August has raged into arts indie with the force of a hurricane; we had back-to-back street festivals (North Adams’ DownStreet Art on Thursday followed by Pittsfield’s First Fridays Artswalk a mere 24 hours later) followed by back-to-back concerts (The Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood on Friday night right after the Artswalk, followed by an entire day of music at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival on Saturday). So at the moment, I’m lying on the couch with a heap of cushions supporting my head and another pile of pillows underneath my knees, trying to recover enough from attending the rich cultural smorgasbord of last week’s events enough to actually write about them, while vaguely recalling that one of those British supermodels once remarked on camera, “I wish someone had told me before I got into this business that an incredibly glamorous career was actually incredibly stressful, back-breaking labor.” But hey, if you’re from the Berkshires – you’re used to a little crazy weather, right? So get yourself a big cup of coffee, and imagine that you’re putting on thick rubber goulashes and wrapping yourself in a few yards of that slick, heavy-duty, school-bus yellow rain gear – because from DownStreet to Upstreet, from Shostakovich to the Grand Slambovians, arts indie is going to plunge you head first into Hurricane Art.
The storm began on Thursday the 31st with DownStreet Art in North Adams. The weather was threatening in actuality as well as metaphorically that day; thunder grumbled on the horizon off and on all afternoon and the clouds moved in during the unveiling of Corwin Levi’s mural “Circumnavigating Through” on the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge Route 2 overpass (the St. Anthony’s Drive side). The stream of 500 black and white balloons unleashed by the “ribbon-cutting” only seemed to irritate the rainclouds, and we barely made it to Independent Art Projects on the MASS MoCA campus before it started to pour. Fortunately for us, waiting out the rain in the gallery run by Leslie Ferrin and Cynthia Reeves is a treat; we had no trouble spending some extra time admiring the ceramics, from the purposefully fractured and twisted vase by Steven Young Lee to the gargantuan mock-collage vases by Sin-Ying Ho to the intricate songbirds atop plinths and columns (not to mention a rat-infested fruit bowl) by Christopher Russell. Balancing out the porcelain is some large-scale photography by Tanya Marcuse, several elaborate paper-sculpture landscapes by Lauren Fensterstock, and a digitally-altered video installation by Shuli Sadé. Fensterstock and Lee will be on display through August 24th; Marcuse, Russell and Sadé will be on view until September 21st, and Ho’s work will remain in the gallery until November 30th.
The downpour was short-lived and we were soon able to return to Main Street to catch the rest of the art. Our gallery-hopping was punctuated with a fun mix of street performances, from stilt walkers Mark Alexander and his Mortal Beasts and Dieties, to an eclectic assortment of bands (Bang On A Can, Alex Torres and the Latin Jazz Sextet, And the Kids, Kimono Dragons, and Leap the Dips), to Ye Olde DJ spinning records at PRESS Gallery, where the current exhibit is “Nature As Medicine, Nature as Companion.” The show features wood-mounted monotypes by printmaker Erika Radich and thousands of tiny ceramic sculptures by Jae OK Lee that come housed in vintage wooden printer trays or apothecary dressers. Right next door in MCLA Gallery 51 (you can cross over through the back of PRESS) is Julia Morgan-Leamon’s solo show “Split/Level”, which combines diverse artistic mediums (watercolors, video, and assemblages) to depict scenes from mid-century middle-class American suburban juxtaposed with the clash-of-old-and-new modern-day cityscapes from Cairo. Other noteworthy exhibits include Nava Atlas in DIScourse Gallery A (behind the CONcourse Gallery, inside 85 Main Street), whose show “Read Me: Artist’s Books, Altered Books, and Related Installations” combines mid-century imagery with ironic social commentary (“Gender-Role Casserole”, anyone?) in a way that reminds us of Michael McKay, only with a very female twist. And be sure to catch “Figuring In” at the Rudd Art Museum; dedicated to showcasing regional artists, its inaugural exhibit (thoughtfully curated by Dr. Keith Shaw) features a rich assortment of figurative art by Paul Chojnowski, Kris Galli, Lisa Griffith, Meryl Joseph, Casey Krawczyk, arts indie’s own Leo Mazzeo, Julia Morgan-Leamon, Viola Moriarty, William Oberst, Doug Paisley, Michael Rousseau, Joel Rudnick, Brent Whitney, and David Zaig. All of the above-mentioned shows will be on display through August (check with individual galleries for the exact closing dates).
