South Deerfield’s Downtown: The Good and the Sad

Are the empty storefronts in our little town indicators of what is to come in the future?  I was saddened recently when the one high-end restaurant in South Deerfield, called MRKT, closed its doors in July.  There is now a sign that says ‘for lease’ and like the general store around the corner, it seems unlikely that the for lease sign will go away any time soon.

I did my time trying to revitalize our village. I opened and ran the GoNOMAD Cafe for five years in a space across from the town common.  It’s fortunate that someone has finally rented the space, but it’s a home care agency, just like another similar business that opened two buildings down.  I once used to be so proud of our town, that we had restaurants, a cafe, a successful hardware store and even a pharmacy.  While I am happy to patronize these two last businesses, now the sad blight of empty stores is creeping in.

I was happy to see that the moribund TV shop, Leo’s TV, finally gave way to a new business, the Deerfield Fly Shop.  This type of specialty store might just make its own niche, if enough fishing enthusiasts make it here, and perhaps if he can also sell flies on line. And next door to the fly shop, the Franklin Community Television office just got a bright new leader, in Chris Collins, the radioman and Recorder columnist who was just hired to run the place.  Maybe Chris will energize the station and create television shows that people will be interested in. For now the main programming seems to be people dancing to polka music at a summer chicken barbeque.  We must have more to show off than that.

What I would love is to see someone build a new cafe right off Route 5 at the corner of Elm Street.  For a few months several years ago, the property was listed, and it was touted as a perfect restaurant site.  It is on Route 5, a busy road, and there is almost no other place to find good coffee and a meal right off the road.  What I worry about is that our town has too few people and it’s getting smaller.  In all of Franklin County, the population hovers at about 75,000, a number that hasn’t changed for ten years.  Without new blood, new construction, and new people coming to town, there is no incentive for new businesses except those that benefit from helping the elderly.  So we have two home care operations in retail stores that once served more inspiring purposes.

Art in the Orchard: What a Wonderful Stroll in Easthampton

'Song of the Birth of the Stars by Mark Fenwick, is one of the most memorable of the 28 outdoor sculptures  you'll find at Art in the Orchard this year.

‘Song of the Birth of the Stars, by Mark Fenwick, is one of the most memorable of the 28 outdoor sculptures you’ll find at Art in the Orchard this year.


We had a magical summer evening last week when we visited the Park Hill Orchards in the rolling hills around Easthampton for their bi-annual celebration of outdoor art known as Art in the Orchard. New for this year are spiffy handicap accessible men’s and women’s bathrooms, along with a new roster of art by sculptors from around New England.

Every time we have gone to this event, it’s turned out to be much more than a simple art walk. Perhaps it’s because of the perfect light of the August early evening. Or because we were with good friends, paired off, men with men, women with women taking our time and chatting while enjoying discovering so many sculptures in one place. Perhaps it’s because we took our time and got to see all of the 28 sculptures, and even play with a few of them.

This is why I love Art in the Orchard. You can play with the sculptures, they’re not up on the wall, where a guard might chastise you for touching. One piece is a series of glass bulbs called ‘Chalice and Blade’ by Easthampton artist Eileen Jager that when lightly tapped on emits pretty music. Another called ‘What the Birds Know,’ by Lyn Horan, is a large cone, with birds in the outside, and drones and airplanes inside. How can you help but give it a spin?

The most evocative piece to me is ”Song of the Birth of the Stars by Mark Fenwick, depicting a gaggle of female figures and the spectre of death right behind them. It’s neatly tucked away in the furthest point from the store, and it’s just haunting.  I like art that makes you get emotional, as this piece did for all four of us.

Orchard Pig, by Susan Halls, stands guard over the pretty views at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton.

Orchard Pig, by Susan Halls, stands guard over the pretty views at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton.

Art in the Orchard is a real bargain with a simple $5 donation requested. It’s open for strolling from Tuesday-through Sunday and holidays, and will be on exhibit at the orchard from now through October 31.  You can bring a picnic and you can also find perfectly ripe peaches, crisp apples, pears, blueberries and much more in their store. This is the third time in six years that JeanPierre Pasche, the owner of Big Red Frame Framing in Easthampton, has organized this show, and as usual, he’s proud to display this year’s bounty of art.  Good on ya, JeanPierre, another stellar line up and a wonderful addition to the Valley’s art scene!

