the first time Wilco had ever done live versions of the songs “Venus Stopped the Train,” “Quiet Amplifier,” and “Tell Your Friends.”

Jeff Tweedy takes the stage to sing a song with Water From Your Eyes.

“This is the only place we could try something like this — play 20-some songs we haven’t played in 20 years,” Tweedy remarked to the crowd, noting how challenging it had been for the band to practice all the songs. “We’re burning brain cells, man.”

Earlier in the day, Tweedy had given an onstage interview with Song Exploder podcast host Hrishikesh Hirway. Tweedy recalled listening to these “deep cuts” to prepare for the concert. He said he’d sometimes asked: “How did that get left off that record? It’s so much better than some of the things on that record.”

On Saturday nights at Solid Sound, Wilco headlines with a more typical Wilco concert. But the band had something special in store this time. After the first 10 songs, the group played “At Least That’s What You Said,” the haunting opening track of its 2004 album A Ghost Is Born. Then it played the album’s second song, “Hell Is Chrome.” Then it played the third, “Spiders (Kidsmoke).” Tweedy never announced what was going on, but Wilco was performing the album in its entirety, offering a vivid reminder of just how terrific that record is. 

Julia Steiner of Ratboys performs a pop-up concert a gallery at the museum.

It was reminiscent of the Solid Sound Festival in 2017, when Wilco’s special theme concert was a performance of the Being There album. On that night, when Wilco came out for an encore, the band played the entirety of another album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, without ever announcing what it was doing. This is the sort of thing fans hope to witness when they travel to Solid Sound.

As always, Solid Sound wrapped up on a mellow note Sunday with a show by Jeff Tweedy & Friends. Earlier, the festival grounds were evacuated when a rainstorm passed through, forcing concertgoers to chill out in the museum for more than an hour. (Unfortunately, the band Wednesday’s performance was canceled.) The weather had cleared up by the time Tweedy took the stage, playing songs from his solo records as well as several brand-new ones. Apologizing for playing so many sad tunes, he said, “I honestly did not intend for this set to be so death-heavy.” But it all ended on an upbeat note, with musicians and friends crowding onto the stage for “California Stars” and Tweedy’s son Sammy taking over on lead vocals for a festival-ending cover of T. Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer.”

I’m already looking forward to Solid Sound 2026.