The Water Project: Anguish Over the Forgotten Towns of the Quabbin

Emma Ayres takes a bow at the performance on Saturday night of her play, The Water Project, that tells the poignant story of how the Quabbin reservoir was flooded and buried four Massachusetts towns in the 1930s.

Emma Ayres takes a bow at the performance on Saturday night of her play, The Water Project, that tells the poignant story of how the Quabbin reservoir was flooded and buried four Massachusetts towns in the 1930s.

Emma Ayres crafted an impressive staging of her play, The Water Project, that was the highlight of Eggtooth Productions‘ Full Disclosure Festival over the weekend.  The show was performed on the fourth floor of the Arts Block, to a packed house.

The Water Project: Jane Williams and Bo Henderson play farmers who lose their home when the Quabbin was flooded.

The Water Project: Jane Williams and Bo Henderson play farmers who lose their home when the Quabbin was flooded. His perfect farmer’s accent and her state of anger gave the folk opera a real kick in the pants!

 

Centered around the anguish of just one of the hundreds of farm families displaced when Gov James Michael Curly spearheaded the effort to flood the Swift River Valley to create the

Swift River String Band

Swift River String Band, played by the talented Mamma’s Marmalade, were an integral part of the production.

Quabbin Reservoir, the folk opera approached its sad topic from a variety of perspectives.  We meet the family, with mom in perpetual livid rage, and dad just trying to accept but resenting the city folks stealing their water.

Daughter Edith is tormented by the terrible memory of being put on Boston’s T as a kid and having her grandmother disappear, as the frequently recited phrase, “what you don’t see won’t hurt you,” that is heard throughout the play.  An interesting twist is that we meet the grandma as she is living in a Boston-area assisted living apartment, and her caretaker, who she sometimes forgets she knows, implores her to remember her family, who have slipped through the sad curtain of memory loss.

sitting sceneWe meet not only the displaced, but the always grinning face of “progress. ” That would be Gov. Curly’s representative, played by Hope Wen, with his perfectly attired 1930s arm candy,  Gertrude, played by Janet Henderson. They gleefully chant about the great water that the parched city will receive after the reservoir has been created. “Clean Water. Clear Water. Cold Water,”  as the chant goes throughout the show.  The pair never loses their attitude, nor does Ma, who remains as angry as the grinning Wen remains upbeat…after all, a city like Boston needs a lot of water for its parched citizens.

city guy

Janet Henderson played the arm candy 1930s society dame with the governor’s man, played by Hope Wen. Both captured their roles brilliantly.

The trees in the flooded Swift River Valley were cut down by Boston workers, patronage jobs happily dispensed by the urbanites who really ran the show. The displaced country folk of the now gone towns of Dana, Enfield, Prescott and Greenwich didn’t even get a shot at the jobs. All of this is revealed in song and dialogue, Ayers manages to fit a whole lot of fascinating facts into her emotional narrative.

The Swift River String Band, played by Mama’s Marmalade of Amherst, have an integral part in the show, providing haunting sound effects behind the painful words, and launching into many different songs and styles as they play what comes out of the radio as the two young girls huddle around the RCA.

Ayres’ dialogue is true throughout the play. She captures the hazy memories of old age perfectly when the grandmother recalls ‘peering into the blue, like those motes that stream down in the light of a swimming pool.’   At the play’s end, as a big dance is held on the eve of the four town’s official demise, farmer Doubleday reflects on the places nobody will remember as he recalls a boat trip across the new reservoir. “No one will remember you, the mountains will be islands, there will be no barns, no people. Only a plaque to show what was once here.

The depth of the material, the accuracy of the history, and the poignancy with which the cast portrayed the sad demise of these once-proud four Massachusetts towns all added up to a terrific night of theater.  I hope to see this production mounted in Boston some time in the future–might as well tell them like it was!

Full Disclosure Festival Brings a Thinking Audience to Greenfield

Linda McInerney selling tickets for her Full Disclosure Festival last night outside the Arts Block.

Linda McInerney selling tickets for her Full Disclosure Festival last night outside the Arts Block.

