Essential listening: Online show celebrates release of a songbook of notable tunes from western New England

  • The Nields will join a number of other performers at a June 25 online show to celebrate the release of a digital songbook recognizing 153 “essential” songs from western New England. Gazette file photo

  • Pianist and classical composer Steven Schoenberg will be part of the June 25 show to celebrate the release of the Essential Western New England Songbook. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 6/24/2021 3:47:44 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Many people have been banging the drum for years about the Valley as a fertile artistic scene, especially its breadth of music.

Now one of the organizations leading that charge, the New Music Alliance, has put together a virtual songbook of over 150 tunes by artists from western Massachusetts and parts of Connecticut, encompassing styles ranging from folk to indie rock to country, and from classical to jazz to hip hop.

The Essential Western New England Songbook” compiles songs from as far back as the 1960s (and one from 1950), though the majority date from the 1990s and the 2000s. They’ve been selected by a 19-member panel of regional musicians, DJs, recording engineers, music writers, promoters and others who have focused on original songs written or recorded by artists from here, or who have spent significant time in the region.

The songbook’s release will be celebrated Friday, June 25 at 8 p.m. with a free online show that will feature several artists playing their tunes from the catalog, in a mix of live and pre-recorded appearances. Donations for the show are encouraged and can be made at Paypal or at

Among the performers are The Nields, Peter Newland (FAT), classical composer Steven Schoenberg, Gracie Day, Frank Critelli, Frank Viele, and Natalie Hamilton.

The Nields, for instance, the folk duo of sisters Katryna and Nerissa Nields, will reach back to the days when they were part of a folk-rock band to play “Georgia O,” a 1998 ode to Georgia O’Keeffe, and Schoenberg, a pianist, will perform “Keynote,” his selection from the songbook.

Friday’s 1½-hour show will be hosted by Mark Sherry, a founder and member of the New Music Alliance; he’s included interviews with performers on the background and inspiration for their songs.

The list of artists represented in the songbook includes many names familiar to music fans in the Valley: Charles Neville (“Safe in Buddha’s Palm”), Chris Smither (“Don’t Call Me Stranger”), Dinosaur Jr (“Tiny”), Avery Sharpe (“Autumn Moonlight”), Scud Mountain Boys (“Silo”), Al Anderson, from his NRBQ days (“Crazy Like a Fox”), The Pixies (“U-Mass”), and others.

But what about Gene Pitney, an early sixties crooner who once had a number 4 hit with “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance,” written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David? Well, Pitney was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and grew up in Vernon, about 45 miles further east. His first Top 20 single was his original song “(I Wanna) Love My Life Away,” which is part of the songbook.

Sherry calls the songbook a “living anthology,” one that will get updated each year, and people can recommend additional tunes for it by emailing suggestions, with a link to the song, to

He noted in an email that panel members, including himself, who chose songs for inclusion were asked to consider original tunes that “you thought [were] truly exceptional and that you felt would be considered the same by most people; a song that you thought has or would stand the test of time.”

Sherry, who’s also the founder and producer of the Valley Music Showcase, the competition between regional bands, started the New Music Alliance in 2019 with a few other members to promote western New England as a destination for local original music; they’ve since created workshops for musicians, a syndicated radio program, and other programs.

To listen to the music from the Essential Western New England Songbook on YouTube or Spotify, and to see the complete list of songs, go to The website also provides a link for the June 25 show on Zoom.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at

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