The Beat Goes On: The Iron Horse comes back to life, Joni Mitchell’s music is celebrated in Turners Falls, and more

Singer-songwriter Stephen Kellogg, who worked at the Iron Horse before he began his music career, returns to the club May 18.

Singer-songwriter Stephen Kellogg, who worked at the Iron Horse before he began his music career, returns to the club May 18. Image from Iron Horse website

Amherst native Mtali Banda brings his fusion of jazz, funk, soul and more to the Iron Horse May 25.

Amherst native Mtali Banda brings his fusion of jazz, funk, soul and more to the Iron Horse May 25. Image from Iron Horse website

Big Yellow Taxi channels the music of Joni Mitchell on May 18 at the Shea Theater in Montague.

Big Yellow Taxi channels the music of Joni Mitchell on May 18 at the Shea Theater in Montague. Photo by Julian Parker-Burns/courtesy Rich Callihane

Ukranian native Solomiya Ivakhiv joins harpichordist Steven Beck on May 22 at the West Whately Chapel for a benefit concert for Ukrainian musicians.

Ukranian native Solomiya Ivakhiv joins harpichordist Steven Beck on May 22 at the West Whately Chapel for a benefit concert for Ukrainian musicians. Image courtesy Watermelon Wednesdays

Valley Jazz Voices performs May 18 in the Blue Room at CitySpace in Easthampton.

Valley Jazz Voices performs May 18 in the Blue Room at CitySpace in Easthampton. Image from Valley Jazz Voices website

Acoustic roots musician Michael Tarbox, frontman for The Tarbox Ramblers, plays the Parlor Room in Northampton May 18.

Acoustic roots musician Michael Tarbox, frontman for The Tarbox Ramblers, plays the Parlor Room in Northampton May 18. Image courtesy Michael Tarbox

The Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra concludes its 2023-2024 season with a May 18 show at the Bombyx Center in Florence.

The Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra concludes its 2023-2024 season with a May 18 show at the Bombyx Center in Florence. Image from Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra

Lux Deluxe comes to The Drake in Amherst May 23, along with Eleanor Levine and 2/3rds The Bird.

Lux Deluxe comes to The Drake in Amherst May 23, along with Eleanor Levine and 2/3rds The Bird. Image from The Drake website

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 05-16-2024 1:30 PM

It’s finally happening. Nearly seven months after ownership officially changed hands, and following extensive renovations, the Iron Horse Music Hall, shuttered since late March 2020, threw open its doors this week with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a sold-out concert.

Now the Horse, first opened in February 1979 as a modest coffeehouse that also featured some music, seems poised, under the management of The Parlor Room Collective, to try and reclaim the position it once held as Northampton’s premiere music venue.

The fun starts this weekend, with the return of some old friends who have close ties to the club. Tonight’s show (Friday, May 17), with multi-style guitarist, singer and songwriter Erin McKeown and rockers Spouse has unfortunately just sold out. But on May 18, singer-songwriter and /folk rocker Stephen Kellogg, who worked at the club years ago before making his name as a performer, will return to play at 7 p.m.

McKeown likely spoke for many when they told the Gazette in an interview last month that the “excitement I’ve felt already for the reopening, from all corners of my community and social life in the Valley, has been off the charts.”

The revamped Horse will keep the focus primarily on regional artists in these initial weeks. On May 24 at 7:30, the Northampton Arts Council presents the third annual Bow Bow Bash, a benefit show for a high school music scholarship program named after the late Northampton musician J. Scott Brandon. A number of bands and ensembles from Northampton High School, including the Jazz Ensemble, take the stage.

And on May 25 starting at 7 p.m., you can catch the jazz, funk, and soul sounds of saxophonist and composer Mtali Banda, an Amherst native, and the work of another Valley favorite, pop-jazz singer and songwriter Kimaya Diggs.

Keep your eye on the Iron Horse schedule as it moves into summer, with other regional favorites joining a number of acclaimed performers — Aoife O’Donovan, Sonny Landreth, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings — at the fabled club.

 

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Pot company to pay $350K fine over worker’s death at Holyoke plant
Plainfield man, 55, dies in crash
Northampton panel member’s reappointment opposed after ‘ugly’ handicapped access remark
Statewide 911 outage fixed after two hours offline
UMass launches task force in wake of spring protests, will also review police activity
Belchertown voters resoundingly strike down override for new middle school

Most tribute bands tend to cover, well, other bands, from the Beatles to the Rolling Stones to the Grateful Dead to ACDC, to any number of other, mostly dormant rock groups.

What about Joni Mitchell?

