1794 Meetinghouse celebrating its 25th anniversary

  • The Strong and Pleasant Music Festival. Photo includes members of The Mary Jane Jones, The Medicinal Purpose, The Greys, Snowhaus, Simon White & Rhythm Inc., Lush Honey, Bunnies, Dishsoap, Disorderly Konduct, Glass Planets, The Embers, Jon Solo, Spinelli, Shantyman, Mamma's Marmalade, Smokin' Leather, And LuxDeluxe! Contributed photo/Demeshech Anderson—

  • Christine Ohlman Contributed photo

  • Sheryl Hunter, Sounds Local Andy Castillo

  • Christine Ohlman and Rebel Montez Contributed photo/Thomas Horan—

  • Christine Ohlman Contributed photo/Irene Leibler-hirez—2012 - Super 9 Studios -...

For the Recorder
Published: 6/6/2019 8:32:44 AM
Modified: 6/6/2019 8:32:32 AM

“A beautiful hall with wonderful acoustics.” That is how Brad Foster, the executive director of the 1794 Meetinghouse, describes the small concert hall nestled in the center of New Salem. The historic hall, which kicks off its 2019 season this weekend, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. During these past decades, the hall has hosted over 635 concerts featuring a broad range of musical styles. 

The first show to play at the former church was not a musical performance, but one by the The Wright Brothers, a vaudeville act featuring specialty performances like burlesque comedy and song and dance. The meetinghouse started out offering about ten shows a year and grew over time. Acts such as renowned pianist Stephen Schoenberg, a resident of New Salem, have performed at the venue since its early years. Schoenberg will return this season, honoring the anniversary year.

“This summer we celebrate our 25th anniversary with 19 concerts in a wide range of genres from classical to folk, blues, rock and jazz,” wrote Foster in a written statement. “We have 18 concerts from June 8 through Aug. 3, plus a benefit concert in September. Concerts range from Bach to Beyond, from classical choral music, solo cello, guitar and archguitar, to contemporary and traditional folksong, blue-grass and old-time, to rock, blues, and several styles of high-energy jazz.”

Once again, the Beehive Queen, Christine Ohlman and her band Rebel Montez, will have the honor of opening the 1794 Meetinghouse summer season with a show on Saturday beginning at 7:30 p.m. You can expect a night of high energy soulful rhythm and blues and rock when Ohlman and the band take over the 1794 Meetinghouse. Being that this is a special 25th-anniversary show, she will be joined by the one and only keyboard great Mitch Chakour. 

“We are so delighted to have our ultra-soulful friend Mitch Chakour, who has appeared often at the Meetinghouse through the seasons. Join us for this very special 25th Anniversary kickoff,” Ohlman said.

Ohlman is visually striking with sky-high platinum blond beehive (hence the Beehive Queen name), her look inspired by the Ronnettes with wraparound Roy Orbison-style shades and leopard-print outfits. Looks aside, it is Ohlman’s rich, deep voice and her ability to belt out a soulful tune that’s kept her career going some thirty years. Her resume is an impressive one that includes being a longtime vocalist for the Saturday Night Live band. She has released six albums with her band Rebel Montez and tours the northeast regularly. Ohlman is also a musical archivist and historian, one of the original editors of the All Music Guide. Her deep knowledge of the history of rock can be heard in her music.

The Beehive Queen is a favorite here in the Pioneer Valley, where she performs annually. She has been a frequent performer at the 1794 Meetinghouse and this is her third time serving as the season opener.

“This will be an especially meaningful night for us,” Ohlman said. “As I often say to audiences from the stage, venues like the 1794 Meetinghouse are single-handedly keeping roots and Americana music alive right now. You can have your Live Nation — it serves its purpose — but smaller theatre venues are the heart and soul of where American music lives. The 1794 Meetinghouse is at the forefront of that on the New England scene. Celebrating 25 years gives testament not only to its amazingly dedicated board and staff but to its discerning, supportive audience. Kudos to all.”

Tickets for the Christine Ohlman show are $20 adults, $10 teens 13 to 17 and free for kids 12 and under. Tickets on all the performances are available at the newly launched website at 1794meetinghouse.org. Call 978-544-5200 (no voice mail) for more information. The Meeting House is at 26 South Main St. in New Salem.  For this show there will be a reception prior to the music that will be held at 6:45 p.m.  Do keep in mind that the New Salem Common is a wonderful place for picnics and community tailgate parties before the show. 

Strong and Pleasant Music Festival in Northampton

One of my first introductions to the incredible music scene we have here in the Valley occurred when I attend the Northampton Music Festival. I can’t remember the exact year, but I do recall seeing the Chandler Travis Philharmonic perform at the Words and Pictures Museum that used to be on Main Street (it closed in 1999).

That festival was the first time I saw the Stone Coyotes, Aloha Steamtrain, The Drunk Stuntmen and so many more bands whose music I would become a great fan of. Donal Rooke, a local music promoter who also managed bands like Fancy Trash and Aloha Steamtrain, was the driving force behind the festival.

The last Northampton Music Festival was held in 2001 and Rooke, a leading force behind the scenes of the local music world, sadly passed away last October.

Carla Racine, who worked with Rooke, is now prepared to carry on his legacy as she relaunches a major music festival in Northampton. The Strong and Pleasant Music Festival begins tonight and will feature over 40 acts playing in multiple venues in downtown Northampton,  including The Sierra Grille, Bishop’s Lounge, the Dirty Truth, Progression Brewing Company, Le BonN’ton and a new venue, Majestic Saloon. 

The three-day festival, which takes its name from the Northampton street intersection where most of the music in Northampton has always taken place, will feature a wide array of talent from throughout out the Valley as well as regional acts from Canada, Boston, and New York. 

The lineup is a virtual whos-who of Valley talent and includes Home Body, Carinae, Trailer Park, The Mary Jane Jones, LuxDeluxe, Workman Song, Mamma’s Marmalade, Eric Lee and Company, , Bunnies, The Fawns, Old Flame, Jo Sallins, Scott Hall and so many, many more.

Racine, who has been involved in the music scene since the 1990s and has been promoting shows for years, is also the publisher of The Buzz magazine. When she first moved to the area she connected with Rooke, who hired her to work the door at the Bay State, a leading music venue at that time. She would go on to work with him in other capacities, including helping out at the Northampton Music Festival. 

Racine said she viewed him as a mentor and hopes to carry on his work by hosting this festival that will showcase the incredible talent in this area and the vital music scene that this area has to offer.

A three-day pass is $40. A two-day pass (Friday and Saturday only) is $30. Single-day passes will be available at any of the event locations, with Thursday set at $10, Friday at $15 and Saturday at $20. Admission to individual clubs without a pass will be dependent on the club’s discretion. Go to StrongandPleasant.com for a full schedule of all playing times and locations. 

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 soundslocal@yahoo.com.




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