Posted: 2022-03-02 15:17:33
This weekend marks the return of the Back Porch Festival, a four-day (March 3-6) celebration of roots music presented by Signature Sounds that will feature performances by Rickie Lee Jones, Aoife O’Donovan, Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen and others. The festival was inspired by Back Porch Radio, a roots music show airing every Sunday morning on The River-WRSI FM and hosted by Jim Olsen of Signature Sounds.
The festival started as a one-day show in 2014, but has grown into a four-day, multi-site event. Last year, due to COVID-19, it was downsized and moved outdoors to the Pines Theater. But now the Back Porch Festival is back and bigger than ever.
The big news here in Franklin County is that two shows will take place at the Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield. A group of local musicians will perform Dolly Parton songs tonight (March 3) at 7 p.m., then Friday it’s party time with Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentleman at 8 p.m. The other six shows of the festival will take place either at the Academy. of Music or the Parlor Room in Northampton.
The Back Porch Songwriters Night, which is a festival tradition, features a group of local singer-songwriters performing the songs of a well-known artist and will kick off the festival at 7 p.m. at Hawks and Reed tonight. This year, the artist they are paying tribute to is Dolly Parton.
The group of musicians performing are Zara Bode of the Sweetback Sisters, Kris Delmhorst, Tracy Grammer, Ali McGurik, Lisa Bastoni and Kat & Brad. They will be supported by an all-star lineup that includes Chris Brashier, Jim Henry, Paul Kochanski and JJ O’Connell.
Each artist will play a few songs, and they’ll be spoiled for choice considering Parton has been recording since the 1960s and has released 51 studio albums – and that’s not including the soundtracks, live albums and collaborations she has. recorded.
Greenfield singer-songwriter Tracy Grammer grew up listening to country music and, like many of us, was first exposed to the Tennessee singer through her many television appearances. Grammer has become a huge fan.
“It’s great to finally have the chance to study some of his songs and see what I could bring to them,” Grammer said in a recent email exchange. “I’m thrilled with how other artists will interpret Dolly’s music as well.”
She added that she was in awe of Dolly Parton’s impressive catalog which includes over 3,000 songs.
“It makes me wonder what I’ve done with my life,” Grammer added. “With a volume like that, it seems like it would have been daunting to choose, but once I started listening, it didn’t take long for me to find two songs I wanted to learn. One is a heartbreaker; the other has an original structure. I can’t wait to try them on during the tribute.
Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen arrive straight from New Orleans to host a Mardi Gras party at Hawks and Reed on Friday night. Cleary is a pianist/singer who has spent years soaking up the sound of New Orleans, so expect to hear plenty of soul and 70s R&B, funk, blues and jazz.
Cleary had an interesting journey to join the ranks of New Orleans-bound herald musicians. He is British and grew up in Cranbrook, Kent in a musical family. He became addicted to American music from an early age. When his uncle returned from a trip to New Orleans armed with bags full of 45 performers like Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint, Cleary fell in love with what he heard. At the age of 17, he flew to New Orleans and went straight to Maple Leaf Bar. He started working there doing odd jobs, but he was more interested in soaking up the sounds of some of the great musicians like James Booker who played there frequently.
Cleary learned to play the piano and over time he started playing with some of his musical heroes. He became an integral part of the New Orleans music scene and was an in-demand sideman. He’s written songs and toured with Taj Mahal, been Bonnie Raitt’s touring pianist, worked with John Scofield, Dr. John, and the list goes on. He eventually formed his own band, the Absolute Monster Gentlemen, and his 2015 release with the band, “GoGo Juice”, won a Grammy in the roots music category.
Shortly after his Grammy win, Cleary conducted an interview with The Guardian where he reflected on his music and said his sound was not easy to categorize. “I have a good band that makes people want to dance”, is how he summed up his sound – simple and precise. And it goes without saying that Hawks and Reed has the perfect venue for dancing. Cleary comes to Greenfield straight from Mardi Gras in New Orleans, so he’s bound to bring some of the city’s magic with him. So grab your dancing shoes and don’t miss the biggest party at the Back Porch Festival.
Other Back Porch Festival events are Aoife O’Donovan at the Academy of Music on Friday nights at 7 p.m. with opening acts by singer-songwriter Taylor Ashton and guitarist Yasmin Williams. On Saturday, a film called “Learning to Live Together: The Return of Mad Dogs & Englishmen,” which explores the classic band’s history and includes a reunion, will screen at the Academy of Music at 7 p.m. Also Saturday, singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault will perform at the Parlor Room at 7 p.m. (This show was rescheduled from January at Hawks and Reed.)
Sunday begins with the Back Porch radio show airing live in the Parlor Room from 9 a.m. to noon. This is a free event with special guests on hand to perform. Country singer Bella White will perform in the Parlor Room for an afternoon show at 3 p.m. The festival ends with the one and only Rickie Lee Jones at the Academy of Music at 7 p.m. carries.
Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at [email protected].