Sounds Local: The good & the bad
As we move into 2014, it’s time to look back at the year that was and to revel in the CDs and live shows that we enjoyed as well as some of the disappointments we experienced.
Throughout the year, we were continually reminded of all the amazingly talented musicians who live and work here in the Pioneer Valley and of the different types of music that we are routinely exposed to. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing in 2013; a troubled economy took its toll on area venues and there were times that Franklin County music fans were left asking ‘where has all the music gone?’
Light on the heavy metal
This question especially resonated for fans who like their music on the heavier side. At the start of 2013, we saw the closing of Winterland, a club in Greenfield that routinely presented shows by hard rock/metal bands. The Easy Street Nightclub, another Greenfield venue that presented hard rock music, had closed its doors in 2012. The demise of these clubs and the lack of other venues stepping in to regularly host this type of music, left a void in the Franklin County hard-rock scene. Fans currently have to travel to Northampton, or even to the eastern part of the state, to enjoy this type of music. Let’s hope that 2014 brings with it a revitalization in Franklin County.
In February, music fans were delivered another blow when Mocha Maya’s Coffeehouse in Shelburne Falls announced that it might have to close its doors due to financial reasons. The coffeehouse, located in the center of Shelburne Falls, is a huge supporter of local music, presenting free shows each weekend with musicians performing for tips. Fortunately, the community increased its support of the coffeehouse and Mocha Maya’s remains open and continues to host a wide variety of musical offerings.
New series starting at the Arts Block Saturday
Mocha Maya’s is a small room, as is The Rendezvous in Turners Falls and The Montague Bookmill, two other venues that are mainstays for local music. The good news is that The Arts Block in Greenfield continues to move forward and exhibited more variety in its bookings this past year. The Arts Block, in the heart of downtown Greenfield, will start 2014 off with a new music series to be held the first Saturday of every month and hosted by Juke Joint Jazz. The band, which plays original arrangements of classic jazz music, will present a different set of original material each month, along with a set of music by a group that plays a different genre. For the inaugural show this Saturday, Jan. 4 at 8 p.m., the band will be joined by the vibrant funky sounds of Who’da Funk it. For more information, visit www.theartsblock.com
But the area’s two main theaters, Memorial Hall in Shelburne Falls and the Shea Theater in Turners Falls, were underutilized this past year when it came to hosting concerts. There was a time when Memorial Hall had shows on a monthly basis, but only a few shows were held there in 2013. There were some good shows held at The Shea Theater this past year (Rubblebucket was one of these) but, like Shelburne Falls, there were only a few. With its good seating and sound and convenient location, The Shea is an all-around excellent room to experience live music.
Double CD release at The Shea Theater Jan. 10
Fortunately, the year is starting off in the right direction when Daniel Hales and the frost heaves and Mystics Anonymous hold a double CD release party at The Shea on Friday, Jan. 10 at 7 p.m. For more information: www.theshea.org .
The Green River Festival and the two biannual festivals presented by the Wormtown organization continued in Greenfield, but the festival of the year was the much smaller Upper Valley Music Festival. Organized by musician Tommy Byrnes and held in July at venues throughout Turners Falls, the festival presented over 130 acts that ranged from up-and-coming bands like June and the Bee to veterans like Ray Mason. This was a well-organized, volunteer-fueled event that also raised money for a great cause: the American Cancer Society.
It’s always fun to watch young artists emerge onto the local scene and this year there were a few who shined especially brightly. Holly May, a 16-year-old from Charlemont, released her debut EP, which featured the standout country pop tune “Go Big or Go Home,” a song written by 17-year-old Una Jensen of Shelburne Falls. And the Kids, three young women from Northampton who attended the Institute of Musical Arts in Goshen, released “Neighbors,” a delightful EP of quirky pop confections. Also heard from was The Snaz, four high school students from Brattleboro, Vt., who won us over with their catchy pop song “Anna.”
Musicians from this area also continued to make their mark nationally with singer-songwriters like Seth Glier and Jamie Kent constantly touring the country. While Amherst resident Michelle Chamuel followed her runner-up finish on the fourth season of NBC television’s “The Voice” by releasing an electronic pop disc under her alter ego, Reverb Junkie, she gained more attention for “Go Down Singing,” a song she released under her own name in November that was more in line with what viewers heard on “The Voice.” Expect to hear a lot more from Chamuel in 2014.
But the local breakout act of the year was singer-songwriter Heather Maloney, who currently lives in Northampton but launched her career while living in Turners Falls. Maloney released her self- titled debut on the Signature Sounds label early last year and quickly won critical acclaim with her soaring, expressive voice and smart pop-folk songs. It was easily one of my favorite CDs of the past year. Maloney toured constantly and ended the year on a high note when the New York Times posted a video of her performing Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” backed by one time Pioneer Valley band Darlingside. Here’s to watching Maloney’s star continue to rise throughout 2014.
There were many outstanding live performances this past year and one of my favorites was the Gaslight Tinkers at the Green River Festival. Playing the Local Hero stage in the sweltering heat, the quartet delivered an exhilarating danceable set of its hybrid sound, which includes reggae, funk and, thanks to Zoe Darrow, some Celtic fiddling. The band has not been around that long and we look forward to hearing more from it in the future. Gaslight Tinkers perform at the Parlor Room in Northampton on Friday, Jan. 31, at 8 p.m. For more information, www.parlorroommusic.com.
Already, artists like Winterpills, Sandy Bailey, June and the Bee, Lux Deluxe, Kris Delmhorst and Austin and Elliott are planning to release new music in 2014.
Carrie Ferguson CD release show Sunday at the Iron Horse
The first CD release show of the year will be held on Sunday, Jan. 5, at 7 p.m. at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton for “The List of Whales,” the second album by Carrie Ferguson. The album is a beautifully produced collection of folk pop tunes that are impeccably arranged and feature the contributions by some of the Pioneer Valley’s finest musicians (who will all be at the show): Garrett Sawyer on bass, J.J. O’Connell on drums, Stephen Katz on cello, Jim Henry on mandolin and guitar, Steve Yarbro on sax and clarinet, Darrow on violin and Elizabeth Donahue and June and the Bee on guest harmonies. Look for Ferguson to play the album in its entirety as well as toss in a few surprises. Chris Scanlon and the Other Guys will open.
Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Available at www.iheg.com, the Northampton Box Office, or charge by phone at 413-586-8686.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org