The beat goes on: A look at Valley music through September

  • Suzanne Vega headlines the Arcadia Folk Festival on Sunday, Sept. 19. Suzanne Vega website

  • Folk rockers Dawes will play songs from their newest album, “Good Luck With Whatever,” at Gateway City Arts Sept. 21. From Dawes website

  • Soccer Mommy, aka Sophie Allison, comes to Gateway City Arts on Sept. 25. From Gateway City Arts website

  • Indie rock favorites Yo La Tengo plays Gateway City Arts Sept. 17 Gazette file photo

  • Julien Baker brings the indie folk and pop tunes from her newest album, “Little Oblivions,” to Gateway City Arts Sept. 18. From IHEG website

  • Modern folk troubadours The Milk Carton Kids. Originally scheduled to play Gateway City Arts on Sept. 29, their concert has been postponed until April 3, 2022. Gazette file photo

  • One of Nashville’s hottest songwriters, Lori McKenna, will play the Arcadia Folk Festival Sept. 19. Gazette file photo

  • The string superband Darol Anger and Mister Sun comes to the West Whately Chapel on Sept. 22. From Mister Sun website

Staff Writer
Published: 9/16/2021 11:44:33 AM

*This story has been updated to reflect that the Milk Carton Kids concert scheduled for Sept. 29 at Gateway City Arts has been postponed until April 3, 2022.

Editor’s note: With the return of live indoor music this month, the Gazette is introducing a new column, “The Beat Goes On,” that will offer regular previews of live music in the Valley. Please check ahead at all venues to see what kind of COVID protocols are in place for entry.


Arcadia Folk Festival, Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, Easthampton, Sept. 19, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. — Except for a sudden thunderstorm on the first day of the Green River Festival, Signature Sounds has enjoyed some good weather karma this summer for its outdoor shows, and it looks like the company’s luck will hold on Sunday when it hosts its third annual Arcadia Folk Festival in Easthampton.

The festival, co-presented by Mass Audubon, features a range of music on two stages, including country and bluegrass, South American and Caribbean sounds, a bit of jazz and soul, and, yes, folk.

Headliners include Valley favorite Chris Smither, the veteran blues/folk guitar picker; Lori McKenna, the Massachusetts native and celebrated Nashville songwriter; and Suzanne Vega, who first gained fame with her 1985 self-titled debut album and then with folk-pop tunes in the late 1980s including “Luka.”

Jim Olsen, Signature’s president, says he’s never produced a show by Vega and notes that she doesn’t seem to play much in the Valley any longer, though she previously had appeared in some of the bigger local venues. But Vega’s understated vocal style and smart songwriting (she’s also written a play) have aged well, he noted: “She’s a very influential artist.”

Vega’s most recent album, “An Evening of New York Songs and Stories,” was recorded live at the Café Carlyle in New York City in 2019, and Olsen said he expects she and her small backing band will draw from the disc at the festival.

Also on tap: the kid-friendly Valley acoustic duo Little Roots; western Mass roots favorites The Green Sisters; and the country and bluegrass sounds of Barnstar!

A number of food and craft vendors will also be on site.

Dawes, Gateway City Arts, Sept. 21, 7 p.m. — Last fall, as the pandemic hit home, California folk-rockers Dawes released a new album whose title seemed tailor-made for a new era of chaos and uncertainty: “Good Luck With Whatever.”

Actually, the record, the band’s seventh, was mostly finished before COVID-19 came along, and more than anything it’s an ode to the group’s 10-plus years on the road, with the new challenge of balancing getting older with rock’s youthful pull.

The opening track, “I Still Feel Like a Kid,” cuts right to the chase, with lead singer/chief songwriter Taylor Goldsmith wrestling with the expectations of maturity: “I’m about to be a married man / But I still feel like a kid … I go three times ‘round revolving doors / Makes me still feel like a kid.”

The album, recorded in Nashville, offers a mix of ballads, some more up-tempo tunes with prominent guitar lines and buoyant keyboards, as well as slower, contemplative songs like “St. Augustine at Night,” which includes a great line about being pulled along by life rather than setting your own direction: “Well, I never put off ‘til tomorrow the things I should’ve done today / No, I’ve always waited way longer than that.”

County/folk singer-songwriter Erin Rae, who’s out of Nashville, and her band open the show.

Soccer Mommy, Gateway City Arts, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. — Soccer Mommy is the nom de plume of indie rock singer and songwriter Sophie Allison, who’s also from Nashville and has described her jangly guitar-driven music as “chill but kinda sad.” Allison, 24, has written about her mental health, family crises, and boyfriends doing her wrong, among other things.

After releasing some online songs and two self-produced albums, Allison’s first full-length studio album, 2018’s “Clean,” gave her a brand-new audience and some fine reviews. Paste magazine, for one, praised Allison’s songwriting on “Clean,” saying her lyrics and approach were “honest, uncomplicated, and well-crafted” in a way that made her seem way more mature than the typical 20-year-old.

Her newest album, “Color Theory,” offers a little more production and sonic scope, including sampled keyboards and string arrangements. There are plenty of appealing melodies, but darker lyrics can loom underneath. On “Bloodsteam,” Allison recalls childhood days when blood made her cheeks warm and “rosy” — but now “a river of red runs from my knuckles into the sink / And there’s a pale girl staring through the mirror at me.”

Allison says the root of each song on “Color Theory” is a live take with her band — lead guitarist Jullian Powell, drummer Nick Brown, and pianist Gabe Wax — which is a new recording process for her. “This album reflects our live performance, which I’ve grown really happy with.”

Squirrel Flower opens the show.

More shows on tap

Venerable indie rockers Yo La Tengo come to Gateway City Arts tonight (Sept. 17) at 8 p.m.

Julien Baker, the rising indie folk star, gained a national audience at age 20 with her debut album, “Sprained Ankle,” in 2015, and she’s since released two other albums, including this year’s “Little Oblivions,” which offers more of a full band sound. This show has just been shifted from the Calvin Theatre to Gateway City Arts: Sept. 18 at 8 p.m.; Thao opens the show.

Watermelon Wednesdays, the acoustic music series at the West Whately Chapel, continues Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m. when string “superband” Darol Anger and Mister Sun comes calling. Longtime fiddler Anger, a founding member of The David Grisman Quintet, is joined by three younger pickers: Aidan O’Donnell on bass, Grant Gordy on guitar, and Joe K. Walsh on mandolin and vocals.

Valley singer-songwriter and rocker Mark Schwaber and friends play an album release show for his new record, “Everything Around Me,” at Luthiers Co-op in Easthampton Sept. 23 from 7 to 10 p.m.

The Milk Carton Kids, the folk duo of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, have earned accolades during the past decade for their lyrics, close harmonies and arrangements on acoustic guitars — and they’re also noted for their onstage jousting with one another. Originally scheduled to play at Gateway City Arts on Sept. 29, this show has been postponed until April 3, 2022.

The High Kings, one of Ireland’s most popular folk bands, have come through the Valley a few times, and they return on Sept. 29 at 8 p.m. to play Northampton’s Academy of Music. Finbarr Clancy, Darren Holden, Brian Dunphy, and newest member Paul O’ Brien offer a mix of traditional Irish music, some originals, and interpretations of other music.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at

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