At the alleyway next to the Arts Block last night, there sat who else but Linda McInerney, with her familiar broad smile, selling tickets for another impressive festival in her adopted hometown of Greenfield.  I knew there would be surprises, and thoughtful presentations, and my mind was open as it always is when I attend one of Linda’s festivals.

Poet Ayisha Stevenson

Poet Ayisha Stevenson

We started out with a poetry reading–but this was incendiary poetry, words with real impact, words that hit hard. Paul Richmond, from Wendell, said it starkly when he read a poem about a contrast, between a little child being scared by ‘Boo!’ and his adult dread of things like Japan’s Fukishima nuclear plant spewing radiation,  and environmental destruction.

“These are the things that scare me,” he said ominously.  But the other poets like Ayisha Stevenson took different routes, her poem explored the inside of her boyfriend’s body in lurid detail. But the poets were just the warm up, as we had much more to see and here.

Then we switched gears, and Hildred Crill, a professor from Stockholm, took the podium with six dancers dancing behind the Arts Block’s two archways behind her. They were interpreting her poetry with their dance, and a sonic atmosphere was created by gentle strums on a guitar. Lori Holmes Clark was the choreographer on this long and dramatic piece, explaining after the show how she worked with Hildred’s nine-page poem across the Atlantic while doing the choreography.

We changed venues at 6:45, it was time for a collaboration between Deerfield beekeeper Don Conlon and musician Terry Jenoure. Drummer Bob Weiner set the tone of bees, buzzing and sonic dissonance using a variety of percussion devices, including a baby rattle that made soft animal sounds when turned over.

Terry Jenoure and drummer Bob Weiner play homage to the bees at the Greenfield Gallery, part of last night's Full Disclosure Festival.

Terry Jenoure and drummer Bob Weiner play homage to the bees at the Greenfield Gallery, part of last night’s Full Disclosure Festival.

Terry sang, and scat sang, mimicking the buzzing of the bees, and then picked up a violin, as she draped herself in a yellow cape with the telltale black stripes. It was mesmerizing and slow, and she brought out honey to share with the audience, enticing them with crackers dipped in the golden product of the bees. Her message: Don’t mistake what’s small for little worth. Amen!

The night had more in store….but first we took a walk up to an empty storefront next to the Garden Cinema to peer into one of several holes in the glass, to a collection of old fashioned photos hanging somewhat mysteriously inside the store window. It was created by artist Amy Johnquest, who showed it to me as her husband John Williamson and I looked on.

The Water Project

The Water Project

We didn’t want to be late for the next act, which turned out to be a full-on production of a very well written play, by Emma Ayers The Water Project.  But that’s coming up next.

Normandy Memories with Paul Shoul from 2009

Biking into Bricquebec, Normandy, France.

Biking into Bricquebec, Normandy, France.

The best thing about a blog is being able to look back and remember the places you went and the people you met. I love to randomly search through this blog’s archives and find old posts and recall distant memories. Recently I was looking at some posts from a week I spent in Normandy France with my travel buddy, Paul Shoul in June 2009.

Paul enjoying the cheese course at Rouen’s La Couronne, where they have been serving since 1345. This was one of Julia Child's first inspirations to become a French chef.

Paul enjoying the cheese course at Rouen’s La Couronne, where they have been serving since 1345. This was one of Julia Child’s first inspirations to become a French chef.

I have always had a love for this part of France, since it was the first region I visited when I was a 16-year-old, and we set out in a rental car with no GPS.  Hilarity ensued as we tried to find our destinations; Paul always wanting to stop and ask directions, and me hoping to soldier on using a map. One time when Paul asked someone if they spoke English, they said “yes, but I’d rather not.”  We made it anyway.

The beach at Etretat, Normandy, France.

The beach at Etretat, Normandy, France.

Trips that I take so often become a blur, but I have great memories of this particular Normandy adventure, because we saw so many unusual things. One was a bell foundry where giant bells were created by pouring molten bronze into molds, another time we stayed at a hotel in Granville, and saw a tide that left boats high and dry on the sand.

