Live music returns to the Berkshires

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 border land, 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, Palotré, a leading quartet in Afro-Dominican Jazz — and they have opened music again at the Stage Coach Tavern when they perform live on July 4 at Race Brook Lodge.

Live music is returning to the Berkshires. In the wake of the pandemic, creative spaces across the region are emerging one careful step at a time, and they are bringing performers from many genres and many parts of the country, many of them well-known.

Jake Blount is an award-winning banjoist, fiddler, singer and ethnomusicologist, performing on July 23 at The Foundry.
The Foundry

Jake Blount is an award-winning banjoist, fiddler, singer and ethnomusicologist performing on July 23 at The Foundry.

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

As a banjoist, fiddler, singer and ethnomusicologist he 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.

He joins a growing series of concerts at the Foundry on Fridays and Saturdays, said the Foundry’s founder, Amy Brentano. And though she feels the challenges in the planning, now that her season is fully open, she feels an energy in the summer.

“Once it launched, I saw the joy in the performers,” she said.

Miko Marks will perform her own blend of blues, gospel, roots and Americana at Mass MoCA. Press photo coourtesy of the museum
Miko Marks

Miko Marks will perform her own blend of blues, gospel, roots and Americana at Mass MoCA. Press photo coourtesy of the museum

She has company all through the mountains. 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. She 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, reggae from Hudson Valley is filling in the courtyard at the Bennington Museum — or 1960s rock, or folk music from Russia or Brazil — with local Mexican fare from the Avocado Pit.

Here the pandemic has acted as a catalyst, said curator Jamie Franklin. It has jump-started an idea the museum had had in mind for a long time, and they now offer free live music in the courtyards on Friday nights.

They have often seen 40 to 50 people gather for an evening with local bands, he said, and they are welcome to explore the outdoor artwork and the paths through 10 acres of woodland.

Berkshire musicians perform at Music After Hours at the Mount, Edith Wharton's historic house in Lenox.
Photo by John Seakwood

Berkshire musicians perform at Music After Hours at the Mount, Edith Wharton's historic house in Lenox.

In the last year, outdoor stages have grown 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 and New York and beyond will fill the streets with songwriters and accordionists, Hip Hop and Irish step dancers, New Orleans street folk and Brazilian rhythm, mimes and acrobats …

For a quieter evening, 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.

They will bring many well-known performers in the region, Gina Coleman and the Misty Blues Band, Wanda Houston, the Lucky 5 and more. You’ll need to get tickets this summer, said Rebecka McDougall, director of communications and community outreach.

Before the pandemic, the Mount’s long-running, free Music After Hours concerts had grown to almost a thousand people a night, she said, and they are taking care for everyone’s safety.

At Race Brook Lodge, general manager Casey Meade Rothstein-Fitzpatrick warmly admires 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 — it’s unique and a lot of fun.”

The series will return on August 1, outdoors or in the barn on the property, Rothstein-Fitzpatrick said, 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,” he said. “I was joking with her that new-age means anything with a lot of reverb.”

She 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. He 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, and as the inn re-opened and the summer unfolded, they started to call out to some of the network of musicians they have formed in many seasons of running the Down county Social Club here, and the jazz brunch. As the summer goes on, they will continue to fill in the schedule. They try to bring performers who are not otherwise coming to the Berkshires, he said.

“You can get larger acts at Tanglewood, maybe Mahaiwe and a few other places — a lot of the music we have here are ensembles usually only found in urban areas.”

Acclaimed musician Joshua Henry will perform live at Barrington Stage. Press photo courtesy of BSC.
Joshua Henry

Acclaimed musician Joshua Henry will perform live at Barrington Stage. Press photo courtesy of BSC.

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, towards Turn Park Art Space.

Some 135 people had come on one June evening, Brentano said, 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, themself an active maker in the Asian American theater community in Boston and a queer and trans artist, performer and spoken word poet.

Brentano began programming live shows in January, she said, working with managing director Noh Bailey, and though 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, she said, including Beebee’s Hot Spot, a new restaurant in Pittsfield, with dishes from curries and warmly spiced grilled meats to savory-sweet fried plantain.

“It’s the only authentic Caribbean food I know of in the Berkshires,” she 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,” she explained, “and people are always asking if we serve food.”

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, she said. People who want to support the performances, and can, will do that.

She feels lucky in her summer staff, as well. From her many years in theater education, she said, 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 given helped her to get through the pandemic and emerge into a changed world.

“I go back to the mission,” she said. As she has defined it from the beginning, that is to present art that connects and inspires and welcomes diverse audiences, and 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.”

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

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