Weekend Preview April 7-10



An exhibition of abstract rural landscapes by upstate New York painter Tracy Helgeson opens with an artist’s reception on Friday, April 8, at 5, at The Harrison Gallery in Williamstown, Mass. The show runs through the end of April.
Tracy Helgeson was born in Rochester, Minn. She attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, majoring in Graphic Design and then attended the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts) where she studied illustration. Philadelphia was a great influence on Helgeson, and it was there that her work began to take on a unique style as she learned the under painting skills and glazing techniques that distinguish her current work.
In 2003, Helgeson relocated to upstate New York and, greatly inspired by the natural beauty surrounding the farmhouse that she lives and works in, she began painting landscapes and other farm related imagery such as barns and fields. While she continues to focus on the landscape, she is also pursuing several new directions, including paintings of monochromatic (black) structures and a series of portraits called “People You Know.”
Tracy Helgeson’s landscapes – inspired by the old barns and farm fields around her home near Cooperstown, N.Y.  –  are original, distinctive and surely unconventional. Her vibrant magenta barns and fuchsia colored trees leap to the eye and stick to the mind.
“I used to do conventional landscapes but for me they were too dark and moody,” says Helgeson. “I broke with tradition and started using brighter, livelier colors like purple, orange and blue that are not usually seen in landscapes.” Her work is rooted in actual scenes and places, but she freely changes composition, color and light to get the evocative look she’s after. In the beginning, she says, she struggled to make her paintings more abstract, fighting her natural instinct to be representational. What she achieved is a body of paintings that come from, as she says, “a combination of observation and imagination.”
Helgeson’s paintings achieve their visual glow through a process that starts with an underpainting. She first coats a wood panel with a faintly orange oil paint and spreads it with a cotton cloth. “It’s messy,” she says. “I use my fingers to scratch in the sharper lines on, say, the roof of a barn or the edge of a road.” She lets it dry for a few days and then applies colors by brush in thin layers of transparent and opaque glazes that leave the brushstrokes showing. This allows the color and texture of the underpainting to show through.

The Harrison Gallery

Williamstown, Mass.



A busy four-day weekend at Club Helsinki in Hudson, N.Y., kicks off on Thursday, April 7, with a country double-bill featuring and the Sweetback Sisters, followed Friday night by the ska sounds of Hudson-based . On Saturday, April 9, Club d’Elf, fronted by bassist/composer Mike Rivard, is joined by the multi-talented keyboardist John Medeski for a night of Moroccan-dosed dub-trance-jazz, and singer-songwriter Greg Brown brings the curtain down on Helsinki’s weekend on Sunday, April 10.

J.P. Harris has lived the songs he writes for well over a decade, getting his start around fires in sheep-herding camps in the southwest and hobo jungles across the country. Compared by many to George Jones, Billie Joe Shaver, and even rising star Jamey Johnson, J.P. writes with the humor, grit, and grace that only a truly road-worn author can summon. In just over a year, The Tough Choices have traveled nearly 65,000 miles and played nearly 100 dates, from Vermont to Louisiana to California, from festival stages to roadhouses you can't find on a map.

The Brooklyn-based Sweetback Sisters play their own brand of rollicking country swing, and the sound is as infectious as it is touching. Their charismatic charm harkens back to the golden era of both the silver screen cowgirl and the ersatz cowboy stars of local UHF TV kiddie shows. That whimsical exterior is wrapped around a core of deeply felt love for traditional country music styles and a palpable joy in playing and singing together.
The Sweetback Sisters debut album, Chicken Ain't Chicken, mixes country classics and a handful of new songs all topped with a healthy dash of winking irreverence and freewheeling enthusiasm. While Zara Bode and Emily Miller stand out front with their matching dresses and seamless harmonies, they are quick to point out that the Sweetback Sisters are a band, made all the richer by the contributions of each member.
Hudson hometown favorites Mother Fletcher retake the Helsinki stage with an eclectic and one of a kind mix of ska, rock and reggae. Their well-culled blend of music brings together sounds and styles from all over the world; with the inventive sounds of an unusual coupling of instruments like the Far Eastern-rooted harmonium mingled with sardonic sweet sounds of the violin. With lyrics that convey lost love, loneliness, regret and the hope of new beginnings, Mother Fletcher keeps it surprisingly upbeat and extremely danceable.

