Folk music in Pittsfield
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., March 7, 2002) – It could either be a sign that it really is happening in Pittsfield, or that the city just can’t get a break. Either way, tomorrow night folk fans in central Berkshire have the unusual – and perhaps unfortunate – dilemma of choosing between seeing Lucy Kaplansky, one of the hottest female singer-songwriters on today’s scene, at the Berkshire Museum at 8, or attending the third annual Pittsfield FolkFest at Berkshire Community College, featuring the venerable male singer-songwriters John Hall and Bill Staines, as well as Berkshire native Bobby Sweet, beginning at 7.

Hall is best known as the chief voice and songwriter of the band Orleans, whose popular hits included “Dance With Me” and “Still the One.” The Saugerties, N.Y.-based singer-songwriter released a solo album, “Love Doesn’t Ask,” a few years ago. But his career since Orleans’s heyday has also included stints as president of the local school board, county legislator, teacher, local environmental activist, and part-time ski instructor.

“Being a rock ‘n’ roll star is not really what I want to do, or what I’ve been striving for,” said Hall in a phone interview. “I’ve been striving to have a life that includes a lot of the things that everybody wants in their lives: a family, time to spend with them, work that’s challenging and fulfilling and hopefully makes you a good living, and the opportunity to contribute to the community.

“Playing music is my love, and also my job, but I don’t do it so I can wind up a glorified cartoon character. The reason I do it is I want to have the opportunity to continue expressing myself.”

Bill Staines has recorded about two dozen albums, including the recent “October’s Hill,” which featured several original songs and versions of songs by Joe South, Guy Clark and Rod McKuen. A staple on the New England folk scene since the heyday of Club 47 in Cambridge, Staines is also a champion yodeler.

Last year Bobby Sweet released his second album, “Already Home.” Already at work on his third album, Sweet has had his songs used on TV shows including “Touched By an Angel,” “Walker Texas Ranger” and “Judging Amy,” and the Danny DeVito/Bette Midler film, “Drowning Mona.” A native of Becket, Sweet has lived in the wild Andes of Patagonia in Argentina, which he has written about in several songs.

The Pittsfield FolkFest takes place in the Boland Theatre in the Koussevitzky Arts Center on BCC’s Pittsfield campus. Doors open at 6:15; all seats are reserved. Call 413-499-4660 x. 291 for more info.

If you go to Catie Curtis’s website you are greeted on the home page with a video of the erstwhile folksinger bouncing back and forth and strumming her electric guitar. Not that Curtis has given up folk music. Just that on her latest album, My Shirt Looks Good on You (Ryko), the Boston-based singer-songwriter avails herself of a more band-based sound featuring musicians including guitarist Duke Levine, mandolinist Jimmy Ryan, Ani DiFranco keyboardist Julie Wolf, and saxophonist Dana Colley and drummer Billy Conway, ex- of Morphine.

Curtis still plays a mostly melodic brand of folk-pop, but a few tunes, including the title track, owe as much to the Rolling Stones as to Suzanne Vega. Curtis’s new batch of songs include looks at adoption, lesbianism, death and love. Curtis plays two shows at the Iron Horse in Northampton on March 13 at 7 and 10. The Laura Love Band is also on the bill.

Early American gospel music meets the sound of 18th-century English parish church harmonies, old pop songs and Scots-Irish ballads in the Sacred Harp singing tradition, codified in “Sacred Harp,” a songbook first published in 1844. Hundreds of singers will gather this weekend at the Northampton Center for the Arts to carry on the tradition of Sacred Harp singing, which uses shape-note notation and which has a deep, rich history in the Pioneer Valley. For more information call 413-772-0287 or visit

Radio Beat

Another in our series of periodic tallies of the most-played recordings -- most new, some old – on our imaginary radio station:

1. Nelly Furtado, Whoa, Nelly! (Dreamworks)
2. Lucy Kaplansky, Every Single Day (Red House)
3. David Byrne, Look Into the Eyeball (Virgin)
4. Amy Fairchild, Mr. Heart (So Fair)
5. Melodrome, The Sidewalk Ends
6. Nerissa and Katryna Nields, Love and China (Zoe)
7. Randy Newman, Bad Love (Dreamworks)
8. Bob Dylan, Love and Theft (Columbia)
9. Wayfaring Strangers, Shifting Sands of Time (Rounder)
10. Dave Douglas, Witness (Bluebird)


Bob Neuwirth

Havana Midnight (Appleseed)

Cross-cultural “instigator” and Bob Dylan sidekick Bob Neuwirth teams with Cuban composer/arranger Jose Maria Vitier to give his latest collection of songs a Cuban feel halfway between jazz and folk. Neuwirth’s breathy, spoken-sung vocals blend well with Vitier’s lush piano and the Latin rhythms arranged by Vitier and performed by an ensemble of Cuban musicians. If the result is a modest, quiet cross between Dylan’s “Romance in Durango” and the Buena Vista Social Club, that can’t be all bad.

John Train

Looks Like Up (Record Cellar)

Hints of The Band’s easygoing blend of American roots music, folk and r&b surface on the best songs on “Looks Like Up,” John Train’s sophomore effort. The horn-laced “Misery Loves Company” and the bent rockabilly of “Cracked and Crumbled” distinguish this Philadelphia-based quintet. Lead singer/songwriter Jon Houlon has a relaxed vocal quality somewhere in between Jerry Garcia and Bill Morrissey, and the group’s string-heavy approach, including dobro, mandolin, fiddle, bouzouki, acoustic bass and steel guitar lend a real organic feel to the effort, somewhere between bluegrass and psychedelic alt-country.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on March 8, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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