Winter pop forecast for Berkshires: Busy
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., January 3, 2003) – Typically the dead of winter is couch potato time for Berkshire pop fans. Not this winter. There’s no lull in sight on the region’s live music scene. In fact, all the year-round venues and presenters are up and running this month and next, and some are even in full overdrive.

Bob Franke kicks off the winter season at Common Grounds Coffee House (499-0866), based at the First United Methodist Church on Fenn Street in Pittsfield, tomorrow night at 8. For over 30 years, Franke has been a fixture on the New England folk scene. Among those who have performed or recorded Franke’s songs are Peter, Paul and Mary, David Wilcox, John McCutcheon, Sally Rogers, Martin Simpson, Garnet Rogers, Tom Paxton and June Tabor. He has appeared on public radio’s “Prairie Home Companion,” “Mountain Stage” and “Sound and Spirit” programs and has nine albums to his credit. In addition to performing and recording, Franke leads songwriting and guitar workshops. Next up at Common Grounds is Pioneer Valley-based singer-songwriter Cliff Eberhardt on February 1, and the duo of Atwater-Donnelly on March 1.

The Railway Café (664-6393) is the county’s other church coffeehouse. Located at St. John’s Episcopal Church in North Adams, the Railway is opening its microphone and stage to local acoustic acts tomorrow night before returning to its schedule of singer-songwriters, including Christopher Williams on February 1, Louise Taylor on March 1, Vance Gilbert on April 5 and Cosy Sheridan on May 3.

New York City-based jazz-funk group Ulu is at La Choza (448-6100) in Pittsfield tonight at 9:30. The quartet, which includes keyboards and saxophone, has three albums to its credit and is popular on the jam-band circuit, having shared stages with Moe., Soulive, John Scofield, Mickey Hart and Greyboy All-Stars. Upcoming at La Choza is jam-band Psychedelic Breakfast tomorrow night, the Eric Underwood Band on January 19, and electro-funk band Moonraker on February 1.

The winter will be busy at Mass MoCA (662-2111) in North Adams, especially in its newly renovated performance space, Club B-10, which will play host to films, concerts and live performances. The “Cinema Lounge” series of music documentaries kicks off next Thursday with Academy Award-nominated documentary “Small Wonders,” highlighting the efforts of Roberta Guaspari-Tzavars, a violin teacher who responded to cuts in arts funding – including the elimination of her own position in the New York City school system – by founding an organization dedicated to exposing inner city schoolchildren to classical music. If her story sounds familiar, it’s because it inspired “Music of the Heart,” the feature film starring Meryl Streep.

Upcoming films at MoCA include the legendary, Martin Scorsese-directed concert film, “The Last Waltz,” capturing The Band’s farewell, star-studded performance in 1976 featuring Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Muddy Waters, among others, on January 23; “Strange Fruit” and “The Internationale,” which look at two songs that have become cultural icons, on February 6; “Scratch,” about turntablists, on February 20; and “This Is Spinal Tap,” for which the term “mockumentary” had to be invented, on March 6.

Among the musical performances in the “Alt Cabaret” series at Club B-10 are Living Colour frontman Corey Glover’s Valentine’s Day-themed program on February 15, and the androgynous, avant-pop of Antony and the Johnsons on March 8.

Among many other multi-disciplinary performances in the Hunter Center at Mass MoCA are “The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island or The Friends of Dr. Rushower,” the second staging of an opera based on the work of MacArthur Award-winning cartoonist Ben Katchor at MoCA, this one a collaboration with Miracle Legion’s Mark Mulcahy, on January 17 and 18. Phillip Johnston, a pioneer in composing and performing new scores to old silent films, conducts his four-member Faust Ensemble in a screening of F.W. Murnau’s 1926 classic, “Faust,” on February 7. DJ Spooky presents an updated version of his “Rebirth of a Nation” multimedia piece based on D.W. Griffith’s landmark 1915 film, “Birth of a Nation,” on February 28, and performance poet Sekou Sundiata presents his new one-man show, “Blessing the Boats,” on March 1.

After a brief hiatus, the Clark Art Institute (458-2303, x. 324) in Williamstown is back in the concert business this winter with a four-part series, “Out of Africa: Music from Algeria, Guinea, Mali and Senegal” – a companion to the exhibition, “Renoir and Algeria,” opening on February 16. The African music series kicks off with Senegalese hip-hop/fusion quintet Gokh-bi System on January 25, and continues with Malian musician Mamadou Diabate on February 22, Guinean singer/guitarist Alpha YaYa Diallo on March 8, and French-Algerian guitarist Pierre Bensusan on March 22.

The Berkshire Museum (443-7171) in Pittsfield continues its “Originals in Song” series of nationally preeminent singer-songwriters with an impressive, back-to-back stand by Patty Larkin on January 17 and Greg Brown the next night. DaVinci’s Notebook performs on February 15 and bluesman Geoff Muldaur on March 7. The museum will also present concerts by musicians in residence at the Traditional Acoustic Music Workshop at Shaker Meadows in nearby New Lebanon, N.Y., including guitarists Bob Brozman on January 24 and Peter Mulvey on February 28.

There’s hardly time to take a breath between shows at Club Helsinki (528-3394) in Great Barrington. This weekend alone, the schedule includes shows by funk outfit the Jonah Smith Band tonight, guitarist Johnny A tomorrow night, and rock group 4 Way Street plus local rocker Sky Smeed on Sunday. Upcoming highlights include shows by jazz singer Mose Allison on January 11, teen prodigy jazz singer Sonya Kitchell, accompanied by her prodigious teen-age musicians, on January 12, Luther Wright and the Wrongs doing their bluegrass version of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” on January 16, avant-cabaret singer Phoebe Legere on January 26 and Gloria Deluxe on January 31.

Also coming are avant-jazz clarinetist Don Byron on February 9, Canadian folk-rocker Fred Eaglesmith on February 12, soul-gospel artists the Holmes Brothers on February 15, blues singer John Hammond on February 21, folk-jazz fusion ensemble Tin Hat Trio on February 22, avant-party band Sex Mob on March 1, singer-songwriter Steve Forbert on March 8, and blues singer Kelly Joe Phelps on March 15.

Other shows of note in the Berkshires and beyond include the CD release party celebrating “Electric Juke Joint,” the new recording by Misty Blues, at Joga in North Adams on January 10, Ferron and Deb Pasternak at Memorial Hall in Shelburne Falls on January 11, and the Flying Garbanzos, playing a mix of Celtic and contradance music, at CC’s Café at MCLA in North Adams on January 18.

Also, sister duo Kate and Anna McGarrigle is at the WAMC Performing Arts Studio in Albany, and Gypsy/Eastern European folk ensemble Les Yeux Noirs is at the Troy (N.Y.) Savings Bank Music Hall, both on January 18. Guitarist Michael Musillami leads his jazz quartet, featuring pianist Ted Rosenthal, at the Castle Street Café in Great Barrington on January 25, Jon Pousette-Dart is at the Lion’s Den in Stockbridge on January 26, Aimee Mann is at the Egg in Albany on February 8, Steve Earle is at Pearl Street in Northampton on February 16, and Ellis Marsalis and Sons – including Wynton and Branford – are at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady, N.Y., on February 27. Ani DiFranco follows at Proctor’s, in a solo show on March 15.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on January 3, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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