Arts Briefs: A busy weekend of theater and music

  • The Rainbow Players, an Amherst theatrical troupe, will perform Aug. 14 at the former Belchertown State School in a production that looks at the history of what residents endured there. Photo courtesy Ezzell Floraniña

  • Etienne Charles and Creole Soul bring their Caribbean sounds to the Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival Aug. 14. Image courtesy Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival

  • The Del McCoury Band will play at the Back Porch Bluegrass Festival at Look Park Aug. 15. Gazette file photo

  • “The Piedmont Plays,” a presentation of four plays in progress, will be staged outside the Northampton Community Arts Trust building Aug. 14-15. Photo by Rachel F Hirsch

Published: 8/12/2021 3:44:38 PM
‘Reflections’ about life at Belchertown State School

The former Belchertown State School, which closed in 1992, left behind a grim legacy after 70 years of operation, as generations of mentally challenged residents there endured painful isolation and often inhumane living conditions.

On Saturday, Aug. 14, at 3 p.m., The Rainbow Players, an Amherst-based theatrical troupe, will revisit part of that story in “The Hero’s Journey: A Case for Innocence,” a performance that will take place in front of the former administration building of the closed school and which will be a narrated in part by a troupe member — acting as a “tour guide” — who was once a resident of Belchertown State School.

As program notes put it, “Combining storytelling, first person accounts and historical fiction, the actors will tell the story of the ways that children were left to these institutions … [with] many spending entire lives within these walls. Many people lived and died in these institutions, never getting an opportunity to live in homes free to move around and live a ‘normal’ life.”

Ezzell Floraniña, founder and artistic director of The Rainbow Players, says the performance will also examine the history of the eugenics movement and the “mental mindset that placed people in such institutions in the first place. We take the audience through the process of that kind of thinking, from the point of view of people who have been labeled all of their lives, to a point of view that can see brilliance and creativity in each person.”

The Sunday presentation, which is free and has been funded in part by a grant from the Belchertown Arts Council, will be followed by a post-show discussion that ends at 5:30 p.m. This is the first performance of what is intended to be a larger, future production of “The Hero’s Journey: A Case for Innocence.”

The Belchertown State School is located at 6 Berkshire Avenue, off of State Street (Route 202), about a half-mile southwest of Belchertown center.

Springfield Jazz& Roots Festival

The pandemic forced them to go virtual last year, but organizers and performers with the Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival have a two-word message to share about the 2021 fest: “We’re back!”

The festival, which specializes in blues, jazz, soul, gospel and more, takes place Aug. 14 from 1 to 10 p.m. in and around Stearns Square, between Worthington and Bridge streets. Attendance is free, though donations are requested.

On the schedule are 11 artists and groups, including Whately’s Ben Gundersheimer, otherwise known as MISTER G, the Latin Grammy-winning singer/songwriter who specializes in children’s music. There’s also Chuck Langford, a UMass Amherst grad (he studied with Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef) and a go-to player on saxophone, clarinet and flute.

Other acts include singer and Chilean native Claudia Acuña, who mixes jazz and Latin American music; Etienne Charles, who specializes in Creole and Caribbean soul; The Salsa Train Orquestra; and The Kevin Sharpe Group, which plays “high-energy modern Gospel.”

The festival will be prefaced by a parade — all are welcome to join — that will leave from the Springfield Museums at 12:30 p.m. for the festival site. The Wood Museum of Springfield History will also offer free admission from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to allow visitors to see an exhibit devoted to the late musician Charles Neville, who with his wife, Kristin Neville, founded the Jazz & Roots Festival.

To register for the festival, go to

‘The Piedmont Plays’ inNorthampton

A new arts organization in the Valley, Play Incubation Collective PIC, will present excerpts from a four-play cycle, “The Piedmont Plays,” on Aug. 14 and 15 at 5 p.m. at the Northampton Community Arts Trust building, 33 Hawley Street.

Play Incubation, made up of various theater artists, works with playwrights to develop their projects, with a special focus on underrepresented stories and subjects. Members say they’re committed to identifying “the most beneficial next steps in the development of [a writer’s] piece: a customized approach tailored to their specific needs.”

Most recently the group has collaborated with Connecticut playwright Darcy Parker Bruce, a Smith College MFA graduate, on Bruce’s “The Piedmont Plays,” which Bruce calls in part “an exploration of what it means to be queer in a small town, and what it means to trade everything you have for a nation’s promise.”

The Aug. 14-15 performances of these works-in-progress take place in the parking lot of 33 Hawley and will be followed by a community discussion with two local nonprofit groups — Generation Q of Pioneer Valley Community Action (Aug. 14) and The New Americans Program of Jewish Family Services of Western Mass (on Aug. 15) — about the themes in Bruce’s work.

Tickets, on a sliding scale, and other information can be found at


Back PorchBluegrass Festival

Expanding on its annual Back Porch Festival, a winter concert series of roots music, Signature Sounds of Northampton is staging what it calls its “first annual” Back Porch Bluegrass Festival, an Aug. 15 concert at Look Park that will feature almost a dozen bluegrass performers, including legendary names such as Del McCoury and Tony Trischka.

The concert, from noon to 7:30 p.m., takes place on two stages, including at the Pines Theater and on a smaller stage. Signature Sounds President Jim Olsen says many of the artists on tap have played at previous Back Porch festivals or other Signature Sounds shows, though sometimes in different configurations, and the Aug. 15 show will offer more of these different pairings.

Banjo master and songwriter Trischka, for instance, a previous Back Porch Festival performer, will play this time with guitarist and fiddle player Bruce Molsky and Michael Daves; the latter is a singer, guitarist, and mandolin player who first came to wider attention through his duets with Chris Thile, the mandolin player with alt-bluegrass stars Punch Brothers.

Also part of the lineup are local favorites Mamma’s Marmalade, as well as singer-songwriter, mandolinist, and guitarist Sierra Hull (she released her first album at age 16), who will perform with her husband, multi-instrumentalist Justin Moses.

Tickets are $59.99 and can be ordered at Children 10 years and under attend for free. There will be food trucks on site, and beer and wine will be for sale. The ticket price includes the fee for Look Park.

— Steve Pfarrer

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


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