The Beat Goes On: The Back Porch Festival is just three weeks away, and the Iron Horse announces its opening lineup

The Preservation Jazz Band, which started in New Orleans in the mid-20th century, is one of the featured acts at the Back Porch Festival.

The Preservation Jazz Band, which started in New Orleans in the mid-20th century, is one of the featured acts at the Back Porch Festival. Photo by Josh Goleman

A lineup of celebrated local and regional musicians will interpret the songs of country legend Willie Nelson at the Back Porch Festival on March 15.

A lineup of celebrated local and regional musicians will interpret the songs of country legend Willie Nelson at the Back Porch Festival on March 15. Courtesy of Back Porch Festival 

Veteran singer and songwriter and legendary guitarist Richard Thompson comes to the Back Porch Festival on March 17. 

Veteran singer and songwriter and legendary guitarist Richard Thompson comes to the Back Porch Festival on March 17.  Photo by David Kaptein

AJ Lee & Blue Summit, a fast-rising Americana band from California, comes to the Back Porch Festival in Northampton, March 15-17.

AJ Lee & Blue Summit, a fast-rising Americana band from California, comes to the Back Porch Festival in Northampton, March 15-17. Photo by Natia Cinco

Las Cafeteras, a band out of East Los Angeles that combines Afro-Mexican rhythms, electronic beats and powerful rhymes, comes to the Back Porch Festival, March 15-17.

Las Cafeteras, a band out of East Los Angeles that combines Afro-Mexican rhythms, electronic beats and powerful rhymes, comes to the Back Porch Festival, March 15-17. Photo by Farah Sosa

Ward Hayden and the Outliers, who channeled Hank Williams at last year’s Back Porch Festival, will interpret Bruce Springsteen this year.

Ward Hayden and the Outliers, who channeled Hank Williams at last year’s Back Porch Festival, will interpret Bruce Springsteen this year. Photo by Elizabeth Ellenwood 

Among a number of local artists playing this year’s Back Porch Festival are Americana specialists Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem.

Among a number of local artists playing this year’s Back Porch Festival are Americana specialists Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem. Photo by Joanna Chattman 

Rachael & Vilray, who combine on old blues and jazz standards from the 1930s and 1940s, are scheduled to play the opening concert at the Iron Horse Music Hall when it reopens in mid May.

Rachael & Vilray, who combine on old blues and jazz standards from the 1930s and 1940s, are scheduled to play the opening concert at the Iron Horse Music Hall when it reopens in mid May. Image from Rachael & Vilray website

Classical music is on tap Feb. 24 at Sweeney Concert Hall at Smith College with violinist Itamar Zorman and pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute.

Classical music is on tap Feb. 24 at Sweeney Concert Hall at Smith College with violinist Itamar Zorman and pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute. Image courtesy Valley Classical Concerts

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 03-03-2024 1:46 PM

If you’re like me, counting the days to spring, it’s a little over three weeks to the official first day, March 19.

Yet that’s just a date on the calendar, and the weather in mid-March can still spell winter. But one antidote to that is to hit the Back Porch Festival in Northampton March 15-17, the roots music showcase that’s been designed in part as a way to shake off the late-winter blues.

This year’s festival, produced by Signature Sounds in conjunction with the Northampton Arts Council, will bring 60 bands and artists for three full days of music to 10 downtown city venues, including the Academy of Music, The Parlor Room, the Hotel Northampton, and Progression Brewery.

Among the featured performers are the standout guitarist and songwriter Richard Thompson as well as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a storied group whose roots in the New Orleans jazz and blues scene go back to the mid-20th century.

“They’re kind of the standard bearers these days for New Orleans jazz,” said Jim Olsen, Signature Sounds president and the lead producer of the Back Porch Festival.

He notes that as some of the other artists who have traditionally represented New Orleans, such as the Neville Brothers, have passed on, the members of Preservation Hall Jazz Band “have picked up the torch.”