Club d'Elf is joined by the multi-talented John Medeski for a night of music Moroccan-dosed dub-trance-jazz, drawing upon electronica, Moroccan Gnawa music, dub, free jazz, hip-hop & funk to create a heady, danceable mix. Club d’Elf convened for the first time in 1998, spearheaded and fronted by bassist/composer Mike Rivard, a busy session player who has recorded and  performed with Morphine, Jon Brion, Aimee Mann, G Love & Jonatha Brooke, amongst others.

Rivard drew from the players in the myriad of bands he worked with to fill out the ranks of D'Elf, creating an incredibly diverse rotating cast. Formed around a core rhythm section with the addition of different special guests for each show. The idea was to remix Rivard's groove-based compositions differently for each performance. Guests over the years have included John Medeski & Billy Martin (MMW), DJ Logic, Marc Ribot, Skerik, and Marco Benevento (Benevento / Russo Duo), who all describe the situation thusly: "Club d'Elf consists of Mike Rivard and any cohorts who decide to embark with him into perilous sonic chimeras."

The Helsinki show features John Medeski on keyboards. John may be best known as one-third of Medeski Martin & Wood, but his full body of work goes far beyond that groundbreaking trio. A familiar face in New York's 'downtown' scene, John has performed alongside New York-based musicians such as John Zorn, Marc Ribot, John Lurie, and slide trombonist Steve Bernstein. In addition, a diverse array of artists have sought out John to join them in the recording studio, amongst them, T-Bone Burnett, Rufus Wainwright, Ray Lamontagne, John Scofield, Iggy Pop, Chocolate Genius, Maceo Parker, The Blind Boys of Alabama, and Mavis Staples.
Over the past few years, under the tutelage of member Brahim Fribgane, who hails from Casablanca, Club D’Elf has been absorbing Moroccan trance influences and frequently adding this element to the live mix, showcasing Fribgane's mesmerizing oud stylings and Rivard's commanding playing of the Moroccan sintir, a 3 string bass lute used by the Gnawa people, a mystical Sufi brotherhood descended from sub-Saharan slaves brought to Morocco over 500 years ago.

Club Helsinki Hudson
405 Columbia St.
Hudson, N.Y.

The National Theater of the United States of America (NTUSA) comes to MASS MoCA in North Adams, Mass., on Saturday, April 9, at 8, to present Chautauqua!, a hilarious play that takes a look at the past while reflecting on today's issues and topics. Based on the theatrical and cultural tradition of the Chautauqua Circuit, an American performance phenomenon at the turn of the century, the play celebrates the circuit’s spirit of higher education through the Enlightenment's principles. While still a work-in-progress in 2007, Chautauqua! earned NTUSA a Spalding Gray Award honoring innovative theatrical vision. The performance will include at least two guest artists from the region and will reflect on North Adams’s unique history.

The Chautauqua Circuit which inspired the play was a wildly popular lecture circuit that flourished across America from 1874 to the Great Depression, using family-friendly entertainment and enlightened discourse to educate rural residents on science, art, culture and progressive politics. Theodore Roosevelt called Chautauqua “the most American thing about America.” Presented in big tents around the country, the Chautauqua Circuit had a grand impact on American culture in the era before mass entertainment, when folks from all over would gather under a big tent for entertainment and edification.
The New Yorker chose NTUSA’s Chautauqua! as the best off-Broadway theater show of 2009, saying: “There is no theatre company in New York quite like the National Theater of the United States of America, and there was no other show this past season quite like this one. Modeled on the historical lecture circuit of the late nineteenth century, Chautauqua! was part history pageant, part public service, part farce, and part Pirandellian theatrical experiment that earnestly sought to engage its local audiences not just with its past but with its present-a slick, ambitious, rigorous, and big-hearted celebration of all things theatrical and democratic.” The magazine’s initial review said, “With a keen eye for design and a penchant for the surprising, the young ensemble miraculously keeps this fusty-sounding project from devolving into a simple museum piece. ... They turn this bizarre footnote in American history into a timely, beautiful meditation on the relationship between the arts, urbanity, community, and economics.”
Tickets are available through the MASS MoCA Box Office located off Marshall Street in North Adams, open from 11 to 5.

