Blue Streak reunion, 2020 Green River Festival lineup

  • Blue Streak Band Contributed photo—

  • John Sheldon Contributed photo—

  • Billy Strings will be playing at Green River Fest 2020. Contributed photo/Emily Butler—EMily Butler Photography

Published: 1/24/2020 12:31:12 PM
Modified: 1/24/2020 12:31:01 PM

Guitarist John Sheldon has worked in a wide range of musical projects throughout his 50-plus years in music. For many years, one of these projects was leading the rock-blues band Blue Streak. The band was a favorite on the local scene for over 25 years before winding down in 2010. Fans will have another chance to see the group perform.

Blue Streak is reuniting for a show at Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield on Saturday night, Jan. 25, at 7 p.m.

Sheldon, who resides in Amherst, has not been idle in the years that Blue Streak has been inactive. In 2013, he launched “The Red Guitar,” a one-man performance piece that was part monologue and part music tracing his musical career against the backdrop of the turbulent 1960s.

Sheldon’s story began when his childhood friend, James Taylor, sold him a bright red Fender Stratocaster, guitar which led to him being a touring guitarist, working in bands for artists like Van Morrison and Linda Rondstadt before eventually settling here in the Pioneer Valley. Sheldon debuted “The Red Guitar” at Greenfield’s Double Take Fringe Festival. 

In addition to performing “The Red Guitar” show, Sheldon joined forces with local poet Paul Richmond, of Wendell, and renowned percussionist Tony Vacca, of Whately, to create Do It Now, an improvisational music group that combined beat poetry and music while providing political commentary about current events.  

Sheldon performed with “The Red Guitar” and played with Do It Now at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland a few years back.

But before these projects, there was Blues Streak, a band that showcased Sheldon’s impressive songwriting and his skillful, melodic work on both the electric and acoustic guitar. 

Blue Streak released its first album in 1992, back when the band was a trio. The current lineup came together in the mid-1990s and, in addition to Sheldon, features Peter Kim on Bass, Joe Nerney on saxophone, Bruce Dobbins on percussion and John Kokoszyna on drums. 

“The first version of the band was a more rock n’ roll version and later we became a little bit more jazzier with the conga and the saxophone — and that’s the band that we are doing now,” said Sheldon in a recent phone interview. “It has kind of a Santana flavor to it.”

Sheldon said that this version of the band played together from 1996 to 2010.

“It’s really surprising to me that we kept going that long,” he said. “I always thought of it as ‘the little band that could.’” 

Blue Streak played countless gigs, but Sheldon says they didn’t play many shows outside of New England, as he wasn’t that interested in touring.

“I had a jaded view of the touring business,” said Sheldon, who began work as Van Morrison’s guitarist when he was only 17 years old. He later hit the road with other artists including James Taylor, his friend, and was also a founding member of the jazz-rock band The Bead Game, which featured original Steely Dan drummer Jim Hodder.

“I knew it well enough to know that I couldn’t stay healthy doing that (touring),” Sheldon said. “I’m a nature boy — I like trees and grass and fresh air and don’t do well with hotels, airports or long car trips. Some people can do it, but not me.”

He preferred sticking closer to home playing at venues like the Wendell Full Moon Coffeehouse and the Route 63 Roadhouse in Millers Falls. The crowds not only appreciated the group’s talent as musicians, but Blue Streak was a band that could get people moving on the dance floor. But by 2010, Sheldon’s songwriting was taking him in a different musical direction and the band stopped playing together. 

“With me, it’s all generated from writing and I was writing a different story,” Sheldon said. “When Blue Streak came, it was about writing a story about a local band that played in roadhouses, but then I wanted to write a different story that ended up being the Red Guitar. Who knows what the next story is? I’m working on it, but not sure where it will go.”

One thing that he does know is that his concern for the environment will be reflected in his future work. Sheldon has long been passionate about ecological issues, even traveling to Standing Rock in North Dakota to support those who fought to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

“I’m operating in that consciousness, in the deep ecology, and when I look back at a lot of what I’ve written, a lot of it was about ecology and what we are doing with our Mother Earth and our relationship to her,” said Sheldon, who added that some of the material he wrote for Blue Streak also reflected his ecological concerns. “I’d like us to have a better relationship with the earth, and that comes out in the songs and the music. I think it will come out in the next piece that I’m working on.

“It’s hard to write about your personal problems when this stuff is going on,” he added. 

Sheldon says he is looking forward to the show at Hawks and Reed and hopes the crowd will be up and dancing. This isn’t the group’s first reunion show, as they played a private party last spring. That show went so well that Sheldon was open to doing more shows with the band.

He does continue to work with Do It Now (the group will be at the Wendell Full Moon Coffeehouse in April) but beyond that, Sheldon says has no idea what’s next in his musical journey — or if he will continue to work with Blue Streak. “We are booked for a private party next month, but there are no plans after that. I’m getting comfortable with uncertainty,” he said.

“I know that I keep creating and that’s the main thing — to keep working and to keep the creative thing going any way I can,” Sheldon said. “That is important to me.”

Tickets to Saturday’s show are $15 in advance and $20 on the night day of concert. For more information, visit hawksandreed.com.

Rice and Roots of Creation at Stone Church in Brattleboro

If you are needing a mid-winter break and need to shake off the house-bound blues, you may want to consider heading to the Stone Church in Brattleboro tomorrow night, Jan. 24, and dance the night away with reggae-rock band Roots of Creation. 

The New Hampshire-based band are known for their incredible live sets and at this show they will be playing two sets, one that will feature their original tunes and one that will feature material off their recent release “Grateful Dub.” The Grateful Dub album combines the band’s love of reggae-dub style music with the music of the Grateful Dead. These reworked Dead tunes have already become favorites with Dead fans. Joining Roots of Creation will be rice: an American Band. These rockers from Warwick, Massachusetts, are led by Phil Simon and features an ever evolving lineup of some excellent local musicians performing his songs. 

Tickets are $15 for general admission or $20 for a loft view and can be purchased at stonechurchvt.com. 

Green River Festival

We’ve got some hot off the press news, Signature Sounds, which presents the Green  River Festival annually, have announced 20 of the acts for this year’s festival, which will be held July 10, 11 and 12 on the grounds of Greenfield Community College. This year’s festival will feature returning favorites like retro rocker JD McPherson and folk-pop band The Head & the Heart alongside newcomers to the event such as psychedelic bluegrass sensation Billy Strings, indie rocker Jenny Lewis and British singer-songwriter Jade Bird. The lineup also includes Asleep at the Wheel, Mandolin Orange, Mt. Joy, Sarah Jarosz, Ronny Light Horseman, Fruit Bats, Jupiter & Okwess, The War & Treaty, Steve Poltz, Pernice Brothers, Rising Appalachia, The Ghost of Paul Revere, Amythyst Kiah, The Big Takeover and Taylor Ashton. 

There will be many more acts announced in the upcoming weeks. 

As with previous years, in addition to all the music on four stages (including the popular Green House Stage) this year’s Green River Festival will include the finest in local food, beer and wine, handmade juried crafts, kid's activities, camping, hot air balloon rides and a balloon illumination. Last year, the festival saw record attendance, so get those tickets now. The deadline for purchasing early bird weekend passes for $119.99 and weekend plus camping $159.99 ends on Feb. 1. After Feb. 1, advance ticket prices are: Weekend, $139.99; weekend plus camping, $179.99; RV pass, $120; Saturday and Sunday, $119.99; Friday, $44.99; Saturday, $69.99; Sunday, $69.99; student weekend pass (with valid ID), $99.

 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 soundslocal@yahoo.com.




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