Shaker Barn offers stage for talented up-and-comers

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PITTSFIELD — Since its opening season in 2017, the Shaker Barn Music series at Hancock Shaker Village has given roots music a prominent central Berkshire stage in the months leading up to FreshGrass in North Adams. The living history museum has booked acts such as Dom Flemons, The Sweetback Sisters and Anna & Elizabeth over the past two years, tapping into Appalachia and other roots hotbeds throughout the world.

But while these performers may hail from across the globe, music curator Karl Mullen hasn't neglected the talent in the living history museum's immediate surrounds. Local openers have been part of the series since its outset, and Mullen plans to continue exposing Berkshire residents and regional acts to headliners' larger audiences.

"I really want to go out of my way," Mullen said.

For example, later this season, Western Massachusetts-based musicians Izzy Heltai and Corey Laitman will open for The Mammals (July 27) and Nellie McKay (Aug. 24), respectively. And on Sunday night, Williamstown native Eliza Edens will play before The Suitcase Junket, Matt Lorenz's one-man project that involves multiple unconventional instruments (thrift store forks and broken bottles, for instance) and throat singing, among other blues rock and roots surprises. Lorenz will be touring behind the release of his latest album, "Mean Dog, Trampoline."

"I was so absolutely excited when Karl emailed me and was like, 'Hey, do you want to open for the Suitcase Junket?' because when I first discovered his music three or four years ago, I was just so obsessed with it, his album, 'Make Time,'" Edens told The Eagle by phone recently. "He's an incredible songwriter and has created such a unique way to express the songs with the sounds he makes."

It won't be Edens' first performance at Shaker Barn Music. The alt-folk singer-songwriter opened for Sarah Lee Guthrie in 2017. Mullen recalled the two teaming up to offer a rousing rendition of "This Land Is Your Land." He wasn't surprised that Edens could hang with Guthrie, the folk singer who calls Washington home. Ever since Edens began playing at Mullen's personal barn series on his Williamstown property, he saw the strength of her music's emotion and delivery, that she was "worthy as a national performer."

"Human emotion is so complicated, and I feel like ... if you do a good job writing a song, it should scrape the surface of that kind of emotion in some way," Edens said.

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Her debut EP, "Lowlight," mines some of those sentiments. In the title track, she sings about sorrows and shadows, buried and evasive presences alike. It's soft music.

"People find them relaxing and quiet songs to just listen to as they're going about their day or falling asleep," Edens said, laughing. "A lot of people say they fall asleep to it, which I guess I can take as a compliment."

Edens is now using a 2017 Club Passim Iguana Music Fund Grant to make a new album, some of which is being recorded in the childhood home where folk-loving Betsy Johnson and Bill Densmore raised their daughter on a healthy diet of the Beatles and James Taylor. (Densmore serves on The Berkshire Eagle's advisory board.) Though her finger-picking guitar style is a big part of her current musical repertoire, Edens started out on the piano.

"I took piano lessons, the Suzuki by-ear method, at age 6. I took them for a year, and I totally quit because I hated my piano teacher. We didn't jive," Edens said. "But then I took up lessons again when I was 15, in high school, and just had an absolutely amazing piano teacher (Susan Hadfield) who was so encouraging and positive and really instilled a lifelong love of what music is and what music can be."

The 2011 Mount Greylock Regional High School graduate who attended Colorado College and now lives in Philadelphia knows that musical bonds travel.

"One of the biggest ways I feel like it's affected my life is just the sense of community that surrounds any group of people making music," Edens said of the art form. "That's a big part of why I do it."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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