New kid on the block: Strong and Pleasant Music Festival comes to downtown Northampton

  • A poster for the first-ever Strong and Pleasant Music Festival, which takes place in downtown Northampton June 6 through 8.  Photo courtesy of The Buzz, A Honey Pot Production

  • The “Fever-Pop” duo Home Body, which combines electronic, new wave, and experimental pop music, is one of over 40 bands and artists slated to play the Strong and Pleasant Music Festival.  Photo by AnjaSchutz/ Facebook photo

  • Lady Moon & The Eclipse is a New York band that plays what the New York Times calls “neosoul with a cross-genre bent that manifests through Afrobeat, gospel and funk.” Facebook photo

  • Local favorites StompBoxTrio bring their blues/jazz/soul sound to the Strong and Pleasant Festival. Facebook photo

Staff Writer 
Thursday, May 23, 2019

A city with an already vibrant music scene is about to add even more to that mix.

The Strong and Pleasant Music Festival in Northampton, which runs June 6-8, Thursday through Saturday, will bring over 40 local and regional bands to six different venues across the downtown area, from up and down Strong Avenue and around the corner on Pleasant Street. 

The new music festival takes its inspiration from the former Northampton Music Festival, which took place in the 1990s. Carla Racine, a local booking agent and music promoter with The Buzz music magazine, of Honey Pot Production in Northampton, got her start in the music industry about two decades ago, working for the late Northampton-centered booking and music promoter Donal B. Rooke.

Rooke, who passed away last October, was a founder of the original Northampton Music Festival in the 1990s. 

For Racine, organizing the new festival alongside local businesses, music venues, pop-up venues and partners such as PRIA Music Marketing and Valley Free Radio, is all about celebrating local music in the Valley and honoring her mentor. In fact, she plans to host the music festival twice a year. 

“[Rooke] gave me opportunities, and I knew that as a single mom I needed extra pocket money,” she explained. “He would have me work the door at the Bay State [Hotel] or the Elevens.”

For the Strong and Pleasant Festival, music will be staged at several different locations across downtown Northampton. One example is the Sierra Grille, home of the Reanimate the Bay State concert series, which pays homage to the original Bay State Hotel at that location. Other venues include Bishop’s Lounge, The Dirty Truth and Progression Brewing Company.

Pop-up venues such as Le BonN’ton and the newly opened Majestic Saloon also connect to Northampton’s local music history. Le BonN’ton is the former original location of the Fire and Water vegetarian cafe, and Majestic Saloon’s location was once home to the Yellow Sofa Cafe. 

“I picture Western Mass as the heart of the Northeast music scene and I’ve said this before, Northampton was the place where the spark really got to grow,” Racine said. “It’s just wonderful to see the development in Easthampton and Greenfield and those towns that were underdeveloped in the 1990s and lacking in the arts and cultural scene.” 

The lineup for the Strong and Pleasant Festival includes an eclectic mix of bands that Racine says could include at least 50 acts after the schedule for the three-day event is finalized. Some of those artists include soul and funk acts like The Mary Jane Jones, Lady Moon & The Eclipse, and Lush Honey, as well as singer-songwriters such as Nate Martel, Seth Newton, Mark Schwaber and Kimaya Diggs.

Looking for a more experimental sound? Consider the electro-pop duo Home Body and psychedelic progressive noise rockers Bunnies. There are also acoustic/bluegrass bands such as Mamma’s Marmalade and Eric Lee and Company.

Meanwhile, more jazz-oriented acts for the festival include indie jazz group The Greys and StompBoxTrio, the latter led by vocalist/percussionist Evelyn Harris.   

“Music is something that is between all of us,” said Racine. “Let’s celebrate our music scene. It will in turn keep the town vital. People don’t realize, keeping a thriving music scene will also keep a thriving downtown area.” 

There could be three additional venues added to the festival, bringing the total to nine. Racine was waiting for official confirmation of those locations as this article went to press. 

“There’s a couple of artists that are to be announced because they have bigger shows in the area leading up [to the festival], so as the dates pass by there will be more announcements,” Racine said. 

She and other festival organizers hope the event will continue into the future twice a year, once in late spring/early summer and again in the fall. Racine said she thinks there’s a possibility of expanding the festival in the future. 

“This should be a music destination, not just for national acts, but for immense creative original live music,” she said. “None of these bands are cover bands. They all play their favorite song now and again, but they’re all original live music bands. That’s freakin’ cool.” 

For more information and the full schedule for the festival, visit www.StrongandPleasant.com. Passes for three days, two days and one day will be available at any of the event locations. 

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@valleyadvocate.com.