Fall pop preview
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., September 10, 2004) – The Mahaiwe Theatre in Great Barrington is finally going back on line this autumn, and a new “Legends of Music” concert series, featuring Woodstock-era performers Leon Russell and Jesse Winchester, makes its debut as part of the Mahaiwe’s inaugural season.

Joined by his band, Russell -- an all-star session musician who recorded with the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Phil Spector, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, and whose distinctive, bluesy vocals were highlights of George Harrison’s “Concert for Bangladesh” and the “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour featuring Joe Cocker -- will perform his own hits, including “Tight Rope” and “Lady Blue,” as well as hits he wrote for others, including George Benson’s “This Masquerade” and Joe Cocker’s “Delta Lady,” on October 9.

Reminiscent of the late-‘80s Burning Rose Concert Series at the Mahaiwe, the “Legends of Music” series, presented by Great Barrington-based Destination Productions, continues on November 6 with Jesse Winchester and blues singer-guitarist Rory Block. Winchester’s Southern-tinged songs attracted the attention of The Band’s Robbie Robertson and Todd Rundgren, both of whom worked with him in the early 1970s in Canada, where Winchester lived in exile to avoid the Vietnam-era draft. Winchester’s songs have been recorded by Joan Baez, Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris and Michael Martin Murphey. Block, who lives in nearby Columbia County, is a perennial favorite in the region for her blues revivalism as well as for her original songwriting. Doors for both shows open at 7; concerts begin at 8.

This November, Club Helsinki in Great Barrington celebrates its fifth anniversary. Leading up to that landmark, the club continues to feature an eclectic array of established and up-and-coming national and regional talent, including New York City’s suave, jazzy Howard Fishman Quartet tomorrow night, Cuban guitarist Juan Carlos Formell next Friday, and house favorite Olu Dara, who inaugurated the club five years ago, on September 18. Touring behind his terrific new CD, “Age of Miracles,” rocker Chuck Prophet, who gave one of the most memorable concerts of all time at Helsinki back a few years ago, returns on September 19. Williamstown’s own blues phenomenon Albert Cummings celebrates the release of his new, nationally-distributed album, “True to Yourself,” on September 24, and Babaloo brings its blend of punk and mambo on September 25.

Other highlights of the fall season at Helsinki include the Moutin Reunion Quartet on October 8, folk-rock singer-songwriter Steve Forbert on October 15, and soul legends the Holmes Brothers on October 22. Jesse Harris, the man whose songs, including the Grammy Award-winning “I Don’t Know Why,” powered Norah Jones’s debut album into the stratosphere, brings his own band to Helsinki on October 23, and wacky folk trio Eddie From Ohio returns to Helsinki on October 28.

Broadway music star Barbara Cook will perform a selection of songs by Stephen Sondheim as well as numbers from “Carousel,” “South Pacific” and “Camelot” at Tanglewood’s Ozawa Hall in Lenox on October 16 at 6:30 as part of a gala celebration for the Berkshire Theatre Festival.

Up at Mass MoCA in North Adams, Laurie Anderson kicks off the fall performing arts season this coming Monday and Tuesday at 7:30 with a work-in-progress showing of “The End of the Moon,” a new piece dissecting contemporary American culture blending stories, songs and instrumental music, inspired in part by her stint as artist-in-residence for NASA.

Upcoming events at MoCA include Lucky Ngema, whose nine-piece band performs its blend of traditional South African music and contemporary Afropop on the 10th anniversary of the end of apartheid, on October 9 at 8, and Turkish DJ/producer/musician Mercan Dede, whose turntables and samples will join forces with a live band and real whirling dervishes from Istanbul for a concert/dance party on October 23 at 8. The BQE Project, one of the best of the contemporary music groups regularly composing new scores for old films and performing them live, returns to Mass MoCA to present its original score to the 1931 Boris Karloff classic “Frankenstein” on Halloween night, October 31. On December 11, Brooklyn-based alt-pop quartet Clem Snide brings its unique fusion of vintage pop, country and jazz to MoCA’s Alt-Cabaret.

Railway Café in North Adams is hosting a house concert with Midwestern singer-songwriter Johnsmith [ cq ] next Thursday at 7, and bringing the popular singing-sister duo of Nerissa and Katryna Nields to Railway’s home base at St. John's Parish Hall on October 9.

