The Beat Goes On: Music venues play it one day at a time amid new COVID cases

  • Rootsy musician Hubby Jenkins, who plays with Rhiannon Giddens, will be at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center on Jan. 22. Hubby Jenkins’ Bandcamp page

  • Rachael & Vilray, who play jazz tunes inspired by the music of the 1930s and 1940s, come to the Academy of Music on Jan. 28. Gazette file photo

  • Fiery bluesman Albert Cummings plays Gateway City Arts on Jan. 29. Albert Cummings website

  • You want a mix of rock, punk, and reggae? Ballyhoo! has you covered at Gateway City Arts Jan. 28. DSP Shows website

  • Soulful singer-songwriter Ali McGuirk brings her powerhoyse vocals to Hawks & Reed Jan. 29. Signature Sounds website

  • Local heroes The Mary Jane Jones bring R&B, funk and rock to Hawks & Reed on Jan. 29. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 1/13/2022 11:51:01 AM

Live music, specifically the indoor variety, made a comeback last fall after being shut down by COVID-19 since March 2020. The rise of the delta variant late last summer threw a curveball into the mix, but clubs mostly worked around it by requiring concertgoers to show a vaccination card and wear a mask at shows.

Then came the omicron variant — and it seems like deja vu all over again. New Year’s Eve’s shows throughout the area were canceled, First Night Northampton moved its events online, and other concerts in January have since been canceled.

Local promoters and club owners are left navigating a new period of uncertainty, even as they hope that concerts scheduled months ago can still take place.

“It’s hard — everybody wants these shows to go on, but we’re in a pretty murky place right now,” said Jim Olsen, president of Signature Sounds, which has a number of shows scheduled in late January and early February.

Late last month, Signature was forced to postpone two concerts by the indie pop band Rubblebucket planned for Dec. 30-31 at the Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield (they’ve been rescheduled for Feb. 25-26 at Hawks & Reed). Today Signature is keeping a close eye on COVID numbers in the area and staying in touch with performers to gauge their readiness to play.

A Jan. 28 show at Hawks & Reed by singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault, for instance, is now likely to take place during Signature’s Back Porch Festival March 3-6 in Northampton and Greenfield, Olsen says.

Kyle Homstead and Casandra Holden of Laudable Productions in Easthampton, which last fall opened the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity in Florence, have canceled a number of January shows and now are concentrating their programming in February, when the Bombyx Center hopes to stage several shows geared for Black History Month.

Homstead says he and Holden  are concerned about overburdened health care staff in places like Cooley Dickinson Hospital and don’t want to add to their troubles. At the same time, Homstead noted, they want to give musicians a chance to play. This past fall, he said, live music was barely a break-even venture for many musicians and venues, given that audiences were generally not back to pre-pandemic levels.

“And now there’s yet another hurdle [for musicians],” he said. “We can only hope the situation improves by next month.” One promising sign: The Associated Press reported this week that some scientists believe omicron has peaked in Great Britain and is about to do so in the U.S., after which case numbers could begin dropping substantially.

Not surprisingly, ticket sales for many shows, including the The Back Porch Festival — an annual roots music showcase for Signature Sounds that features multiple performers — have slumped during the last few weeks, Olsen said: “They’re not where they normally would be.”

But music is still on the schedule. Here’s a look at selected shows that are slated to take place during the next two-plus weeks.

Hubby Jenkins, Jan. 22 at 8 p.m., Hawks & Reed — Born and raised in New York City, multi-instrumentalist Jenkins began exploring his Southern roots by way of African American history and music such as country blues, ragtime, and traditional jazz. His career as a professional musician began on the sidewalks and subway platforms of New York, where he played banjo and guitar and first developed his vocal style.

After years of busking and playing gigs around the country, he became a member of the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops with singer and songwriter Rhiannon Giddens, and he has continued to play with the Rhiannon Giddens Band, which specializes in old-time American music.

 

Rachael & Vilray, Jan. 28 at 8 p.m., Academy of Music, Northampton — Rachael Price first gained fame as the stylish vocalist for Lake Street Dive, the jazz-pop band from Brooklyn, New York. But she’s also one half of the duo of Rachael & Vilray, who play original jazz-flavored tunes inspired by the music of the 1930s and ’40s and have made several previous appearances in the Valley.

Vilray, a guitarist and songwriter whose full name is Vilray Blair Bolles, and Price met as jazz students at the New England Conservatory of Music in the mid-2000s, but it’s only over the last several years that they’ve begun performing together. Pre-pandemic, they started making waves. Their self-titled debut album, released in 2019, impressed critics — the New York Times called it “as cozy as it is sophisticated” — and they’ve appeared on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” among other high-profile slots.

Olsen says the Academy show, produced by Signature Sounds, is still a go, as Rachael & Vilray, who live in New York City, are about to start a short tour in the Northeast that they’re committed to finishing. The Academy show is a benefit for Northampton’s International Language Institute.

Alisa Amador, a singer-songwriter whose music embraces jazz, rock, alternative folk and Latin sounds, opens the Academy show.

 

Albert Cummings, Jan. 29 at 8 p.m., Gateway City Arts, Holyoke — Born in Williamstown, Cummings took up the banjo as a kid and might have been headed to a career in bluegrass or construction, as he was also trained as a master builder. But as a high school student and then at college in the 1980s, he came across the music of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and his trajectory changed.

Today, Cummings is recognized as an electric blues virtuoso who, having once played alongside legends including Johnny Winter, Buddy Guy and B.B. King, has carved out his own distinct guitar and vocal style. He’s released six studios albums — “Believe,” which came out in 2020, is his most recent — and two live discs, including one recorded in his hometown in 2017.

Guitar Edge Magazine says of Cummings, “The blues is best served up live with an enthusiastic audience and a killin’ band, and that’s just what guitarist Albert Cummings does … driving his audience to frenzy in all the right places.”

 

Among area music venues, Hawks & Reed is maintaining the busiest schedule at the moment. Among several shows, The Gaslight Tinkers (“Latin grooves meet traditional fiddle music”) play Jan. 14 (tonight) at 8 p.m.; songwriters/musicians Eleanor Levine, Wallace Field, and Naomi Westwater play Jan. 21 beginning at 8 p.m.; and Ali McQuirk (soulful singer-songwriter) and The Mary Janes Jones (soul, R&B, and rock) play Jan. 29 at 8 p.m.

Get the Led Out, a veteran Led Zeppelin cover band, is scheduled to play the Calvin Theatre in Northampton Jan. 21 and 22 at 8 p.m.

Based in Maryland and blending rock, punk, and reggae, Ballyhoo! is scheduled to play Gateway City Arts on Jan. 28 at 8 p.m.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.




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