The Back Porch Festival began as a single-day event at the Academy of Music in 2014, taking its name from Olsen’s long-running weekend radio show on WRSI/93.9 The River. In succeeding years, more bands — anywhere from about three and six — and a few other venues were added, while the festival stretched to two and then three to four days.

Last year, though, the event was greatly expanded to its current format, and the city Arts Council was enlisted to help with planning.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

High-speed police chase in Hadley ends in crash, arrest on Hampton Inn lawn
Working group to examine future of money-losing Cherry Hill Golf Course in Amherst
Note from the publisher: Amherst Bulletin distribution change
Turners Falls man charged after crashing into Deerfield house
A trip down memory lane: A memory of visiting the Leverett Sawmill, in honor of the town 250th anniversary
Cost-saving push for Jones project keeps library entrance but scraps other interior preservation

As Olsen told the Gazette in late fall 2022 when the new blueprint was unveiled, “We want to make this more like a real festival, where you have multiple options each day for hearing different bands and artists.”

One of the most popular features has been a songwriter tribute concert, with local and regional musicians performing the songs of roots music legends such as Doc Watson, Dolly Parton and John Prine. This year’s salute will be to Willie Nelson, and, as at past shows, the performers will be supported by the crack local pickers of Deep River Ramblers (Chris Brashear, Jim Henry, Paul Kochanski and J.J. O’Connell).

“I’m kind of amazed [the Ramblers] keep coming back to play,” Olsen said with a laugh. “It’s so much work for them to learn all this new music for one show, but they love to do it.”

Among a number of bands he’s excited to see at the festival is AJ Lee & Blue Summit, an acclaimed Americana ensemble from California that’s fronted by lead vocalist Lee, who grew up alongside bluegrass star Molly Tuttle and played in her band as a teenager; Tuttle’s brother Sullivan is also a member of Blue Summit.

“They’re right on the cusp of being the next big thing,” said Olsen, who added that Lee’s vocals remind him of another bluegrass star, Alison Krauss.

Other notable performers that weekend will be the husband-wife duo of Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, folk/Americana stylists The Mammals, and Bridget Kearney, who first came on the music scene as the bassist with the soul/pop band Lake Street Dive.

If performers like Kearney and Richard Thompson don’t fit into a strict definition of American roots music, Olsen says the festival has been designed to offer “a fairly broad perspective” of those kinds of sounds.

Thompson, he notes, began his career as a member of Britain’s folk-rock Fairport Convention “and I feel like he’s a classic folk performer who can really rock, too.”

Festival passes, for attending all shows at the festival, are no longer available, but a Ramble Pass, good for all shows except three evening concerts at the Academy of Music, can still be purchased. Individual tickets are still available for the Academy shows, though the March 17 Richard Thompson performance has limited seating left.

Olsen had wondered if the 2024 Back Porch Festival might be able to stage shows at the revamped Iron Horse Music Hall. But though the venue’s new owners, The Parlor Room Collective, had initially hoped to reopen the storied club in February, they are committed to a May relaunch and recently unveiled the opening schedule.

The Center Street club, which The Parlor Room Collective purchased last fall from businessman and longtime owner Eric Suher, will host its first show May 15 with Rachael & Vilray and special guest Taylor Ashton, followed by a May 17 gig with Erin McKeown and SPOUSE.

Rachael & Vilray is made up of singer Rachael Price (of Lake Street Dive) and guitarist Vilray, who interpret jazz, pop, and Tin Pan Alley songs from the 1930s and 1940s, and Ashton is a singer-songwriter who’s also collaborated at times with Price.

McKeown, the Franklin County singer, songwriter, and guitarist, has covered a range of music — folk, pop, rock, jazz — during her career, and SPOUSE are solid local rockers who include J.J. O’Connell on drums.

Other bands and artists with local roots and connections — Stephen Kellogg, Mtali Banda and Kimaya Diggs, Winterpills — are also slated to play in May and early June, while Celtic superstars Gaelic Storm are scheduled to perfom June 11.

For members of The Parlor Room Collective only, tickets for all shows go on sale March 5, while tickets for the public become available for sale March 12.

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