The Beat Goes On: A bluegrass ‘minifest’ in Whately, Swedish a capella in South Hadley, jazz in Holyoke, and more
|Published: 11-29-2023 8:48 PM
Summer’s long past, and so are the watermelons. But Watermelon Wednesdays, the long-running summertime acoustic music series at the West Whately Chapel, isn’t ready to pull the plug on its concerts.
On Dec. 6, they’re sponsoring what they call the first annual Whately Bluegrass Showcase (Minifest) at 7 p.m. at Whately Town Hall. The three-hour show features three bands that all offer a variety of sounds that fall within the broad spectrum of bluegrass but incorporate elements of other music.
Two are local favorites — Mamma’s Marmalade and Poor Monroe — while the third, Mile Twelve, hails from Boston but has played a number of gigs in the Valley.
Mamma’s Marmalade, started initially as a duo in 2016 in a University of Massachusetts Amherst dorm by fiddler Lily Sexton and mandolinist Mitch Bordage, is now a quartet that’s already released four albums and EPs, including 2022’s “Fakin’ It: Covers Deserving Coverage,” which features bluegrass interpretations of tunes from the 1970s by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Steely Dan and others.
Poor Monroe, a quintet that boasts four vocalists and has received two New England Music Award nominations, has won attention since forming a few years ago during the pandemic; they’ve played the Green River Festival and other big stages, and they released their debut album earlier this fall.
And Mile Twelve, another quintet whose members are originally from places as diverse as South Carolina, New Zealand and Massachusetts, is a progressive string band that won the 2020 New Artist of the Year Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association.
The bands all “play the frets off their banjos and the hair off their fiddle bows,” says Watermelon Wednesdays founder and producer Paul Newlin. “They can also change gears with lilting waltzes and soulful ballads.”
Tickets are available at watermelonwednesdays.com. Though watermelon won’t be available, you’ll be able to munch on cider donuts and brownies.
And if you’re in the mood for some even rangier bluegrass, consider heading to The Parlor Room in Northampton on Dec. 7 at 7:30 p.m. to see Mr Sun, a hotshot quartet (superquartet?) fronted by veteran fiddler Darol Anger.
They’ll be doing their interpretation of Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite, itself a jazz version of Tchaikovsky’s famous Nutcracker Suite. Bluegrass by way of classical-influenced jazz: Should be wild.
For some more unusual sounds, All Saints’ Episcopal Church in South Hadley has you covered on Dec. 9-10, when Kongero, a Swedish “Folk’appella” group, comes to the Valley for an evening concert and an afternoon singing workshop.
That’s right: Swedish a capella singers. How often do we get that around here?
The all-female quartet, initially formed in 2005, has toured throughout Europe, Canada, and other locations, and in more limited fashion in the U.S. But given the popularity of Nordic-themed TV series, Kongero could probably find a bigger audience here if people get a listen.
Their complex harmonies, and the crystalline quality of the singers’ voices, bring to mind all manner of adjectives in attempting to describe the sound. Haunting. Ethereal. Otherworldly. Eerie. Medieval.
Or maybe “terrific,” as a reviewer from Great Britain puts it: “Like camping out in a Swedish forest and hearing tales of joy, love, sadness, errant cattle, Estonian islands & too many beers.”
For their part, the singers says they offer a mix of traditional Swedish music and more modern folk, “pushing the boundaries in trad/folk/world music as well as in a capella and chamber music,” as their website notes.
The group’s leader, Emma Björling, was also named a “Folk Hero” at the 2021 Swedish Folk Music Awards.
Kongero will perform on Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at All Saints’ Episcopal Church and will conduct their workshop Dec. 10 from noon to 1:30 p.m. Tickets are available at Halcyon New England in Amherst, the event producer.
A variety of jazz is on the schedule tonight (Friday, Dec. 1) at The Divine Theater at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke, when the Ellen Cogen Ensemble plays a set of Joni Mitchell’s jazz-inspired work from her albums “Hejira” and “Mingus,” as well as songs from “River: The Joni Letters,” Herbie Hancock’s tribute album of Mitchell’s music.
Cogen, a longtime professor of music at Holyoke Community College, will handle vocals and piano, and she’s joined by John Mason on guitar, Ted Levine on saxophone, Claire Arenius on drums, and Kai Caban on bass.
Also on the bill is another area favorite, Juke Joint Jazz , the six-piece ensemble that plays its own arrangements of classic modern jazz, “from Monk to Funk.”
The group includes Ken Forfia on piano, David Kisala on saxophone, Ed Brainerd on horns, Michael Levine on guitar, George Kaye on bass, and Clark Seibold on drums.
The show begins at 7:30 p.m.
A native of Italy who moved to the U.S. in the 1980s, Peppino D’Agostino is a versatile instrumental acoustic guitarist who has all manner of influences in his compositions — a true Renaissance man, and not just because of his Italian roots. He comes to The Parlor Room on Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m.
Jose Gonzalez & Banda Criolla will be at the Marigold Theater in Easthampton on Dec. 2 at 8:30 p.m for a parranda boricua — a Puerto Rican holiday party. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Ace guitarist and veteran songwriter John Sheldon will be the featured performer at the Pioneer Valley Folklore Society’s Song & Story Swap on Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. at First Church in Amherst.
Local country-influenced rockers She Said will play Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield on Dec. 2 at 8 p.m., and they’ll be followed by veteran roots rockers Donna the Buffalo on Dec. 9, also at 8 p.m.
Veteran folksinger Tom Rush will be at the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity in Florence Dec. 3 at 7 p.m., accompanied by pianist Matt Nakoa.
More jazz: The Bad Plus, who released a new album in late September, come to The Drake in Amherst on Dec. 6 at 8 p.m., and The Hot Sardines, an acclaimed ensemble from New York, will be at Bowker Auditorium at UMass Amherst on Dec. 7 at 7:30 p.m. to play swing versions of holiday songs.
The third installment of Signature Sounds’ Back Porch Songwriter Series takes place on Dec. 12 at 8 p.m at The Drake when artists including Tracy Grammer, Kris Delmhorst, and Winterpills, backed by the Deep River Ramblers, play the music of Nanci Griffith.