Giving back by making music

  • The band ZoKi is a folk rock fused trio spun with lyrically witty covers and moving original compositions featuring Zoe Lemos, Kim Chin-Gibbons, and Lily Kulp. Contributed photo

  • Alouette Batteau, 17, of Shelburne Falls, left, Amelia Chalfant, 17, of Northampton, and Isabella DeHerdt, 19, of Ashfield, all of the band Kalliope Jones, walk down Main Street for a photograph Aug. 8, 2018 in Northampton. Kalliope Jones will perform at this weekend’s festival. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • The Suitcase Junket. FILE PHOTO

  • Ken Danford, head of the North Star School in Sunderland, centering on self directed learning for teens. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • High Tea Contributed photo/Kim Chin Gibbons

  • Local favorite Heather Maloney plays the main stage at a past Green River Festival. Maloney will be performing during this weekend’s Get Down With Your Hometown festival. Staff FILE Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Ann Hackler, left, and June Millington, who are the founders of the Institute for the Musical Arts in Goshen, Mar. 20, 2020. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Pianist Miro Sprague playing at a benefit concert Wednesday in Bezanson Recital Hall at the UMass Fine Arts Center in 2015l. STAFF file photo

  • Rhiannon Giddens performs on the Green River Festival's Main Stage Sunday, July 14, 2019. Giddens will be playing this weekend at the Get Down With Your Hometown festival. Staff FILE Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Lake Street Dive closes out the Green River Festival. July 15, 2017. The group will be playing this weekend at Get Down With Your Hometown festival. Staff FILE PHOTO/Paul Franz

  • Lake Street Dive closes out Saturday at the Green River Festival. July 15, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Linda Tardif, Managing Director of the Shea Theater Arts Center, in the Turners Falls performance space. Staff FILE PHOTO/Paul Franz

  • Musician Sawyer Fredericks performs at North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens in Sunderland Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • The Shea Theater on Avenue A in Turners Falls.

For the Recorder
Published: 1/8/2021 5:42:05 PM

Pour a drink and settle onto the couch for a weekend of live music for a good cause. With the arrival of the Get Down With Your Hometown music festival this weekend, a fundraising collaboration between three local non-profits kicking off Friday, the New Year is getting off to a strong start.

Presented by Sunderland-based North Star: Self Directed Learning for Teens, The Institute for the Musical Arts (IMA) in Goshen and Shea Theater Arts Center, in Turners Falls, Get Down With Your Hometown is free to view and will take place Friday and Saturday, Jan. 8 and 9. Proceeds will benefit the three non-profits that are putting on the event. It’s slated to feature a number of outstanding Western Massachusetts-based musicians alongside nationally known acts including Rhiannon Giddens, the lead singer of the Carolina Chocolate Drop who headlined the 2019 Green River Festival.

Many of the other nearly 40 performers, of varying genres, are former North Star and IMA students or are those who have performed previously at the Shea Theater. Many have also performed at past Green River Festival events. This weekend’s event will kick off Friday at 6 p.m. and continue until 9:30 p.m. The festival’s second day will run from 3 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Get Down With Your Hometown will feature a wide array of musical styles from the jazz-pop-soul sounds of Lake Street Dive, singer-songwriter Dar Williams and jazz pianist Miro Sprague, a Shutesbury native, to classic tunes by Beatles tribute act The Fab Faux, “The Beehive Queen” Christine Ohlman and Rebel Montez, to soul-folk artist Martin Sexton, one-man-band the Suitcase Junket and many others.

The show will be presented in a mix of live elements and pre-recorded and can be viewed via the festival’s website,, or through Facebook and YouTube. The master of ceremony is Monte Belmonte, radio host from 93.9 the River and president of the Shea Theater’s board. Belmonte will share the hosting duties with teacher/author/improviser Pam Victor and comedian/improviser Kelsey Flynn.

This event wouldn’t be happening without the collaboration of the three notable valley organizations that are the driving force behind it. The Institute for the Musical Arts, based in Goshen, offers instruction in all aspects of the music and music business for girls and women. The institute’s summer music camps have been the training ground for many of the area’s finest young female musicians.

The second organization, North Star: Self Directed Learning for Teens, is an alternative school for teen students based in Sunderland. North Star has also fostered many of the young musicians who currently grace area concert stages. The third, Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls, is a shining light in the area’s music scene, hosting concerts by both nationally recognized artists as well as the finest local musicians.

