In June, the full moon looms large on the horizon because this is when its orbit comes closest to the earth. Farmers called this the “honey” moon because of its characteristic yellow color; because June is also the most popular month for weddings, the post-nuptial holiday wound up taking its name from that month’s lunar nickname. This year, the full moon debuted on a Friday the 13th and that’s a much rarer occurrence than one might think. The last time it happened was in 1919 and it’s not due to happen again until 2049. The moon remains full for three days, which makes the weekend of June 15th-16th a genuine Berkshire honeymoon – and we at arts indie thought that also made it a perfect weekend to chronicle the various edifying activities here in our little Western Massachusetts cultural cul-de-sac.
The origins of the term “honeymoon” being rooted in agriculture, it seemed apropos to begin with the Downtown Pittsfield Farmer’s Market. We were thrilled to wake up to sunshine Saturday after a week of cold rain, so we took our sweet time strolling through, browsing the tables and greeting passing friends – artist Diane Firtell stopped to chat and offered us a taste of the amazing organic strawberries from Taft Farms in Great Barrington and we bumped into another half-dozen people we know.
Socialization aside, there’s a lot more than fruits and veggies being presented for your approval at the Farmer’s Market. Live music is often a staple and folk singing duo Oakes and Smith performed for the crowd this weekend. Speaking of friendly folk, North Plain Farm offers fresh, local meats you can buy by the pound to prepare yourself; the less domestically inclined can pick up a delicious hand-made sausage right off the grill or (and we recommend this highly) indulge in their incredible liverwurst. It makes for a wonderful pairing with a glass of wine from Balderdash Cellars where some absolutely amazing vino is made, bottled and sold by Christian and Donna Hansen right here in Pittsfield. (The winery is one of the city’s hidden gems; it’s located on the corner of East Street and Elm, in a basement beneath a sandwich shop and a bicycle store. Tastings from noon to five on Saturdays and Sundays; Truth Serum and Invincible are particularly enjoyable. While you’re there, be sure to ask the owners how they name their wines because chatting with one or both of the Hansens is as much of a treat as a glass of one of their boutique vintages.)
Providing we don’t have perishable farm-fresh goodies when we leave the market, we like to finish the morning by adjourning to Relish on Fenn Street, conveniently located right next-door. Their new breakfast menu is available all day, which solves a lot of problems for us because we generally roll in around 11:30 with one of us ready for lunch while the other is still in the mood for French toast.
Next we headed out to Springside Park to celebrate “National Get Outdoors Day.” The park offered a string of activities that included yoga, tree planting and “Shakespeare Sword Fighting”, in addition to live music by Erin Landry, Kids 4 Harmony, Cassandra Redd, Melissa Brinton, and the Newell Street Blues. The park has its own little museum, where it displays an eclectic mix of old maps, black-and-white photos of local minor league baseball games from the 50’s, assorted old signage, and (our personal favorite) a collection of Winter Carnival ephemera from the 60’s that inexplicably includes the head from an Easter Bunny costume and a carton of painted eggs. We were still pondering that enigma when we strolled over to the flower gardens and the botanical beauty was worth the trip alone; the bright summer afternoon was fragrant with late-blooming lilac and roses. With the irises swaying gently in the breeze, the gardens were romantic enough for a “honey” moon weekend all by themselves – but we wound up with the additional impact of walking through the roses while Brinton belted out “Are You Strong Enough to be My Man?” and “Kiss Me” from the stage.
Going from garden to gallery, we drove out to Williamstown for the opening reception of Michael McKay’s show “Wax Nostalgic.” McKay is part of Empty Set Projects and we’ve been endangering life and limb for years trying to read those funky signs (“Home-grown Ennui: 35¢ lb.”) in the windows of the Pittsfield studios on the corner of West Housatonic and South Street without rear-ending the car in front of us. He brings that same brand of social commentary a là mid-century grocery store to his current show, which features “assisted ready-made” artwork: cleverly relabeled detergent boxes, soup cans and cleanser canisters, emblazoned with evocative slogans that mimic the familiar logos of Campbell’s Soup, Ajax, and Tide. These are on display amid a gorgeous collection of acrylic paintings by McKay that also draw their inspiration from cold-war era advertisements, skewed to more dystopian themes. The show runs through August 9th at Hudson Art Inc. on Water Street in Williamstown, a cool little gallery run by Jane and Jeff Hudson. Like the Hansens at Balderdash Cellars, go to their establishment for the product, but be sure to spend ten or fifteen minutes talking to the couple that runs the place because having a conversation with either of these husband-and-wife teams is just as much fun as the stuff they sell. (Ask Jane to tell you about the time her and Jeff played in a band that opened for The Clash.)