Hurricane Art really started gathering steam on Friday, August 1st. We started off with Susan Geller’s opening reception in the lobby of Berkshire Medical Center at 3PM. Geller is a close personal friend as well as a gifted photographer and occasional contributor to arts indie; she was resplendent in her red summer dress, and (as always) a masterful hostess – her reception included Alan Bauman’s band JAZZMEN and three different kinds of her exceptional home-made cookies, in addition to her wonderful photographs. After leaving BMC we had to undertake a rather time-consuming detour to conduct unrelated arts indie business that left us pressed for time, and feeling a bit frantic, we zipped up to the top of North Street and proceeded to cram three hours of First Fridays Artswalk into 45 minutes, our 8PM tickets to Tanglewood burning an insistent hole in our pockets to speed us along. Fortunately, Leo has the venue map firmly memorized, having been one of the driving forces behind getting the Artswalk founded in 2012. Like a gale-force wind, Leo and I sped through Upstreet Pittsfield (if life came with a soundtrack, this is the part where the approaching-tornado-music from “The Wizard of Oz” would start to play), whizzing through the Marketplace (where Phil Webster has an exhibit of elaborate digitally created geometric prints on aluminum), and on to Unusual Wedding Rings & More (featuring vibrantly colored Hebrew Letter Mandalas by Analesa Rose Berg; 10% of all sales will be donated to Music in Common to support their work with teens from Israel, Palestine, and the United States), a sprint up the street to the BCC Intermodal Gallery (now showing Terry Rooney’s unusually-shaped 3D painted collages), and finally a dash over to the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts. “BAA Redux: Industrial Manifest” is a juried show that is part of the city’s “Art + Industry” theme this year (said theme the brainchild of the inestimable Megan Whilden, the former Czarina of Cultural Affairs for the City of Pittsfield), and it features the work of a dozen artists: Morris Bennett, Denise B Chandler, Kevin Francis Downs, Sara Farrell Okamura, Erika Fortner, Ken Green, Ellen Joffe-Halpern, Eric Korenmann, Jim Lawton, Evan Soldinger, Scott Taylor, and Joe Wheaton. As with DownStreet Art, all the shows that opened for First Friday Artswalk will remain on display through the month of August.
By some miracle, we made it to Tanglewood on time for the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade in C for Strings, Opus 48”, Shostakovich’s “Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Minor, Opus 35”, and Schumann’s “Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Opus 120.” Marcelo Lehninger conducted the evening’s concert, and the very talented Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Thomas Rolfs provided the solo piano and trumpet, respectively, on the Shostakovich piece. It was a lovely summer evening and the music was lush, harmonious, and impassioned; we especially liked the Tchaikovsky Serenade, the most romantic and haunting of the three pieces.
It was past midnight by the time we made it home from Tanglewood, and despite our excitement about Saturday’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, we were not keen on setting our alarm clocks for 6AM and flying off to Dodds Farm in Hillsdale on five-and-a-half-hour’s sleep. This year marked the 26th year of the annual “Three-Day Community of Folk Music and Dance” for Falcon Ridge, and it’s the kind of event that hard-core fans attend religiously year after year. It ran August 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, but overbooked as we were with Hurricane Art, we could only manage to attend all day Saturday. But that gave us a fantastic line-up of performances, from Tom Paxton (who became the reigning master of the old guard folk music with the recent demise of Pete Seeger) to Cheryl Wheeler (representing the funny side of folk) to the Grand Slambovians (formerly known as Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams, they are about as far away from Paxton and Seeger as one can get and still be considered a folk music performer – and their lead singer Joziah Longo openly questions the band’s qualifications as such on stage). Add to that the fact that the overcast, gloomy morning brightened soon after our arrival and turned into a glorious day, the plethora of interesting vendors and food servers, and the general hippy everything-is-beautiful-in-its-own-way vibe of both the festival itself and the attending audience, and you’ve got yourself all the ingredients for a stellar concert experience. Sitting on the grassy hillside in a prime viewing location while listening to sister-duo Nerissa and Katryna Nields (followed by Spuyten Duyvil), we watched the concert-goers as much as we watched the concert itself. There were little kids running to and fro; college girls in flowing silk sundresses flying kites; a pair of goth tweens, clad head-to-toe in black lace; and later, as the dusk approached, the kids reappeared in pajamas, and we watched as a happily-married 30-something hippy couple cheerfully tried to waltz to a Ronny Cox song while an 8-year-old boy twined between their legs like a cat. Cox joked that Falcon Ridge was the kind of place where you could leave ten thousand dollars on your deck chair and walk away, and when you came back, some helpful stranger would have placed a rock on your cash to keep it from blowing away; we aren’t going to put that assertion to the test, but we do agree that there is a definite warm, fuzzy, we’re-all-a-big-happy-family feel to the festival.
It was well after 2AM when we returned home and collapsed into bed, completely exhausted from the overdose of art and music. And holy crap, we’re going to do it all over again next weekend (same pace, but different events)! Of course, that gives you another episode in the on-going chronicle of the adventures of Leo and Tammara to anticipate; as for me, well, I think I’m going to need a bigger coffee pot…and better rain gear, because it looks like Hurricane Art will continue to rage through arts indie for a while longer. Hmmm, do you think there’s any chance that my flood insurance would cover the cost of a spa day???