Four Sundays move right on schedule: Northampton Arts Council shifts popular arts festival to April 

  • New York City’s Nikhil P. Yerawadekar will lead a band for an April 1 dance party show saluting A Tribe Called Quest that launches the Northampton Art Council’s Four Sundays. Northampton Arts Council

  • Brooklyn, New York DJ Yah Supreme joins the April 1 show “Vibez for the Tribe II” at the Community Arts Trust building at 33 Hawley St. Northampton Arts Council

  • Springfield native Michelle Brooks-Thompson brings her powerhouse vocals to an April 2 Arts Council show that will feature “the music of the best musical divas.”  Image courtesy Northampton Arts Council

  • A still from the animated film “Marona’s Fantastic Tale,” which plays during KidsBestFest April 18-21. Northampton Arts Council

  • Amherst College’s Zumbyes are one of several a capella groups that will take part in the venerable Silver Chord Bowl competition April 24. Image courtesy Northampton Arts Council

  • An April 29 Arts Council benefit concert — the “Bow Bow Bash” — will raise money for a music fund named after the late Northampton bassist J. Scott “Bow Bow” Brandon. Image courtesy Northampton Arts Council

  • Work created by Tyler Rai will be part of an April 30 Arts Council presentation by four different artists that includes dance, theater, and performance art. Image courtesy Northampton Arts Council

Staff Writer
Monday, April 04, 2022

Four Sundays in February has been a staple of the Northampton arts scene for years, a series of presentations staged each Sunday during winter’s possibly most dreary month to try and help people fight the blues.

But last year, the series, produced by the Northampton Arts Council, was forced online by the pandemic, and last month it was postponed due to the spread of the COVID omicron variant.

But as Steve Sanderson, the Arts Council’s event producer, sees it, that postponement helped lay the groundwork for making a change to Four Sundays that the council had been thinking about for a while.

Now the Arts Council is shifting its programming to April, and even if it still has a similar title for the moment — Four Sundays 2022 Arts Festival — Sanderson says the goal is simply to produce “a monthlong festival.”

Indeed, six programs, ranging from music to film to dance, are on tap next month. Familiar favorites, such as the a cappella showcase the Silver Chord Bowl and KidsBestFest, the movie festival for families, are part of the mix. But there’s also a musical benefit named for a popular Valley musician, J. Scott “Bow Bow” Brandon, who died in 2017, as well as a concert by powerhouse singer and Springfield native Michelle Brooks-Thompson.

The series kicks off Friday, April 1 with a dance party at the Northampton Community Arts Trust building at 33 Hawley St. that will be led by New York multi-instrumentalist and producer Nikhil P. Yerawadekar, who will join with other musicians and New York DJ Yah Supreme in a tribute to the seminal hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest.

Other programs follow on April 2, 18-21, 24, 29, and 30.

In a recent interview, Sanderson said the Arts Council had been batting around “for some time” the idea of switching the Four Sundays in February programming to April. Having to pull together the events so soon after First Night Northampton wrapped up could be a struggle, he said: “Sometimes we couldn’t get things locked down until the last minute.”

And though holding the programs in February had always seemed “like a way to fight cabin fever,” Sanderson said, COVID has been “kind of a wakeup call. People tend to get sick in winter, so April is really a better time to do this — the weather’s better, people come out, and there’s a school vacation week just like in February so we can do KidsBestFest.”

Now the council just needs to come up with a new title for the event. “We’re working on that,” Sanderson said with a laugh.

A varied lineup

The April 1 dance party, which begins at 7 p.m. at 33 Hawley, is called “Vibez for the Tribe II: A Celebration of Jazz, Hip Hop, and A Tribe Called Quest.” Sanderson says the show outlines how A Tribe Called Quest, formed in New York City in the 1980s, was influenced by several modern jazz musicians and built connections between jazz and hip-hop culture; those links particularly informed their acclaimed second album, “The Low-End Theory,” released in 1991.

The idea for the show was inspired in part by a similar program, “Vibez for the Tribe,” staged by a different organization at Wistariahurst museum in Holyoke in 2017, Sanderson noted, as well as by the popular performance of the band Antibalas, which is headed by Yerawadekar, the New York musician, at last summer’s Green River Festival.

“He really knows how to get people moving,” he said about Yerawadekar, whose music embraces elements of Afrobeat, reggae, calypso, hip-hop and more; his sound has also been inspired by A Tribe Called Quest. “We’ve wanted to get him up here for a while.”

On April 2 at the Academy of Music, Michelle Brooks-Thompson takes the spotlight for a 7 p.m. show featuring the songs of “the best musical divas,” as program notes put it: Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Etta James, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé and others.

The singer, who majored in piano and vocal performance at Mount Holyoke College, was a finalist several years ago on “The Voice,” the TV vocal competition,  and has gone on to win a number of other contests and to sing nationally — and locally. At last summer’s Performance 31, the Arts Council show at which musicians impersonate different acts, Brooks-Thompson “wowed everybody” as Whitney Houston, Sanderson said.

When school vacation week arrives April 18, Four Sundays resumes with KidsBestFest at the Academy of Music, with free films for children and families running Monday through Thursday at 11 a.m.

Among the offerings are “The Karate Kid” and “Marona’s Fantastic Tale.” The latter is a sometimes sad 2019 French animated film about a small dog that bounces from household to household; the movie, the New York Times says, “stays buoyant through its unique, boisterous animation.”

The only Sunday program in Four Sundays 2022 is one that has traditionally kicked off the February programming: the Silver Chord Bowl, which will take place April 24 at the Academy of Music. The event, now in its 38th year, features a capella groups from Northeast colleges and universities including the Berklee College of Music, Amherst and Smith colleges, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Before that, The Northamptones, the longstanding a capella group from Northampton High School, will get their chance to sing, and it’s likely to be a poignant moment, Sanderson said: The group’s founder and director, Beau Flahive, is retiring at the end of June.

Four Sundays wraps up April 29 and 30, and the first event has special meaning for Sanderson. The J. Scott Brandon Grant Fund Benefit Concert, at 33 Hawley St., will feature a mix of Northampton High School student musicians and ensembles along with local bands and performers. It’s a fundraiser for an Arts Council program that provides NHS students with financial assistance for music lessons and instrument supplies.

The fund is named after Brandon, a bass and trumpet player with the Valley band Drunk Stuntmen — Sanderson played alongside him in the group for years — who died in 2017 at age 44. Brandon, nicknamed “Bow Bow,” was Sanderson’s best friend from high school.

“We still miss him — a lot,” he said.

The April 30 event, “EXCHANGE: A Distributed Curation Performance,” also at 33 Hawley, is a collaboration between Northampton’s School for Contemporary Dance & Thought and APE@Hawley and will feature varied works — dance, theater and performance art — by four artists.

After seeing omicron force First Night Northampton 2022 online at the last moment, and then cause the postponement of February’s programming, Sanderson is hopeful the third time is the charm for April’s Arts Council events. “Knock on wood,” he said.

For tickets and additional information, visit northamptonartscouncil.org and follow the link for Four Sundays 22.

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