It’s all happening in the trees: Barbès in the Woods brings eclectic musical lineup to Montague

  • Pakinstani native and singer Arooj Aftab, one of the performers at Barbès in the Woods, brings a mix of jazz, folk and Hindustani classical traditions to her music. Contributed photo/Laudable Productions

  • Japanese native BIGYUKI, otherwise known as Masayuki Hirano, has been dubbed “NYC’s Secret Weapon” for his eclectic keyboard sounds. Contributed photo/Laudable Productions

  • Israeli singer and actor Liraz, who is making her U.S. debut at Barbès in the Woods, rediscovers her Iranian roots in her music. Contributed photo/Laudable Productions

  • Son Rompe Pera, a Mexican band built around three brothers, mixes Mexican folk traditions with a punk sensibility. They’ll make their U.S. debut at Barbès in the Woods. Contributed photo/Laudable Productions

  • Kaleta & Super Yamba Band bring their New York-based Afro-funk sound to Barbès in the Woods. Contributed photo/Laudable Productions

Staff Writer
Published: 8/18/2021 4:21:25 PM

For about the last two decades, what was once a laundromat in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, N.Y., has been a busy music venue and bar, showcasing a wide range of music, from jazz to world music to Americana to experimental sounds.

Barbès was founded by two French expat musicians who named the club after a neighborhood in Paris known for its record stores, food markets, discount shops and a large North African population.

In 2019, Laudable Productions of Easthampton, which among other events has produced the Millpond.Live outdoor concerts in recent years, decided to bring a taste of Brooklyn-based music to Western Massachusetts. And after being forced online in 2020, the live festival, called Barbès in the Woods, has returned for 2021.

Festivities begin on Friday, Aug. 20, with an opera performance at Peskeomskut Park in Turners Falls, followed by a fashion show and DJ set at Pioneer Valley Brewery.

Excerpts from Richard Wagner’s greatest hits will be performed at 6:30 p.m. by Brattleboro, Vt.-based TUNDI opera. Music Director Hugh Keelan said his company’s renditions of the scenes should break down the “highbrow” preconceptions of opera in favor of an “intoxicating” down-to-earthness to personally resonate with those in attendance.

“We have a very strong belief in this company that this ... goes right to the heart of any particular issue of our time,” Keelan said.

Keelan described themes of peer humiliation, negative judgment of love and foster parenting as some of what to expect. He said he hopes attendees will recognize that “the voice is a superpower.”

Following the fashion show at Pioneer Valley Brewery, Boston-based DJ Bosq will perform a set of music until 1 a.m. The brewery will have its latest creations on tap and dancing is encouraged.

The “The Trash Rich Fashion Show” will be held by Swanson’s Fabrics at 8 p.m. Organized and curated by Kathryn Swanson, the show celebrates the store’s one-year anniversary and will consist of models wearing clothing made from the store’s materials. Swanson hopes to connect with locals by tapping into the dwindling human tradition of self-made clothing.

“Making our own clothes is a really basic part of being human that we’ve only grown apart from in the past few hundred years,” Swanson said. “This whole thing is about Montague and showing off what a great and creative place it is.”

The concert itself, which takes place Saturday, Aug. 21, on Bartlett Farm in Montague from 3 to 11 p.m., features a range of acts whose sounds are all over the map: Afro-funk, jazz, Sufi, Persian electro pop and what’s broadly described as “garage-marimba-cumbia-punk.”

Kyle Homstead and Cassandra Holden of Laudable Productions describe Barbès in the Woods as a “rural retreat” for bands that have found an urban home in Brooklyn. The 12-acre Bartlett Farm has fields, woods and the Sawmill River for audience members to explore when they’re not taking in music from two stages that will be set up near one another, where bands will play back-to-back performances.

That, the producers say, means one can hear “without interruption and no risk of FOMO” (the fear that you’re missing out on some exciting or interesting event happening somewhere else at the same time).

Though they’re not part of the Barbès in Brooklyn scene, two acts that are part of the Aug. 21 show fall within the broad parameters of the music featured there. One is Liraz, an Israeli singer and actor of Iranian descent who sings in Farsi (and Hebrew), and the second is Son Rompe Pera, a Mexican group with a sound that marries Mexican folk traditions to a punk sensibility. Both are making their U.S. debuts at Barbès in the Woods.

