Critic's choice: The Berkshires look forward to an intense summer of pop music


Always a cultural Mecca throughout the year, summer draws out the Berkshires' best popular music acts.

This season, music lovers will have an opportunity to see a wide spectrum of genres and styles, from Dweezil Zappa to the Irish Rovers to Tony Bennett.

Kate Taylor's May 31 stint at the Guthrie Center kicked off the season. The younger sister of perennial Berkshire fave James Taylor is a stellar performer in her own right.

The Guthrie Center in Great Barrington, now a major player on the local summer music scene, will get a jump on the season with two more solid shows in June: Folkie icon John Gorka will be at the Guthrie on June 21 and, a week later, local singer-songwriter Meg Hutchinson will grace the stage.

Up north, though, Mass MoCA will offer one of the Berkshire concerts of the year when musical chameleon (and we mean that in a good way) Beck takes the stage June 24.

The local scene heats up during the weekend of the Fourth of July. On Thursday, July 3, James Taylor resumes his residency at Tanglewood. On July 5, fans will have a tough choice: Chanteuse Natalie Merchant at the Mahaiwe or folk hero Tom Chapin at the Guthrie Center (which, ironically, is located less than a mile from the Mahaiwe.)

In theory, one could catch the first part of one show and rush over to the other gig to catch the second portion. Not recommended, though.

But the weekend isn't done. On Sunday, it's Dweezil Zappa playing the music of his iconic father, the late Frank Zappa, also at the Mahaiwe.

And a few days later, another master act will play the Mahaiwe when uber-bluesman Buddy Guy takes the stage on July 11.

The month ends with a two-night stint by another folk legend, Tom Paxton, at the Guthrie Center on July 25 and 26.

Motown returns to the Berkshires on Aug. 3, when the Four Tops play the Mahaiwe. Yes, there is only one "original" member: Abdul "Duke" Fakir. But Ronnie McNair has been with the band for 15 years and Lawrence Payton, Jr. is the son of original member Lawrence Payton. Lead singer Harold Bonhart is Levi Stubbs reincarnated.

Mass MoCA has neo-alt-country star Jason Isbell on its stage Friday, Aug. 15, and one night later we're back at the Guthrie Center for Rory Block, a veteran blues singer-guitarist of outstanding ability.

On Aug. 21, the Irish Rovers take the stage at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield for what is being billed as their "Farewell Tour." Let's hope that's not true, but it only makes this a show not to be missed.

But we have another tough conflict, as guitar-god bluesman Jonny Lang is at the Mahaiwe the same night. Dang!

The last weekend in August is another musically intense period. Train starts things off Aug. 29, rocking Tanglewood. On Aug. 30, Mass MoCA hosts the amazing Afrobeat/funk/ rock 10-man combo EMEFE, a band that should be seen to be believed.

And in sharp contrast to EMEFE, we return to Tanglewood for 16-time Grammy Award-winner Tony Bennett on Aug. 31. Bennett has been performing for more than 60 years and is still going strong. Will he sing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" that night? Yes.

The summer ends with Mass MoCA's annual FreshGrass Festival, which just seems to improve every year. Headlined by the legendary Emmylou Harris, the weekend of Sept. 19 to 21 will see dozens of acts on various stages throughout the MoCA complex, from the Carolina Chocolate Drops to Bela Fleck to Sam Bush -- a nice way to see the summer out.


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