Finding the blues in classical music: Heirloom Music Festival in Greenfield and Goshen this weekend

  • Geoffrey Baker is artistic director of Conway Fine Arts, which is presenting the Heirloom Music Festival II this weekend. CONTRIBUTED

  • Conway Fine Arts executive director Mikayla Reine says her ballet studies as a girl helped mold her into the musician and businessperson she is today. CONTRIBUTED

  • Allyson Michal CONTRIBUTED

  • Marcia Lehninger CONTRIBUTED

  • Chris Devine CONTRIBUTED

  • Ignacy Gaydamovich CONTRIBUTED

For the Recorder
Published: 8/24/2022 1:50:27 PM

We’ve been fortunate to enjoy many great music festivals this summer. This past weekend saw the Charlemont Reggae Festival’s successful return, and even more music is on the way before the leaves change color and the cool weather arrives.

This upcoming weekend there is a new and different type of festival - the Heirloom Music Festival II, a classical-blues music festival that will take place at two separate locations. On Friday, Aug. 26 at 8 p.m., it will be held at Hawks and Reed in Greenfield. The festival will continue on Sunday, Aug. 28 at 5 p.m. at Three Sisters Sanctuary in Goshen. The theme is “Beethoven’s Blues - Finding the Blues in Classical Music.” Music performed will include Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and a premiere by local composer Kenny Butler with blues guitar and string quartet.

Performers are guitarist Chris Devine, violinists Marcia Lehninger and Allyson Michal, and cellist IgnacyGaydamovich. Violists Geoffrey Baker and MikaylaReine, whose organization Conway Fine Arts is presenting the festival, will also perform.

Finding the blues in classical music sounds intriguing, but let’s admit, some of us have a preconceived notion about classical music. We view it as being stuffy or boring or requiring a certain level of education to enjoy. Even those listeners who view themselves as open-minded about music may find themselves steering away from ‘classical music’ concerts.

Musicians Geoffrey Banker, the artistic director of Conway Fine Arts, and his fiancéMikaylaReine, the executive director of the organization, hope to break down these reservations. The way they see it, classical music is for everyone.

The couple moved from Oakland, California to Northampton in January 2021, and ultimately settled in Conway, where they established Conway Fine Arts. The organization’s goal is to create opportunities for professional artists, reach new audiences and build community through art.

They were unfamiliar with the area before moving here but say they chose it because they were inspired after reading “Hometown” by Tracy Kidder. Once they arrived here they were pleased to discover a vibrant artistic community. “It’s been a wonderful learning experience to discover the arts scene here,” Reine said in a recent interview via Zoom.“It’s a wonderful place to land and to try to start something like we are doing.”

After meeting various local musicians and exploring some of the area’s venues, they held their first concert, a holiday event in December at Holy Family Church in South Deerfield, which proved a success. Next came a benefit concert for Ukraine war victims in Holyoke in March, the Heirloom festival in Ashfield and Plainfield in June, and a cello recital earlier this month in Ashfield.

The idea of a crossover between Beethoven and the blues occurred when Baker met local violinist and guitar player Kenny Butler at the Conway Inn. Butler is a musician who, like Baker, has experience working in a number of different musical genres.

“He was over at my house and he plays this blues tune for me,” said Baker, who has an extensive musical background playing in orchestras, chamber groups, and even in pop groups like Earth, Wind and Fire. “And it’s not your typical blues tune. I am picking up wild chord changes, and its a legitimate Mississippi Delta Blues tune. It got me thinking that the blues is much more global than we realize, and it’s a feeling more than anything else.”

After hearing the unusual chord changes in the song, which was “Children of Zion,” by Rev. Gary Davis, Baker asked Butler to compose a song based on that tune. According to Baker, the resulting song, “Mercy’s Door,” is no longer a blues tune but rather a classical composition which synthesizes the blues, and embodied his conviction that the blues is larger than a chord progression or a style, and is rather a feeling in music. It was from this belief that the Heirloom Festival came about. 