Kassaba, a novel quartet featuring piano, bass, saxophones, and 25 unusual percussion instruments, blends influences from classical, jazz and world music in performing original works composed by pianist Greg Slawson with names like “Should I Use My Shirt” and “The Stirring Epic of Popcorn Bunnie.” The group performs at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown on October 2 at 8. Juno Award-winning Barra McNeils, “Canada's First Family of Celtic Music,” performs its “Cape Breton Christmas” program at the Clark on December 11.

Williams College presents a series of free world music concerts this fall beginning next Thursday with Japanese chamber group James Nyoraku Schlefer and Ensemble East at 8. Subsequent concerts include Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man on September 23, Fungai and Fradreck Mujuru playing mbira music of Zimbabwe on October 1, Purna Das Baul, playing mystic music of Bengal on October 28, and he Ilyas Malayev Ensemble, featuring music of Bukharan Jews, on November 14.

This fall’s jazz offerings at Williams include Freddie Bryant & Kaleidoscope’s "String Project" on October 9 and the Williams Jazz Ensemble in Chapin Hall on October 23. The student- and community-based groups Kusika and the Zambezi Marimba Band perform with marimba maestro Chris Berry on November 5 at the Lasell Dance Studio. All Williams concerts take place in Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall unless otherwise noted.

Pittsfield’s Common Grounds Coffeehouse, located at the First United Methodist Church on Fenn Street, continues its popular folk music series on October 2 with Valerie and Walter Crockett and the Oxymorons. Comic singer-songwriter Vance Gilbert performs on November 6, followed by Girlyman on December 4. Folk fans will also note that the annual Pittsfield Folk Festival at BCC takes place on October 16, featuring Jess Klein, Jon Poussette-Dart and Bobby Sweet.

Also in Pittsfield at the Berkshire Music Hall, the Capital Region’s new-wave legends Blotto make a rare trek across state lines on October 2, and New Paltz-based eclectic rockers The Trapps perform on October 18.

Over at the Spencertown (N.Y.) Academy, live music offerings include William Galison’s Jazz Harmonica Trio on October 9, the Lee Shaw Trio on November 13, Yiddish vocalist Eleanor Reissa on December 11, and Nowell Sing We Clear on December 18.

Highlights of the Capital Region’s fall concert season include a blues festival featuring Dr. John, Charlie Musselwhite and Shemekia Copeland on October 8, Wynonna Judd on October 21, and Peter Paul and Mary on November 14, all at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady.

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones are at Albany’s Palace Theatre on October 9, followed by David Sanborn and Joe Sample on October 14. The Albany Symphony accompanies pop singer KD Lang on October 16, and Gov’t Mule, an offshoot of the Allman Brothers Band, performs on October 17. Bruce Hornsby plays the Palace on October 20, and Jethro Tull attempts to prove it’s not still living in the past on November 19.

Wiseguy rockers They Might Be Giants are at the Egg on September 17, followed by American roots artists David Bromberg and Sam Bush on September 18, the David Grisman Quintet on Sept. 23, and English folk-rocker Richard Thompson on October 21.

The Jazz Mandolin Project is at the WAMC Performing Arts Studio in Albany on September 22, followed by Scottish folk group Tannahill Weavers on September 23. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is at the Troy (N.Y.) Savings Bank Music Hall on September 26, followed by jazz legend Sonny Rollins on November 5.

Bette Midler is due at Albany’s Pepsi Arena on October 7, followed by Metallica and Godsmack on October 9. Contemporary soul singer Usher performs at the Pepsi on October 12.

Over in the Pioneer Valley, reggae pioneers Toots and the Maytals are at Pearl Street in Northampton on September 20, new-wave cult hero Nick Lowe is at the Iron Horse on September 24, and alt-rockers Wilco are at the Calvin Theatre on October 3. And the Pixies, the late Kurt Cobain’s favorite band, bring their reunion tour to the Mullins Center in Amherst on November 30.

Susan Watts and Elaine Hoffman-Watts, famed mother and daughter klezmer duo and descendants of klezmer pioneer Jacob “Jakie” Hoffman, are at the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst on October 10.

[This article originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on September 10, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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