Critic's pick: Berkshire pop music's acoustic roster will glisten


Recent summers have been distinguished by a raft of real headlining types, and last year the warmer months brought a particularly nice crop of artists in the realm of indie rock -- at all levels of career progress, from newbies to nostalgic.

Sadly, there's little along either of those lines this year (with the notable exception of the concentrated dose at the mighty Solid Sound Festival); the star power is a few watts dimmer, and the more artful realms of rock are less represented than I'd prefer.

But there's a robust roster of artists of a certain age, particularly the sort who play acoustic guitars and/or made interesting pop music in the 1980s and 1990s.

The season accelerates almost immediately to a dizzying pace in the third weekend of June, when the Solid Sound returns to Mass MoCA for the third time (after taking a year off last year), and Tanglewood holds three major events: Melissa Etheridge on June 21, the Boston Pops and guitarist Warren Haynes exploring the music of Jerry Garcia on June 22, and a double-bill of deified acoustic goddesses, the Indigo Girls and Joan Baez on June 23.

This trio of standout shows, each of which should attract big crowds, overlaps with the much-appreciated return of Solid Sound (June 21-23), which boasts two performances from Wilco, two by Yo La Tengo, and Medeski, Martin and Wood, who promise special guests, which hopefully may include Ribot.

(That's in addition to the comedy lineup curated by John Hodgman, and the various installation and special goodies that make the festival such a great combination of music and setting.)

Solid Sound aside, the lack of more edgy options this summer can be measured at Holyoke's Mountain Park. Past years featured the likes of Vampire Weekend, The Decemberists and The Flaming Lips. This year's lineup has Chicago on June 21 and Yes on July 27, though Dropkick Murphys should shake the place up a bit on Aug. 16, and the venue tends to add more artists as the season progresses.

Still, there's Ariel Pink at Pearl Street Ballroom on June 8, the Psychedelic Furs at Infinity Hall (June 17), Jim James of My Morning Jacket at the Calvin Theatre (June 21), and Nick Lowe at Helsinki Hudson on Aug. 21.

There's a few choice jazz options coming up. Piano master Chick Corea brings his new band The Vigil to Infinity Hall for two shows on Aug. 3, bass sensation Esperanza Spalding plays Tanglewood's Ozawa Hall on Aug. 4, and John Scofield hits Infinity on Sept. 13.

Lake Street Dive brings its sultry soul to Helsinki Hudson on July 6, and the fantastic vocalist Bettye LaVette is at Mass MoCA the same evening.

The jazz offerings at Castle St. Café in Great Barrington are always worth a check as well.

The glut of widely appealing pop concerts at Tanglewood also includes Jackson Browne on July 4 (there'll be no James Taylor appearance this year, as he's working on a new album), the Steve Miller Band on July 29, and a double bill of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and Josh Ritter on Aug. 19. There's also an intriguing trio of mild-but-quirky popsters from the 1990s there on July 23: Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds and Josh Ritter.

I think it's always a good thing when Tanglewood brings in a fresh audience, and when any Berkshire venue programs a music act who may not appeal to its primary audience but will draw fans from elsewhere.

Music fans will travel, and this lesson is sometimes forgotten in the Berkshires.

The Gypsy Joynt, which spent the winter solidifying its place as a prime center for live music in South County, has already booked a full summer of free shows. These artists are frequently (but not always) local, and it's always worth taking an extra moment to figure out who's who and plan a night around hearing some new voices. Highlights include Berkshire Bacteria on July 12, emerging house band Jordan Weller and the Feathers on July 19 and 31, and Annie Guthrie on Aug. 9.

The Mahaiwe also is stepping up, with what looks to be a very interesting pairing of Natalie Merchant and the Hudson Valley Philharmonic on July 21 and a combo of Mary Chapin Carpenter and Marc Cohn on July 25.

The schedule at the Guthrie Center is still filling out, but recent favorite Tom Chapin returns on July 21, and David M. Lutken leads an appropriate program called "Woody Sez" on Aug. 14 and 16.

Also on the acoustic tip, the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival moves to the first weekend of August this year.

And that's enough to stay busy.


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