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Clubland: Northampton’s Forbes Library hosts monthly community concert

To see the Community Concert in the basement of the Forbes Library in Northampton last Wednesday night, one first had to pass under a colorful wonderland of kid-crafted mobiles of planets, spaceships, bats and bugs, then go through a door outlined in paper-plate suns decorated with glitter and sticky-stars.

The small Friend of Forbes Community Room just beyond is plain in comparison — a clean grid of metal chairs, dim light — but there’s magic in there just the same. It’s where live music happens, a monthly free show that spotlights two local musicians playing half-hour sets.

Forbes employee Jason Mazzotta is the curator of the Community Concert, which has been happening regularly since the beginning of the year.

“I’m still enjoying my reign as the Bill Graham of library entertainment,” Mazzotta joked, comparing himself to the legendary promoter of large-scale shows and tours.

The low-key library concerts have a unique atmosphere. Performers stand or sit in front of a bare brick wall under a single light source, which feels like an underground NYC club — yet nearby are happy posters with messages like “Read With Friends!” The audience sits respectfully silent, raising voices just to clap and cheer at a song’s end.

“They say rock and roll will never die / you like it loud and so do I,” sang the night’s first performer, Luke Cavagnac, an appropriate lyric for someone usually found fronting his volume-friendly band Claudia Malibu.

But in the warm Forbes basement, Cavagnac had his Danelectro electric guitar plugged into a small old Silvertone amp that wasn’t cranked, just audible. He performed a very short, almost shy set that ended with one of his most affecting songs, the wistful and yearning “Skyboy.”

The other act for the night was semi-local duo The Prestons, a singing/songwriting/guitar team of local Rick Murnane and his longtime Connecticut-based friend, Bill Catalde.

They climbed into tall wooden chairs and while Murnane got things situated, Catalde hugged a guitar tightly — someone else’s, as he explained to the crowd. He’d driven all the way from New Haven, opened up his guitar case and found that he’d forgotten his actual instrument.

The duo’s press material says they “write cheerful songs about death and dead people. On rare occasions they come out in public and sing them at the living.”

That’s what they did at the Forbes, starting off with a song called “Funeral March” and following it up with one Catalde wrote for his late father, “Carry On.” He raked his hand across the strings, crying out emotional lyrics and joined for rousing harmonies by Murnane on the chorus. The two men ended the tune with a delicate, wordless melody.

Murnane shared a conversation he’d had on Twitter earlier that day. “You’re playing in a library? What are you going to play, ‘The Sound of Silence?’ ”

“No,” he said, “but instead of applause, were going to ask everyone to go, ‘Sshhhhhh.’ ”

About 15 people were there in the little room, listening intently. “Dear Life,” another song featuring Catalde on lead vocals, was a highlight, its downbeat-ish lyrics given uplifting power by his impassioned delivery and weathered but fierce voice.

“A nearly dead weeping willow / I pray to my pillow / for dear life,” he sang, hunched over his guitar, the song flying out of his throat and heart.

After five tunes, Murnane kinked his arm to look at his watch. “We’re playing too fast!” he exclaimed, worried about burning through their short set before their allotted time was up.

“Sshhhhhh!” said some smart alecks in the back.

The Prestons played nine songs, including a lovely cover of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Darling Be Home Soon.”

The next Community Concert is Oct. 17, featuring Dennis Crommett (the Winterpills guitarist who’s released three singer/songwriter solo albums) and Mercy Choir, the Connecticut-based one-man band of Paul Belbusti. Showtime is 7 p.m.

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