We spent a lot of time at the World War II Memorial at Caen, which was a great portrayal of all aspects of the war, including what caused it and the experiences of the death camps.  One thing that I also remember fondly was staying at a castle in the village of Brix, each of us got a bedroom that was the size of a King’s salon.  Later I biked into the village and stumbled upon a great party, with 200 or so revelers enjoying their cheese courses, five selections on a

Pouring a bell at The Fonderie de Cloches Cornille Havard in Villedieu-les-Poeles, Normandy.

Pouring a bell at The Fonderie de Cloches Cornille Havard in Villedieu-les-Poeles, Normandy.

china plate, and quaffing wine that came out of boxes. We met a lovely man who had the most incredible garden I’ve ever seen–perfect rows, not a weed to be seen, and he said he never went shopping, he just ate every meal out of this bounteous garden. He baked wonderful bread, every day, in his own wood fired oven.

I have trips coming up but I still love thinking about the trips that I did in years gone by.  Here’s to a summer of more adventures, and to my traveling buddy Paul, with whom I hope to travel with again soon.

The Green River Festival is a Year-Long Labor of Love: Jim Olsen’s Musical Highlights

Dustbowl Revival joins the fun at the Green River Festival, playing twice, Saturday and Sunday July 9-10.

Dustbowl Revival joins the fun at the Green River Festival, playing twice, Saturday and Sunday July 9-10.

“It pretty much never ends,” said Jim Olsen, in an interview in his office at Signature Sounds last week, when I asked about the planning and details for this year’s Green River Festival, the 30th since 1986.

This will be the third time it’s all being handled by Signature Sounds, who took over this beloved summer event from the Franklin County Chamber.  I asked Jim about this year’s line-up, and he mentioned the headliner, Tedeschi Trucks Band, who they have been talking with for 4-5 years. This is the year that it came together, and Susan Tedeschi will join her husband Derek Trucks and front a 12-piece band which Jim describes as a soul review, little like Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen.  He said this year’s line up will again be diverse and a big musical mix.

Last year’s Preservation Hall Jazz Band was a act that Jim said he had been chasing for five years, they’re a very famous festival act. They were a great addition to the line-up, and for me, like much of the music, it was exciting and new. But I’m probably more of the typical Green River Festival goer, happy with whatever bands are selected .

“We want to keep it contemporary, we need to reach a younger audience.  We are always bringing in new names, that’s what makes it interesting,”  Jim said.  He added that he always wants to book musicians for the fest who bring a certain amount of energy, not as much the singer/songwriters of years past. “We want them to have the festival energy, to keep mixing it up.”  He likes the juxtaposition of different bands, different types of musical flavors.

SInger Margo Price is one of the acts that Festival boss Jim Olsen says he highly recommends hearing. She'll be playing on Friday July 8.

SInger Margo Price is one of the acts that Festival boss Jim Olsen says he highly recommends hearing. She’ll be playing on Friday July 8.

The Suffers, out of Houston, Texas, are another stand-out. Catch them on Saturday July 9 at the Green River Festival.

The Suffers, out of Houston, Texas, are another stand-out. Catch them on Saturday July 9 at the Green River Festival.

This year the camping at Franklin County Fairgrounds has already sold out, almost 400 festival goers will spend the night in tents up on Wisdom Way. Buses will provide transportation from the campsites to the fest, and they will again offer  quick trips to the Green River Swimming area, for a $5 cool-off. A few hundred people enjoyed a swim during the 2015 fest, it’s one of the things that makes the GRF unique.

Their ticket agency tracks where people come from, Jim said, and last year, people came from 17 states to enjoy the festival.

This year they are changing the vending area to the left of the stage so it will include a second row of vendors, and give everyone more room. There will also be more shady areas this year, and a second beer tent to cool off the audience.

With a line-up that’s covers three stages over three days, there are many acts to consider, and many that I have never heard of. So who should we be looking out for, who are the bands that Jim is most looking forward to introducing to the Green River audience?