Folk-rock pioneer Roger McGuinn, co-founder of the legendary group the Byrds, will perform a solo concert at The Clark () in Williamstown, Mass., on Saturday, April 9 at 8. McGuinn was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 as the leader of the Byrds, one of the most influential bands in modern musical history. McGuinn’s groundbreaking guitar lines, like the famous opening of his version of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and his incomparable skill on his trademark 12-string Rickenbacker guitar, have made him an equally successful solo artist.

Twenty years ago, at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Celebration at Madison Square Garden in New York City, McGuinn stood shoulder to shoulder with the likes of George Harrison, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty and Dylan himself to trade verses of Dylan’s song “My Back Pages,” with which the Byrds also scored a hit. It was a moving, emotional moment that underscored the fact that McGuinn has always been something of an unsung, overlooked hero of rock history, as well as a peer and colleague of the likes of Harrison, Young, Clapton, and Petty, especially.

Roger McGuinn’s influence cannot be overestimated – artists who have sought him out for collaboration include Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, Chris Hillman, David Crosby, Michael Penn, and Bob Dylan himself, who invited McGuinn to join him on the historic Rolling Thunder Revue tour of 1975-'76.

In more recent years, McGuinn has returned to his folk music roots, recording Treasures From The Folk Den, including duets with Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Odetta, Jean Ritchie, Josh White Jr., and Frank and Mary Hamilton. Treasures From The Folk Den was nominated for the 2002 Grammy for “Best Traditional Folk Album.”


The Clark is located at reet in Williamstown, Mass.

Gioachino Rossini’s comic masterpiece, Le Comte Ory, will be screened simultaneously at The Clark in Williamstown, Mass., and at the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington, Mass., on Saturday, April 9 at 1, live from the Metropolitan Opera as part of the Peabody- and Emmy Award-winning series The Met: Live in HD. Directed by Bartlett Sher and conducted by Maurizio Benini, this production stars bel canto sensation Juan Diego Flórez as Le Comte Ory who vies with his page for the love of the lonely Countess Adèle, sung by soprano Diana Damrau. Running time is approximately three hours.

When the men of the Formoutiers court depart for the Crusades, the scheming Comte Ory takes advantage of the situation to win the love of the Countess Adèle. He disguises himself as a wise hermit who is visiting the village to dispense love advice. Adèle seeks his counsel for a cure for her depression, and he suggests that she fall in love. She takes his advice—but falls for his page Isolier instead. The opera’s second act finds Ory and his band of men disguised as nuns to gain entry into Adèle’s castle. Over a raucous dinner, Isolier recognizes Ory and devises a plan to teach him a lesson he will not soon forget.
Performed as an opera within an opera, Le Comte Ory has received rave reviews for its exuberant, stylish, and inventive staging. The New York Times names Le Comte Ory “one of Rossini’s wittiest and most seamless and sophisticated works” and praises Sher’s “lively, colorful and inventive production.” Celebrated tenor Juan Diego Flórez performs as the Comte who schemes to win the forlorn Countess Adèle, played by Diana Damrau. Flórez and Damrau are joined by mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato as Ory’s savvy page, Isolier.

The Clark

Williamstown, Mass.

The Mahaiwe
Castle Street
Great Barrington, Mass.


Freedom Riders, the powerful, harrowing and ultimately inspirational story of six months in 1961 that changed America forever, receives an advance screening on Thursday, April 7, at 6:30 at the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington, Mass. The screening will be followed by a conversation facilitated by Bernard Lafayette, Jr. and veteran Freedom Riders Albert Gordon, Jean D. Thompson, and James Breeden, of the Berkshires. 

From May until November 1961, more than 400 black and white Americans risked their lives—and many endured savage beatings and imprisonment—for simply traveling together on buses and trains as they journeyed through the Deep South. Deliberately violating Jim Crow laws, the Freedom Riders’ belief in non-violent activism was sorely tested as mob violence and bitter racism greeted them along the way. Freedom Riders features testimony from a fascinating cast of central characters: the Riders themselves, state and federal government officials, and journalists who witnessed the rides firsthand. Produced, written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson (Wounded Knee, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, The Murder of Emmett Till), Freedom Riders premieres on the PBS series AMERICAN EXPERIENCE in May 2011.

