Dar Williams has always followed her muse. When she was up in Somerville, Massachusetts in the early nineties, knowing that she wanted to pursue music or theater, she worked backstage at the Opera Company of Boston and wrote plays on the side. But she was in Boston, and the muse led her into the myriad open mics and tip jar gigs of booming folk revival. She opened a trunk of old songs and started writing new ones. She went to three or four open mics or song circles a week and recorded two cassettes. When she felt like the noise of Boston was getting to be too much, the muse led her to the cornfields and college towns of Western Massachusetts where she sat on her futon and wrote the songs that would become The Honesty Room, her first CD, which she recorded in the basement studios of Amherst. She hoped the songs she was writing, with titles like "When I Was a Boy", "You’re Aging Well", and "The Great Unknown", would lead her into an idiosyncratic part-time music career. Little did she know that the coffeehouse scene and the beginnings of internet communities were building to a crescendo and eager to receive her warm, witty songs.
In the decades that Dar has been touring, she had been seeing how towns and cities, like people, had been coming into their own, becoming more resilient, unique, and prosperous. While so many people said that towns and cities were “dead”, she had been seeing them come back to life. She realized that the key ingredient in the success of these places was what she called “Positive Proximity”, where there was an understanding that living side by side with other people was a good, constructive thing. Positive proximity was a civic state of being that could be built and sustained, and Dar was collecting stories and notes to support her growing theory. She said, “Someone should write a book about this.” And the muse said, “You’ve written fiction books, you interviewed people for your green blog at Huffington Post, you’ve written about towns and cities in your songs since day one. The person who should write this book is you.”
In the spring of 2015, just before setting out on the tour for her ninth studio album, Emerald, Dar signed a contract with Basic Books, now Hachette Publishing Group. In September, 2017, she started touring new venues, speaking in bookstores and at city planning conferences in support of her book, What I Found in a Thousand Towns, a Touring Musicians Guide to Rebuilding American Communities One Dog Run, …. At A Time. 2018 was a time to deepen her connection to these themes of town and city building and planning as Dar gave keynote speeches at the Boise Downtown Association, the Vermont …, the Southern New England Planning Association conference, and the Congress of New Urbanism, among others. Dar still loves every minute of her job and always advises folks to “follow their muse.” She still goes wherever the muse leads her, which, presently, is right back on her couch, coffee on the coffee table, guitar in hand, writing her next batch of songs.
A native of Syracuse, N.Y., and the tenth of 12 children, Martin Sexton grew up in the ’80s. Uninterested in the music of the day, he fueled his dreams with the timeless sounds of classic rock ’n’ roll. As he discovered the dusty old vinyl left in the basement by one his big brothers, his musical fire was lit. Sexton eventually migrated to Boston, where he began to build a following singing on the streets of Harvard Square, gradually working his way through the scene. His 1992 collection of self-produced demo recordings, In the Journey, was recorded on an old 8-track in a friend’s attic. He managed to sell 20,000 copies out of his guitar case.
From 1996 to 2002 Sexton released four acclaimed albums. The activity and worldwide touring behind these records laid the foundation for the career he enjoys today with an uncommonly loyal fan base; he sells out venues from New York’s Nokia Theatre to L.A.’s House of Blues, and tours regularly across Canada and Europe. In 2007, Sexton began his most successful years to date with the release of his studio offering Seeds. The album debuted at #6 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart, and the Los Angeles Times said, “Call him a soul shouter, a road poet, a folkie or a rocker and you wouldn’t be wrong.”
The accolades continue. Billboard called Sexton’s version of “Working Class Hero” for the Lennon tribute/benefit in 2010 “chill-inspiring.”
Anaïs Mitchell is a Vermont and Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter and the Tony award-winning creator of the Broadway musical Hadestown. Dubbed by NPR as 'one of the greatest songwriters of her generation;', Mitchell comes from the world of narrative folksong, poetry and balladry. She recorded for Ani Difranco's Righteous Babe Records for several years before starting her own Wilderland label in 2012. Among her recorded works are six full-length albums, including the original 2010 studio album of Hadestown, a folk opera based on the Orpheus myth; 2012's Young Man in America, which was described by the UK's Independent as 'an epic tale of American becoming’; 2013’s Child Ballads, a collaboration with Jefferson Hamer, which won a BBC Radio Two Folk Award, and the forthcoming Bonny Light Horseman (as part of the band Bonny Light Horseman). Mitchell has headlined shows worldwide as well as supporting tours for Bon Iver, Ani Difranco, Patty Griffin, Josh Ritter and Punch Brothers. She was the winner of a Folk Alliance 2018 Spirit of Folk Award, and her music has featured in year-end best lists including NPR, Wall Street Journal, MOJO, Uncut, Guardian, Sunday Times, Observer..
Mitchell's stage show of Hadestown, which was over a decade in the making, was first produced off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop and in Canada at Edmonton's The Citadel, with record-breaking runs at both. In 2018 the show opened at London's prestigious National Theatre, before transferring to Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre in April 2019. The show went on to win 8 Tony Awards, the highest of any show of the season, including Best Musical and Best Score for Mitchell. The New York Times called it “inventive, beguiling and spellbinding” while Vogue declared that “Hadestown will be your new theater obsession.” If there’s a common thread in Mitchell’s work – from her earliest acoustic records to the Hadestown show – it’s that she’s as interested in the world around her as the one inside her. She has a way of tackling big themes with the same emotional intimacy most artists use to describe their inner lives. That’s perhaps why the New York Times noted that her songs “address contemporary angst with uncanny vision…. a formidable songwriting talent.”
