Monday June 11, 2012

PITTSFIELD

Original music (music that is not a "cover" of other's songs) is an endangered species in the Berkshires. But on any given night, in its own universe tucked in the hills of Becket, is a piece of heaven. Emblazoned on the roof is a neon "Dream Away Lodge" sign, lifted right out of 1950s Las Vegas. The sign tops a white cottage, surrounded by the pulchritude of flower gardens, and a cozy fire-pit in the center of a stone patio on the lawn. The lodge overlooks a small pond and is surrounded by October Mountain State Forest. The rustic and eclectically decorated hideaway is a wonderful admixture of both kitsch and art.

The lodge is draped in a delicious aura of country charm that somehow deigns to be hip in an earthy sort of way. The rich natural surroundings are compost for the organic music that grows within. It really is out in nowhere. Proprietor Daniel Osman says, "Only people who really want to be here come. [Its isolation] does make a difference."

On one of my recent forays to the Dream Away, I went to see the talented Tony Lee Thomas. I had just come in from the fire-pit, where two children were making s'mores. I went into "The Music Room," a homey living room with a fireplace that demands comfort and intimacy. In between sets, I asked Tony to play Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You," which both Tony and I agree is the greatest of love songs. Tony told me that he couldn't or he would get in trouble with the owner. I thought he was joking.


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So I approached Dan, to see if it was true. Dan assured me that it was; the reason for the policy was to avoid paying ASCAP and BMI. "ASCAP," short for the "American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers" and BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) monitor the copyrights of members. Under copyright law, performers must pay a fee for a "public performance" of another's work. ASCAP and BMI do the collecting. So, Dan explained, 100 percent of the music at the Dream Away Lodge is original music, so they don't have to pay any royalties.

I asked Dan if the "no cover" rule stopped people from gigging at the Dream Away. He replied, "Yes, and that's just as well -- we are looking to incubate new music, not cover bands." And avoiding ASCAP and BMI licensing fees is not his only motive. Dan added, "There will be no new music unless places exist that encourage the creation of new music. We want to be one of those creative sources. We are committed to providing a place where musicians can meet, [and] explore new music and jam without the strictures of the music industry hovering in the room. Music is central to Dream Away's history, sensibility and personality."

The "no cover rule" results in an oasis of originality in a desert of mediocrity. All types of music are to be found. "We have hosted classical quartets, avant garde screechers, and country rockers," said Dan.

Live music can be found on virtually any night the lodge is open. Rich in history, they have an open mic for acoustic music on Wednesdays that has been happening since the 50s-- but even at open mic, the music must be original. Music starts a little earlier -- from 8:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., rather than the usual 10 p.m. There is no charge to see the performers, but Dan always passes a tip jar. (For more information, the lodge can be found at TheDreamAwayLodge.com and is also on Facebook.)

About half of the performers are regional and half come from all over the country and the world. Dan adds, "Each band has their own following; we are just looking for an audience looking to hear new music in an intimate setting." Local artists that have recently played include Bobby Sweet, Rev Tor, the Misty Blues Band and Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion.

Non-locals include Aaron Woody Wood from the western mountains of North Carolina, a honky-tonk band from Brooklyn called the "Sweetback Sisters," an American folk band from San Francisco called "Vetiver," the nationally critically acclaimed Sean Rowe from Troy, New York (who the Huffington Post describes as having a "soulful and distinctive" voice), the "folktronic" or "electrofolk" music of VaVaBlume from Providence, Rhode Island, and Heather Maloney from Boston whose music has been described by the Portland Phoenix as "richly orchestrated post-coffee shop pop held together by pipes and lyrics well beyond her years."

Rinaldo Del Gallo is an occasional Eagle contributor.