As the 2006 Roots of the River Festival wound down, Charlie Hunter told me he was ready for a rest. Half a year later, he was still promoting shows in Bellows Falls.
But Charlie was working on a graceful exit.
“There’s a guy in town who is very eager to learn about how one presents stuff, and he’s sort of serving as my intern,” he told me. “My hope is … he can step up to the plate.“
That “guy” was self-described “recovering lawyer” Ray Massucco – and boy, did he ever.
Ray’s Vermont Festivals LLC is gearing up for another long weekend of Fred Eaglesmith and friends, and planning a bevy of local shows in the coming months.
He couldn’t persuade a well-known shipping company to sponsor “Fred X” – Ray’s nickname for the 10th annual show. But everything else is firing on all cylinders.
Slide guitar ace Sonny Landreth shares the bill with Chris Smither at a Bellows Falls Opera House show opening the June event. Red Molly and Josh Maiocco are confirmed for the weekend, while negotiations are ongoing with other big names.
Upcoming shows at Boccelli’s on the Canal include Mark Erelli with Stephen Chipman on February 6, and a great double bill featuring Boccelli’s favorite Chris O’Brien and the local debut of folksinger Jenee Halstead set for February 28.
Seth Glier and Roots show-stealer Mary Gauthier visit in March and April, respectively.
Though Massucco is continuing Charlie Hunter’s Flying Under Radar tradition of bringing the best up and coming Americana talent to southern Vermont, he’s put his own unique stamp on things.
Last fall, he persuaded the Vermont Symphony Orchestra to make its first-ever Bellows Falls appearance. They loved the newly renovated Opera House, and will return for an encore performance in October.
Massucco says the region lacks the population density to book two shows every month. But he’s encouraged that music fans from as far away as Northampton, Massachusetts are making the trek to Vermont for something other than skiing and leaf peeping.
As June approaches, I asked Ray how it felt to be a seasoned pro.
“I’ll tell you when I get there,” he answered modestly, cautioning that it will only be his third festival. “I need to match Charlie’s seven, but if they are all this much fun, I’ll keep going.”
I’m betting he’ll get there.
What’s up for the weekend?
Thursday: Sweet Honey in the Rock, Rollins Chapel – The gospel quintet perform Friday at the Hop; today’s appearance is a special outreach called “The Power of Song: Singing in the African-American Tradition.” It’s an interactive vocal workshop demonstrating “how music crosses class divides to develop cooperative spirit in African-American communities.” As Pete Townshend sings – you can dance while your knowledge is growing.
Friday – (Who Are The) Brain Police, 7 Barrel Brewery – “No f-ing ballads!” is this cheeky band’s slogan. They borrow both their name and spirit from Frank Zappa, but oddly their song list doesn’t include anything from the Mothers of Invention. They do cover everything else, from AC/DC to the Dead Milkmen, and keep the fun quotient high. A set highlight is their breakneck rendition of Ween’s “Stroker Ace.”
Saturday – Spectris, Stone Church (Brattleboro) – A five-band show includes local power trio Spectris, Curst, A Breath Beyond Broken, and In Memory Of Pluto – with one more to be added. This one’s for people who like their music hard and unrelenting. It’s presented by Graveyard Booking, which has plans for at least two more Brattleboro shows in the coming months, and clear ambitions for many more.
Sunday: Click Jam, Peter Christian’s Tavern – This weekly jam session got underway at the end of December. It features Click Horning, who fronted Night Kitchen back in the day and now leads an eponymous trio. Bill Staines and Harvey Reid, among others, have covered Click’s songs. Former Night Kitchen member Gerry Putnam stops by occasionally, along with other friends. It’s a nice new addition to the local scene.
Tuesday: Acoustic Coalition, Murphy Farm – This loose affiliation embodies the Upper Valley scene. Most of the players at this weekly jam session, based in Quechee for the winter, gig with other bands – some with several. Dave Clark often leads the festivities (though a few of his weekly missives have come from out of state); Dave’s Yellow House Media website, a great source for all things local and musical, contains a sampling of the inspired fun that transpires.
Wednesday: The Year of Magical Thinking, Briggs Opera House – Northern Stage presents this devastating account of grief and loss. Joan Didion’s husband John Gregory Dunne died suddenly just days after their daughter entered the hospital with pneumonia (she died of pancreatitis less than a year later). In writing about coping and caring for her sick daughter, Didion employs characteristic precision; the result is a masterpiece. Vanessa Redgrave performed the one-woman show on Broadway,