“The wake of mornin’, quell the lighnin
Sullen from your reckless slumber
Now I come to see you as you are
A petal parting from her flower
Turning bluer by the hour
Gypsy shadow dancer from afar
When suddenly the Joker Thief
Cascading with his broken teeth
A long, but not forgotten, fare you well.”
— Dharma Bird
These lyrics are from the song “Gypsy & Joker Thief,” written by Ali Telmesani, the leader of Dharma Bird, a new bluegrass band based in Northampton. These don’t sound like your typical bluegrass lyrics and the name Dharma Bird seems like it would belong to some psychedelic, eastern-influenced band, not a group that includes a banjo. But musically, with its lineup of Jared Gardner on standup bass, Jefferson Lewis on mandolin, Max Wareham on banjo, Annika Amstuz on fiddle and Telmesani on flat-picked guitar and vocals, Dharma Bird is very much a bluegrass band. In addition to creating the kind of energy we expect from a string band, the band also benefits from the addition of Telmesani’s fine poetic lyrics.
Dharma Bird will appear at Mocha Maya’s, 47 Bridge St., Shelburne Falls, on Saturday, Feb. 2, at 8 p.m. Paul Basile of Great Elk will open the show.
Inspired by songwriters like Hank Williams, Townes Van Zandt and Bob Dylan, Telmesani started writing songs in the singer-songwriter tradition when he was a teenager.
“I would write to the various meters of Bob Dylan’s songs, changing the melody, experimenting with the ballad,” he recalled.
He later went to the University of Connecticut where, as a student of creative writing, he began studying and writing poetry.
“I eventually turned writing into a full-time endeavor, paying as much attention to detail in my songwriting as I did in the poetry. My intention was and still is to blur these distinctions entirely.”
Lines like “Alone at last in the exile of our bodies broken free/Her breath was uninspired by the street unto/God the children be” from the folk-influenced tune“Hannah, Heart of Laughter” prove he is on his way to doing just that.
While Telmesani’s interest in songwriting and music go way back, he wasn’t bitten by the bluegrass bug until five years ago.
“ Max and I had a high school friend, Todd, whose entire family played bluegrass music together. We had never even heard of bluegrass at that point!” he said. “One day, Todd invited us over, stuck a banjo in Max’s hand and told me to play some basic chords I already knew on the guitar. By that evening, we learned half the songs off of the ‘O Brother’ soundtrack.”
Telmesani said from that point on, he was hooked on bluegrass and shifted his songwriting to write songs that would be played by a band,
“That one day sowed the seeds that shaped both our lives profoundly. Max gave up studying jazz guitar, opting to study the banjo instead at Hampshire College. I began studying flat picking guitar with Michael Daves in Brooklyn while I completed my undergrad education, biding my time before I could finally move to the Pioneer Valley and realize my dream of playing professional acoustic music with Max.’
That dream is now coming true, as Telmesani has assembled a great lineup whose members, he said, are committed to and excited by this music. They plan to head to the studio in March and hope to release a debut EP by summer. In the meantime, you can hear demos of the band at www.dharmabird.bandcamp.com or catch one of the band’s many live shows this month. In addition to the Mocha Maya’s show, it will appear at the Hinge on 48 Main St. in Northampton on Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 10 p.m.; the Basement at 31 Center St. in Northampton on Friday, Feb. 8, at 8 p.m.; and Luthiers Co-op on 108 Cottage St. in Easthampton Sunday, Feb. 24, at 8 p.m.
Mocha Maya’s is struggling
We like to stress that you come out to the Mocha Maya’s show as the coffeehouse really needs your support.
Last week the owners of Mocha Maya’s released a statement saying that the coffee house had experienced a recent decline in business that could possibly force them to close their doors this winter.
The closing of Mocha Maya’s would be devastating to the community on many levels, but it would strike a particularly strong blow to musicians and music fans. Since opening its doors seven years ago, Mocha Maya’s has become a vital presence in the valley’s music scene, presenting live music of varying genres every weekend. It has been a huge supporter of local musicians, welcoming everyone from newcomers to well-established acts to its stage. This is in addition to the nationally touring artists that regularly perform there. Mocha Maya’s has offered all this, without charging admission to the shows.
Telmesani said Dharma Bird played its first show at Mocha Maya’s last summer and like all the other musicians who have played there, they loved this venue.
“We played for a full crowd. Yet it was such a small, intimate space that while we were playing, you could hear a pin drop,” he said. “Everybody was so attentive. That’s a real luxury for performers.”
‘Cash mob’ and Kris Delmhorst at Mocha Maya’s Friday;
Benefit concert planned Feb. 9
On the upside, as soon as Mocha Maya’s made this announcement, the community started to respond. Radio station WRSI 93.9 the River of Northampton will hold a “cash mob” at Mocha Maya’s on Friday, Feb. 1, at 4 p.m. The goal of the cash mob is to encourage people to show up at this allotted time and spend money, thus benefiting the business. That night, Signature Sounds recording artist Kris Delmhorst will join singer-songwriter Dan Charness for a show at 8 p.m.
There will also be a benefit concert on Saturday, Feb. 9. Details are being worked out now, but Brook Batteau, Bright Lines, and Pamela Means have committed to performing.
Other acts at Mocha Maya’s
In addition to the Dharma Bird show, here are some other upcoming shows at the coffee house that you might want to check out.
Feb. 8, 8 p.m.: the Americana blues of Easthampton-based band The Peachy’s.
■ Saturday, Feb. 9, 8 p.m.: the jazz folk of Pamela Means.
■ Sunday, Feb. 10, 2 p.m.: local music legend Ray Mason will play a special afternoon show.
■ Friday, Feb. 15, 8 p.m.: local reggae favorites, The Equalites
■ Saturday, Feb. 16, 7:30 p.m.: a great double bill of indie folk rocker Fancy Trash and the junkyard rock of Wishbone Zoe. For the full schedule, visit www.mochamayas.com.
Get out there and show your support! All of these shows are free, but tips for the performers are strongly encouraged. And do spend some money when you are there.
Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at email@example.com