The Beat Goes On: Poetry and folk in Northampton, rock, blues and punk in Amherst, and more

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 02-02-2023 3:52 PM

Signature Sounds is gearing up for a considerably expanded Back Porch Festival this year, with the annual roots music fest, which takes place March 3 through 5, now featuring over 50 bands and artists performing in eight different downtown Northampton venues.

Perhaps as a run-up to the event, Signature’s home base, The Parlor Room, maintained a pretty busy schedule on its own through the last part of January — and that pace continues in February, with 16 concerts and other events, such as songwriting workshops, on tap this month.

Among the coming highlights is an unusual show Feb. 5 at 2:30 p.m. at which Valley multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Jim Armenti will read from a book of poetry he recently published; he’ll also perform some of his songs. He’ll be joined by photographer Dave Madeloni, who contributed many images to Armenti’s poetry collection. (You can read more about their collaboration in the Gazette’s Feb. 4 Book Bag column.)

And on Feb. 10 at 7:30 p.m., the Massachusetts indie-folk duo High Tea will release their third disc, The Wick And The Flame, their first album recorded in a studio (Ghost Hit Recording in West Springfield).

High Tea is made up of vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Isabella DeHerdt, an Ashfield native who made her first big musical mark in the Valley pop-rock trio Kalliope Jones, and percussionist/vocalist Isaac Eliot. The duo combine on what they call “soulful harmonies” and a mix of old blues and new rock.

DeHerdt and Eliot, who won praise for their last album from The Boston Globe (“deftly weaving plot lines, narrative, and dialogue into their music”), say they’ve drawn on some additional inspirations for their new record, from the harmonies of Crosby, Stills and Nash to the storytelling vibe of the Indigo Girls.

Opening the High Tea show is Chris Freeman, the frontman for the string band Parsonsfield.

Also on tap at The Parlor Room the next week-plus: veteran singer-songwriter Steve Forbert Feb. 9 and the indie/soul/folk band GoldenOak Feb. 15, a Maine group whose newest album, “Room to Grow,” examines the emotional and physical impacts of the climate crisis.

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Speaking of crisis, the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst will host a Feb. 10 concert featuring musicians who have weathered much in the past year: the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine, which began in 1902 and today is recognized as “one of Europe’s most storied orchestras,” according to UMass.

The concert, which takes place at 7:30 p.m. in the Frederick C. Tillis Performance Hall, features Andriy Tchaikovsky on solo violin and will be led by conductor Theodore Kuchar, an American conductor of Ukrainian descent who has worked with the orchestra for years (he’s also featured on over 100 albums with different groups).

Fittingly enough for a time when Ukraine has been under relentless attack for nearly a year by Russia’s military, part of the Feb. 10 program will feature a violin concerto by Thomas de Hartmann, a noted 20th century Ukrainian composer — he immigrated to the U.S. from France in 1950 — who wrote the concerto during World War II as a plea for peace.

Also on the evening’s program: Dvôrak’s Symphony no. 9 and Brahms’ Tragic Overture.

 

If you’re looking for something on a less somber note, consider going to the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity in Florence on Feb. 14 at 7 p.m. to hear Breabach, a spirited folk ensemble that’s won a number of awards in their native Scotland.

Led by the sweet and somewhat breathy vocals of main singer Megan Henderson, who’s also adept on fiddle, the quintet includes double bass, guitar, highland bagpipes, Uilleann pipes and bouzouki — and all five members contribute vocals.

They mix traditional songs with more contemporary, progressive sounds, and they’ve got an undeniable ability to get you moving. If reels like “Knees Up” and “The Oban Ball” don’t get your feet tapping, you’d better check to see if you still have a pulse.

Henderson also sings in Gaelic, and in fact Breabach’s most recent album is titled Fàs, which is Gaelic for “growing/developing/sprouting.” According to the band’s website, the disc was inspired by Scotland’s natural environment, protection of which influenced the album’s entire creation, from song composition to sourcing of materials for production.

Opening for Breabach is archguitarist and Valley favorite Peter Blanchette, who will also perform at The Divine Theater at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke Feb. 12 at 2 p.m.

More music on tap

The Drake in Amherst is poised to welcome some hard-hitting bands over the next week. The beat begins tonight (Friday, Feb. 3) at 8 p.m. with three acts on the bill: Landowner, a western Mass. band that plays “abrasively clean minimalist-punk”; Perennial, a New England dance-punk trio of guitar, organ and drums; and Ian St. George, a multi-instrumentalist from Florence

On Feb. 4 at 8 p.m., electric bluesman and Williamstown native Albert Cummings comes to the Drake, and over the Feb. 10 and 11 weekend, five different rock bands will hit the Amherst stage, including local heroes Spanish For Hitchhiking, on Feb. 10; the band released an excellent album, Wild Love, in 2021.

Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield will host a “birthday bash” Feb. 4 to celebrate the music of reggae legend Bob Marley, born Feb. 6, 1945. Artists including Toussaint, Lady Lee, D’Arryval, Igina, NyJah, and King Rhymzz will perform selected songs by Marley beginning at 7:30 p.m.

Luthiers Co-op in Easthampton will feature an interesting triple header on Feb. 4 from 7 to 11 p.m., beginning with Mind Left Body (Grateful Dead interpreters), The Moon Shells (eclectic stringband sounds), and Les Taiauts (Cajun).

Also in Easthampton on Feb. 4, the Marigold Theater presents a night of metal, doom, grunge and other heavy sounds from several bands, including Problems With Dragons, which impersonated Nirvana at last summer’s Performance 32 at Look Park in Northampton.

Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares will present a Feb. 8 show by Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, a trio led by percussionist Kahil El’Zabar and which includes Corey Wilkes on trumpet and Alex Harding on baritone saxophone. It takes place at The Parlor Room at 7:30 p.m.

Kittel & Co., a quintet led by violinist Jeremy Kittle that offers a hybrid sound somewhere between classical and acoustic roots, performs Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. at Whately Town Hall.

The Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble performs Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Abbey Chapel, Mount Holyoke College, in South Hadley; the program includes a mix of older and contemporary music, including a piece by Dr. Brandon Waddles, considered an expert on Black sacred music.

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