LEE >> Organizers of a popular pre-summer jazz festival are launching a year-round concert series offering country, rock, blues, folk, along with jazz and other music genres in the town's most iconic church.
On Friday, Berkshire Gateway Preservation Inc. will debut the Lee Meeting House Series with Pittsfield-based Jack Waldheim & The Criminal Hearts kicking off the first of three performances at First Congregational Church.
The initial series continues April 24 with the duo of Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly, performing traditional American and Celtic folk songs, along with percussive dance. The third concert on April 30 features a meld of jazz and Jewish music by Paul Green and his band, Two Worlds.
Berkshire Gateway's board president, Garth Story, expects the concert series will hit a high note with music lovers throughout the region.
"We'd love to do 8-10 concerts a year and the next round could be in the fall," he said.
Story and fellow board member Rich Vinette view the year-round concert series as an extension of their non-profit's initial foray into the local performing arts scene with the Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend held in mid-June. Since its inception in 2012, the four-day downtown festival has drawn nationally and internationally know jazz musicians, bands and performers on the cusp of jazz stardom. Last year, more local and regional talent were featured to augment the headliners who primarily play the First Congregational Church known to townspeople and visitors for its often photographed steeple and the town's unofficial tourism logo. The 2016 jazz weekend is scheduled for June 16-19.
Vinette says audiences can expect the Lee Meeting House Series to showcase local and regional talent worthy of a special attention.
"We're still featuring top notch groups — theses are very accomplished artists," he said. "We're building on a brand we envision when we started the jazz festival."
Berkshire Gateway Preservation was formed with a two-fold purpose: to bring a wide-range of cultural events to Lee with the church being center-stage and raising money toward the preservation of historic structures in town.
Waldhiem and his well-established band looks forward to helping launch a much needed musical event.
"There's just not enough of these around," he said. "We need more opportunities for local musicians and it's nice to have another venue."
Friday's concert doubles as the six-member band's an unofficial CD release part for "Love Tigers," all original songs with the group's signature elements of country, funky blue, rock and more.
Jack Waldheim & The Criminal Hearts are all about versatility.
"We're known for not sounding the same; there's no fear of us doing something different," he said.
For musical newcomer to the Berkshires, Paul Green, the concert series is another shot at making a name for himself and his band, Two Worlds. The South Florida transplant moved to Pittsfield in 2012 and two years later formed his six-piece ensemble, Green leading the way on clarinet.
"One heartening thing about the Berkshires is there are more and more music series for people who live in and around the area," he said.
Two Worlds also is using the inaugural concert series as a debut of its CD, "Music Coming Together," showcasing the band's fusion of jazz and klezmer.
"One of the tunes we will play on the 30th, 'Ot Azoy,' [African-American jazz great] 'Cab' Calloway played," Green said. "He took a Jewish song and made it a jazz song."
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233
SERIES AT A GLANCE
The Lee Meeting House Concert Series debuts Friday and continues through April 30 at the First Congregational Church, 25 Park Place, Lee.
• Jack Waldheim & The Criminal Hearts: 7;30 p.m. Friday. Tickets $15
• Duo of Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly: 2 p.m. April 24. Tickets $15, kids 12 and under, free.
• Paul Green and Two Worlds: 7:30 p.m., April 30. Tickets $20.
Tickets: First Congregational Church, Lee (413) 243-1033; Wood Bros. Music, Pittsfield (413) 447-7478; online at leemeetinghouse.com