Fall pop music preview: FreshGrass Festival enlivens active, diverse scene


Autumn is a bold season.

Weather patterns shift from bright warm days to bring us cooler temperatures and, darker, longer nights. The leaves on the trees shed their uniform green, splintering into individual hues of red, gold and brown.

So too changes the live music scene into the Berkshires, as these times of recently announced autumn and early winter lineups fall upon us. Our hills will soon be ablaze with the sounds of riotous strings, conscious rap and hip-hop and momentous jazz among other local and indie sounds.

The FreshGrass Festival at Mass MoCA seems to have become a time-honored traditional launchpad for this season, bringing international notables of bluegrass and roots music to the brick-lined courts of MoCA's North Adams campus.

As The Eagle's Phil Demers recently reported, Lanesborough native Gregory Spatz has quick the knack for fiddle tunes and will play with his band John Reischman & The Jaybirds on Saturday.

FreshGrass, which runs

Friday through Sunday, will feature more than 25 acts, rain or shine.

Also returning home on Sept. 28 will be local and international folk icon Arlo Guthrie playing Fairview Hospital's Centennial Gala at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington.

Guthrie will be joined by family members Abe Guthrie, Krishna Guthrie (who plays locally in Modest Me), and Terry A La Berry.

Last year, The Egg in Albany, N.Y. was the closest local fans could get to banjo pioneer Béla Fleck's NY Banjo Summit. This year, it's happening in our backyard on Oct. 6, also at the Mahaiwe.

Slated alongside Fleck will be Bill Keith, Eric Weissberg, Noam Pikelny, Richie Stearns and Tony Trischka, with special guests Abigail Washburn and her non-banjo playing friends Casey Driessen (fiddle), Corey DiMario (bass), Jesse Cobb (mandolin) and Russ Barenberg (guitar).

Pittsfield's Colonial Theatre will host some legendary acts on its own, nearly all representing careers spanning more than 50 years.

If you know guitars, you'll know of former Traffic-member and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dave Mason. He'll play the Colonial Oct. 9, bringing his sounds of the 1970s for what should be a nostalgic night.

Another night not to be missed will be Oct. 23, with Lyle Lovett & John Hiatt. It looks to be a real roadshow-style affair with this all-acoustic set.

Multi-hit maker Gordon Lightfoot will take the stage Nov. 8. Known for songs like "If You Could Read My Mind" and "Early Morning Rain," Lightfoot brings an adept blend of folk-pop sounds.

Capping off this list of hitmakers is Three Dog Night, yes, as in those "Joy to the World" guys. They'll bring the love on Nov. 21, celebrating more than 40 years together on stage.

On a blues note, Mass MoCA will host cowboy crooner Don Edwards on Nov. 8 in its Hunter Center. After watching him on YouTube, trust me, the man's still got it.

Another man who grows better each year is world blues artist Taj Mahal, who, on Nov. 3, will make music at the Mahaiwe with South African blues guitarist/vocalist Vusi Mahlasela and rock-rooted Fredericks Brown, a band featuring Mahal's daughter, Deva Mahal, who hails from New Zealand. This show will be one of the first times all of these musicians will appear on stage together.

For something more upbeat, fans will appreciate the iconic Talib Kweli bringing dynamic hip-hop and conscious rap wizardry to Mass MoCA's Hunter Center on Oct. 19. He'll be joined by political hip-hop trio Rebel Diaz.

In a similar vein but in a smaller venue, an act called "Word Become Flesh" will hit the Church Street Center of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams on Oct. 5.

A series of performed letters to an unborn son, Word Becomes Flesh uses spoken word, dance, and live music to document nine months of pregnancy from a young single father's perspective. This will be accompanied by a pre-performance talk of the times titled, "Trayvon, Race and being a Black Man in America."

The 2013 Pittsfield CityJazz festival will run Oct. 11 through 20, featuring The Brubeck Brothers Quartet in a tribute to the legendary pianist Dave Brubeck, who headed the 2009 festival. Local musicians and national performers of all ages will celebrate all facets of this dazzling genre.

On Dec. 14, spend a Saturday night at Mass MoCA checking out Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and her latest project with "free-noise guitarist" Bill Nace. The duo will present "Body/ Head," a "Syd Barrett era--Pink Floyd-inspired, deeply improvisational" set.

There's also plenty happening around the Berkshires as well.

The Iron Horse Entertainment Group in Northampton always brings a range of beloved and bewildering performers. Highlights at the Iron Horse will include folk-jazz-rock-R&B artist Rickie Lee Jones on Oct. 7; former Barefoot Truth band member Will Evans' double set on Oct. 12, and the melodic one-man wonder Howie Day on Nov. 20, among many others.

The Calvin Theatre has booked a few stunners including the zany Weird Al Yankovic (Oct. 6); Hugh Laurie, that guy from "House" who also happens to make music (Oct. 27); the soulful India.Arie (Nov. 1); Elvis Costello, the man who needs no introduction (Nov. 3); and a solo acoustic tour stop with Chris Cornell of Soundgarden/Audioslave fame, joined by Sri-Lankan born, Nick Lowe-esque Bhi Bhiman.

The Albany-area is also offering an assortment of affairs.

This Saturday, LarkFEST 2013 goes down on Lark Street from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., featuring free music by: Grainbelt, The Last Conspirators, Rodeo Barons, Molly Durnin Trio, Willie Nile, The Chronicles, Matt & The Bad Ideas, Barons in the Attic, Charlie Watts Riots, and Bobby Long.

Next Saturday, Sept. 28, PearlPalooza on Pearl Street will feature indie artist of all sorts, all for free, including: Portugal the Man, Said The Whale, Gentlemen Hall, Cayucas, Crystal Fighters, with regional acts Eastbound Jesus, Wild Adriatic, Stelllar Young, and Titanics.

Teen sensations the Jonas Brothers will take the spotlight at The Palace Theatre on Oct. 15.

On Dec. 7 at The Egg, original founding member Otis Williams will lead The Temptations in performances of their timeless Motown classics like "My Girl" and "Papa Was a Rolling Stone."

With music this cool only a walk or a quick car ride away, it's going to be worth donning a sweater and some boots and heading out to enjoy the sounds of fall.


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