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Your new favorite (free!) concert series: Millpond Live

  • Under a rising full moon at Easthampton'sMillside Park, the 2018 MillPond.Live music series opens last Saturday with a set by Sudanese musician Ahmed Gallab and his band Sinkane. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Rodstarz, the lead singer of the hip-hop group Rebel Diaz, holds the hand of a young boy, Mateo, who was separated from his parents at a Millpond show last year. Mateo was then reunited with his parents. Photo by Julian Parker-Burns/courtesy Kyle Homstead 

  • At the end of their set at Millpond Live last year, Rebel Diaz invited children from the audience to join them on stage.  Photo by Julian Parker-Burns/courtesy Kyle Homstead

  • A drone-captured photo of the Aug. 25 Millpond.Live concert, which drew over 2,000 attendees, organizers say. Photo by Glenn Labay, Aerial Camera Services/courtesy Kyle Homstead

  • Milani McBride, 3, of Easthampton, perched on the shoulders of her father, Carlos Rec McBride, during the show.  STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Persy Melanson, 3, of Easthampton dances to the music of Sudanese artist Ahmed Gallab and his band Sinkane at MillPond.Live last Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Attendees, many with blankets and lawn chairs in tow, arrived as early as 6 p.m. to take advantage of the on-site food trucks. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jonny Lam, right, Michael "Ish" Montgomery, center, and Ahmed Gallab, left, front the band Sinkane play at MillPond.Live in Easthampton last Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The crowd at the opening show of the 2018 MillPond.Live music series In Easthampton enjoys a set by Sudanese musician Ahmed Gallab and his band Sinkane last Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Sudanese musician Ahmed Gallab, left, and his band Sinkane, including bassist Michael “Ish” Montgomery, right, play a set during MillPond.Live’s opening concert Easthampton last Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Cassandra Holden of Laudable Productions, which produces Easthampton’s free MillPond.Live concert series, says the series is all about bringing the different generations of the community together. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • “These are people who don’t necessarily go out to music festivals,” says organizer Kyle Homstead of the multi-generational crowd the shows attract. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING



Saturday, September 01, 2018

Last Saturday evening, on the final weekend of August, there was a hint of autumn in the air at Millside Park in Easthampton. Hundreds of people sat in lawn chairs, while they listened to the psychedelic cumbia funk of Locobeach, a Brooklyn, New York band — the first act of Millpond.Live’s 2018 season. 

Children played tag and jumped on the playground as Locobeach laid down a Latin-tinged psychedelic dreamscape of guitars, synth, bass, congas, and drums. Meanwhile, couples danced in front of the bandstand while sunlight illuminated a century-old former textile mill smokestack. On the other side of the park, the placid waters of Lower Mill Pond could be seen peaking through layers of brush and foliage. 

Local food trucks dished out meals to hungry festival-goers, whether it was wood-fired oven pizza from Hearth + Timber Pizza or Southeast Asian cuisine from Little Trúc. Vivid collages by Valley artist and photographer Julian Parker-Burns were on display, offering additional color to the scene. 

Welcome to Millpond.Live, a free festival series that began its third season with the theme of “Generous City,” celebrating a love of music and the Easthampton community. On tap that same evening were musical acts such as as Sudanese funk/soul artist Sinakane and the Brooklyn-based, experimental Afrobeat group Underground System.

Although part of Millpond.Live’s mission is to bring diverse and adventurous music to the Valley, the concert series also aims to bring together people of different backgrounds and political views by fostering a sense of community through art, said Kyle Homstead. He’s the head of Laudable Productions, the Easthampton-based live music production company and “creative agency” that organizes Millpond.Live.

“The mills are having this renaissance with all sorts of new businesses, but Easthampton was also this community where there were families that worked in the mills for generations,” Homstead says. “So we envisioned the first Millpond as an opportunity to bring all of Easthampton together.” 

Indeed, the concert series, which runs for four consecutive Saturdays, from 6-10 p.m., in August and September, is aimed at celebrating the city as a diverse place that belongs to the varied people who make up its population.

