Sounds Local: Dance away winter doldrums at Greenfield’s Two-Step Festival

  • The Nite Caps, a five-piece honky-tonk band of veteran musicians, will play two sets at the Two-Step Festival at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center on Sunday. Contributed photo

  • Rhiannon Giddens, best known for her work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, is among the musicians performing at the 2019 Green River Festival. Contributed photo


For the Recorder
Published: 1/10/2019 8:00:17 AM

As we inch our way into mid-January, I’m sure many of you are finding yourselves in a bit of a winter slump. The solution: get moving and have some fun.

All you have to do is head to Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center, 289 Main St. in Greenfield, on Sunday for the Two-Step Festival, an event from 2 to 7 p.m. that’s devoted to dancing the two-step as well as enjoying the upbeat music of the local honky-tonk band The Nite Caps.

The band will be playing two sets, along with the Cajun music group The Empty Bottle Ramblers. In addition, participants will have the opportunity to learn how to dance the two-step and the Cajun waltz. I can’t think of a better remedy for boosting your spirit and chasing away those winter blahs.

Last January, Michael Pattavina of Greenfield, who is the vocalist and bass player for The Nite Caps, hosted a country music jamboree at Hawks & Reed that was a great success. This year, he’s the driving force behind the Two-Step Festival.

“I love classic country music and the nostalgia for the simpler times it brings up in me,” Pattavina wrote in an email exchange about his decision to host the event. “I also enjoy dancing on Sunday afternoons in January. This is such a hopeful time of the year. ... The month of January is the darkest of the year, but we also know that the longer days are just around the corner. As a metaphor, I find this comforting.

“I have always been fascinated by the relationship between music and dance,” Pattavina continued. “Dance allows you to participate in the music by expressing the rhythm through movement. It’s this participatory aspect that I care so much about at this event.”

Even if you don’t have dancing experience, you’ll be able to participate in dancing the two-step, as Emily Fox, a longtime Pioneer Valley dance instructor, will guide you through the process.

“Emily has an amazing way of breaking down the dance and is empathetic to the confusion that beginners have when trying to move their bodies in new ways,” Pattavina said about the dance lessons, which will begin promptly at 2:15 p.m. “The dance style is also unpretentious, meaning that how much fun you are having has nothing to do with how good you look on the dance floor. It’s about the connections you are making and the smiles and laughter it generates.”

After Fox’s lesson, The Nite Caps will take the stage with a set of old-time, honky-tonk country music, which is made for dancing. The quintet of well-established local musicians has kept audiences moving at local festivals and venues throughout the Pioneer Valley and beyond since forming about three years ago.

Next it will be time for some Cajun music from The Empty Bottle Ramblers, a group of Massachusetts-based musicians who Pattavina said have caught the bug that is the Louisiana style of country music. Cajun music is different from zydeco, in both its rhythms and instrumentation, yet it is equally lively. The Ramblers’ sound is marked by twin fiddles and accordion; the musicians don’t use electric instruments or a rub-board, which you would find in zydeco music.

“This is not music from New Orleans, but music from the bayous and prairies,” Pattavina said. “Cajun music calls for two-steps and waltzing, and moving in a circular motion around the floor.”

Instructor Alice Kenny will provide a Cajun waltz demonstration at 4:15 p.m. It is not as detailed as the dance instruction that Fox will provide earlier in the day, but it should be all that prospective dancers need to learn the step. Pattavina insists that dancing to a Cajun waltz should be on everyone’s bucket list.

“Cajun melodies inspire like nothing else on the planet,” he said.

And The Empty Bottle Ramblers is the perfect band to deliver those irresistible melodies.

“These musicians have made many pilgrimages to Louisiana, and embraced the music and culture deep in their hearts,” Pattavina said. “It is the way the band captures this authenticity that prompted me to have them at this dance.”

After the Ramblers play, The Nite Caps will take the stage again and play another set to close out the festival.

If you’re not into dancing, don’t worry. You can still come to simply enjoy the fine music. And don’t forget to bring the kids. This a family-friendly event with children under 18 admitted for free.

Admission is $10 in advance and $15 at the door. Dance lessons are included with the price of admission. Advance tickets are available at or by calling 413-774-0150. Doors open at 1:30 p.m.

Green River Festival announces partial 2019 lineup

Another great way to fight off a winter slump is to look ahead toward summer, and for music fans, that means planning for the Green River Festival, which will be held on July 12, 13 and 14 at Greenfield Community College. The festival organizers are providing a sneak peak of what’s ahead by announcing that Rhiannon Giddens, First Aid Kit, The Wood Brothers, The Devil Makes Three and Tyler Childers are five of the acts in the 2019 lineup.

In case you’re not familiar with all these artists, Rhiannon Giddens is the incredible singer best known for her work with the string band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops. She is currently working as a solo artist and established herself as such when she stole the show at the T Bone Burnett–produced “Another Day, Another Time” concert in New York City in 2013. Giddens has released two acclaimed solo albums, was the recipient of a 2017 MacArthur Genius Grant and recently wrote an original score for a ballet.

First Aid Kit is a vocal trio from Sweden known for its bright vocal harmonies and the contemplative songwriting of sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg.

The Wood Brothers, featuring brothers Chris and Oliver Wood, and multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix, is a roots music trio whose music is a union of folk, blues, gospel and jazz.

The folk rock trio The Devil Makes Three is known for high-energy shows that have made the trio a festival favorite. The drummerless acoustic trio consists of two guitarists and a string bassist, and creates music that they describe as garage-y ragtime, punkified blues, and old ’n’ new timey.

Country singer-songwriter Tyler Childers hails from the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky, and achieved a major breakthrough with his 2017 Sturgill Simpson-produced album, “Purgatory.” Rolling Stone magazine called him “the 21st-century voice of Appalachia.” He has earned comparisons to John Prine, whom he has toured with.

That’s just a glimpse of what’s you’ll hear at the 2019 Green River Festival, and more acts will be announced in the upcoming weeks. So take advantage of the early bird ticket prices and purchase your tickets now.

Three-day weekend passes are $109.99; two-day weekend passes with camping, $169.99, three-day parking passes, $30; and children ages 10 and under are admitted for free.

Tickets can be purchased at or in person at 32 Masonic St. in Northampton. Box office hours are Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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


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