Celebrating nature and music: Arcadia Folk Festival marks 75th anniversary of local wildlife sanctuary

  • Northampton singer-songwriter Heather Maloney says the Arcadia Folk Festival will celebrate a place she enjoys hiking in.  Photo courtesy of Signature Sounds

  • Birds of Chicago will bring its unique blend of Americana, folk rock and “secular gospel” to the Arcadia Folk Fest on Sunday.  Photo courtesy of Signature Sounds

  • Indie folk quartet Darlingside, which began in the Valley, will return to western Massachusetts as one of the performers during the Arcadia Folk Festival on Sunday.   Photo courtesy of Signature Sounds

Staff Writer
Published: 9/26/2018 3:55:01 PM

This Sunday marks the first year of the Arcadia Folk Festival, a partnership between Signature Sounds Recordings and Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, to mark Arcadia’s 75th year with a grassroots folk festival supporting the organization's mission to safeguard local wildlife habitats.  

Indie folk quartet Darlingside, Northampton singer-songwriter Heather Maloney, and a number of other noted acoustic groups will play between 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to celebrate the preservation of more than 700 acres of land in Northampton and Easthampton — and to raise awareness of the challenges the nature preserve continues to address.

The concert could become an annual event if this first one proves successful, organizers say.

Jonah Keane, Arcadia’s director, said the sanctuary began in 1944 with the protection of 140 acres of land in Northampton. Over the years, the sanctuary has expanded to Easthampton to include floodplain forests, the slow flowing Mill River, marshes, red maple swamps, orchards, and native grasslands.

“We’ve been protecting land for wildlife and habitat for wildlife, and we’ve also been doing a wide range of education programs that started way back in the beginning 75 years ago, where we’ve been connecting people of all ages with nature,” Keane said.

Some of the species that are at risk in the local area are birds that rely on grasslands as their primary habitat, he said.

“There’s a number of different habitats within the 700-plus acres, but a big focus of ours is on the grassland that we manage called The Meadows part of Arcadia,” Keane noted. He said those grasslands are prime habitat for birds such as Bobolinks, American kestrels, and Savannah sparrows — and that the numbers of some of those birds are declining.

“That’s why we feel like it's a priority to manage this land for these birds,” he said.

Joining Heather Maloney and Boston-based Darlingside at Sunday’s festival will be the Americana folk and “secular gospel” group Birds of Chicago, folk rockers The Nields, bluegrass/swing/folk quartet Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem, and others.

Jim Olsen, president and co-founder of Signature Sounds, said the idea for the festival formed when Keane approached Signature about celebrating Arcadia’s 75th year with live music.

“We’re excited because it’s such a beautiful place and an important place in the Valley,” Olsen said. “It really sort of captures what’s special about the Valley — the combination of physical beauty and the great mission. One thing we try to do at our events is celebrate the local culture, not just throwing up a stage and putting on bands.”

Signature has also developed an environmentally friendly approach when it comes to on-site waste disposal, he said, which seems particularly appropriate for Sunday’s concert.

“We try to do that at all of our events,” Olsen said. “We try to get to as close to zero waste as we can. Particularly when you’re at a place like Arcadia, you don’t want to create a lot of trash. We want to produce these events, but not be so impactful on the environment.”

Finding inspiration in nature

Maloney, the Northampton singer,  says she has spent a lot of time hiking near the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary and connects to the cause of the folk festival.

“I feel sort of a personal connection to the land and feel very inspired by the way that [Arcadia has] reached out to the community and included the community in the way that they operate,” she said in a recent phone interview. “I just find it inspiring that the community outreach seems to be so strong and they’re educating the next generation on how important it is to protect that land.”

Maloney’s most recent recording, the EP  “Just Enough Sun,” includes five original songs and a cover of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” It was recorded mostly in single-take live performances with Northampton guitarist Ryan Hommel, who sometimes performs live with Maloney.

Maloney, who plans to record a new album early this winter,  said there’s a possibility she’ll collaborate with Darlingside onstage at Sunday’s festival. Darlingside and Maloney joined forces on an EP in 2014, “Woodstock,” which among several songs featured a cover of the Joni Mitchell/Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young folk-rock song from which the EP takes its name.

“I’m excited to see my buddies in Darlingside,” she said. “We just did a show together in Canada off an island off of Vancouver Island … Also, it’s pretty neat to be doing our first shared bill out here since we collaborated in 2014.”

Auyon Mukharji, a violinist, mandolinist, singer and songwriter for Darlingside, which was based in its early years in the Valley, said he’s looking forward to stopping by this weekend at some of his favorite local spots such as Sam’s Pizzeria and Cafe in Northampton, where he used to work as a manager.

More importantly, he said in a recent phone interview, he’s grateful he and his band will have an opportunity to play at the Arcadia Festival.

“To be [part] of that environmental heritage and preservation is something that we all feel particularly connected to, and pretty fortunate to have enjoyed while were were living in the area,” he said.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.

The Arcadia Folk Festival takes place Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, 127 Combs Road in Easthampton. For additional information and to buy tickets, visit signaturesoundspresents.com or mass-audubon.org/get-outdoors/wildlife-sanctuaries/arcadia.


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