“The festival, like the bar it’s named after, is rooted in the idea of global citizenry, of building a global music culture,” Holden said in an email. “In our second year, it felt natural to extend beyond Brooklyn borders and start looking far more broadly for exciting artists.”

Here’s a look at some of the acts:

Arooj Aftab — This Pakistani-born singer and composer, now living in New York City, has won considerable notice this year for her newest record, “Vulture Prince,” which Time, The Guardian and Pitchfork have all rated one of the best albums of 2021, and which the singer says was infused with the grief she dealt with following the death of her younger brother.

On “Vulture Prince,” Aftab turned to ghazal, a form of Arabic poetry that deals with loss and longing, and combined that with, as Pitchfolk writes, “minimal compositions that draw from jazz, Hindustani classical, folk and — on one song — reggae to create a heartbreaking, exquisite document of the journey from grief to acceptance.”

Laudable Productions says the straight-ahead nature of Aftab’s compositions “discards anything that’s unessential and invites the listener into an intimate listening space filled with earnest prayers, laments and queries.”

At Barbès in the Woods, she’ll perform with members of her ensemble, including guitarist Gyan Riley and violinist Darian Donovan Thomas. Her set will be co-presented with Antenna Cloud Farm, the artists’ retreat, also in Montague.

BIGYUKI — Japanese keyboardist and songwriter Masayuki Hirano, whose musical trade name is BIGYUKI, grew up studying and playing classical piano, then came to the U.S. to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where according to one report he “spent hours alone in the piano practice rooms, teaching himself to play bass with his left hand, just to avoid having to ask others to play with him.”

That self-study led him to a new range of music: funk, hip-hop, gospel, organ-based jazz. Today Masayuki, dubbed “NYC’s secret weapon,” offers what Laudable describes as “an infectious and beautifully weird palette of music” that combines classical, jazz and pop flourishes. Among the people he’s performed with is jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington. At Barbès in the Woods he’ll be joined by guitarist Randy Runyon and drummer Tim “Smithsoneon” Smith.

Liraz — Making her U.S. debut at Barbès in the Woods, Israeli singer and actress Liraz grew up speaking Farsi — her parents were Jewish-Persian emigres from Iran — and later reconnected with Iranian culture when she lived in Los Angeles. She met other Iranian emigres there and began collecting pre-Revolutionary Iranian music.

She now plays what’s described as retro Persian soul and psychedelic electro-pop; her Israeli band secretly collaborated with Iranian musicians to produce the tracks on her new album, “Zan.” It’s a sign, says Laudable Productions, of “how music can transcend nationalism, politics and war.”

Son Rompe Pera — This Mexican “band of brothers,” who learned now to play the marimba and other instruments from their father during years of busking, play a mix of what Laudable Productions calls “cha-cha-cha, psychobilly and cumbia.”

“Son Rompe Pera is a group we’ve been eyeing for a couple of years,” Holden said. “We actually invited them to perform virtually at last year’s BITW, and they obliged us in the most delightful way by finding a forest just outside Mexico City to go record their livestream set.”

Holden also notes that one of the founders of the original Barbès, Olivier Conan, told her that Son Rompe Pera offers “one of the best live sets he has seen in the last 10 years … and he sees a lot of music.”

Also on the bill for the Aug. 21 show are Berkshire Bacteria (Brazilian samba), Mamie Minch (acoustic blues), Kaleta & Super Yamba (Afro-funk) and Los Cumpleaños (Latin music and jazz with psychedelic and electronic touches).

In addition, Holden said the Shea Theater Arts Center, Fine House and Eggtooth Productions are teaming up to present “roving, pop-up theater performances” during the festival at a number of sites on the grounds.

The festival has a detailed list of COVID-19 guidelines for audience members, which includes a request that unvaccinated attendees, and children under 12, wear masks at all times. Visit to get any updates to these guidelines and to order tickets (prices are $55 for adults, $25 for adults in Montague, $15 for children ages 6 to 17; and free for children ages 5 and under).

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at Reporter Julian Mendoza contributed to this story.

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