Songwriters hit the spotlight

Bob Dylan. Mavis Staples. Tanglewood. The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s warm-weather home will expand its lineup of live singer-songwriters in the Berkshires this summer (2016) — starting high. And Berkshire journalist Sandy Ryan has looked into acoustic music all summer long.

Bob Dylan’s music, with his poetic lyrics and indelible, hummable tunes, has consistently defined contemporary folk for five decades, and soul and R&B power Mavis Staples has known him since they performed together in their 20s. Jackson Browne, Tanglewood’s guest on June 21, has a more rock-influenced sound (think of “Running on Empty” and “Take it Easy”).

Singer-songwriter has become a broad category, and it is expanding across the region, drawing nationally known voices.

Folk singer / songwriter Richard Shindell has joined a long lineup of folk legends in the Troubador series at the Guthrie Center in Great Barrington.
Photo by Taylor Crothers / Courtesy of Richard Shindell

Folk singer / songwriter Richard Shindell has joined a long lineup of folk legends in the Troubador series at the Guthrie Center in Great Barrington.

Tanglewood “is a magical place to listen to any type of music,” said Kim Noltemy, chief operating and communications officer for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. “We’ve found over the years that popular music brings in a different audience than our core classical offerings, and that’s exciting for us.”

Down the road, a folk legend has created a venue at the Guthrie Center in Great Barrington, where the Troubadour Series runs from June to August in the old stone church made famous by Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.”

Catie Curtis plays on June 3, a mezzo with singable tunes and genuine warmth, and Richard Shindell, who will follow her on June 4, sings in a rich baritone with lyrics that often take the point of view of other characters: a truck driver in “The Next Best Western” or, in “The Ballad of Mary Magdalene,” the saint herself.

The genre tends to mean that one singer writes, composes and performs in a stripped-down acoustic style and often. on acoustic instruments such as guitar. These stories have a tale to tell, often personal, engaged and genuine, as they do for Kris Delmhorst, a nationally known Pioneer Valley musician who will perform at the Parlor Room in Northampton.

Delmhorst’s music often relies on powerful metaphors about wind, weather, and water.

“I tend to write mostly on a sub-narrative level,” she said in an email interview, “not a ton of concrete plotline, a lot of wandering around the inner landscape. I guess when you’re trying to write elementally, it stands to reason you end up talking about the elements.”

Her earlier work often focused on her independent spirit and wanderlust. Now, married to fellow singer-songwriter Jeffery Foucault and raising a daughter, she said that the lyrics still retain their power for her.

“My life has changed in its particulars, but I don’t identify any less with those feelings of rootlessness or independence than I used to,” she said. “… They’re a part of me, and I’d guess I’ll always have access to them, for better or worse.

“I will say that singing the older songs, especially ones I haven’t revisited in a while, often involves some unexpected perspective shifts — sometimes a song I wrote when I was in my 20s means something entirely different to me now that I’m in my 40s. It’s interesting, and it’s part of what makes it possible to sing songs a million times over years and years, because as time goes by and I change as a person, the songs change too.”

The Parlor Room has become a welcoming place where she often performs as part of a year-round lineup.

“Because my longtime label Signature Sounds is based out of that building, it does serve as a home base/clubhouse for a lot of us around here,” she said. “It’s somewhere I can stop by day or night and find good people making music or talking about it. As a local I love the community-oriented nature of the place, as an audience member I love the tiny dark space and the BYO-everything policy, and as a performer I love the focus of the room.”

More music

Dreamaway Lodge in Becket has hosted eclectic performances for decades — local Bernice Lewis will return June 11. She will also perform at the Clark Art Institute on July 26 in their series of free Tuesday concerts.

Mass MoCA will bring indie rockers The National June 11. Dan Zanes will perform Lead Belly, Charles Bradley will brings Motown-revival, and bluegrass artist Matt Lorenz arrives in one-man show, “The Suitcase Junket.”

Green River Festival — July 8 to 10 in Greenfield, blends hot air balloons and a wide display of musical talent, including Peter Mulvey and Sonya Kitchell.

Falcon Ridge Folk Festival — Aug. 5 to 7 at Dodds Farm in Hillsdale, N.Y., the outdoor festival returns in a widespread circus of dancing and live performances.

In Northampton, the Iron Horse Music Hall often highlights songwriters of note, including Joan Osborne on June 12 and Nerissa and Katryna Nields June 17 and18.

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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