Summer forecast brightens

Janis Ian

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., May 6, 2004) – The announcement earlier this week of a new summer concert series at Pittsfield’s Bousquet Ski Area somewhat brightened the forecast for Berkshire pop fans this summer. The promoters’ long-term goals – to present over a dozen shows two summers from now – are ambitious, and if successful, would certainly fill a need that has gone wanting at least since the heyday of Lenox’s Berkshire Performing Arts Center in the late-1980s and early-‘90s, before the National Music Foundation got its paws on the place and essentially shut down the summer-long concert series that had been produced there for half a decade.

BPAC was always limited, however, by its maximum capacity of 1,200. If, as the Berkshire Music Glen promoters claim, they can comfortably host over 5,000 concertgoers at Bousquet, then fans might eventually look forward to seeing the sort of performers who used to play Tanglewood when that venue offered an annual Popular Artists Series, and perhaps even some of the acts currently playing summer sheds like the Tweeter Center (formerly Great Woods) in Mansfield or SPAC in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. – performers like Sting, Carole King, No Doubt, Avril Lavigne, Josh Groban, Norah Jones and John Mayer.

One might have wished for a little more adventurous programming, especially given how the Music Glen founders credit the inspiration of the late, lamented Music Inn for their effort. From the day the Barbers opened it in 1950 to the day Dave Rothstein closed it down in 1979, the Lenox haven was anything but mainstream, offering cutting-edge bebop and free jazz by the late 1950s, Sixties folk radicals like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan in the 1960s, and the alternative rockers of their day, including Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Marley, in the 1970s.

It’s understandable that the Music Glen might want to play things safe and down the middle of the road for the first season with a nostalgia-laden lineup of performers including the Doobie Brothers, KC and the Sunshine Band and the Neville Brothers. Here’s also hoping that the series doesn’t fall victim to the sort of prejudice against pop and rock concerts that have marred past efforts to bring such events to Berkshire audiences. Rock ‘n’ roll is celebrating a 50th birthday of sorts this year; it’s been half a century since the release of Elvis Presley’s first single, “That’s All Right, Mama.” Although you wouldn’t know it given the knee-jerk opposition rock festivals often encounter in these parts, rock long ago ceased being synonymous with juvenile delinquency. A gathering of several thousand people to listen to a rock concert shouldn’t be prejudged any more than a similar gathering for a symphony at Tanglewood. The logistics for each are the same, and the Music Glen promoters appear to have the experience and professionalism needed to make for a smoothly-managed event.

Janis Ian

Janis Ian has called Nashville home for over a decade, and it shows on her latest album, “Billie’s Bones” (Oh Boy), in the dobro and pedal steel, in the crisp instrumentals, in the solid songcraft, and in songs like “My Tennessee Hills.” But Ian hasn’t left behind her own jazzy sensibility – her songs are still laden with sophisticated chord changes and deft guitar playing – and her worldly outlook – the album’s songs include “Paris In Your Eyes,” “Marching on Glasgow” and “Amsterdam.” Ian bookends our region with performances at the Egg in Albany on Saturday and the Iron Horse in Northampton on Wednesday.

Jazz in Pittsfield

Saturday night at 7:30 the BCC Jazz Ensemble hosts its annual spring concert at the Koussevitzky Arts Center at Berkshire Community College’s Pittsfield campus. The group, led by Allen Livermore, will perform music by Duke Ellington. Also appearing in the free concert is Livermore’s quartet, featuring the bandleader on saxophone, Ed Mann on vibraphone, Pete Toigo on double bass and the phenomenal Randy Kaye on drums.

Celebration of Celts

It’s St. Patrick’s Day all over again tomorrow at the Columbia County Fairgrounds in Chatham, N.Y., where Celebration of Celts, an all-day festival of music, dance and history featuring traditional and contemporary performers including Enter the Haggis, Black 47, Mary Fahl, Kelli Trottier, Tornaod and many others. The festival, which bills itself as “the largest Pan-Celtic event on the east coast,” will also include 10 pipe bands, step-dancing and athletic events.

Magnetic Fields

Art-pop group Magnetic Fields recently released “i” (Nonesuch), its first album since 1999’s acclaimed “69 Love Songs.” A stripped-down affair devoid of electronics, the aptly-titled album finds the band’s lead singer and songwriter, Stephin Merritt, at his most intimate and acerbic. Every song begins with the letter “i,” and the arrangements have the feel of a chamber quartet; the band consists of four musicians, including Merritt on ukulele, Sam Vavol on cello, Claudia Gonson on piano and drums, and John Woo on guitar and banjo. Magnetic Fields is at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton on Friday night.

Enigmatic jazz

The aptly-named, avant-garde jazz trio Enigma Machine, featuring guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil, pianist Katsu Itakura and percussionist Stephen Flinn, will be joined by Albany percussionist Michael Lopez on Saturday at 8 at Time & Space Limited in Hudson, N.Y.

[Celebration of Celts, 518-851-9670,; The Egg, 518-473-1845; Time and Space, 518-822-8448; Iron Horse/Calvin Theatre, 413-586-8686.]

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on May 7, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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