Sounds Local: Looking back and forward on the local music scene

  • Jon Batiste performs on the main stage at the Green River Festival held this summer at the Franklin County Fairgrounds. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Ragged Blue will appear at Four Star Farms in Northfield on the eve of New Year’s Eve, Thursday, Dec. 30. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

For The Recorder
Published: 12/31/2021 5:23:34 PM
Modified: 12/31/2021 5:23:06 PM

It’s time to bid farewell to 2021, a roller coaster ride of a year if there ever was one! And as we inch our way toward 2022 all I can say is tighten your seatbelts because this ride shows no sign of slowing down. Just when it seemed that life was getting back to normal, the omicron variant arrived and now cases of COVID- 19 are fast on the rise. I’m sad to say this is already impacting our the music scene.

Last week, we talked about New Year’s Eve shows and unfortunately concerns over the spike in COVID-19 cases combined with the goal of keeping everyone as safe as possible has led to the cancelation or postponement of most of the larger scaled concerts. The Rubblebucket shows scheduled for Dec. 30 and Dec. 31 at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield are postponed until Feb. 24 and Feb. 25. According to the venue’s Facebook page, they will email all ticket holders with more details.

Bella’s Bartok also had two shows slated for Dec. 30 and Dec. 31 at the Stone Church in Brattleboro. These shows will not happen, but the band are putting together a live stream for New Year’s Eve. Details on that event are not available as of this writing, so look for updates on the band’s Facebook page.

The return of First Night Northampton was cause for celebration but last Thursday the Northampton Health Department, with the support of Mayor David Narkewicz, announced that it was canceling all indoor in-person events for First Night Northampton on New Year’s Eve. Instead, First Night will now be a live-stream broadcast from noon to midnight and performances can be viewed at Firstnightnorthampton.org.

Ten Forward on Fiske Avenue in Greenfield canceled its New Year’s Eve party, even before we went to press last week. The alternative folk-rock band, Deer Tick also called off its New Year’s Eve show at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke out of “an abundance of caution.”

We actually have a new show that was added to the New Year’s schedule that might appeal to those of you who prefer to stay in on New Year’s Eve, but would still like to get out there and enjoy some live music around the holiday. The band Ragged Blue will appear at Four Star Farms in Northfield on the eve of New Year’s Eve, Thurday, Dec. 30 from 5-7 p.m. The band music is a mix of bluegrass, Celtic, and old time as they play original material as well as cover some popular songs.

A look back

Despite these recent setbacks, 2021 was the year that live music returned and what a welcome return it was. People were desperate for the connection and energy one experiences at a show and the musicians were more than ready to get out there and play for an actual audience. It started in the summer when people felt comfortable enjoying music in the outdoors, be it the weekly Coop Concerts at the Energy Park or some of the shows that the Shea Theater presented at Peskeomskut Park in Turners Falls. There proved to be plenty of shows to choose from during the warm weather months.

Festivals were a bit trickier due to the size of the crowds that attend. The Charlemont Reggae Festival, StrangeCreek Campout and the Wormtown Music Festival, both which take place in Greenfield, all remained off in 2021. On the flipside, Barbes in Woods in Montague and Green River Festival here in Greenfield all went off without a hitch as did WRSI’s 40th anniversary party with Rubblebucket at Unity Park in Turners Falls.

The return of the Green River Festival was big news as the absence of the festival in 2020 was one of the biggest voids music fans experienced that summer. But it was more than just the return of the festival in late August that made this such a special event; this was the year that the Green River Festival found a new home at the Franklin County Fairgrounds. When the festival’s longtime location of Greenfield Community College was unavailable this year, Signature Sounds was forced to relocate the festival to the fairgrounds. The more spacious fairgrounds proved to be a great site for the event and when the festival returns in 2022 (June 24-26), it will be at the fairgrounds.

Overall, the festival was a huge success with the audience obviously thrilled to have the event back. This will be the year that people will always remember seeing Jon Batiste play at the festival. Batiste, who comes from a long line of accomplished New Orleans-based musicians, had a fantastic year in 2021. His album “We Are” was a huge hit and now Batiste is up for 11 Grammy awards.

Once fall came, it was time for the music to move indoors. This resulted in establishing COVID-19 guidelines with most venues requiring proof of vaccination and with some places also accepting proof of a negative test within the past 72 hours. Establishments like the Shea Theater in Turners Falls and Ten Forward and Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield opened their doors.

