WEST STOCKBRIDGE — Celebrating Valentine’s Day isn’t all chocolates and roses — not according to Dust Bowl Faeries leader Ryder Cooley.
On Saturday Feb. 12, the Hudson Valley, N.Y.-based band takes to The Foundry’s black box theater stage with a “Gothic Valentines Cabaret,” haunting romantic circus carnival songs mixed with candid, offbeat humor from opening musical duo The Fremonts.
Dark is the theme, promises Cooley.
“It’s not going to be your Hallmark Valentine’s show,” said Cooley in a recent interview by phone. “We have a morbid sense of humor and make fun of ourselves and ridiculous cultural traditions. We’ll have songs for everybody, people on a romantic date and those who think Valentine’s Day sucks.”
On the bill are favorite hits plus new songs written on a recent West Coast artist residency.
“We have tragic tales and dark fairy tales, hits like 'Cyanide Hotel' and 'Beloved Monster' written for Valentine’s Day. 'Cuckoo' is a song that’s really fun about going crazy in a pandemic. 'Loon Lake' is a pretty lovers’ song where nothing goes wrong, bittersweet 'Ghosts of Love' is about love, loss and animals.”
While Valentine’s Day is “one of these silly, sappy holidays that have been co-opted,” Cooley added, “I’ve always liked doing something around then because February is such a bleak time.”
Accordion and singing saw player Cooley describes her band as “a faerie-tale fusion of dark cabaret, gothic polka and post-punk music.” She performs alongside guitarist Jon Woodin, bassist Liz LoGiudice, percussionist Andrew Stein and Rubie LaRue on lap steel guitar. Founded as a trio in 2014, “this is really the best version of the band,” Cooley said, “Everybody has been very committed to the music,” — not to mention steampunk, Victorian fairytale-themed costumes.
Joining Cooley is her taxidermy spirit animal Hazel the Ram. Descended from a Barbados Blackbelly Sheep, the “non-binary gender fluid hybrid” has worked with Cooley since her 2011 XMALIA song cycle cabaret about extinct animals.
Also a visual artist, Cooley spent 12 years in California then 12 years in Hudson, N.Y. before moving to Catskill, N.Y. Growing up with folk music in America and England, Cooley’s accordion mentor, klezmer player Jeanette Lewicki — they met when Lewicki busked in San Francisco’s subway — steered her towards eastern European music.
“There was a renaissance of circus and accordion [in San Francisco] which also carried over to New York,” Cooley noted.
The band performed outdoors at The Foundry for the first time last summer.
“This is really something special, I’ve wanted to do a show with The Fremonts for a while,” Cooley explained. “I asked [The Foundry] if we could reach out to them.”
Stephanie Dodd and Justin Badger who form The Fremonts, in a recent phone interview, are fresh from a two-month run of their show, “The Failure Cabaret” at Apple Tree Inn in Lenox.
“This is our first chance to collaborate with [Cooley],” Dodd said. “We’ve been admirers of her for a really long time.”
When the duo performed at Cooley’s long running open mic at Club Helsinki in Hudson, “we were just so taken by her,” Dodd recalled.
“The idea of a dark Valentine’s Day fits really well in our own personal aesthetic,” Badger said. “We’ve always taken a piece out of Valentine’s Day for quite some time now.”
“We’re not a very traditionally romantic couple,” Dodd explained. “We really poke a lot of fun at Valentine’s Day. I think it’s hilarious — overblown, campy, a great opportunity for comedy.”
“We’re playing some of our standards, songs based on Shakespeare characters, and songs we’ve written about our marriage. And we’ll tell comic stories about our romantic endeavors,” Dodd said.
“We tend to overshare,” Badger added.
The duo also sings about mental health struggles. “We love to be as transparent as possible, but also funny,” Badger said. “The darker the material, the more jokes we make.”
Inspired by the Gothic theme — and their admiration for Weird Al Yankovic — they’ve written a polka mashup of 1980s and 1990s love songs — “all in a minor key, sung with a spooky twist in a vampiric singing style,” Dodd said.
They will also perform a song learned for their upcoming U.S. State Department visit to Tajikistan in March as cultural ambassadors — their former home, Boulder, Colo., is sister city to Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe.
“They asked us to prepare a song in Tajik, a beautiful love song called ‘Chaki Chaki Boron’,” Dodd explained. “It’s very sad and dark.”
Married for a decade, they “started performing music together in New York City, in 2012, writing music for shows,” Badger said. “When we moved to Boulder in 2014, we became the Fremonts” — named for their respective hometowns of Fremont, Neb., (Dodd) and Fremont, Calif. (Badger).
The band initially had more of a folk sound with piano, Badger said. “Steph went on a trip to New Orleans and came home with an accordion, and that completely changed our sound. Now we have more of a jazz feel. I just play guitar.”
“The accordion has such a haunting sound, it invited in so much new creativity,” Dodd added.
After six years in Boulder, in 2019, they relocated to the Berkshires. Previously Dodd spent several seasons acting at Shakespeare & Company, and they performed at Dream Away Lodge while living in New York City.
“The artistic community has been extremely welcoming,” Badger said.
They’ve performed at The Foundry a half-dozen times since moving to Great Barrington.
“It’s such a creative, inclusive space,” Dodd said. “One of our artistic and creative homes,” Badger added.
“We’re excited, it’s our launch into the next season,” said Amy Brentano, The Foundry's artistic director. “We had the Dust Bowl Faeries here this past summer, they’re so different [from] anything we’d had. And The Fremonts are some of our favorite artists.”
“I don’t think any of us are buying [into] Hallmark right now,” she added. “I think we need to be engaged with performance, but also need something that speaks to where we all are.
“It’ll be dark and funny, surprising and uplifting, all at once.”