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The Beat Goes On: Amherst’s new music address takes center stage

  • Ethiopian-Israeli singer Gili Yalo and the Anbessa Orchestra play jazz, Afro-funk and more at the Drake in Amherst tonight (April 29) at 8 p.m. Image from Gili Yalo website

  • Loudon Wainwright III, the dean of American singer-songwriters, plays Amherst’s new club, The Drake, April 30. Loudon Wainwright website

  • David Kidwell, who’s led the Holyoke Civic Symphony for 25 years, will play Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with the group May 1 at Holyoke Communtity College. Image courtesy Holyoke Civic Symphony

  • Young jazz singer and actor Taylor Rose Mickens will join several other performers for a Mother’s Day concert at the Academy of Music to benefit The Performance Project of Springfield. Taylor Rose Mickens website

  • The award-winning stringband Mile Twelve plays The Parlor Room April 30. Photo by Dave Green

  • Rootsy singer-songwriter Valerie June come to the Academy of Music May 3 Photo by Coen Rees

  • Singer, songwriter, and pianist Ben Folds comes to the Calvin Theatre May 3 for a solo performance. Image from IHEG website

  • The all-female rockers Gynomite play a benefit show — for surgery on a dog — at the Millers Falls Rod & Gun Club in Turners Falls May 7. Image courtesy Kristen Andrews

  • Jazz bassist and composer Avery Sharpe joins several performers for a Mother’s Day concert at the Academy of Music to support The Performance Project of Springfield. Gazette file photo

  • Carlos McBride carries tables into The Drake as they set up for opening night. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • John Kuhn, the vice president of the Downtown Amherst Foundation and the architect for the design of The Drake, sets up chairs at the performance venue for opening night Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS



Staff Writer
Thursday, April 28, 2022

Despite the pandemic throwing a wrench into live music over the last two years, some new performance venues have opened in the Valley during that span, including the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity in Florence, the newer Marigold Theater in Easthampton, and now the Drake in Amherst.

Located right downtown in a former restaurant space, the Drake is named after a hotel and bar that stood nearby in the 1960s and ’70s. Given Amherst’s artsy, educational vibe, having a live performance venue downtown has long been a missing element; it’s been a longtime goal of Amherst officials, business leaders and many others to change that.

The Drake, which just opened a few days ago with shows by seminal rockers Dinosaur Jr. and jazz violinist Regina Carter, promises to present a mix of national, regional and local musical acts, including area college musicians. Poetry slams, open mics, and other events will also be on the agenda; up to 170 people can be seated, and capacity is 240 when the dance floor is opened up.

Cassandra Holden of Laudable Productions in Easthampton, which is handling booking for the bigger musical acts, says she’s excited about working in Amherst. Laudable opened the Bombyx Center last fall and also books events in other area venues, and Holden says all of this is part of what she calls cultivating “a regional [musical] identity.”

“I enjoy visiting different communities and creating projects that showcase the unique features of each one,” she said in an email. “It’s great to have venues of different sizes and characters to work in. It allows us to introduce new artists and for them to develop a following here over time.

“It’s also incredibly rewarding to introduce artists to the area — they fall in love with our little corner of the world and come back to write, record, and create new work … and tell their friends!”

The Drake is hitting the ground running. Gili Yalo & the Anbessa Orchestra, which offers an eclectic mix of Afrobeat, jazz, psychedelia and West African Afro-funk — vocalist Yalo is an Ethiopian-Israeli who sings in English, Amharic, and Hebrew — plays tonight (April 29) at 8 p.m. On April 30, one of the best singer-songwriters in the business, Loudon Wainwright III, hits the stage at 8 p.m.

And for some local flavor, on May 3 at 7:30 p.m. the Northampton Jazz Workshop, led by the Green Street Trio, will host guest vocalist/pianist/songwriter Karrin Allyson, a five-time Grammy nominee who lives part time in Hadley (free show, donations encouraged).