Presented by WGBY and the Friends of the W.E.B. Du Bois Homesite in conjunction with the Triplex and the Berkshire International Film Festival, the advance screening of this film with three Freedom Riders in attendance will foster a rare opportunity for the community to hear first-hand from freedom riders and explore current implications of the film’s themes of civic engagement and non-violent activism.

Prior to the Great Barrington screening, at 5:30 PM, attend the opening of a special installation in the Triplex Cinema Lobby — Becoming a Son of Great Barrington: W.E.B. Du Bois. This multi-media exhibition created by the Public History Program at University of Massachusetts at Amherst will orient visitors to the life and historical significance of the civil rights pioneer, and to the hometown that profoundly influenced the formation of his ideas, life, and career. Walking and motor tour guides to sites in and around Great Barrington as Du Bois knew and recalled them will also be available.

It’s big-band weekend in the Berkshires, with free concerts by the U.S. Air Force jazz ensemble, the Liberty Big Band, featuring trumpeter Marvin Stamm, on Friday, April 8, at 7:30 at the Colonial in Pittsfield, Mass., and the Bill Lowe-Andy Jaffe Big Band, in a return engagement on Saturday, April 9 at 8 in Chapin Hall on the Williams College campus in Williamstown, Mass.

The Liberty Big Band concert at the Colonial Theatre is part of the city's 250th birthday celebration, as well as being part of the nationwide Jazz Appreciation Month initiative of the Smithsonian Institution. “Pittsfield loves a big band, and we’ll have a chance to show that appreciation with one of the finest jazz ensembles of the day,” said Edward Bride, president of Berkshires Jazz, the presenting organization. The USAF Liberty Big Band plays familiar and new jazz selections with style and sophistication. The 16-piece ensemble, which has been entertaining audiences for more than a quarter of a century, is based at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Mass.
Marvin Stamm, an alumnus of the Stan Kenton orchestra, divides his career among jazz education, small-group performances, and tours as a guest artist. No stranger to the Berkshires, he is also a mainstay in the Westchester (N.Y.) Jazz Orchestra and has appeared at Tanglewood. During his visit to Pittsfield, Stamm will also conduct a workshop with the Pittsfield High School jazz ensemble.
Although the Colonial concert is free, advance tickets are suggested, and are available at the Colonial Theatre box office, reet, Pittsfield,. Mass., or by telephone at .
Bill Lowe, a tubist and bass trombonist, has made his mark over the last decades as a big band performer with such artists the great bebop trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie, Eartha Kitt, Frank Foster, and trumpeter Clark Terry. Lowe also worked with the leaders of the avant-garde like James Jabbo Ware, Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill, and Cecil Taylor. He also leads several of his own ensembles.

Andy Jaffe is perhaps best known to the general public for leading the Williams Jazz Ensemble and as the director of jazz activities at Williams College and as an educator. To jazz musicians, his street credibility can be chalked up to his chops as a bass player, pianist, composer and arranger. Jaffe’s bona fides include performances or recordings of his original compositions with Max Roach, Richard Stoltzman, and former students Branford Marsalis, Wallace Roney, and Marvin “Smitty Smith,” among many others.

The drive to build organizational and musical bridges is part of what makes these two jazz artists tick. Bill Lowe, introduced to Williamstown audiences last year as co-leader of the swinging Lowe-Jaffe Big Band, returns this year as the Sterling Brown ’22 Visiting Professor of Music and Africana Studies, and the jazz and college community look forward to welcoming him and learning from his unique experience as a musician who was at the epicenter of an unusually creative phase of American music.
The Lowe-Jaffe Big Band, comprised of players from all over the Northeast, counts among its ranks some of the finest free-lance professionals in the scene today. Performing original repertoire, much of it by Andy Jaffe, this hard driving ensemble leaves no doubt that the big band is an original American form of expression living and kicking into the twenty-first century. Featuring arrangements that push jazz into new territories, the enthusiasm and technical wizardry of the rank and file of the band propel this group on a jazz journey.

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