Bringing it all back home: Transperformance returns to Look Park with some ‘Unsung Heroes’

  • Members of The Unband perform music from “This is Spinal Tap” at a past Transperformance, “Look at the Movies,” at the Pines Theater in Look Park. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Steve Sanderson, event producer for the Northampton Arts Council, carries a large symbol of Transperformance 2018, where the theme was bands with an ampersand in their names. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Frank Padellaro of King Radio performs as Men at Work at Transperformance 26: Labor Party! King Radio will channel seminal heavy metal dudes AC/DC at this year’s show. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • The Young@Heart Chorus performs as MGMT during Transperformance 26: Labor Party! in 2016. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • No one has ever performed at Transperformance as country great Willie Nelson — until this year. PHOTO BY DWIGHT MCCANN/WIKIPEDIA/PUBLIC DOMAIN

  • Noise-pop specialists The True Jacqueline will perform at Transperformance 31 as the dream-pop band Beach House. PHOTO BY OLIVER SCOTT SNURE/GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/8/2021 8:35:40 PM

By STEVE PFARRER

NORTHAMPTON — Summer in the Valley has long been marked by certain traditions: baseball games, backyard barbecues, picking up sweet corn from local farmstands.

And for 30 years, there’s been another summer staple here as well: an August concert at Look Park in which local musicians “transform,” playing the songs of well-known bands and artists, all to raise money for arts enrichment programs in city schools and the community.

Last year, Transperformance, presented by the Northampton Arts Council and the Parent Teacher Organizations of Northampton schools, got somewhat derailed by the pandemic, though the show was presented virtually, with prerecorded and livesteamed performances staged at the Northampton Community Arts Trust building; money was raised through donations rather than ticket sales.

Now the 31st edition of the concert, supported as always by numerous local businesses, will be live again, taking place Aug. 17 at the Pines Theater at Look Park. And after years of featuring the music of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Bob Marley and myriad other well-known stars, Transperformance this year is dedicated to artists whose music has not been heard here before.

“Unsung Heroes,” which runs from 4 to 9:30 p.m., will feature area bands and artists channeling some notable names — Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, AC/DC, Fiona Apple — as well as some lesser-known bands and others who have dropped off the larger musical radar over the years: Liz Phair, Thin Lizzy, The Buzzcocks.

Transperformance has typically been built around a theme that determines which bands are impersonated. In 2019, for instance, it was acts from the famous Woodstock concert of 1969, in recognition of the outdoor festival’s 50th anniversary.

But Steve Sanderson, event producer for the Arts Council, said this year’s show has been more open-ended, given that the council decided to base it around bands and artists whose music had never been played at Transperformance.

“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,’” Sanderson said earlier this year. So, after digging through its records, the Arts Council came up with some 275 names for musicians to chose from this year.

“We think we’ve put together one of the best shows we’ve ever done,” Sanderson said in a recent phone call.

He’ll be part of the concert himself, portraying Wille Nelson, one of his musical idols, as he joins a set by the Lonesome Brothers; he’ll also join the Eric Olson Band as they perform as Bad Company, the British rockers from the 1970s who produced a string of hits like “Can’t Get Enough” that are still staples of classic rock radio.

A general rule of thumb for musicians at Transperformance, Sanderson said, is that they play at least one big hit from the bands they represent; hopefully they can “also find that one unknown, fantastic B-side, too,” he added.

Visual and stylistic impersonation is important as well. So can we expect at least one member from King Radio, who will portray Aussie rockers AC/DC, to come out in shorts, and maybe a school jacket and tie, when he impersonates lead guitarist Angus Young?

“They’d better!” Sanderson said with a laugh.

It won’t be just rock ’n’ roll on the playlist. Bluesmen John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf will be impersonated by, respectively, StompBoxTrio and Wildcat O’Halloran; Michelle Brooks-Thompson will appear as Whitney Houston; and folk-blues singer/songwriter Peter Mulvey will channel Tom Waits (Mulvey is known for past shows in which he and his band have played Waits’ album “Rain Dogs” in its entirety).

Even given the rising cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19, including in many parts of Massachusetts, Sanderson says Transperformance won’t have safety restrictions or mandates for audience members. “We wouldn’t have scheduled this if we thought it would be unsafe,” he said. He also pointed to the state’s high rate of vaccination.

Anyone a little nervous about being part of the crowd should feel free to wear a face mask “and do whatever they need to feel safe,” he added, noting that the Arts Council remains in close contact with Northampton’s Board of Health about any changes regarding Covid protocols.

“We’re really thrilled to be back live again,” Sanderson said.

The show will take place Aug. 18 in the event of heavy rain on Aug. 17; a temporary roof over the stage will be in place for the concert, Sanderson says, allowing it to take place in light rain or drizzle.

Tickets, which range between $6 and $11 depending on age, can be ordered online through the Arts Council website, northamptonartscouncil.org, and they can also be purchased (with no additional fees) at State Street Fruit Store in Northampton, Cooper’s Corner in Florence, and AJ Hastings in Amherst.

Food will be available from Bueno y Sano, Barts Ice Cream, Ginger Love Cafe, and other local eateries including Joe’s Cafe, Roberto’s, and Pizza Amore. No pets, coolers or beverages can be brought to the show, per Look Park. The park charges a $10 special events vehicle entry fee for all vehicles without season passes.

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


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