Spreading the musical word: new group aims to build a bigger music scene in western Massachusetts

  • New Music Alliance secretary David Sokol, left, and treasurer Pete Sikowitz talk about the mission of the nonprofit during a meeting with other group members, including executive director Mark Sherry, right, at New City Brewery in Easthampton. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • New Music Alliance treasurer Pete Sikowitz talks about the mission of the nonprofit during a meeting at New City Brewery in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • New Music Alliance secretary David Sokol talks about the mission of the nonprofit during a group meeting at New City Brewery in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • New Music Alliance executive director Mark Sherry talks about the mission of the nonprofit during a meeting with other group members at New City Brewery in Easthampton18. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • New Music Alliance executive director Mark Sherry says the non-profit group is looking for new ways to highlight the region’s music scene. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • New Music Alliance secretary David Sokol talks about the mission of the nonprofit during a meeting with other group members at New City Brewery in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Peter Newland, of The New Music Alliance, talks about the mission of the nonprofit during a meeting with other group members at New City Brewery in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • New Music Alliance members Mark Sherry, at left, Peter Newland, David Sokol and Pete Sikowitz discuss the group at New City Brewery in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • New Music Alliance members Mark Sherry, at left, Peter Newland, David Sokol and Pete Sikowitz discuss the group at New City Brewery in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Indie rock group The Basement Cats will perform at Poor Richard’s in Chicopee as part of the New Music Alliance’s Northeast Thunder Tour, which begins Dec. 8.  Facebook photo

  • Emma Ayres of psychedelic rock group Old Flame thinks the New Music Alliance will help strengthen the music scene in the Valley and across western New England.  Facebook photo

  • Singer-songwriter Merrill Shepard will perform during the Northeast Thunder Tour, which is organized by the New Music Alliance.  Facebook photo 

Staff Writer 
Published: 11/21/2018 2:10:34 PM

A newly formed nonprofit organization wants to put western Massachusetts and western New England on the map as a destination for live original music.

Mark Sherry, executive director of the New Music Alliance, said the nonprofit aims to host shows, music competitions and fundraising events. Another goal is to create youth-oriented songwriting workshops and mentoring programs for up-and-coming musicians, so that veteran musicians can pass their knowledge to newcomers in the western New England music scenes.

Sherry is also the founder and lead organizer of the Valley Music Showcase, a bi-monthly competition that features original music by local bands and singer-songwriters; the series, now in its third year, takes place at New City Brewery in Easthampton. Although Sherry thinks the showcase has been a boon for music in the region, he wanted to do more, which is why he formed the nonprofit.

“We want to promote this whole western New England area as sort of a mecca for original music, and for both creating and listening to original music,” he said. “We want to make it an alternative to going to Austin or Nashville.

“We’re not going to be at their level for a while,” Sherry added. “But we can certainly be an alternative for people who don’t want to go to Nashville, but are looking for a creative environment to be part of, where they can get some assistance and have some like-minded people around them.”

In order to fund the nonprofit’s initiatives, the group will be seeking sponsors throughout the western New England area. 

Sherry and members of the board of directors of the new group say western New England is fertile ground for creating a more prominent name for itself nationally. They say there are hundreds of musicians in the Valley playing diverse genres of original music, whether folk, blues, metal, punk, electronica, hip-hop, rock or pop. There are also dozens of recording studios, local radio stations that play music by local artists, and a supportive community.

Sherry said 120 different contestants have appeared in the Valley Music Showcase in the past three years, all of whom are based in either western Massachusetts, Connecticut, or Vermont. In the process of booking acts for the showcase, he’s listened to more than 400 local groups and artists.

“At first I thought, ‘I’m going to run out of bands!’ ” he said. But now, he added, “There’s no way I’m running out of bands. It’s amazing how many there are.”

David Sokol is a former music editor and production manager with The Valley Advocate, and he was a co-host for the “Sokol Heroes” program on WRSI-93.9 The River, a program that recently ended after three years; the show featured music from the region dating back to the late 1960s. Sokol says he played the songs of at least 1,000 bands and artists with connections to the Valley on the program, which he co-hosted with his son Michael.

But Sokol, the secretary and a board member for New Music Alliance, said he was astonished to see bands performing for the Valley Music Showcase that he had never heard of before.

Another mission for the nonprofit is to help musicians learn more about marketing their art and the business aspects of playing live music.

“Bands have a tendency to spend a lot of time thinking about the creative, but don’t spend as much time on the business side,” said Peter Sikowitz, lead guitarist with local rockabilly group Flathead Rodeo and treasurer and a board member of New Music Alliance. “The creative part is just the tip. Ninety percent of the bands don’t know how to market themselves or manage their finances.

“We’re talking about educational seminars,” Sikowitz added. “We’re really equipping them with what they need to survive and thrive.” 

Sikowitz, who has been playing in bands since he was 15 years old, started one of the area’s first punk bands, Paper Dolls, at Hampshire College in 1978 with his then-girlfriend and now-wife, bassist Lisa Paparazzo, and guitarist Jon Steele. As someone who’s experienced the painful learning curves of the music industry, he said he thinks the New Music Alliance can help younger musicians learn the ins and outs of the business.

Emma Ayres, the lead vocalist of psychedelic indie rock band Old Flame, said she believes the New Music Alliance will help to strengthen the Valley’s musical economy and infrastructure.

“I think that infrastructure for independent musicians is just so vital, and I think that being recognized for your work is so important,” she said. “Being recognized for what you pour hours and hours into and make sacrifices in your day to day life to make is so key to continuing to have a healthy relationship with your art. It helps drive you forward.”  

Old Flame is also part of the music alliance’s “Northeast Thunder Tour,” starting Dec. 8, which will feature past first-place winners from the Valley Music Showcase touring across the region at venues in Hartford, Connecticut, Dalton, and Brattleboro, Vermont, as well as closer to home, such as The O’s in Sunderland and Poor Richard’s in Chicopee. Also part of the tour’s lineup for its first show Dec. 8 in Chicopee are singer-songwriter Merrill Shepard and indie rock group The Basement Cats. Other artists such as Humble Digs, Zillawatt, and singer-songwriter Nate Martel will perform on other dates and locations during the tour. 

“They’re not saying, ‘We’re going to pay you in exposure. We’re paying you in a few drinks,’ ” Ayres said. “They’re committing to the artists and making sure it’s sustainable for them.”

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

For more information about the New Music Alliance, visit the nonprofit’s Facebook page at www.face book.com/pg/NewMusicAlliance/about/? ref=page_  internal. For additional information, contact newmusicalliance@gmail.com.


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