Twenty-five summers of the 1794 Meetinghouse

  • The 1794 Meetinghouse. Contributed photo

  • Peter Blanchette, inventor of the 11-string archguitar. Contributed photo

Staff Writer
Published: 7/18/2019 8:26:12 AM

New Salem’s annual Old Home Day, to be held Saturday, will commemorate 25 summers of music at the 1794 Meetinghouse.

The 1794 Meetinghouse, a nonprofit organization, was founded in 1987 as a way to help preserve the town’s centuries-old meeting house and transform it into a vibrant performing arts center, according to a press statement.

The first 1794 Meetinghouse performance opened on Old Home Day in 1994. Since then, the historic performance space has drawn a wide audience from the Greater Quabbin region and the Pioneer Valley.

Over two decades, Dorothy Johnson and Andy Lichtenberg, who helped lead the organization, collaborated on a wide range of community theater productions and events that included musicals ranging from “Dogs” (1997) and “Mother Goose Lost” (2003) to “Big Winner” (2007) and their last show, “County Fair” (2013). The scripts were often written with particular community members in mind from New Salem’s small town (with a population of 900). It was true community theater, performed by a cast of rank beginners of all ages with a sprinkling of semi-professionals.

In honor of the occasion, former performers are invited to gather at 12:30 p.m. Saturday inside the Old Academy Building to relive memories through a 1794 Meetinghouse exhibit of history, memorabilia and photos assembled by Janet Henderson and Lynn Boudreau. The exhibit, which coincides with Old Home Day, is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Continuously looping videos of community musicals (arranged by David Cramer) will be running in the 1794 Meetinghouse throughout the day. Former cast members and community members are invited to march at noon in the traditional Old Home Day Parade wearing their costumes, or in memorial T-shirts from the plays. Those with themed floats celebrating the musicals and the 1794 Meetinghouse are welcome to participate.

Other activities, include a silent auction to raise funds for the Quabbin Valley Pro Musica, which is the 1794 Meetinghouse’s resident chorus.

In a fitting tribute, live music will play throughout the day with performances by Jeff Gavioli’s Bad New Jazz & Blues Orchestra and the Blues Brothers Briefcase Concert. Janet Kraft will present a historical organ demonstration at the Congregational Church.

Mad Agnes and Pete Nelson

Saturday evening beginning at 7:30 p.m., Mad Agnes will take the 1794 Meetinghouse’s stage along with Pete Nelson for a special 25th Anniversary performance.

Mad Agnes is comprised of Margo Hennebach, Adrienne Jones and Mark Saunders, who blend sculpted harmonies and compelling songwriting, according to a statement. The trio has a long musical history together, performing around the globe. Individually and collectively, the group has recorded twelve albums and a DVD. Clawson is a lead vocalist with the traditional and world music band, Wild Cat Creek, and Country Jam, which revisits classic country songs and American songbook material. Pete Nelson is an author, a Signature Sounds' recording artist and a long-time resident of the Pioneer Valley. 

In addition to the musical celebrations, Old Home Day will include all the traditional summer festival events including a cross-cut saw competition, pony rides and the traditional cake walk among many other activities.

Peter Blanchette, archguitarist

Following Saturday’s festivities, Peter Blanchette, inventor of the 11-string archguitar, will perform Sunday beginning at 4 p.m.

According to the news statement, Blanchette, a Northampton-based musician, is known around the world as the inventor of the archguitar. His arrangements and compositions span medieval, renaissance and baroque music to World Music, New Music, in addition to his own original pieces. He performs and records in solo recital and with selected other instrumentalists to form the Virtual Consort. He has been heard on hundreds of recordings, film and television scores, public radio across the U.S., Canada, Europe and throughout Asia, on his own albums for the Dorian label and his own imprint, Archguitar Music.

Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for those 13 to 17. Admission is free for children younger than 12 years old. They can be purchased online, at the New Salem General Store or at the door. For more information about the special 1794 Meetinghouse or to purchase tickets to Sunday’s concert visit

Andy Castillo can be reached at


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