45 musicians, 17 bands, 1 festival 

  • Pat and Tex LaMontain Contributed photo—

  • Pat and Tex LaMontain in Montague Center in 1976, when Tex lived on Taylor Hill in the house where Clean Living had their album photo taken. Contributed photo—

  • frost heaves and hales Contributed photo—

Published: 5/30/2019 9:00:24 PM

Imagine walking through your neighborhood and hearing music streaming out of nearby houses: You enter one of these homes and enjoy some lively Klezmer music. After that, you head further down the street to another house and find yourself singing along to old folk tunes. Further down the road, you end the day by dancing to swing music being played in an old barn. 

You can experience a scene like this — an afternoon of great music and meet some of your neighbors and fellow music lovers — when you attend the Montague House Concert Festival which takes place on Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. in Montague Center.

The “Good Neighbors make Good Music” festival, now in its fifth season, features five hours of music from 45 musicians in 17 bands playing in seven private homes — one barn, two porches and four parlors. 

For the first time, all the participating houses are around the historic Montague Common, within walking distance of each other and the Montague Bookmill. And what a broad assortment of music you will hear! Jazz, Gypsy jazz, pop, country, Middle Eastern, choral vocal jazz, classical (bassoon trio!), neoclassical, folk, and Americana are some of the genres that will be represented at the festival.

The festival was started by husband and wife Nicole Nemec and Matthew Duncan, who discovered they could hear music drifting through the air from their neighbor’s homes soon after moving to their home in Montague.

“The first thing we heard upon moving in was uilleann pipes and fiddle coming through the woods,” Duncan said. “Before we ever met, we were communicating musically (via all sorts of instruments) through the trees. We quickly discovered that they weren’t the only musicians. For example, the farmer across the road is also a world-class cellist. It began as a chance to show off the talent that was all around us.”

“Good Neighbors Make Good Music,” which began in 2015, has remained a low-key and small event that’s as much about building community as it is about showcasing local music. The musicians are from Montague and the surrounding towns.

The festival was partially inspired by Boston’s Porchfest, a similar event that was launched in 2014 and celebrates local talent by hosting shows in neighborhood homes and porches. 

When you think ‘house concert,’ the tendency might be to think of acoustic folk music. But this festival goes far beyond that and will even host some rock music. Some indie rockers, for example, the frost heaves and hales of Greenfield, have played the festival every year since its inception. They’re looking forward to returning — and yes, they will perform ‘plugged in.’ 

“We've always had a blast,” said Daniel Hales of the frost heaves and hales. “We've played in someone's living room, we've played outside on a patio. Last year we played in the old Montague Town Hall. This year, we are playing in a barn on North Street, right after a swing band.”

As a rock band, the house concert experience is a relatively foreign one to Hales and his bandmates. As they discovered, playing in a more relaxed and laid-back setting can be a great experience. 

“We don't play many house concerts, but we'd welcome the chance to do it more often,” said Hales. “The vibe at a house concert is so much more friendly, chill, and unpretentious than a rock club. I also love playing afternoon shows. I wish this was more of a thing.”

Another returning act is folk/Americana musicians Pat and Tex LaMountain, both of Greenfield, who, like Hales, have played at the festival every year since its inception. The couple has a special connection to the event because they used to call Montague home — it’s where Tex lived back in the early days of legendary local band Clean Living. They, too, have played at the festival.

“It is a unique event that is well organized with strong support for the musicians,” said Tex LaMountain. “Matthew and Nicole love the town, and the schedule allows the audience and performers the opportunity to move from house to house, often a short walk or bike ride, and to mingle with other acts and attendees. It’s great fun and very relaxed.”

“There is a great variety and they are wonderful hosts,” said Pat LaMountain. “Nicole and Matthew are musicians themselves and there is great variety and ages. There are a lot of young musicians, but they even allow old people to play.”

Some other returning favorites include classical guitarist/banjo player Michael Nix, cellist Stephen Katz, dulcimer player Tim Van Egmond, guitarist, singer-songwriter Joe Graveline, Americana band From the Woods, and the one-man band BB Leowolf. 

This year, there are a few newcomers on the lineup such as the jazz group Swing Set, which features eleven vocalists, the JCA Klezmer Ensemble, performing traditional klezmer music, and Zay-Tunes, a group that plays traditional vocal and instrumental Arabic songs. There are a couple of groups who have formed just for this occasion: the Metropolitan Swing Quartet, which performs Django Reinhardt style gypsy jazz, and the acoustic duo from the hilltowns known as Squid Piggly, which will play a selection of original and cover tunes.

“Every year more bands and hosts want to get involved, so in that sense, we’re growing,” said Duncan. “But if the audience doesn’t grow at a similar rate, then bands get smaller audiences. It’s a balancing act.”

Notably this year, all the participating homes are within walking distance. Each venue hosts two to three different musical groups and each group will play for 35 minutes in a single set. There will be 15 minutes between each performer. 

“This year we opted to include more hosts and houses, but only giving two to three bands per house,” said Duncan. “That spreads the joy around, and it means more movement, more of a ‘house tour’ feel. It hopefully (will have) the additional benefit of making passersby ask ‘what’s going on here? Maybe I should check it out.’”

Can you think of a better way to Saturday afternoon?

Admission is technically free, but to cover expenses and pay the musicians, there is a suggested donation of $12 to $15. Those who donate will receive a purple sticker that says ‘I support live music.’ The stickers are not required for admission, but they are a way to let it be known that you believe that the musicians should be compensated for their time. For detailed band descriptions, schedule and map visit montaguemusic.org.

Zoki CD release show at Ashfield Lake House

The alt-folk-rock trio Zoki Band (comprised of Zoe Lemos of Ashfield, Lily Kulp of Conway and Kim Chin-Gibbons of Amherst) will celebrate the release of their debut album “Take One” with a show at the Ashfield Lake House tomorrow night beginning at 8 p.m. Opening the show will be Eva Markham, a 16-year-old singer-songwriter from Plainfield, who will accompany herself on the piano.

To get a glimpse of what’s ahead check out ZoKi’s first two singles “Summer Hurt,” and “Where the Wind Blows” on Bandcamp or on other streaming services. The Ashfield Lake House is at 141 Buckland Road, Ashfield.

More at zokiband.com.

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