A South Deerfield to Greenfield Bike Bath: Can It Work?

Here the median is just too narrow to safely ride along Route 5 in South Deerfield.2

Here the median is just too narrow to safely ride along Route 5 in South Deerfield.


The path for bikes along the newly resurfaced Routes 5&10 is best between Yankee Candle and Magic Wings, but after that gets too narrow to safely ride.

The path for bikes along the newly resurfaced Routes 5&10 is best between Yankee Candle and Magic Wings, but after that gets too narrow to safely ride.

What if there was a safe and easy route to ride a bicycle between South Deerfield and Greenfield?  I think a lot of people would ride this route.  I have a dream that we could create such a bike path, and provide not only a tourist attractor, but an alternative method of transportation between these two towns.  The state recently resurfaced Route 5 between Yankee Candle and Magic Wings, and they even created double-sided lines on the wider sections of Route 5 to mark a space wide enough for bikes.  But I’d like to create a really safe path, where an even wider area is paved and a safety barrier exists to keep the cars away from the bikes.

After you pass Magic Wings, the road’s median becomes too narrow and the sight lines are not that good.  A few weeks ago, a bike rider was killed further up Route 5, at the dip just past Richardson’s Candy.  This is the hardest challenge of this idea–getting the land from the sides of the road wide enough to allow bikes to safely travel in two directions.

But much of the land that Route 5 travels through is owned by Deerfield Academy. This is where I am hoping we might be able to create a path that’s just off Route 5. What are the chances of  an idea like this becoming reality?  I have spoken with Deerfield’s Town Manager, Kayce Warren, and am hoping to speak with many more people and to try and interest Deerfield Academy in getting involved.  It’s an idea in its infancy, but I bet I could get a lot of other people to back this idea if we can get the word out. Leave a comment if you think this idea is worth pursuing.

What’s Up at GoNOMAD This Morning

On a rainy day in the office, there are all kinds of things coming at me.  I enjoy the fast pace of being in publishing–and the connectedness of people reaching out at you by email from all parts of the world.  I got some interesting messages today, here is a sampling of what’s in today’s inbox:

Shirley from Hainan China wants help promoting a new virtual travel tour of their Chinese province.  They want more westerners to know that Hainan is a tourist destination, so they created a tour on their Facebook page.

Chris from the UK wants us to help them promote a new card used to access health care in Europe.  They are reaching out for coverage about this new card and to provide details on who should get it, how they can do that, and what it covers.

Yesterday a woman named Amalie wrote from Houston about a new website they are starting called BarefootGlobeTrots, that matches local tour guides with travelers looking for day trips. We are going to help them promote a contest to win airline tickets to anywhere, to get people to visit their site.

I am also hoping to get on board a few exciting trips–one to Kenya, and one to Lebanon or Spain. And sending a great writer, Andy, to Sweden, while helping Danielle, another young writer, with her story about a recent trip to the Thousand Islands.

Aeronaut’s Field Day in Northfield: Let’s Go to The Hops!

Hops grow on very tall poles, up 20 or more feet.

Hops grow on very tall poles, up 20 or more feet.

On Saturday I’m going to a concert next to very very tall plants….20 feet high, beautiful green hops plants are what they grow at Four Star Farms. It’s their first ever Aeronaut Field Day, sponsored by the Somerville brewer of the same name.

The brewers are celebrating their hops supplier out here in rural Northfield.

They are even bussing their fans and friends out to this bucolic setting in Northfield. It’s right near the river, and there are sweeping views. Gorgeous country!

Get tickets here



My cousin Shady Hartshorne is playing with his band, Social #11, starting at 12 noon.  This is very pretty country up here, and there will be food trucks, two stages, and 30 bands between 12 noon and 8 pm.

Four Star Farms, Inc.
496 Pine Meadow Road
Northfield, MA 01360
Saturday, August 8, 2015 from 12:00 PM to 8:00 PM (EDT)

“Mr Burns A Post-Electric Play” A Long Night

In the play's third act, the actors don masks to look like Simpsons characters.

In the play’s third act, the actors don masks to look like  The Simpsons characters.

As the Bart Simpson and Mr Burns characters sang what felt like a nearly endless string of songs about dying in the third act of “Mr Burns a post-electric play,” I gazed at my watch. My God, man, just die, so this long, long series of songs can finally end, and we can all go home.

