The Beat Goes On: Bombyx Center celebrates Black History Month with music; plus other live shows

  • The Campbell Brothers bring their gospel-flavored “Sacred Steel” music, based on the pedal steel guitar, to the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity at the Florence Congregational Church. Bombyx Center website

  • Big Lazy, who come to the Bombyx Center on Feb. 6, specialize in “crime jazz & highway twang.” CONTRIBUTED/Matt Carr

  • Photo from Mark Meadows website

  • Photo from Rochelle Price website

  • The Green Sisters, who hail from Worcester County, bring their blend of folk, country and bluegrass to Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield Feb. 11. Green Sisters website

  • Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Eric Lee comes to Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield on Feb. 11. Eric Lee website

  • Guitarist Martin Barre from Jethro Tull will lead his current band through all the songs of the seminal Tull album “Aqualung” at Northampton’s Academy of Music Feb. 4. Image from Academy of Music website

  • Nobuntu, an a cappella group from Zimbabwe, performs at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Feb. 8. Photo by Ronald Davis/courtesy UMass Fine Arts Center

Staff Writer
Published: 2/3/2022 12:31:52 PM

February is Black History Month, and in Florence, the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity has planned a full month’s worth of music and others events to mark both Black History Month and Florence’s history as a center of anti-slavery activity.

And omicron or no, the shows are going ahead, says Kyle Homstead, co-director of the Bombyx Center, located at the historic Florence Congregational Church, an institution founded in the mid-19th century by residents committed to ending slavery and creating genuine racial and sexual equality in the U.S.

“We’re really excited to have the arts shine a light on this history and reflect on it,” Homstead said during a recent phone interview. “We’re hoping to draw parallels with what happened here almost 200 years ago and the way the arts today can be a tool for activism.”

He and his partner, Cassandra Holden, who run Laudable Productions in Easthampton, have been using the historic Florence building since last fall for live music, art exhibits and various community events, while the Congregational Church and two other longtime tenants there, the Reform Jewish community Beit Ahavah and the Cloverdale Preschool, continue to call the building home.

The Bombyx Center’s February music programming begins Saturday, Feb. 5 at 8 p.m. with the Campbell Brothers, a gospel band built around pedal steel guitar — an instrument that became known as “sacred steel” beginning in the 1930s when it was used by African American Pentecostal churches as an alternative to the organ.

That music has long since moved into the secular world, and the Campbell Brothers are considered one of the best in the business; among the places they’ve played is New York’s Lincoln Center. Led by pedal steel guitarist Chuck Campbell, the group includes his brother Phil Campbell on electric guitar, his son Carlton on drums, bassist Daric Bennett, and vocalists Denise Brown, Tiffany Godette and Joyce “Cinnamon” Brown.

On Feb. 6 at 7 p.m., the Bombyx Center presents two acts, Big Lazy and Mamie Minch, both of whom are connected to the international-themed Barbès music club in Brooklyn, N.Y. Laudable Productions has previously presented a number of shows in the Valley featuring groups from that scene, including Big Lazy and Mamie Minch.

The former is an instrumental trio of guitar, bass and drums that, according to program notes, plays “crime jazz & highway twang,” while Mamie Minch is an “acoustic blues crooner, singer-songwriter, and dogged feminist.” According to the Bombyx Center, all four musicians, who are friends, are also “slightly punk, very DIY, and fiercely independent,” playing music that “has one foot in the present and the other in the past.”

In partnership with the David Ruggles Center, the Bombyx Center has scheduled two events on Feb. 12 specifically addressing Black history and affairs. Under the Pines begins at 2 p.m. with a guided walk along Florence’s African American history trail, which includes landmarks such Sojourner Truth’s house and other abolitionist landmarks.

That’s followed by hot cocoa back at Bombyx and a film screening by jazz pianist and composer Mark G. Meadows, whose short documentary, “But Don’t Believe Them,” examines the Black Lives Matter movement and the push for full equality for Blacks. Meadows, joined by vocalist and songwriter Rochelle Rice (Sweet Honey in the Rock) and local experts will then host a talk with audience members on these issues.

And at 8 p.m., Meadows and Rice perform together in a program that includes jazz, R&B and gospel tunes, with both original compositions and new interpretations of music by Dizzy Gillespie, Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan.

Visit for more information about these shows and additional related programming in February.


An interesting mix

Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield has continued to offer a regular schedule of music the past several weeks, though some artists have postponed their shows for later this year. The weekend of Feb. 11-12 offers a particularly interesting mix of folk and bluegrass, blues and jazz, and punk and metal.

Acoustic music gets the nod Feb. 11, beginning at 7 p.m., with performances by The Green Sisters and singer-songwriter Eric Lee. The Green Sisters, who grew up on a family farm in Hubbardston in Worcester County, have been playing gigs in the Valley for years, and their mix of bluegrass, blues, country and tight harmonies, on their original songs as well as innovative covers, has won them a loyal following.

The Pennsylvania-born Lee, now living in the Valley, is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter who’s gigged with numerous other musicians, including singer-songwriter Eric Andersen and the bluegrass band Man About a Horse. He’s won particular praise for his songwriting, with one critic calling him “a musician’s musician and a songwriter’s songwriter.”

And on Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. at Hawks & Reed, Northampton guitarist Joe Belmont and his trio will be joined by vocalist Wanda Johnston for a set of blues, jazz and more, while at 9:30 p.m. the bands Hollow Teeth, Bag Lady, Tides, and Unagi will present what Hawks & Reed calls “a killer cocktail of punk, metal and hip hop.”

More music on tap

Hawks & Reed is also presenting two bands on Feb. 4 (today) beginning at 8 p.m.: No Lens (“funky reggae and folk rock”) and Whalom Park (“funk addicts”). On Feb. 5 at 8 p.m., it’s Soul Magnets, the Valley-based funk and soul band, described as a “horn-heavy 9-piece ensemble.”

Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre and his band will play the entirety of Jethro Tull’s seminal 1971 album “Aqualung” on Feb. 4 (tonight) at Northampton’s Academy of Music at 8 p.m.

Tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., the Department of Music and Dance at the University of Masschusetts Amherst presents a collaboration between the university’s Percussion Ensemble and Dance Program called “Elements: Movement and Sound,” a multimedia journey “into the depths of the natural elements of our world,” according to program notes.

The concerts take place at Fredrick C. Tillis Performance Hall at the university’s Fine Arts Center.

Also at Fredrick C. Tillis Performance Hall, Nobuntu, a female a cappella quintet from Zimbabwe, will perform Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m.

Della Mae, the Grammy-nominated, all-woman string band, comes to the Shea Theater in Turners Falls on Feb. 11 at 8 p.m.

Gateway City Arts in Holyoke is scheduled to bring the blues on Feb. 15 in the person of Southern blues-rock guitarist and songwriter Tinsley Ellis, and on Feb. 16 with England’s The James Hunter Six. Both shows are at 8 p.m.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at

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