New indie music series debuts
Blueberry, aka, Gwen Snyder, will perform on Thursday, March 25, at Club Helsinki
by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., March 18, 2004) – A couple of local music institutions are joining forces to provide a new showcase for independent musicians struggling to get a hearing in the commercial marketplace.
Beginning next Thursday at 8, the new series, “Off the Beat-n-Track Presents...at Club Helsinki” will make its official debut at the downtown nightclub. The brainchild of Todd Mack, proprietor of Off the Beat-n-Track, a recording studio in Southfield and home to the bi-monthly “Off the Beat-n-Track Presents...” house concert series, the showcase will take place on the last Thursday of every month and will feature bands programmed by Mack, who has over 20 years experience in the music business. All shows will be $10 or less and will be recorded for a possible future project.
“The series is more or less just another way to help out fellow indie musicians,” said Mack, who is also a musician and radio host, in a recent interview. “I will only be booking acts who have not yet played the club but whom I think deserve the chance to do so. I aim to be as eclectic as possible in my bookings while upholding the level of quality that folks have come to expect from a Club Helsinki show. It is my hope that these shows will bring about a greater awareness of how much great undiscovered music there is out there and challenge listeners to think outside the box a bit.”
Mack said the idea for the series has been kicking around his brain for some time. “Through the touring I did as a musician in the Nineties, the radio show, playing in bands since I was a kid, etcetera, I’ve met a crazy number of bands and musicians along the way. Helsinki seemed like the natural extension of our house concert series here at the studio, which is limited by its space and which we reserve for artists who are recording with us, as sort of our way of saying thanks to them for giving us their business.”
Mack’s “Off the Beat-n-Track Radio Show” is a two-hour, indie-music program that airs every Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. on WKZE (98.1 FM) in Sharon, Conn. The first hour of the show, which is produced in Mack’s studio, features artists in the WKZE listening area, which includes northwest Connecticut, the southern Berkshires and the mid-Hudson Valley. The second hour showcases music by independent artists from across the country.
“Independent is defined as any artist not signed to a major label, and the focus of the show is primarily on artists self-releasing their own CDs or those signed to small, independent labels,” said Mack.
“With Helsinki I wanted no parameters other than the fact that the series is only open to bands that have not yet played the club. For the first few months, the acts are primarily musicians that I’ve gotten turned onto as a result of the radio show. Most of these bands are regional – from New York, Boston, the Hudson Valley. As much as possible I am using local openers.”
Opening the series next Thursday at 8 are Lys Guillorn and the Sawtelles from Connecticut and Blueberry from Catskill, N.Y. As heard on her terrific eponymous solo CD, Guillorn is a singer-songwriter who crosses Lucinda Williams-style alt-country with Velvet Underground and Doors-influenced guitar-rock, courtesy of a trio of post-V.U. legends including Luna’s Dean Wareham, the Voidoids’ Robert Quine, and the Feelies’ Glenn Mercer. Fans of Patti Smith, Cowboy Junkies and Yo La Tengo will undoubtedly be pleased.
Blueberry is the nom-de-bande of Gwen Snyder, whose music is something of a throwback to Seventies soul with some Carole King, Laura Nyro, psychedelia and contemporary electronica mixed in. The sweet-voiced Snyder plays a vintage Fender Rhodes keyboard, and is a veteran of New York’s downtown performance art scene. When she’s not fronting Blueberry, she plays bass with art-pop band Johnny Society.
Upcoming performers in the series include Pete Pidgeon & Arcoda with the Two Dolla Crack Horns on April 29, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals and Eilen [ cq ] Jewell on May 27, Latin band Sonando on June 24, and Matt Turk on July 29.
Northern Berkshire-based pop-rock quintet Plum Crazy is on the verge of releasing its first full-length CD, “Remember That Time.” A hook-filled delight, the album ranges from catchy, Avril Lavigne-like girl pop of “Ill Clad” and “Pawn” to Alanis Morissette-style pop-rock like “Thorn” to more metal-oriented songs like “Landing Strip” and “Lucky.” The CD features nine originals and a funky, live version of “California Dreamin’,” more Jimi Hendrix than Mamas and the Papas.
The songs on “Remember That Time” are all tied together by the powerful, suggestive vocals of Krissi Long and the dual guitars of Jamie Choquette and Greg Caproni. Filling out the band are Matt Jenkins on bass and Davey Luczynski on drums. The music has one foot in classic rock and the other in contemporary hit radio, giving it a multi-generational appeal.
A band of educators – Jenkins teaches instrumental music in Pittsfield public schools, Caproni teaches in the Adams public schools, and Choquette is director of lifelong learning at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts -- Plum Crazy offers a sneak preview of its new songs tonight on Friday night at 7:30 at Herberg Middle School in Pittsfield in a concert to benefit the school district’s fine and performing arts program. Caproni is also lead singer of Binaural, also on the bill at tonight’s concert.
Plum Crazy also plays Key West in North Adams on April 9 and the Red Herring in Williamstown on April 10.
[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on March 19, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]
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