We rounded out Saturday by attending Scott Barrow’s solo exhibit at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, on 28 Renne Avenue in Pittsfield. The show is entitled “Our Industrial Heritage 2.0” and it’s part of a city-wide summer arts theme set in place by the city’s former Cultural Czarina, Megan Whilden (there’s another mixed artist show based on the same theme in Gallery W of the Whitney Center for the Arts running concurrently this month). Barrow is a gifted photographer who has been plying his trade for a couple of decades; the pieces at the Lichtenstein are vibrantly-colored close-ups, action shots, and macro-photography, which has been archivally printed out on large poster-sized canvas (Barrow runs a gallery in Lenox and does his own printing).
His mission statement includes the quote: “I also love… big, greasy gears, powerful noisy engines, and all things heavy with metal; smoke and sparks and back-lit particulate matter.” The love affair between him and his subjects shows in each of his pieces, from the tender detail of a live-action bullet-hole shattering through supposedly bullet-proof glass to the soulful eyes of an Hispanic factory worker gazing into the camera over his industrial machines. When asked about his process, Barrow eschewed the party-line politics surrounding the heavy post-production often employed by younger photographers; he explains: “I want you to see what I saw, not how clever I am.”
Sunday was sunny but cold and a stiff breeze mandated that the crowd attending the Tamarack Hollow Nature & Cultural Center “Raise the Roof” Fundraiser & Music Fest do so in jackets and windbreakers. Organized by Aimee Gelinas as a fundraiser for the as-yet unconstructed Tamarack Hollow Nature Center, the festival was held in Savoy Town Park. The drive to the park took us through stunning countryside vistas, aglow in the June sunshine, and we couldn’t help but be mindful on arriving that the purpose of the concert was to preserve the natural beauty of this breathtaking region. Gelinas led a group drumming session that was a big hit and three separate ensembles performed a mix of African-Cuban Folk music and Salsa fusion. Trio Candela led the way with Gaia Roots following and a blend of all closed. Gelina’s nephew, Matthew, treated the crowd to a spirited and energetic dance. We enjoyed several of the offerings from the bake sale table – brownies taste better when you’re eating them for a good cause – washed down with a cup of Alan Hayes‘ truly excellent home-roasted coffee and laid in the grass with the sun on our skin and the music washing all around us. It was a lovely way to spend a summer afternoon.
Finally, we wound up at Barrington Stage Company for a performance of the Cole Porter classic musical “Kiss Me, Kate.” We simply can’t recommend it highly enough; it was a Broadway-quality performance by everyone involved, from the fabulous costumes and set design to the amazing choreography. The thirteen-person ensemble of dancers gave flawless performances; they were all on stage for a stellar rendition of “It’s Too Darn Hot” and they blew us away; we were also quite impressed with Calvin Cooper (Hortensio), Tyler Hanes (Lucento) and KC Fredricks (Germio) in the dance-off between Bianca’s suitors that occurs in Act One during Mara Davi (Bianca)’s number “Tom, Dick or Harry.”
The lead female role of Kate, played here by Elizabeth Stanley, is a demanding one. It requires the singing range to go from operatic to cabaret to caterwaul and Stanley ping-ponged between the three smoothly in her wildly entertaining performance of “I Hate Men.” But the award for scene-stealing goes to the two gangsters (hilariously played by Carlos Lopez and Michael Dean Morgan). Their hysterical “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” was worth the price of admission alone. We left the show humming and we leave you now with the encouragement to go out and do what we did after our long weekend of chronicling cultural activities: go find the one you love and take a walk in the moonlight.