Big pop-music names coming to the Berkshires

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After a summer filled with mainstream rockers and musical icons storming stages throughout the Berkshires, the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center's fall slate promises to keep the county's pop music scene kicking — with boots on.

The Great Barrington institution's season features two major country acts: Wynonna & The Big Noise and Thompson Square. It's a foray into an unfamiliar musical territory for the Mahaiwe, according to Beryl Jolly, the organization's executive director.

"We hadn't had country," she told The Eagle while occupying one of the approximately 700 seats at the venue on a recent Friday afternoon.

Giving different musical genres the stage is important to Jolly.

"We really want to draw the best possible talents from all over the country and all over the world, but the diversity is equally important," she said.

Wynonna & The Big Noise, a new band led by longtime country star Wynonna Judd, will play at the Mahaiwe on Oct. 1 during its Roots & Revival Tour. The latter part of that title isn't aspirational; though the band's first album, "Wynonna & The Big Noise," hasn't yet found the same smashing commercial success that accompanied Wynonna's work in the 1980s and 1990s, critics have raved about the group's debut record. Wynonna's blues and bluegrass influences are apparent in her latest work.

" 'Wynonna & The Big Noise' lays bare the joy that is Judd's most potent gift as a vocalist," writes Ann Powers for NPR.

The five-time Grammy award-winner's singing has earned praise for decades, but her lyrics haven't yet resounded at the Mahaiwe.

"The powerfulness of her voice and the connection with the audience I think will be amazing in this space," Jolly said.

On Nov. 3, Thompson Square will grace the stage. The husband-wife duo of Keifer and Shawna Thompson rose to country world prominence with "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not," a hit off of its first album, "Thompson Square," which was released in 2011. In 2012, the couple won the vocal duo of the year at the CMA awards. Two singles — "If I Didn't Have You" and "Everything I Shouldn't Be Thinking About" — on Thompson Square's 2013 sophomore album, "Just Feels Good," also rapidly ascended country music charts. Though the Mahaiwe seeks to bring contemporary sounds to its stage, the duo appeals to a younger demographic than the venue is accustomed to hosting.

"I'm curious to see how we might use [Thompson Square's] social media and make sure the country fans find their way here," said Jolly, who also noted that a limited number of tickets for all Mahaiwe live shows are available to spectators aged 30 and under for $15.

The Thompsons recently cut ties with their record label, Stoney Creek Records, and will be playing acoustic numbers in Great Barrington. This stripped-down sound will work well in a setting accustomed to intimate performances. Another husband-wife duo, Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, will provide a similar warmth on Nov. 12, albeit with masterful banjo-playing accompanying Washburn's vocals and lyrics. The couple won the best folk album in 2016 for "Bela Fleck And Abigail Washburn," adding to Fleck's 15 previous Grammys.

In between the Mahaiwe's tandems, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art will also offer a married duo this fall when The Weepies play on Nov. 4. Singer-songwriters Steve Tannen and Deb Talan form the folk-pop group.

The final folk draw before Thanksgiving will be the Mahaiwe's annual Arlo Guthrie show on Nov. 18. Guthrie will play with his daughter, Sarah Lee, and son, Abe. Jolly said the show was close to being sold out.

"He sings truth," Jolly said of why Guthrie's music continues to resonate.

If the Berkshires pop music menu doesn't sound appealing, some venues just beyond the county's confines are serving up some enticing acts. In Troy, N.Y., Ashfield's resident rocker Ray LaMontagne and Wilco bassist John Stirratt will play an acoustic set at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Oct. 15. In Albany, electronic dance music DJ Tiesto will be spinning on Nov. 10 at the Times Union Center, and singer-songwriter Regina Spektor will perform at the Palace Theatre on Nov. 16.


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