Party in the barn at Hancock Shaker Village
"This was the kind of group that world-music fans have always been thrilled to discover: vital, accomplished, local, unplugged, deeply rooted," wrote Jon Pareles of the performance in The New York Times.
That tour concluded with an appearance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, another show that earned high marks. The experiences exposed the band to different audiences and artists whom Machado hopes will one day visit Venezuela.
But playing at a more intimate venue, such as a barn in the Berkshires, doesn't represent a departure from the group's musical journey; it's a return.
"It's more like what we are used to doing, which is playing house by house," frontwoman Betsayda Machado said through interpreter Luis Acosta in advance of the group's appearance at Hancock Shaker Village's 1910 Barn on Friday. The performance will be the final Shaker Barn Music Series concert of the inaugural season.
"We wanted to go out on a big fun international celebration of a really wide understanding of what roots music is," Karl Mullen, the museum's music curator, said, noting that Pareles' review spurred him to reach out to the group.
The band's primary genre is parranda (colloquial for party in Spanish). While Machado had ventured far and wide as a soloist, her band had been confined to El Clavo, which is about 70 miles from Caracas, for nearly 30 years. Banks and malls are long drives away.
"It's basically a country town," Machado said.
Then the group booked a gig in Canada in the summer of 2016. The U.S. tour this winter followed.
With just percussion instruments in tow, the band strives to honor the rhythms of northern Venezuela and Africa. Much of the El Clavo community can trace ancestors from the latter.
"It's basically all roots music," she said — roots music that hoists people off the floor even if the Spanish lyrics aren't always so uplifting.
"Our music has a message because where we're living now in Venezuela, [and] it's hard and harsh, [so] we are trying to get that message through all the shows we're having," Machado said.
Friday night's concert, then, may be an educational experience for attendees. Mullen said he would like next summer's series, which Hancock Shaker Village President and CEO Jennifer Trainer Thompson confirmed is happening, to include day-long musical experiences that involve educational components in the morning. The music curator said he spoke with all of the artists that came this summer, including Dom Flemons and Anna & Elizabeth, about participating. For example, Anna & Elizabeth could run a workshop related to crankies, their hand-turned illustrated narratives that feature prominently in their performances, in the morning, followed by Appalachian singing and dancing in the afternoon. The group's concert would cap the day, Mullen said.
Nothing, Mullen stressed, has been scheduled yet, including a concert at one of the museum's barns that is part of Trainer Thompson's plan for an expanded holiday season. For now, Mullen and Trainer Thompson are reveling in what both described as pleasantly surprising attendance in the series' first year.
"We didn't know if people would come," Mullen said.
The barn's 225 seats were "pretty much" sold out for the opener (Flemons' show) and Sarah Lee Guthrie, according to Mullen. A Wednesday night Anna & Elizabeth drew more than 200, though a couple other mid-week concerts didn't do as well, the curator said.
Beyond a potential format change, Trainer Thompson said that the museum will explore improvements to ventilation, lighting and staging. Still, Trainer Thompson hopes the museum will be able to maintain the series' authentic feel moving forward.
"I loved that it was sort of an unvarnished experience," she said.
And Friday night will perhaps be the last opportunity to see the series in this form.
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