hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture July 2021


The return of live music

Outdoor shows multiply at venues across region


A performance by Robanic with the Caribbean Sounds, held in late June, is part of a Friday evening Concerts in the Courtyard series at the Bennington Museum. George Bouret photo


A performance by Robanic with the Caribbean Sounds, held in late June, is part of a Friday evening Concerts in the Courtyard series at the Bennington Museum. George Bouret photo


Contributing writer


Low strings move below warm chords and a rhythm like rain: In a quiet tenor with a catch in the throat, Vicento Garcia is singing “Amor Arrayano.”

Arrayano means people who live in a borderland, people with Haitian and Dominican family, and he is calling across a divide, calling to Papa Legba, the spirit of the crossroads.

He sings with guitarist and composer Yasser Tejeda and his band, Palotre, a leading quartet in Afro-Dominican jazz -- and they will perform July Fourth at the Stage Coach Tavern at Race Brook Lodge in Sheffield, Mass.

Live music is returning to the Berkshires, Vermont and eastern New York. In the wake of the pandemic, creative spaces across the region are emerging one careful step at a time, and they are scheduling performers from diverse genres and regions, many of them well known. Most of the shows are outdoors.

A visitor walking through West Stockbridge at dusk on July 23 might hear Jake Blount playing percussive and fluid banjo at The Foundry.

As a banjoist, fiddler, singer and ethnomusicologist, Blount has toured internationally, solo and in the duo Tui, and studied with Rhiannon Giddens, Bruce Molsky and Judy Hyman.

He blends blues, bluegrass and spirituals into the old-time string band tradition, absorbed in the music of Black communities in the southeastern United States, and honoring the experiences of queer people and people of color in his work.

Blount joins a growing series of concerts at the Foundry on Fridays and Saturdays. The venue’s founder, Amy Brentano, said that although planning is still challenging, she feels a particular energy in this summer now that her season is fully open.

“Once it launched, I saw the joy in the performers,” she said.
She has company all through the mountains where New York and New England meet.
In a hint of the Solid Sound Festival, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy will perform at Mass MoCA with Nels Cline on July 17. And on July 11, Miko Marks will raise her voice to rock, blues and soul with a quick and moving beat. Marks comes to the Berkshires from Oakland, Calif., with a background in the Nashville country music scene and an album with co-producers Steve Wyreman (Jay-Z, John Legend, Rihanna, Leon Bridges) and Justin Phipps (Founder of Redtone Records).
Just over the Vermont border, the courtyard of the Bennington Museum is filling with reggae from Hudson Valley -- or 1960s rock, or folk music from Russia or Brazil -- with local Mexican fare from the Avocado Pit.

With the pandemic as a catalyst, curator Jamie Franklin said the museum pursued a long-running idea and began offering free live music in its courtyard on Friday nights. Now 40 to 50 people often gather for an evening with local bands, and visitors are welcome to explore the outdoor artwork and the paths through the museum’s 10 acres of woodland.

In the last year, outdoor stages for musicians have sprung up in many different settings, from Broadway stars at Berkshire Theatre Group and Barrington Stage to indy rock at the Egremont Barn.

In the southern Berkshires, a new Berkshire Busk brings performers to the sidewalks in Great Barrington through July and August. Musicians from the Berkshires, Boston, New York and beyond will fill the streets: songwriters and accordionists, hip-hop artists and Irish step dancers, mimes and acrobats, New Orleans street folk and Brazilian rhythm performers.

For a quieter setting, gardens are opening in the long evenings. Swallows dart over concerts on the lawn at Berkshire Botanical Garden and at Naumkeag in Stockbridge.

The Mount will welcome Berkshire bands to a new outdoor stage in the dell, below the carriage house and a life-sized bison in Corten steel and locust wood who stands welcoming visitors to this year’s outdoor sculpture show.

The Mount’s schedule includes many well-known performers in the region: Gina Coleman and the Misty Blues Band, Wanda Houston, the Lucky 5 and more. Tickets will be required this summer, said Rebecka McDougall, the director of communications and community outreach.
Before the pandemic, the Mount’s long-running, free Music After Hours concerts had attracted nearly a thousand people a night, she said, and the new ticketing system is a pandemic safety precaution.


Wide-ranging acts
At Race Brook Lodge, general manager Casey Meade Rothstein-Fitzpatrick praised Tejeda’s breadth and skill.