When Signature Sounds decided it wasn’t quite ready to reopen the Parlor Room in Northampton, it was decided to move all the shows it had booked for that small venue to Hawks & Reed. This was a nice boost for the Greenfield venue and also a treat for local music fans who enjoyed everyone from Robbie Fulks to Mary Gauthier performing right here in Greenfield.

Good new music

There was an abundance of good local music released this year. Some musicians used the experience of being in lockdown to write, record and reflect on the strangeness of the situation. Other held back releases that were originally slated to come out in 2020, and released them this year when they could do some shows in support of their new work. Either way, the result was an abundance of good new music this year.

One of my favorites was Lou Barlow’s “Reason to Live.” On this album, the Greenfield resident gives us 17 stripped-down tracks that are classic lo-fi Barlow. Amherst-based Dinosaur jr. also bowed in with “Sweep it Into Space,” a collection of some of their most melodic, ear catching tunes of their career including two great contributions by bassist Barlow.

On her 11th studio album, Erin McKeown gave us a rockin’ break up album called “Kiss Off Kiss” that was packed with great tunes that celebrated rather than mourned the end of a relationship.

Shelburne Falls native Seth Glier dazzled with “The Coronation,” an album that explores a wide range of topics, including his hope that we build a better post-pandemic future.

Mark Schwaber of Greenfield released the pensive, beautiful “Everything Around Me,” a meditation on loss as he deals with the death of his mother on many of these songs.

Philip Price, the leader of Winterpills, gave us “Oceans Hiding in Oceans,” an album that he recorded at home during the pandemic that explored his feeling about the situation. It’s a pop gem that features a more expansive sound than we have heard from the Northampton-based musician in the past, on that includes plenty of piano and synths.

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow took on some classic tunes on its cover album, “Recovered” while Mamma’s Marmalade continued to move bluegrass sound forward on “Rabbit Analog.”

Some chose to skip albums all together and focus on releasing singles. Folk-rock band Love Crumbs led by Michael Dubuque of Greenfield released the song “Ellipses” and garnered over 100,000 listens on Spotify. The song bolstered by the vocals of Alison McTavish proved that Love Crumbs is a new band worth keeping your eye on.

Losses

We had some some losses in the music world this past year, most notably fiddler David Kaynor of Montague who lost his battle with ALS. Kaynor, who was a teacher, musician and composer had many accomplishments throughout his career, but perhaps he is best known for launching the Greenfield contra dance scene in the early 1980s. His involvement as a caller and musician at these dances at the Guiding Star Grange helped make them known and beloved by dancers throughout the country.

Last week we lost another musician with ties to our area, drummer Billy Conway who passed away from cancer. Conway was the drummer in the groundbreaking Boston-based band Morphine and prior to that was a member of Treat Her Right, a band that also included Morphine’s Mark Sandman. But for the past 10 years, he was the drummer for Shelburne Falls singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault. The two recorded and played countless shows together.

“Billy Conway was one of the best drummers America produced in the second half of the twentieth century,” Foucault told Rolling Stone magazine. “With his uncanny empathy and sensitivity, his dedication to simplicity and restraint, and his impossible spiritual power, he played the song, never the instrument, and when he played he was undeniable. He incarnated a ferocious love.”

Both of these musicians are a huge loss to music fans everywhere.

Looking ahead

So what’s next for 2022? I think I’d need a crystal ball to answer that question. I expect a quieter than usual winter, but hope that by spring live music will gear up for an even bigger return this year. A few festivals have already been announced and have put tickets on sale.

Signature Sounds Presents will welcome back the Back Porch Festival, which will take place March 3-6. This festival will includes a weekend of shows at various venues including Rickie Lee Jones at the Academy of Music in Northampton.

Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival is set to return to Mass MoCA in North Adams on Memorial Day weekend and Fresh Grass, also at Mass MoCA, will be back Sept. 23-25. The Shea Theater in Turners Falls will welcome Della Mae on Feb. 11 and Amy Helm on April 1.

And that’s just scratching the surface. There will be plenty of shows and new music released in 2022, so here is to a safe and healthy New Year filled with an abundance of good music!

Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who is a native of Greenfield and currently resides in Easthampton. She can be reached at Soundslocal@Yahoo.com




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