Berkshire Beat: Rocking on in the Berkshires
I grew up in a house where my father played a lot of music, so it's natural that as an adult, I feel like it's such an important part of my life.
Each week day, my iPhone alarm clock goes off at 6 a.m. and begins to play my favorite My Morning Jacket song "The Way He Sings." Singer Jim James starts to wail the lyrics "Why's it so great just to wake every day, alive and by your side" and I think, "This is going to be a great day."
I can't have a great day without a great beginning, and for me that's all about a song. I take my love of music into the bathroom, where I poorly sing along to Camera Obscura or my new favorite find Lord Huron on Spotify. There's a brief moment of silence in my morning routine as I walk to my car until I close my car door, where I quickly snap on the radio for my 40-minute commute.
Even when it's no longer appropriate to have music on during the day, I always have a tune in my head. Just ask some of my previous coworkers about my humming habit.
But there's nothing like live music. Seeing a show holds a special place in my heart. In my wealthier days, I didn't give a second thought to traveling to Boston, Cambridge or New York City to see a show. My show obsession reared its head when I once begged my friends to rearrange their carefully calculated vacation plans so we could see Bob Dylan at the McMenamins Brewery in Edgefield. (Hey, everyone's got to see him once right?!?)
But traveling gets tiresome and your funds gets low, so my weekend shows started to slow down. I would go to some great local bars and see some great bands, but I was still craving a concert.
So when I was finally shown what the Berkshires could bring for music, last winter, I was in awe. Let me set the scene: I was in one of the roughest points of my life. In the span of a few weeks, I lost my job, my apartment and had just experienced a bad breakup. I was pretty lost and unsure of what I was doing, or where I was going. Feeling so unsettled, my dear friends, Mollie and Justina, tried to cheer me up by inviting me out to see a band in Williamstown. Though live music is my favorite thing, I just couldn't muster the energy to be in a large crowd, even for music. My friend reassured me it wouldn't be that big of a crowd.
"It's a different kind of venue, it's a house concert."
"Huh?" I said.
"A Billsville House Concert. They're small, intimate and the bands this guy gets are amazing."
We rolled up to a white façade building called The Log on Spring Street in Williamstown. Through the front door and into the back room I noted about 35 other people ranging in age from 20s to 60s, standing in what looked like, from an interior perspective, a log cabin. There was a stage full of hipster-looking kids all wearing plaid and overalls setting up old laundry washing boards for instruments. The lead singer was the physical replica of Johnny Cash.
"Who are they again?" I whispered to Mollie.
"Spirit Family Reunion," she replied. "They are supposed to be really good."
Good doesn't justify this group. This Brooklyn-based band just blew me away, with their old-timey roots, banjo loving, Southern-style music. In a matter of minutes, they had the entire room dancing, clapping and singing along. I hadn't seen such passion for music in a long time. And yes, one guy did play the laundry washer as an instrument -- with a set of forks, no less. For more than an hour, I got to see this incredible band -- which just did a tiny desk series on NPR and played at the Newport Folk Festival this past summer. Oh and I saw this for the price of $10. Billsville House Concert operator Doug Hacker is able to pitch the idea of house concerts to these incredible musicians and then offer incredible shows at an incredibly affordable price. Because of Hacker's work on these concerts, I've been able to see acts like the beautifully harmonizing Lucius and the rocking Caroline Smith.
I'm so in love with what Billsville shows offer, I've even trekked up to The Vermont Arts Exchange in Bennington a few times to see them. Billsville shows are musical gifts. You should take advantage of these.
Billsville House Concerts will be having three shows this spring. The first is March 15 in Manchester, Vt., with the talented singer Ray Baxter and another in April 11 with Caroline Rose. If you don't think you can make the drive to Vermont, Rose is performing in another Billsville show again in April at the Elks Club in North Adams. To get more information on Billsville House Concerts, visit www.billsvillehouseconcerts.com or visit www.facebook.com/BillsvilleHouseConcerts.
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