A reflective lineup on tap
On the music side, the coming of autumn frequently means a turn inward, to indoor venues often stacked with acoustic bands and singer/songwriter types.
This year, the schedule of shows in my field of vision here -- the Berkshires, plus Albany, Northampton, and assorted venues in-between -- follows this pattern.
There are some shows of note you won't find listed here, but consider this an exhaustive sketch of all the shows I'd add to my calendar if I could.
It's fitting that the first weekend of fall features the FreshGrass festival at Mass MoCA, as there are a few bluegrass-related shows among my picks for the season. The festival itself is of can't-miss status, on the strength of headliners like the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience and Carolina Chocolate Drops, but also any number of surprise favorites who are likely to emerge.
One such surprise last year, for me at least, was the songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and New England Conservatory of Music student Sarah Jarosz. She's not at FreshGrass this year, but plays Helsinki Hudson on Saturday. She also played a great set at Albany's The Egg earlier this year, and mixes her instrumental chops and songwriting acumen with an inviting on-stage presence. (For the Grisman addicts, by the way, he plays Infinity Hall tonight, before hitting Mass MoCA Saturday)
Some other big news comes in the form of New York Banjo, a "five-string summit" featuring banjo pioneer Béla Fleck at The Egg on Nov. 3. Fleck will be joined by other big-name pickers including Tony Trischka and Peter Wernick, plus a full acoustic band and an adventuresome spirit that will mix up the players and explore tastes of traditional bluegrass, jazz and rock. Part of the treat here might be hearing Fleck in more of a traditional setting, as he's by this point in his career much more used to the many cross-genre fusion projects he has a knack for exploring.
Otherwise, the season's top highlights come in a grab-bag that defies thematic summary.
Umphrey's McGee, the pick of many discerning listeners as the most interesting jamband working today, plays Northampton's Calvin Theatre on Nov. 1. Medeski, Martin and Wood brings an acoustic show to Albany's Massry Center for the Arts on Oct. 6. The combustible, horn-driven Rubblebucket parties its way into the Pearl Street Ballroom on Nov. 16; its show there in April was a real keeper. Zammuto, the post-Books project from Neil Zammuto that made its live debut at Mass MoCA, plays the Iron Horse on Oct. 13. That quartet of shows alone should go a long way toward easing the passage from the summer's busy schedule.
This season also offers a bumper crop of very compelling, female singer-songwriters. British import Laura Marling, a past Mercury Prize nominee, plays the Hunter Center at Mass MoCA on Oct. 26. She wields a sensibility informed by the rich tradition of English-Scottish balladry, combined with some full-band pep and a distinctive voice of her own. Erin McKeown, the Pioneer Valley-based songwriter and activist, plays Northampton's Iron Horse Music Hall on Oct. 7 and 12; with a new album on the verge of release, she'll likely to have lots of fresh material.
Melissa Ferrick, who played a well-received set opening up for Ani DiFranco at the Colonial Theater last year, plays the Iron Horse on Oct. 26. Among those in this category with some better name-recognition, Paula Cole plays Infinity Hall in Norfolk, Conn., on Sept. 30, and Michelle Shocked is at Helsinki Hudson the previous evening.
The gentlemen are represented as well, of course. Grammy-winning bluesman Keb Mo highlights the fall concert schedule at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington on Oct. 18, before dates in Albany and Springfield. Justin Townes Earle, who has become a familiar presence in these parts with recent shows at Helsinki Hudson at Mass MoCA, will be at Infinity Hall on Nov. 17. His latest material really benefits from full-band support, but this intimate solo outing is likely to be worth the trip. Langhorne Slim, whose energetic band straddles the line between bar band bluster and acoustic artistry, plays Helsinki Hudson on Sept. 28. And guitarist Charlie Hunter is at the same venue on Oct. 19.
The Pittsfield City Jazz Festival (Oct. 4 through 13) is led by the New England Jazz Ensemble and the Jazz Arts Trio, with much more to choose from as well. Meanwhile, Great Barrington's Castle Street Café keeps quietly booking jazz acts in its cozy space week after week.
There are two special events to take note of as well. The Gypsy Joynt in Great Barrington throws an International Day of Peace party tonight, featuring live reggae from The Feathers. And the Rev Tor Band leads an exhaustive list of special guests on what should be a cathartic run through the music of The Band's famous farewell concert, The Last Waltz, on Nov. 11 at the Mahaiwe to benefit Music in Common.
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