It’s time to say goodbye to 2021, a year of roller coasters if there ever was one! And as we move towards 2022, all I can say is tighten your seat belts, because this journey shows no signs of slowing down. Just when it seemed like life was getting back to normal, the omicron variant has arrived and now cases of COVID-19 are increasing rapidly. I’m sad to say this is already having an impact on our music scene.
Last week we talked about the New Years Eve shows and sadly concerns about the spike in COVID-19 cases combined with the goal of keeping everyone as safe as possible led to the cancellation. or postponing most concerts on a larger scale. The Rubblebucket shows scheduled for December 30 and 31 at the Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield are postponed to February 24 and 25. According to the venue’s Facebook page, they will email all ticket holders with more details.
Bella’s Bartok also had two shows scheduled for December 30 and 31 at Stone Church in Brattleboro. These shows will not be happening, but the band is hosting a live broadcast for New Years Eve. Details on this event are not available at the time of this writing, so check the Facebook page for updates. of the group.
The return of First Night Northampton was cause for celebration, but last Thursday the Northampton Health Department, with the support of Mayor David Narkewicz, announced it was canceling all in-person events inside for First Night Northampton on New Years Eve. Instead, First Night will now be a live broadcast from noon to midnight and the performances can be watched on Firstnightnorthampton.org.
Ten Forward on Fiske Avenue in Greenfield canceled their New Years party, even before we went to press last week. Alternative folk-rock group Deer Tick also called off their New Years’ Show at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke out of “being cautious.”
We actually have a new show that has been added to the New Years schedule that might appeal to those of you who prefer to stay on New Years Eve, but still would like to go out and enjoy the live music during the holidays. holidays. The group Ragged Blue will perform at the Four Star Farms in Northfield on New Years Eve, Thursday, December 30 from 5 to 7 p.m. as well as cover some popular songs.
Despite these recent setbacks, 2021 has been the year of the return of live music and what a welcome comeback it has been. People desperately needed the connection and energy that one experienced during a performance and the musicians were more than ready to come out and perform for a real audience. It all started in the summer, when people felt comfortable listening to music in the open air, whether it was the weekly Coop concerts at Energy Park or some of the shows that the Shea Theater put on at Peskeomskut Park in Turners Falls. It turned out that there were plenty of shows to choose from during the warmer months.
The festivals were a bit trickier due to the size of the crowd that attended. The Charlemont Reggae Festival, StrangeCreek Campout, and the Wormtown Music Festival, both of which take place in Greenfield, all remained closed in 2021. On the other hand, Barbes in Woods in Montague and Green River Festival here in Greenfield all closed. went off without a hitch, as did WRSI’s 40th Anniversary Party with Rubblebucket at Unity Park in Turners Falls.
The return of the Green River Festival was big news as the festival’s absence in 2020 was one of the biggest voids music fans have experienced this summer. But it wasn’t just the festival’s return at the end of August that made it such a special event; this is the year the Green River Festival found a new home at the Franklin County Fairgrounds. When the festival’s long-standing location, Greenfield Community College, was not available this year, Signature Sounds were forced to move the festival to the exhibition grounds. The more spacious exhibition center has turned out to be an ideal venue for the event and when the festival returns in 2022 (June 24-26) it will be at the exhibition center.
Overall, the festival was a huge success with an audience obviously delighted to see the event again. This will be the year people will always remember seeing Jon Batiste perform at the festival. Batiste, who comes from a long line of accomplished New Orleans-based musicians, had a fantastic year in 2021. His album “We Are” was a huge hit and now Batiste is up for 11 Grammy Awards.
When fall came, it was time for the music to move indoors. This has resulted in the establishment of COVID-19 guidelines with most sites requiring proof of vaccination and with some places also accepting proof of a negative test in the past 72 hours. Establishments like the Shea Theater in Turners Falls and Ten Forward and the Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield have opened.