New Century Theatre’s most recent production of Anne Washburn’s dark comedy is a long theater experience– about two hours 40 minutes, including two ten-minute intermissions.  It was not the fault of the actors that I felt restless. It was the play’s ponderous second act, musical numbers that seemed to me to drag on too long, and a general confusion about what the point of all of this was.  I’m not alone–when this show opened in New York, some critics also felt that what the subject could have been summed up in a tidy two acts, instead of three.

The play is set in the near future–the bad future, where calamity has hit, people are talking about the terrible things that are going on in Boston. “It’s bad up there,” says Gibson (Paul Melendy) ominously, and there are scary people knocking at the door, and there are guns. But what the actors keep talking about is a long-lost episode of the popular cartoon TV show, The Simpsons.  We’ve all been there–you recount what you remember about a certain episode, and people chime in, contributing to the group’s collective memory of the episode.   It’s ok for a while–but what if you did this for fifteen minutes?  Ok, Ok, enough. Like the dying that couldn’t happen fast enough, this is pretty thin gruel for an entire first act, especially when there is a post apocalyptic world out there to worry about.   But maybe in this bleak world, memories of The Simpson’s episodes are better than facing more bad news like what happened to the people whose names are recorded in the notebooks. Scary, for sure. So when a stranger, Gibson, appears, the guns are drawn. It turns out he actually knows what happened to Sideshow Bob in that same damn Simpson’s episode!  Cue the music!

I”m a pretty big fan of The Simpsons,  but in a 22-minute cartoon, you can quickly cut in funny scenes like a Gilbert and Sullivan salute, and in just seconds, capture the point. In live theater, it just drags on, and the audience is left simply wondering why it is taking so long.  Most of the show’s laughs came directly from The Simpson’s scripts–clever banter between Bart and Mr Burns, or riffs on popular movies like Cape Fear.  The one character who got the most laughs was Gibson, (Paul Melendy), who later shows off a talented singing voice in the third act.  In the second act, he shouts out randomly, “call the plumber!”, and his nervous ticks and accents got more laughs than anything else.

I wondered what the many seniors in the audience who most likely, haven’t ever seen a Simpsons episode, were thinking.  As this play is billed as a dark comedy, it wandered into a grey area–what means what, and how would anyone know? I found myself parsing the song lyrics in the all-musical third act, trying to piece together what had happened to the world.  Washburn’s idea of a post-apocalyptic play set in ‘the near future’ and then having a second act seven years later, and a third that’s even 75 years later is clever.  But oblique hints are not satisfying, and the lyrics didn’t reveal more than ‘we don’t talk about that stuff.’

The second act is actually a play within the play, and we see actors reading lines along with the other actors slightly off stage mouthing the same dialogue, a funny kind of close-up into the actor’s world.  Quincy, (Stephanie Carlson) evokes grimaces from her fellow actors as insults a female actor, and talks about arcane details that were confusing..about how they buy lines from people in a mysterious place called “The booth;” about a rival acting company called “Richards” who seem to be attracting larger audiences. But this confusing shop talk is interrupted by a sudden urge to sing, and then we are given a rendition of a string of familiar disco hits mixed with the more familiar strains of the Simpson’s theme song. Confused?  I sure was.

By the time we got to the third act, which was all music, it was time for musical director Mitch Chakour to do his thing.  He helped punctuate the actor’s lines with his piano notes, and his three piece band was tight.  In this act everyone donned clay masks pictured above, looking a little like their Simpson’s characters, with the famous Itchy and Scratchy, (the violent cartoons inside every Simpson’s episode) representing the dark forces of evil people who, despite the frivolity on stage, still lurked out there in this very dark 75-years-ahead future.

This is indeed a dark comedy–maybe it’s like Mass MOCA, where I never understand any of the art. It’s entertaining for sure, and the actors do their best to muddle through this thicket of a script. It’s hard to pick out individual performances because of the nature of the the characters–I didn’t like any of them, felt no emotion about them because honestly, it wasn’t obvious to me what any of them felt about life after the apocalypse. And that’s a question much more interesting than what happened in that Simpsons episode.

Mr Burns a post-electric play, New Century Theatre, Mendenhall Center for the Performing Arts at Smith College, through Sunday August 8. Tickets