3 nights of fun from 3 different eras

  • Amy Helm Contributed Photo

  • Lexi Weege Contributed Photo

  • Sam's Place Contributed Photo

  • The Paper City Picture Show. Contributed photo

Published: 6/17/2019 8:45:30 AM

Imagine stepping back through time into a 1920s speakeasy for a night of sweetly sinful drinking and jazz music, or maybe you’d prefer to experience the peace, love and tie-dye vibe of the 1960s and the folk music that helped define that era. Or perhaps dancing away to the hot tunes of the 1980s, a time when artists like Prince, Madonna and Michael Jackson ruled the airwaves is the place you’d like to be.  

You will have a chance to experience all of that and more when, for three nights from June 20 to 22, the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls is transformed into a period music hall called “Sam’s Place.” Presented by Eggtooth Productions and the Shea Theater Presents, Sam’s Place will be an immersive theater piece that features live music, a video installation in the main theater and a cast of a dozen characters woven into the events of the night. 

“We had a couple of pop-up speakeasies back in the winter and early spring, which we called Sam’s Place. We have decided to do a run of three of them that span three different eras,” said Emma Ayres, the Shea Theater's program coordinator.

Every night will feature a different era and the immersive theater experience will unfold accordingly depending on the time period. Audience members are encouraged to come out all three nights. Sam’s Place opens at 8 p.m. each night. 

“We start with a speakeasy from 1925 on Thursday night,” Ayres said. The theater “will evolve into a 1967 folk club on Friday night. On Saturday, Sam’s Place will be a dance hall from 1984.”

Intrigued? Here’s how it works: When you purchase a ticket, you will be provided with a secret password (I can’t keep a secret, it’s “Rosebud.”) You will present the password at the door and will be escorted through a special route directly to Sam’s Place. You are encouraged to dress appropriately for the era to be fully immersed in the fictional world. 

Once you enter Sam’s Place that is when the fun begins. Bring some cash because you can purchase champagne cocktails, beer or wine. Once the audience settles in, the residents of Sam's Place will emerge and share the many secrets the evening has in store.

The three nights will be directed by John Bechtold, a theater director and designer, who provided us with some more insight on what to expect. 

“The characters will be part of the crowd across the evening, some more conspicuous than others, giving the evening's events an element of surprise,” he said. “Live music and a mysterious cinema screening will run all night. In addition, audience members will begin to meet the characters around them, who will offer audience members intimate one-on-one or small group performances in secret corners of the building.”

It seems that all of the characters have a connection to Sam, including some of the musicians. 

About now, you are probably thinking, “wait a minute is this a play or a musical event?”

It’s both. 

Music is a very big part of Sam’s Place. Bechtold has assembled a collection of fine local musicians to participate in the project, who will be performing a  mix of original and cover material. 

Lexi Weege and the Wondertwins will be on hand to bring the jazzy sounds of 1925 to life when Sam’s Place transforms into a speakeasy. Lexi Weege has a powerfully expressive voice and is capable of singing all genres. She is especially adept at jazz. Weege and the Wondertwins are currently touring across the country in support of their album "Do I Seem Weird Lately?" so this performance will double as a homecoming show. Singer Katie Spurgin is a Pioneer Valley native who now lives in New York City. She’s a gifted vocalist, actor and arts educator who will be on-hand fronting a jazz trio that includes Jonah Daniell and Nate Watson. 

To provide the perfect soundtrack for Sam Place: Folk Club circa 1967, music will be provided by the Paper City Picture Show and Eleanor Levine. The Paper City Picture Show is the folk project of Lea Chiara, who grew up in the western Mass. music scene, writes engaging story songs and delivers in her pure voice. Local artist Eleanor Levine is a filmmaker and a folk musician who is known for her original and cover tunes. Do check out her EP, “Whence We Last Spoke.” 

It all wraps up on Saturday when DJ Josh Nugent is on hand to spin both downtempo and dance music. 

So all you local music fans, this is a chance to experience some great  music in a very unique, fun way.  And don’t be scared away by the prospect of immersive theater.  You have total control of the experience and if you want to hang back and observe that is totally fine. And if your only goal is to soak up the music that’s fine too. Sam’s Place is what you makes of it. 

The bottom line — it’s fun,” said Bechtold.  “It’s a ‘participate-as-much-as-you-want’ kind of evening with a whole lot of live performances.” 

Tickets for each night must be purchased individually, $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Limited tickets will be sold so purchasing in advance is recommended. Tickets are available at www.sheateater.org The Shea Theater is located at 71 Avenue A in Turners Falls.

Amy Helm at the Shea Theater 

Also happening at the Shea Theater, singer-songwriter Amy Helm will be in the house Friday night at 7:30 p.m. When your parents are the band’s legendary drummer and singer Levon Helm and singer-songwriter Libby Titus, it is inevitable that music is in your blood.

Helm grew up immersed in the history of American music and this can be heard in the soulful blend of roots rock she creates. Her career officially started in 1999 when she joined her father’s blues band The Barn Burners. Helm later formed her own group, the acclaimed alt- country band Olabelle, while also working as a backing musician in her Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble Band.

Amy Helm eventually started recording under her own name and recently released an excellent sophomore album called “This Too Shall Light” which is a collection of covers and original material. She takes on Rod Stewart’s “Mandolin Wind” and Allen Toussaint’s “Freedom for the Stallion” as well as covering one of her father’s old song, “The Stones I Throw.” She closes the album with an a cappella version of the hymn “Gloryland” which Levon passed onto her.

Blessed with a rich, supple voice, Helm is a dynamic performer who knows how to take command of an audience.  Her shows are always excellent and this one will be all the better because local favorite Mark Erelli will be opening. 

Tickets are $20 and are available at www.signaturesoundspresents.com or by calling 413 341-3317. Doors open at 7 p.m.

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