Transperformance eyes return to Look Park

  • The Unband plays music from “This is Spinal Tap” at a past Transperformance show at the Pines Theater at Look Park. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Jon Carroll and BraveSoul channel the late Robert Palmer and band at the Transperformance show “Rock’n’Roll Heaven Revisited.” GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Insane George of Three Arcadians brings Iggy Pop to life at Transperformance in 2018. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/13/2021 12:15:29 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Transperformance, the annual fundraising concert for arts programs in Northampton schools that features local bands presenting themselves as other artists, was forced to go remote last summer because of COVID-19.

But Transperformance 2021 is back on schedule as an Aug. 17 live show at the Pines Theater at Look Park — and with a title of “Unsung Heroes,” it will be a showcase for acts that have never been featured at the concert, a long list that includes Bonnie Raitt, Patti Smith, Wilco, Smokey Robinson, Wilson Pickett and many others.

Steve Sanderson, events producer for the Northampton Arts Council, said all current indications are that an outdoor show should be a go by August, based on Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent announcement that state restrictions on outdoor gatherings will likely be lifted by Aug. 1, as well as the pace of COVID vaccinations in the commonwealth. Nearly 75% of the adult population has gotten at least a first dose of a vaccine, Baker announced this week.

“I feel pretty confident that we’ll be free and clear by August,” said Sanderson, who added that he’s also been in regular contact with Northampton health officials to get their take on the situation. “We can’t know with absolute certainty what the situation will be in August, but I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

Given that uncertainty, Sanderson did not want to spell out whether specific safety protocols such as face masks would be encouraged or required at the Aug. 17 show — “I think we’ll be in a better position to say after August 1,” he noted — but he said audience members should use their own concerns as a barometer of what to do.

“I think the pandemic has shown that face masks are a good idea for flu season in general,” he said. “People should access their own safety level and also consider the safety of others.”

But there’s another imperative at work as well, Sanderson said: “We need live music. We need a live Transperformance. I talk to musicians all day, I talk to music enthusiasts, and everyone wants to get back to where we were” before the pandemic.

Last August, the concert, made up of prerecorded performances and some livestreamed segments, was screened for free on social media and public access TV from the Northampton Community Arts Trust building. Though the show went well overall, Sanderson noted, the Arts Council did not sell any tickets to the event, so not as much money was raised for school arts programs as had been in the past (though $15,000 still was delivered through donations, the Arts Council says).

Transperformance, a mainstay in the region for 30 years, has typically been built around a theme that determines which bands are impersonated; last year it was the acts from the Live Aid concerts staged in 1985 in London and Philadelphia to raise money for Ethiopian famine victims.

But this year the Arts Council, some local musicians and previous presenters hit on the idea of simply making the 2021 show a forum for bands and artists not yet profiled.

“Every year we have musicians and bands say, ‘We’d love to do a set as so-and-so, but it doesn’t fit with the theme,’” said Sanderson. “We took a look at all the acts that had been featured in our past programs, and we came up with over 430 bands, and some of the same ones had been featured over a dozen times. So then we wanted to look at who hadn’t been represented.”

That list includes over 275 names, some more obscure than others, but many with plenty of name recognition: country stars like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson; folkies Jeff Buckley, Phil Ochs and Nick Drake; rock and punk bands ranging from The Jam to Richard and Linda Thompson to Sonic Youth; Motown groups such as The Supremes and The Shirelles.

Sanderson said the goal will be to put together a show that balances lesser-known acts with bigger names for an overall show “that’s entertaining and fun for as many people as possible. It’s always a challenge because there are always far more submissions from bands than we have slots for.” (There are typically about two dozen acts in the show.)

That said, the pent-up demand for live music might well be the biggest selling point for the show, he said: “It’s something a lot of us can’t wait for, and I’m one of them.”

For more information on Transperformance 2021, and/or to make a donation to the show, visit

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at


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