“He went to the Berklee College of Music and studied jazz and many other styles of music, and so he brings advanced jazz and music theory to traditional Dominican styles of music,” Rothstein-Fitzpatrick said. “It’s unique and a lot of fun.”

This summer’s music shows at the lodge will be outdoors or in the barn on the property. The series will continue on Aug. 1, as vocalist Priya Darshini blends Indian Classical music and traditions from many different parts of the world. She has earned praise for her range and technique, unconventional compositions, independent spirit and powerful voice.

“She was nominated for a Grammy in the new-age category,” Rothstein-Fitzpatrick said. “I was joking with her that new-age means anything with a lot of reverb.”

Darshini and her band recorded the album in a church, she told him, so it has a strong natural resonance. Listening to it, he hears her voice high over held tones, clear and sublime.
“Her husband is a dulcimer player,” he said, and the sound of high strings brings a lot of flowing melodies.

Rothstein-Fitzpatrick has known Tejeda and Darshini and their music over the years.
“Both have performed with us before,” he said.

In the uncertainty everyone has felt, emerging from the pandemic, it has been hard to plan far ahead, he said. As the inn reopened and the summer unfolded, it turned to some of the network of musicians who’ve performed over the inn’s many seasons of running the Down County Social Club and its jazz brunch.

The lodge will continue to fill in its performance schedule as the summer goes on. Rothstein-Fitzpatrick said they try to attract performers who are not otherwise coming to the Berkshires.
“You can get larger acts at Tanglewood, maybe Mahaiwe and a few other places,” he explained. “A lot of the music we have here are ensembles usually only found in urban areas.”


Gathering outdoors
On a Thursday evening at the Foundry, neighbors drop in casually to Brentano’s patio bar for a cold drink. A toddler blows bubbles and walks a few steps between the chairs.

Brentano greets Simon Davenport, a band member of the Brooklyn-born group Adìos Ghost. Later this month, he will be here performing early house, R&B and West African music, but tonight he is here with his family.

Emerging artists perform on Tuesdays in the patio bar, Brentano said, and this summer, on Friday and Saturday nights, concerts and performances have moved onto the lawn on the far side, toward Turn Park Art Space.

Some 135 people gathered on one June evening to hear internationally acclaimed jazz and Latin jazz vocalist Lauren Henderson perform in a series with the West Stockbridge Historical Society.
The night before, over guitar fingering in a low rise and fall, Anjimile Chithambo was singing, with a fire-tempered sadness and perseverance, ‘I’m a maker.’

“He’s a gorgeous singer-songwriter,” Brentano said. “And it was an intimate concert. We felt lucky to have him.”

Anjimile is a queer and trans Black musician and songmaker from Boston, and he came up with his life partner for the weekend. The Foundry reached out to the queer community to draw in a warm audience, Brentano said, and Anjimile told her that he felt welcomed.

She first heard his music through her winter artist in residence, Micah Rosegrant, an active maker in the Asian American theater community in Boston and a queer and trans artist, performer and spoken word poet.

Brentano said she began programming live shows in January, working with managing director Noh Bailey. Although she can move some events inside in rough weather, she hopes to stay outdoors well into the fall.

“People still want to be outside,” she said, “and so do I.”
She will invite food trucks each week, including one from Beebee’s Hot Spot, a new restaurant in Pittsfield, with dishes from curries and warmly spiced grilled meats to savory-sweet fried plantains.

“It’s the only authentic Caribbean food I know of in the Berkshires,” Brentano said.
Depending on the week, visitors may see SOMA, with their portable pizza oven, or Chillin Grillin Cheez, with soups and fresh-cut fries.

“We have to serve food in order to serve alcohol,” Brentano explained, “and people are always asking if we serve food.”

She said anyone from town can walk by and listen, or bring takeout to the picnic table past the stone wall, and that feels right to her. Those who want to support the performances, and can, will do so, she added.

Brentano said she feels lucky in her summer staff. From her many years in theater education, she knows many young people, and she feels they know they will be taken care of. She wants them to feel ownership in the place, and for her visitors and her artists to feel the same.
They have helped her to get through the pandemic and emerge into a changed world.

“I go back to the mission,” Brentano said, that she has set since the Foundry began: to present art that connects and inspires and welcomes diverse audiences, and to encourage people to leap across cultural boundaries.

“I really want to do this,” she said. “It’s the only thing I know to give back to the world -- that day-to-day connection. … I just want people to feel this is home and they want to come back.”