Jim Olsen, owner of Signature Sounds and the man behind the Green River Festival.

Jim Olsen, owner of Signature Sounds and the man behind the Green River Festival.

Margo Price was the first name he mentioned. She’s playing on Friday at 3:35 pm. “She’s a country singer who’s been compared to Loretta Lynne, and Tammy Wynette, but she’s also got this young hipster thing too. She’s been on Saturday Night Live, and other big TV shows.

The Suffers, playing Saturday at 6:15, are from Houston Texas, also got a nod from Jim. “They are a 10-piece soul band, akin to Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and they’re fantastic.”  He heard about The Suffers from local favorites Lake Street Dive, a former Signature Sounds recording act.  Jim’s third suggestion– Dust Bowl Revival, are a group of younger guys from LA, they mix the classic jazz with a bluegrass sound. They are an eight-piece act, they’re playing twice, Friday at 3:15  and Saturday at 6:15.

In addition to this year’s exciting music line-up, another interesting project is a new book being written by former WRSI DJ John Reilly and edited by former Advocate music editor David Sokol. The book will chronicle the Green River Festival’s 30 great years, entitled, “Lifting Off, the History of the Green River Festival.” The book will be available for sale at the festival, and for any regular patron, the multiple interviews that Johnny did with many of the musicians as well as the tales from the early days make great reading under your umbrellas at the festival!

Get tickets!  Green River Festival, Greenfield Community College Friday-Sunday July 8-10, 2016

A Great Excuse for a Party in the Backyard!

Bill Schmill, sister Caroline and cousin Paul.

Bill Schmill, sister Caroline and cousin Paul.

It’s a rainy Sunday and a rare moment to have a truly relaxing day doing very little.  I just don’t give myself enough of these days where I do little or nothing, leaving chores and work in the dust.  We had a great time last night getting to know two new people in our lives and had a party with Bill, Jen and Charlie, two Pauls and cousin Steve.

My cousin Paul has been dating a lovely woman named Sue Ellen, from Pelham. We got to meet her last night, she was very friendly and we all felt right way, that we had already warmed to her, in such a short time.  Also my friend Paul brought his girlfriend Diane to meet us as well.  Diane is marvelously comfortable in our midst, as if we’d known her for a long time, the same as Sue Ellen.

Both women fit right into our party scene. That’s always a good thing!

Our backyard party was the usual mix, great food, a fire sit around, and many old friends. The reason for the party was in honor of my sister Caroline’s visit, and it’s always my excuse to throw a party when we have out of town guests.  With the fire glowing and everyone comfortable after the big meal, we enjoyed conversation under the stars on a fine Saturday night.  Spotify kept us happily entertained with great music from my favorite playlist, “Starred” and it pleased me when Caroline commented that she liked the tunes.  Yeah!

Steve is Gone: The Continuum and Dull Sadness of Life is the Price for Joy

Mandy and Steve Szkotak in Italy.

Mandy and Steve Szkotak in Italy.

Steve Szkotak died today at 3:01 pm. I am doing my good work, keeping busy, meeting new people, as my pen-pal has died, slipping away . We have been sharing emails between us for a decade; it’s hard for me to look at email the same way now that Steve has left us.  Steve Szkotak has departed.  I miss him already.  Here is his full obituary, which reveals his interesting writing style and the range of jobs he had through his career. Steve was 65.

I have had two other friends leave me, like we always think, too young.  Kent St. John was not yet 60,  Joe Obeng was in his mid-forties.  I often think about how old people are when the meet their fates, it’s so terribly random and hard.  God it’s hard. Nobody will really ever accept this, it’s just the cross we bear for the joy of being humans.  I think often about Kent and about Joe, both key members of our original team that made GoNOMAD. And now Steve joins them in that sad chamber of people you remember but will never see again.

I think by now, Steve is slipping free-fall, he had the drugs that make it a peaceful exit. He wasn’t anxious, he wasn’t full of fear. He slipped quietly, in his dignified way, to the beyond, that place where we all must go.  His wife was with him, supported by an old friend. Steve is gone. A good man leaves us.