“There’s an art community in Easthampton, there’s a working class community, and there’s an innovative entrepreneurial community,” Homstead notes. “We wanted to create an event where all these different communities, regardless of their socio-economic status, could come together.”

Tony Silva, an Easthampton resident and an acclaimed local Spanish guitarist who attended the show, said he's grateful to have a free music festival just around the corner from where he lives.

"I love world music, so it was a treat to see a psychedelic Cumbia band with a Sudanese disco band and an Afro-pop band all in one night," he said. "To be able to get that kind of talent to come play in our little town is super cool."

During its first year, thousands of people attended the live music series, but Homstead says he was particularly heartened to see different generations of Easthampton residents enjoying the music. On average, more than 2,000 people attend Millpond.Live shows, he says. 

“These are people who don’t necessarily go out to music festivals,” he says. “There are a lot of incredible offerings for music and arts lovers in the Valley who can afford to partake in all of that. But we feel like it’s really important to create opportunities [for] people from all walks of life.”

A free, grassroots festival series wouldn’t be possible without more than a dozen local sponsors, which Millpond.Live’s website credits as “Who makes this magic?” including River Valley Co-op, the Rosenberg Fund for Children, Riverside Industries, and Easthampton Savings Bank. 

“Millpond.Live is made possible through the generous support of area businesses and individuals who recognize the importance of gathering as a community,” Homstead said. 

He said the festival relies on sponsors like Alternative Recycling, which provides trash and recycling receptacles and removal; Galaxy Restaurant in Easthampton, which prepares food for the performers; and Mill 180 and Craftman’s Corner, which provide solar-powered lighting throughout the park. 

The format of Millpond.Live is meant to be accessible and family friendly, while also bringing unique acts to the festival series, whether that’s hip-hop, Celtic music, rock, soul, or musical traditions from across the world, Homstead says.

“We’re not booking acts that play [the Calvin Theatre in Northampton] on a regular basis,” he said. “Most of them are acts people don’t necessarily know, but they’re excited to come out and share this experience, which is very much about discovery and adventure.”

The community vibe comes through in unexpected ways. Cassandra Holden, a producer of Millpond.Live with Laudable Productions, said last year at a show featuring political hip-hop duo Rebel Diaz, a young boy, Mateo, was separated from his parents. During the group’s performance, frontman/vocalist Rodstarz stopped the music mid-song to help organize a search for Mateo.

“He ... asked everyone in the audience, ‘Turn to your right. Turn to your left. Introduce yourself to the person next to you. We’re all going to look around for this kid,’ ” said Holden. “And in this incredibly soothing voice, he called out to him and said, ‘Please come up to the front of the stage. Your parents are here waiting for you.’ ”

The boy was eventually reunited with his parents near the stage and there was a “collective sigh and applause” from the audience, adds Holden: “In that moment, one thousand people who had never liked hip-hop before loved hip-hop.”

Millpond.Live’s 2018 season continues with three Saturday shows in September. Tomorrow, “Backyard Bards” will feature three singer-songwriters with local roots, including Easthampton-based, Grammy-nominated folk/pop artist Seth Glier; Nashville-based Americana rocker Szlachetka; and Cambridge singer-songwriter Hayley Reardon.

On Sept. 8, the series continues with “Cosmopolis,” which showcases a variety of musicians with a connection to Chicago, including Indo-Pakistani soul singer Zeshan B; Afrobeat/jazz group Sidewalk Chalk; and locally-based songwriter Jon Caroll, who has penned tunes for the likes of Peter Wolf, Tom Jones and Kenny Rogers.

The concert series wraps up with the Easthampton Irish Fest on Sept. 15, which includes artists such as the local Gaslight Tinkers (funk/Carribean/reggae, Celtic fusion); the Winifred Horan Trio, led by the acclaimed fiddler from the Celtic supergroup Solas; and Irish music accordionist star John Williams.

For Homstead and Holden, Millpond is all about the moments when music connects with audiences, allowing listeners to experience sounds and styles they wouldn’t normally explore. 

“That’s what’s really meaningful to us — the magic when people let go of what they know and step into an experience that brings something new and unknown,” said Homstead.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.

For more information about Millpond.Live visit https://millpond.live/