When Signature Sounds decided it wasn’t quite ready to reopen the Parlor Room in Northampton, it was decided to move all of the shows it had booked for this small venue to Hawks & Reed. It was a big boost for the Greenfield venue and also a treat for the local music fans who enjoyed everyone from Robbie Fulks to Mary Gauthier performing here in Greenfield.
There was an abundance of good local music released this year. Some musicians took advantage of the experience of confinement to write, record and reflect on the strangeness of the situation. Other successful versions that were originally due out in 2020, and released them this year when they could do shows in support of their new work. Either way, the result has been an abundance of good new music this year.
One of my favorites was “Reason to Live” by Lou Barlow. On this album, the Greenfield resident offers us 17 stripped-down tracks that are classic lo-fi Barlow. Dinosaur jr. based in Amherst. also bowed with “Sweep it Into Space”, a collection of some of their most melodic and catchy tracks of their careers, including two great contributions from bassist Barlow.
On her 11th studio album, Erin McKeown gave us a rock breaking album, titled “Kiss Off Kiss,” which is full of great tracks that celebrate rather than mourn the end of a relationship.
Shelburne Falls native Seth Glier was blown away by “The Coronation,” an album that explores a wide range of topics, including his hope that we build a better future after the pandemic.
Mark Schwaber of Greenfield released the beautiful and thoughtful “Everything Around Me,” a meditation on loss as he faces the death of his mother on several of these songs.
Philip Price, the frontman of Winterpills, gave us “Oceans Hiding in Oceans,” an album he recorded at home during the pandemic that explored his feelings about the situation. It’s a pop gem that offers a wider sound than we’ve heard from the Northampton-based musician in the past, which includes plenty of pianos and synths.
The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow picked up classic tunes on their cover album, “Recovered”, while Mamma’s Marmalade continued to advance the bluegrass sound on “Rabbit Analog”.
Some have chosen to skip all the albums and focus on releasing singles. Folk-rock group Love Crumbs led by Michael Dubuque of Greenfield released the song “Ellipses” and has garnered over 100,000 plays on Spotify. Alison McTavish’s vocally enhanced song proved that Love Crumbs is a new band to watch out for.
We had a few losses in the music business last year, most notably Montague fiddler David Kaynor who lost his battle with ALS. Kaynor, who was a teacher, musician and songwriter, achieved many accomplishments throughout his career, but he is perhaps best known for starting the Greenfield counter dance scene in the early 1980s. Involvement as a caller and musician in these dances at the Guiding Star Grange has helped to make them known and loved by dancers across the country.
Last week we lost another musician linked to our area, drummer Billy Conway, to cancer. Conway was the drummer for the revolutionary Boston-based band, Morphine, and prior to that, he was a member of Treat Her Right, a group that also included Morphine’s Mark Sandman. But for the past 10 years, he’s been the drummer for Shelburne Falls singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault. The two have recorded and performed countless shows together.
“Billy Conway was one of the best American drummers produced in the second half of the twentieth century,” Foucault told Rolling Stone magazine. “With his supernatural empathy and sensitivity, his dedication to simplicity and restraint, and his impossible spiritual power, he played the song, never the instrument, and when he played he was unmistakable. He embodied fierce love.
These two musicians are a huge loss to music fans around the world.
So what’s next for 2022? I think I would need a crystal ball to answer this question. I expect a calmer winter than usual, but hopefully by the spring the live music will prepare for an even bigger comeback this year. A few festivals have already been announced and have put tickets on sale.
Signature Sounds Presents will once again host the Back Porch Festival, which takes place March 3-6. This festival will feature a weekend of performances at various venues, including Rickie Lee Jones at the Academy of Music in Northampton.
Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival is scheduled to return to Mass MoCA in North Adams on Memorial Day weekend and Fresh Grass, also at Mass MoCA, will return September 23-25. The Shea Theater in Turners Falls will host Della Mae on February 11 and Amy Helm on April 1.
And that only scratches the surface. There will be a lot of shows and new music in 2022, so here is a safe and healthy new year filled with an abundance of great music!
Sheryl Hunter is a music writer originally from Greenfield and currently residing in Easthampton. She can be contacted at [email protected]