'Nashville in the Berkshires': Fest to honor late Eagle reporter Derek Gentile, town he loved

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ADAMS — Growing up together, there are two passions that Bill Kolis, Mike Mach and Derek Gentile shared throughout their lives: music and the town they grew up in. There's something about good music and good neighborhood vibes that people can connect with.

The late Berkshire Eagle writer Gentile wrote prolifically about both in his articles and columns over the course of his nearly 30-year career. Just a couple of months before his death last November, he interviewed his former Hoosac Valley High School classmates  about their vision to launch the inaugural "Nashville in the Berkshires" concert event to help raise funds for local youth music and art programs. A townie as much as a reporter, Gentile reassured his old friends that they had gotten five talented regional bands in their lineup, something which Kolis and Mach considered a blessing.

The concert, featuring Hittin' The Note, the Dead Collective, The Rev Tor Band, Rebel Alliance and the Hotshot Hillbillies, took place on Sept. 9 in Bowe Field in Adams, a venue which Kolis and Mach refer to as "the Everyman's Tanglewood."

"The event was an absolute success," said Kolis, who estimated that, over the course of the day-long event, some 1,000 visitors attended.

"Neither Mike nor I really had the opportunity thank Derek the way we would have wanted," he said.

This year, hoping for a bigger draw, Kolis and Mach decided to expand Nashville in the Berkshires as a two-day festival, and moved it to the summer. This weekend's affair, slated for Friday night and all day Saturday, will be, in part, a tribute to Gentile, emceed by another one of his lifelong friends, Jeff Kurpaska.

"The music festival showcases the form of music that Derek enjoyed," Kolis said.

This year's lineup opens with Berkshire Beatlesque, playing favorite hits from favorite Brits from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., followed by Steal Your Peach Band performing Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers-inspired sounds from 10 p.m. to midnight. Saturday's performers start at 1 p.m., and include Bits n Pieces Band, a local group playing '60s and '70s songs; back-to-back country-tinged sets with New York Capitol Region's Whiskey Highway followed by the local Hotshot Hillbillies; Grateful Dead tribute group The DeadHeads and closer Hittin' the Note, a local Allman Brothers tribute group. Neil Young-inspired Mike Leonard, aka the "Singing Chef," throughout the day.

Nearly 30 vendors are expected to be present throughout the weekend, selling their wares. As part of their mission to provide free and low-cost music and art programs for area youth, admission for children age 12 and younger is free, and there will also be a kids' game and activity area set up each day at this family-friendly event.

Another Adams man, Wayne Piaggi, has been helping with the grounds planning and preparation for this event, and said picnic tables and chairs will be scattered throughout the grounds, oriented toward the stage.

"I think 'Nashville in the Berkshires' is a beautiful thing. I'm here to do anything I can do to make it as big and as successful as possible," he said. "[Bowe] Field should be the gem of Adams. To see it full of people would be great for the town. It has year-round potential."

The venue is also home to the Adams Agricultural Fair and Berkshire Mountain Faerie Festival, among other events.

Kolis and Mach see their hometown as having a huge capacity to celebrate its heritage and community spirit.

Though they are still a ways off from establishing a youth music and arts center in the town, proceeds from last year's event and the second day of this year's festival are helping to bring a new week-long Northern Berkshire Jazz Day Camp, which will take place at Hoosac Valley High School next month. It is free and open to Berkshire County high school jazz band students, who will participate in masterclasses with contemporary jazz greats: trumpeter Richard Boulger, a Hoosac Valley alumnus; Saturday Night Live saxophonist and woodwind artist, Alex Foster; jazz pianist Charles Blenzig, drummer Victor Jones and bassist Alex Blake.

"The kids are going to get a once in a lifetime experience with jazz greats that they might have never had," Mach said.

Proceeds from Friday night's shows will benefit another town effort to erect a statue in honor of Adams-born suffragist Susan B. Anthony in time for the 200th anniversary of her birth. This effort is being organized through the non-profit Adams-Anthony Center, which Kolis also helps to head.

"If you look at Derek's stories, there's so much history here," said Mach. "I've always been a big believer in Adams."

"This is our own little way of giving back," said Kolis. He hopes that their event inspires others to bring events and businesses to the town.

"We hope it's much more than one event," he said, "but that it's something that brings a town to life."


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