Big Yellow Taxi, which comes to the Shea Theater in Montague on May 18 at 8 p.m., plays a range of music by the iconic singer-songwriter, a multiple Grammy winner who Rolling Stone has called “one of the greatest songwriters ever.”

The six-member Valley band, formed in the spring of 2021 following the worst of the pandemic, is made up of music pros whose resumes include gigging with a host of other names, both local and more far-flung: Trailer Park, King Radio, Dicey Riley, Art Neville, and Bo Diddley, among others.

What unites them, says bassist and guitarist Rich Cahillane, is their love for Mitchell’s varied repertoire, from her earlier folk and pop material to her later explorations of jazz and world music. There’s also the challenge involved in recreating music that Mitchell often played in unusual guitar tunings and time signatures.

“When (lead singer Teresa Lorenço) first started talking about playing Joni’s music, we were all like ‘Yes!’” said Cahillane, a longtime record producer in Leverett. He says when he was in his first band, during high school in Northampton in 1970, Mitchell’s music “was a big part of our playlist.”

The May 18 show will be centered on songs from “Court and Spark,” released a little over 50 years ago; it was Mitchell’s first move into jazz and jazz fusion and yielded some of her most successful singles.

“We’ve been building our repertoire,” Cahillane says. “We play some of the popular hits, but we’ve also been investigating some of her less well-known tracks … as musicians, it’s fascinating to dig in and see how a song is constructed.”

Rounding out Big Yellow Taxi (named for one of Mitchell’s most well-known tunes) are Joe FitzPatrick on drums, John Cabán on electric guitar, Robert Sherwood on keyboards, and Anne Patterson on percussion; the latter two provide most of the backup vocals.

Cahillane says the band stays pretty faithful to Mitchell’s arrangements but is also willing “to take liberties” on some songs, noting that Mitchell herself often varied her live performances from her records: “We feel we approach her songs in the same spirit she did.”

 

Watermelon Wednesdays, the acoustic music series that takes place in the snug West Whately Chapel, began over 25 years ago strictly as a summer concert program, with fresh watermelon slices served up for audience members during intermission.

But the series has grown over the years to include some winter and spring shows, too, including on May 22, when Ukrainian native and violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv comes to the chapel at 7:30 p.m.

Ivakhi, who teaches music at the University of Connecticut and the Longy School of Music of Bard College in Cambridge, is an acclaimed soloist and chamber musician who’s played in concert halls across the U.S. and Europe.

West Whately might be a more modest venue, but Ivakhi’s concert will also benefit a good cause, raising money for Ukrainian musicians in response to Ukraine’s ongoing war with Russia.

Ivakhiv played a solo benefit show in Whately last fall, but this time she’ll be joined by Steven Beck, a UMass Amherst professor of keyboard music, on harpsichord, with the two musicians playing a selection of Bach sonatas for violin and harpsichord.

More music on tap

Indie rock with The Fawns and instrumental jazz-rock with Vimana are on the bill tonight (Friday, May 17) at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield. The night begins at 7:30 p.m. with music from Dj Andujar.

Valley Jazz Voices, the long-running, community jazz vocal group, comes to CitySpace in Easthampton on May 18 at 7 p.m. A singers’ open mic follows at 8:15 p.m.

Michael Tarbox, frontman for the rootsy acoustic group The Tarbox Ramblers, plays a solo show on May 18 at 7:30 p.m. at The Parlor Room in Northampton.

The Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra will be at the Bombyx Center in Florence on May 18 at 7 p.m. to play arrangements of music by Bach, the Beatles, Heitor Villa-Lobos and more.

The Drake in Amherst will feature a variety of indie rock on May 23, beginning at 8 p.m., with Eleanor Levine, Lux Deluxe, and 2/3rds the Bird. The show benefits research for a cure for ocular melanoma, eye cancer.

It’s a night for rootsy rock at Luthier’s Co-op in Easthampton on May 25 with Original Cowards (& friends) and Lonesome Brothers, starting at 7 p.m.

Taylor Ho Bynum’s JAK4, an ensemble of cornet, harp, bass clarinet, and bass, will play at Holyoke Media on May 29 at 7:30 p.m, as part of the Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares series.

On a sadder note: The Field Day Music Fest, a new rock and roll festival that was slated to take place at Northampton’s Three County Fairgrounds May 31-June 1, was canceled last week, as organizers say ticket sales and sponsorship didn’t pan out.

In an email to the Gazette and on social media, lead producer Peter Hamelin said despite the festival having “a strong vision, a dedicated team, and a stellar lineup,” lower-than-expected ticket sales and sponsorship had left organizers facing “the very real possibility of devastating financial loss.”

All advance ticket sales are being refunded, said Hamelin, who urged music fans to support other independent music shows in the region.   

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.