Other early May shows include the “low-rock” sounds of Vapors of Morphine (May 6), a dance party led by DJ Nickodemus (May 7), and jazz and classical chamber music performances by Amherst College student ensembles (May 9).

 

The Holyoke Civic Symphony is marking a big milestone this year: It was 25 years ago that conductor David Kidwell joined the group, and the story goes that when he showed up to his first rehearsal, the timpanist thought he was a college student. Today he’s the longest-tenured conductor and music director in the group’s history.

Now the symphony, which performs May 1 at 3 p.m. in the Fine & Performing Arts building at Holyoke Community College, will recognize Kidwell’s legacy with a program showcasing his work as a composer and pianist.

“Silver Jubilee: Celebrating Maestro Kidwell” includes “Shenandoah: A Symphonic Portrait,” Kidwell’s musical salute to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the people of that region; elements of folk music are a key part of the composition. In addition, Kidwell will play piano on George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” one of the most distinctive pieces of American jazz/classical music.

The show also includes “Concert Overture No. 1” by Florence Price (1887-1953), the first African American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer.

Tickets are $10 for adults, and $5 for children under 12. Face masks and proof of COVID vaccination are required by the college, as is safe distance seating. You may also register to watch the concert via Zoom at shorturl.at/nyJNS.

 

The Performance Project in Springfield helps teens and young adults develop skills in theater, visual arts and more, with a focus on building leadership ability as well. The group’s “First Generation” program is designed in particular to give youths who might be, say, the first in their family to grow up in America, or the the first to speak English, a strong start in the arts.

On May 8, Mother’s Day, The Performance Project will stage a benefit concert at Northampton’s Academy of Music for its First Generation program as well as another project, Ubuntu Arts Community, for children ages 9-13; both programs work directly with BIPOC, immigrant, and refugee youths in Springfield and Holyoke.

The Academy concert, which begins at 2:30 p.m,. features a range of performers offering jazz, funk, blues and more. Jazz bassist and composer Avery Sharpe will play with saxophonist Charles Langford; both have gigged with a wide range of musical luminaries, from Archie Shepp and Wynton Marsalis to Mighty Sam McClain and Steve Turre.

Also on the bill are the Afro-funk fusion ensemble The Lost Tribe, young jazz singer and actor Taylor Rose Mickens (a Performance Project alumna), and poet Amina “Illypsis Speaks” Jordan-Mendez. In addition, current First Generation members will offer a few scenes from their work-in-progress.

More music on tap

Mile Twelve, a progressive string band from Boston, won the 2020 New Artist of the Year award from the International Bluegrass Music Association. They play The Parlor Room in Northampton on April 30 at 7 p.m.

The Apple Hill String Quartet, joined by guest pianist Judith Gordon, will play music by Amy Beach, Sato Matsui, and Franz Schubert at the Bombyx Center on May 1 at 3 p.m.

Rootsy singer-songwriter Valerie June, whose last two albums, “The Order of Time” and “The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers,” have won critical raves, plays the Academy of Music on May 3 at 7:30 p.m. Acoustic bluesman Buffalo Nichols opens the show.

When he led an indie rock band circa 1993-2000, Ben Folds did as much as any contemporary musician to make the piano a central part of pop music composition. Folds has since gone on to solo work and has played with symphony orchestras and other classical ensembles; he’ll play solo at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton on May 3 at 8 p.m.

Sean Carey, otherwise known as S. Carey, was a drummer and backing vocalist with the indie folk band Bon Iver and now does his own thing as a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. He’ll play Race Street Live in Holyoke on May 6 at 8 p.m. Singer-songwriter Courtney Hartman opens.

Here’s a benefit show anyone can support: The all-women rockers of Gynomite, who play at the Miller’s Falls Rod & Gun Club in Turners Falls on May 7 at 7 p.m., hope to raise funds for Steve, the “loveable Chocolate Labrador” of a band member. Steve, who’s just a year and a half old, needs some expensive surgery to fix his legs so he can be fully mobile.

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