I was interested in doing a joint fundraising venture since North Star and I share students,” said Ann Hackler, the executive director of the Institute for Musical Arts, which she co-founded with musicians June Millington in 1986. “John Sprague, of North Star, had pitched the idea of a joint IMA/North Star event a while ago. … I think, in no small part, that the pandemic shift made it possible for all of us to come together like this.” (Notably, Millington and John Sprague will both perform during the festival.)

To that end, Tara Brewster, of Greenfield Savings Bank, who is on the board of directors at North Star, invited Hackler to attend a North Star Zoom meeting and the idea for the festival was discussed. Brewster and Jodi Lyn Cutler, the outreach director at North Star who has extensive experience organizing the Sunderland school’s largest fundraisers with Circus Smirkus, a Vermont-based international youth circus, were immediately on board.

“We were the last ones to get involved,” said Linda Tardif, managing director of the Shea Theater. “North Star and IMA had a lot of crossover students, and they wanted to loop in the Shea because, after attending these programs, some have gone on to become successful and played on our stage. It’s like the three organizations coming together to become a virtual stage for our local music scene.”

All three organizations pooled their talents and resources to deal with the myriad of details involved in putting together a music festival — one that came with its own set of unique challenges being that it’s an online event. They even got a little help from their friends.

“Interestingly, Emily Lichter (of Public Emily artist management) was on our board and also on the board of the IMA,” Tardif said. “She also happens to manage Lake Street Dive, so that was a great connection to have.”

Tardif added that the festival is thrilled to have the band on its lineup. Lake Street Dive played at a benefit for the Shea Theater in 2018.

Shea Theater also has a close relationship with Signature Sounds, which has booked many shows over the years. Tardif noted the Northampton-based studio, which began holding live music sessions virtually last year, helped by providing technical advice about presenting virtual shows and also shared expertise on booking acts. Some of the artists that record for Signature Sounds are included in this weekend’s lineup, including singer-songwriters Heather Maloney, Taylor Ashton and Kris Delmhorst, as well as the folk-rock band Parsonsfield and the dream-pop group Winterpills.

Along with the national and regional acts, there is a strong group of alumni and current students of both IMA and North Star, including Rebecca Losapnaro, of And the Kids, who will be performing solo, reggae artist Naia Kete and her band, Say Real and powerhouse singer Mal Devisa, among others. Some live in the area, others, like rocker Kristen Ford, who is from Nashville and Jolie and Lideway Baltussen, who live in the Netherlands, are joining from afar.

While this weekend’s festival is about celebrating musical talent, especially young artists, it’s also a chance for the musician to say “thanks” to the organizations that have given them so much.

“Please support these amazing organizations so that they can continue their work with young learners. I am forever grateful for the experiences they gave me,” wrote Kim Chin-Gibbons, one of the musicians playing the festival who attended both North Star and IMA and views them both as second homes. She said attending IMA’s summer camp for girls and its studio engineering program helped develop all aspects of her musicianship from a very young age.

The indie rocker from Amherst credits North Star for helping her leave school at age 14, allowing her to chart a unique path and evolve her love of music and photography. She said both places led her to the Shea, where she has photographed various theatrical events and even recorded her set for this show.

Isabella DeHerdt, of Ashfield spent eight years studying at IMA, where she met Amelia Chalfant and Alouette Batteau and formed the local band Kalliope Jones. DeHerdt said that without IMA and the way the organization has nurtured the band members’ skills and love of music, Kalliope Jones would never have happened.

“I still feel that ever-present connection with June and Ann. They’re always there to offer support, advice, rehearsal space and so much more. To be able to give back a bit and be part of this festival feels like the least we can do,” said DeHerdt, who will perform with Kalliope Jones and also with her new duo, High Tea. She added that she has worked with many North Star students and that Kalliope Jones has played at Shea Theater many times and found it to be a venue “that always seems to have the best attitude of lifting up new musicians and supporting local acts.”

DeHerdt says she couldn’t be more excited to play at Get Down with Your Hometown — and enjoy two days of music from the safety and comfort of the home.

“It is free because we are all community-driven non-profits,” explained Tardif. “We didn’t want to have a paywall up during this time when things remain hard. There will be tip jars and a VIP artist green ‘Zoom room,’ and that’s a ticketed event. You will get to hang out in a Zoom room with some of the artists who are participating in the festival. We think that will be a cool way for people to get some special time on Zoom with some big talent.”

A one-night access pass to the Zoom room is $60 (choose Friday or Saturday) and a pass for both nights is $100. It’s for a good cause, as the festival is about celebrating local musicians and also paying tribute to the organizations that helped give rise to the vibrant music scene the Pioneer Valley is so lucky to call its own.

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

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906


Copyright © 2020 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy