Enter the Drake, Amherst’s new musical address
Despite the pandemic throwing a wrench in live music over the past two years, new venues have opened in the Valley over this period, including the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity in Florence, the new Marigold Theater in Easthampton and now the Drake in Amherst.
Located right downtown in a former food court, The Drake is named after a hotel and bar that stood nearby in the 1960s and 1970s. Given the artsy and educational vibe of Amherst, having a live performance venue downtown has long been a missing item; it has been a long-standing goal of Amherst officials, business leaders and many others to change that.
The Drake, which just opened a few days ago with concerts by pioneering rockers Dinosaur Jr. and jazz violinist Regina Carter, promises to feature a mix of national, regional and local musical acts, including musicians from area colleges. Poetry slams, open mics and other events will also be on the program; up to 170 people can be seated and the capacity is 240 when the dance floor is open.
Cassandra Holden of Laudable Productions in Easthampton, which handles bookings for major musical groups, says she is delighted to work at Amherst. Laudable opened the Bombyx Center last fall and also hosts events at other venues in the area, and Holden says it’s all part of what she calls cultivating “a regional [musical] identify.”
“I love visiting different communities and creating projects that showcase the unique characteristics of each,” she said in an email. “It’s great to have places of different sizes and characters to work in. This allows us to introduce new artists and for them to develop a clientele here over time.
“It’s also incredibly rewarding to introduce artists to the region – they fall in love with our little corner of the world and come back to write, record and create new work…and tell their friends about it!”
The Drake is on. Gili Yalo & Anbessa Orchestrawhich features an eclectic mix of Afrobeat, jazz, psychedelia and West African Afro-funk — singer Yalo is an Ethiopian-Israeli who sings in English, Amharic and Hebrew — plays tonight (April 29) At 20 o ‘clock. On April 30, one of the best singer-songwriters in the industry, Loudon Wainwright IIItake the stage at 8 p.m.
And for a bit of local flavor, on May 3 at 7:30 p.m., the Northampton Jazz Workshop, hosted by the Green Street Threesomewill host a guest singer/pianist/songwriter Karin Allysonfive-time Grammy nominee who lives part-time in Hadley (free entertainment, donations encouraged).
Other early May shows include the “low-rock” sounds of Morphine vapors (May 6), dance party hosted by DJ Nickodemus (May 7) and jazz and classical chamber music performances by Amherst College Student Sets (May 9).
the Holyoke Civic Symphony marks an important milestone this year: 25 years ago, this conductor David Kidwell joined the band, and the story goes that when he showed up for his first rehearsal, the timpanist thought he was a student. Today, he is the oldest bandleader and musical director in the band’s history.
Now the symphony, which will perform May 1 at 3 p.m. in the Fine & Performing Arts building at Holyoke Community College, will recognize Kidwell’s legacy with a program highlighting his work as a composer and pianist.
“Silver Jubilee: Celebrating Maestro Kidwell” includes “Shenandoah: A Symphonic Portrait,” Kidwell’s musical salute to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the people of that region; elements of folk music are a key part of the composition. Additionally, Kidwell will play piano on George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” one of the most distinctive pieces of American jazz/classical music.
The show also includes “Concert Overture No. 1″ by Florence Price (1887-1953), the first African-American woman recognized as a symphonic composer.
Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children under 12. Face masks and proof of COVID vaccination are required by the college, as are safe distance seating. You can also sign up to watch the concert via Zoom at shorturl.at/nyJNS.
The Performance Project in Springfield helps teens and young adults develop skills in drama, visual arts and more, with a focus on building leadership skills as well. The group’s “First Generation” program is designed in particular to give young people who might be, say, the first in their families to grow up in America, or the first to speak English, a head start in the arts.
On May 8, Mother’s Day, The Performance Project will hold a benefit concert at the Northampton Academy of Music for its First Generation program as well as another project, Ubuntu Arts Community, for children aged 9-13; both programs work directly with BIPOC, immigrant and refugee youth in Springfield and Holyoke.
The Academy concert, which begins at 2:30 p.m. features a range of artists offering jazz, funk, blues and more. Jazz bassist and composer Avery Sharp will play with the saxophonist Charles Langford; both have performed with a wide range of musical luminaries, from Archie Shepp and Wynton Marsalis to Mighty Sam McClain and Steve Turre.
Also on the bill, the afro-funk fusion ensemble The Lost Tribe young jazz singer and actor Taylor Rose Mickens (a former member of the Performance Project) and poet Amina “Illypsis Speaks” Jordan-Mendez. In addition, the current members of the first generation will offer some scenes of their work in progress.
More music at your fingertips
one thousand twelve, a progressive string band from Boston, won the 2020 New Artist of the Year award from the International Bluegrass Music Association. They play The Parlor Room in Northampton on April 30 at 7 p.m.
Valley singer-songwriter Eric Lee plays with the Pennsylvania Bluegrass Band serene green at the Marigold Theater in Easthampton on April 30 at 7 p.m.
the Apple Hill String Quartetjoined by guest pianist Judith Gordonwill play music by Amy Beach, Sato Matsui and Franz Schubert at the Bombyx Center on May 1 at 3 p.m.
Singer-songwriter root Valerie Junewhose last two albums, “The Order of Time” and “The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers,” won critical acclaim, performs at the Academy of Music May 3 at 7:30 p.m. Acoustic Bluesman Buffalo Nichols opens the show.
When he was leading an indie rock band around 1993-2000, Ben bends has done as much as any contemporary musician to make the piano central to the composition of pop music. Folds has since continued to work solo and performed with symphony orchestras and other classical ensembles; he will perform solo at the Calvin Theater in Northampton on May 3 at 8 p.m.
Sean Carey, otherwise known as S. Carey, was a drummer and backing vocalist with indie folk band Bon Iver and is now doing his own thing as a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. He will perform Race Street Live in Holyoke on May 6 at 8 p.m. Courtney Hartman opens.
Here’s a benefit show everyone can support: Rockers of Gynomitis, who play at Miller’s Falls Rod & Gun Club in Turners Falls on May 7 at 7 p.m., hopes to raise money for Steve, a band member’s “lovely Chocolate Labrador.” Steve, only 1.5 years old, needs expensive surgery to fix his legs so he can be fully mobile.
Steve Pfarrer can be contacted at [email protected]