The idea of fostering community by playing this music in different venues in different towns led to it becoming a festival. The first Heirloom festival took place in June and was slated to be a weekend of three shows at multiple venues, but when one of the musicians contracted COVID the third show couldn’t happen. Hence, the decision to host Heirloom Festival II.

In the meantime, the couple were introduced to Hawks and Reed and discovered that they love the venue’s 4th floor room, “the Perch,” with its high ceiling and beautiful view of downtown Greenfield. They knew it was perfect for the Heirloom Festival.

“The Perch works will for what we are doing in that we are combining classical music and the blues,” said Reine. “The acoustics are good, but it has also got a bluesy feel, which helps you understand that music. Also, not holding the concerts in traditional concert halls helps break past any false beliefs about classical music.”

These preconceptions are often a challenge.

“It is our biggest obstacle, not only for us but for classical music across the country and across the world,” said Reine, who in addition to playing viola has a background in dance. “I think a lot of people just don’t have that familiarity with classical music. It comes across to them as scary. It’s usually played in these big halls, and you have to dress up and there are rules you have to follow. We want to get rid of all that excess and bring it back to the music, because everybody responds to it when you take away some of those trappings.”

And audiences did respond to the first Heirloom Festival.

“They were incredibly appreciative. They loved every minute of it and really listened and were trying to engage with this new concept about the blues,” said Reine.

Baker agreed, and added “I think that really speaks to audiences around here - they are so welcoming and willing to try things which you don’t always get from audiences.”

While Baker described their first year at Conway Fine Arts as a bit of “a cart before the horse situation,” overall it has gone well and they hope to continue to move forward. The couple are currently working out the details for a September performance in Conway that will be a collaboration with storytelling. Moving into 2023, they would like establish a music series that would perhaps take place during the winter months when there isn’t a lot happening in the area. They are also interested in staging more festivals.

Right now the couple is looking forward to the weekend ahead, playing music at these two very different, very special venues. “We really want folks to come out and have a warm feeling for what we do,” said Baker.

Reine is equally excited to be presenting music at these particular locations. “You don’t have the feeling of going to a hall - you just go there to hear music and great music is great music.”

Tickets for both shows are available at, and tickets for the Hawks and Reed show can also be purchased at It is suggested that attendees please carpool to the Three Sisters Sanctuary as parking is limited to 50 cars.

The rain location for the Three Sisters Sanctuary is the Institute for the Musical Arts in Goshen. For more info, visit


Happy 35th Anniversary to the Institute for the Musical Arts

Another music festival on the horizon is Lady & the Amp that will take place on Saturday, Aug. 27, from noon to 7:30 p.m. at the Institute for the Musical Arts (IMA) in Goshen. This all day festival is a very special show in that it’s a celebration of IMA’s 35th anniversary!

IMA, which was founded by musicians June Millington (Fanny) and Ann Hackler, started in California before settling in Goshen in 2001. They present educational programs for women in music and music related ventures. Their summer programs train young women and girls in all aspects of music including playing their instruments, songwriting, recording and dealing with the music business. The programs at IMA have launched some of our finest local performers, musicians such as Sonya Kitchell, Kalliope Jones, Moxie, And the Kids, and more. These young women that have come out of IMA are a major part of our local music scene.

You can catch some of these alum performing at the festival including Hannah Mohan (Topsy), Sara Kochanski (EIEIO), Mia Huggins (Prune), Rei Kimura (Moxie), Casey Opal, Luna, Emily Margaret, Zami BK, Anjali Kumar, Jess LaCoy (Jax Hollow), Victoria Zingarelli (Toria), Haley Grey, LilahAsbornsen and Kim Chin-Gibbons (Sunset Mission) as well the IMA Faculty Band (June Millington, Evelyn Harris, Marcia Gomes, Erin McKeown and Janelle Burdell).

There will be a tribute to IMA alum Jana IvanovaAbromowitz who was tragically murdered in Northampton this summer. Members of her band, Tropical Hot Sauce, will play a short set.

Gates open at 11:30 a.m. Tickets and more available at

Sheryl Hunter is a freelance writer who resides in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national publications. She can be reached at


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