Hometown heroes ‘get down’: Multiple artists join virtual concert to raise money for three Valley organizations

  • Jazz-pop favorites Lake Street Dive, see at the Green River Festival in 2017, will perform as part of the Get Down With Your Hometown virtual shows. Gazette file photo

  • Jazz pianist Miro Sprague, now living in California, will be part of Get Down With Your Hometown. Gazette file photo

  • Gazette file photo

  • Gazette file photo

  • Singer-songwriter Hillary Chase, who has roots in IMA, joins Get Down With Your Hometown. Gazette file photo

  • Fab Faux brings its acclaimed covers of the Beatles catalog to Get Down With Your Hometown. Gazette file photo

  • Songwriter Mal Devisa, seen here at the Green River Festival in 2019, brings her soulful alternative sound to Get Down With Your Hometown. Photo by Matt Burkhartt/Gazette file photo

Staff Writer 
Thursday, January 07, 2021

Music has been a vital part of the arts scene in the Valley for years, and not just in clubs and other performance spaces: That vitality is also reflected in the considerable number of recording studios in the region as well as the sheer number of bands and players on the scene.

Music is also a big part of a number of schools in the area — and now two of them have joined forces with the Shea Theater in Turners Falls for a combined fundraiser that will feature more than 35 performers, including several national names, in an extended virtual show.

“Get Down with Your Hometown,” which takes place Friday and Saturday, Jan. 8-9, is a joint production of the Shea Theater, the Institute for the Musical Arts (IMA) in Goshen, and North Star, the alternative school in Sunderland. In banding together for the musical fundraiser, organizers say they’re tapping into a common bond that makes this region a fertile place for musicians, especially younger ones.

“I think there are many ways in which young artists in western Massachusetts are supported,” said Ann Hackler, executive director and co-founder of IMA, the nonprofit group that offers multiple programs for women and girls in music and in music-related businesses. “A lot of them don’t fit into conventional settings, especially when they get to middle school age, and there are alternatives for them here.”

Jodi Lyn Cutler, outreach director for North Star, points to the links between her school and IMA. A number of former North Star students also spent time attending summer music sessions at IMA and have since gone on to become professional musicians, she notes, including Rebecca Lasaponara and Hannah Mohan of the rock band And The Kids.

“There’s a lot of crossover between our organizations,” Cutler said. “We also have a rich music program — that’s an important part of our curriculum — so it made sense for us to work with (IMA) on this event.”

At the Shea Theater, meanwhile, Managing Director Linda Tardif says the Turners Falls venue has hosted some of those same performers who came of age at IMA and North Star, including And The Kids.

Now, with all three organizations dealing with a difficult year economically, given the ongoing pandemic, putting together a show that can help them as well as the participating musicians “is a case of making lemonade out of lemons,” Tardif said.

 “Our plan is to make this an annual event,” she said, adding that future fundraisers will hopefully be staged live at the Shea, though a virtual component might well remain a part of those shows, given the uncertainty of how live music will come back once COVID-19 has run its course.

“We’re looking at a changed landscape,” Tardif said. “It’s probably won’t be the same as it was pre-pandemic.”

One silver lining

Indeed, she, Hackler and Cutler all note that without the pandemic, the Jan. 8-9 show wouldn’t even be taking place, nor would it be able to host the diversity of performers in the lineup. Yet that diversity might be one of the few silver linings of the viral era, they say.

Among the performers are several well-known Valley-based musicians and bands: Erin McKeown, Martin Sexton, Kimaya Diggs, The Suitcase Junket, Winterpills, The Nields and more. But also weighing in are performers who once called the area home but now live elsewhere: jazz pianist Miro Sprague (Los Angeles), singer-songwriter Dar Williams (New York state), and singer-songwriter Jamie Kent (Nashville, Tennessee).

The popular jazz-pop group Lake Street Dive will also perform, as will a surprising name: the Fab Faux, the Beatles tribute band that’s long been noted for its spot-on renditions of Beatles’ songs (the group doesn’t bother with the mop-top wigs and collarless suits of other Beatles imitation bands, focusing exclusively on the music).

The Fab Faux appearance comes courtesy of Tara Brewster of Florence, who also helped arrange the coming shows. Brewster, the vice president of business development at Greenfield Savings Bank, is a board member at North Star and is involved in other community projects, most recently an effort to keep open a historic kindergarten at the Hill Institute in Florence.

Brewster suggested to her colleagues at North Star that the school consider collaborating with IMA.

“I like connecting people, and it seems like the best way to get through (the pandemic) is for all of us to support each other,” she said, adding that Hackler and her co-founding partner at IMA, musician June Millington, “are real pioneers, just so dynamic.”

It turns out Brewster knows the Fab Faux’s drummer, Rich Pagano, who she met some years back when she ran Jackson & Connor, the men’s clothing store she co-founded in Thornes Marketplace. Pagano used to come into the store when the band was in town, Brewster says, “and we hit it off and got to know each other a bit. He always struck me as a kind person, and we stayed in touch.”

That prompted her to contact Pagano for Get Down With Your Hometown, she said, and the Fab Faux agreed to take part in the show, sending in a videotaped performance. “We’re really excited to have them be part of this,” Brewster said.

The shows’ organizers also got help from Jim Olsen, president of Signature Sounds in Northampton, and Paul Newland, who produces the Watermelon Wednesdays concert series in West Whately, in reaching out to artists and figuring out the technical aspects of putting on a virtual show.

“Jim and Paul have been a big help to us,” Cutler said.

Other connections are evident in the show’s lineup. For instance, artist manager Emily Lichter, who manages Lake Street Dive, is on the board of both IMA and the Shea Theater, so she helped bring those organizations together and brought in Lake Street Dive, which has played previous fundraisers for IMA (lead singer Rachel Price has also led workshops at the Goshen school).

And Miro Sprague, the jazz pianist, is a North Star alum who once backed up singer-songwriter Sonya Kitchell, the Ashfield native now living in New York City, who also attended classes at IMA.

“These links are all over the Valley,” Hackler said.

A number of other artists who spent time at IMA when they were younger — Kalliope Jones, Naia Kete and Zoe Lemos — are also part of the shows. So too are Dutch sisters Jolie and Lidewy Baltussen, who attended IMA a few years ago.

The shows, which are free, will include a virtual tip jar (musicians will also be receiving honorariums, Cutler says). The Jan. 8 concert runs 6-9:30 p.m. and the Jan. 9 show 3-9:30 p.m.; both can be seen at getdownhometown.com and on the Facebook sites of the three Valley organizations.

The shows will be hosted by Monte Belmonte of WRSI/The River and comedians/teachers Pam Victor and Kelsey Flynn. Anyone wishing to make a gift of $60 or $100 will also be given a “backstage pass,” good for one or both nights, respectively, that will let them attend a post-show Zoom meeting where they can ask questions of the artists and hang out with the hosts.

Hackler, for one, says 2020 was a tough year for IMA, which offered virtual workshops but couldn’t really duplicate the spirit of solidarity and energy typically generated at the school’s live music sessions. But the coming virtual shows, she added, “remind us just how much we’ve shared and how much music can still bring us together, even now.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.