A concert by The Mammals is healing and inspirational. It’s not only the magic of their combined voices; Ruth Ungar’s remarkably soulful grace and Mike Merenda’s hushed and intimate ease, it’s also the lyrics themselves that strike deep and spark smiles. Nominated for Song of the Year at the International Folk Music Awards, the title track of their 2018 album Sunshiner is an instant full-room sing-along, with a chorus that honors the past while envisioning a bright future of green energy, and good, positive human collaboration.
Having met in the dive bars of NYC’s Lower East Side “anti-folk” scene in 1998, Ungar and Merenda quickly surrendered to the magnetism of their musical and personal connection which has now lasted them thru occasional solo tours, over a decade of touring as a duo, the first incarnation of The Mammals (which included founding member Tao Rodriguez-Seeger), the creation of their bi-annual festivals the Winter & Summer Hoot, and also marriage, parenthood, and the predictably unpredictable evolution of the music business. They have responded to the inherent challenges by writing better and better songs, collaborating with their heroes, self-releasing singles and donating download sales to good causes, harnessing support through a growing Patreon community, and expanding their fanbase through constant touring and positive energy.
MWENSO & THE SHAKES
Mwenso and the Shakes are a unique troupe of global artists who present music that merges the highest form of entertainment and artistry while commanding a formidable timeline of jazz and blues expression through African and Afro American music. Immigrating from Sierra Leone, London, South Africa, Greenwich Village, Madagascar, France, Jamaica, and Hawaii the Shakes all now call Harlem their home. Taking from the stylings of Fats Waller, Muddy Waters, James Brown and many other American musical legends - Michael Mwenso leads an electrifying show the New York Times calls “intense, prowling, and ebullient.”
DC's Crys Matthews is nothing if not ambitious. In August, she simultaneously released both a new full-length album, The Imagineers and an EP, Battle Hymn For An Army Of Lovers. These collections showcase two sides of Matthews’ dynamic songwriting; The Imagineers is a selection of thoughtful songs about love and life while Battle Hymn For An Army Of Lovers tackles social justice themes. Songs from both projects have already won her recognition and awards. She was one of ten finalists (from a pool of 5,000) in this year's NewSong Music Competition and, after performing at Lincoln Center on November 30th she was named grand-prize winner. Matthews also won the People Music Network's Social Just Songs contest at the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance.
Matthews blends Americana, folk, jazz, blues, bluegrass and funk into a bold, complex performance steeped in traditional melodies and punctuated by honest, original lyrics. Having been compared to everyone from Toshi Reagon to Tracy Chapman to Ruthie Foster, Matthews’ eclectic infusion of genres has won her honorable mentions at the 2013 and 2014 Mid-Atlantic Song Contest and extensive radio play from Woman of Substance radio to WTJU-Charlottesville and WMRA-Harrisonburg to KBOO-Portland. Matthews has shared stages with Melissa Ferrick, Chris Pureka and Liz Longley, as well as several regional artists such as Owen Danoff, Eliot Bronson, and Heather Mae.
Equally at home in an acoustic listening room as she is on stage at large music festivals, Matthews has quickly gathered a loyal following on the east coast playing such prestigious venues as The Birchmere, The Hamilton, and Jammin' Java. Matthews’ festival and showcase roster has included BMI's Island Hopper Songwriter Festival, the 40th Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, Folk Alliance International, 30A Songwriters Festival, Northeast Regional Folk Alliance and many more.
A prolific lyricist and composer, Matthews has found inspiration in her surroundings; from driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains to the compelling and heart-breaking love story of Richard and Mildred Loving. Thoughtful, realistic and emotional, Matthews’ songs speak to the voice of our generation and remind us why music indeed soothes the soul.
Diana Alvarez's spellbinding performances often create an atmosphere where you can hear a "pin drop." Alvarez's music sets are bilingual and soulful, and her original songs exalt queer love, liberation, and fiercely sing out against oppression.
Dr. Alvarez is the singer-songwriter, poet, composer, and documentary filmmaker behind the multimedia performance, Quiero Volver: A Xicanx Ritual Opera, described by the press as "a visually and acoustically stunning performance meant to honor women, non-binary and genderqueer people of color." Quiero Volver was produced by Smith College at the Academy of Music Theatre (Northampton, Massachusetts) in 2018. At the Academy of Music, the performance event raised over $10,000 to support immigrant justice initiatives through the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Alvarez's music is fueled by her simultaneous work as an award-winning poet and documentary filmmaker. In addition to her poetry-script for Quiero Volver, Alvarez is the author of Consultations with Bruja Juana, a chapbook poetry collection published by Toadlily Press in 2009, and her poems also appear in The Best of Toadlily Press (2011).
In 2018, Alvarez was commissioned to create a documentary for the world premiere of Sharon Bridgforth’s performance installation, dat Black Mermaid Man Lady at allgo, a statewide queer people of color organization in Austin, Texas. In addition to her documentary commissions for Bridgforth, Alvarez has directed her own music videos, as well as a music video for internationally recognized singer-songwriter and jazz musician, Pamela Means.
Alvarez is the first in her family to graduate from college, and earned her MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College in 2008. In 2018, Diana earned her PhD in Electronic Arts from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where she studied with groundbreaking composer Pauline Oliveros. Dr. Alvarez's dissertation research is titled, Bridge Artistx: Gatherings of Women, Non-Binary, and Genderqueer Artists of Color.
Diana Alvarez is the recipient of the 2008 Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize from the Fine Arts Work Center (Provincetown, MA) and the Malcolm S. Morse Graduate Research Enhancement Award in Honor of Pauline Oliveros from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY). Alvarez has also been an artist-in-residence at Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta, Canada.
In 2019, Diana Alvarez is recording her debut album, "Ser Artista." She teaches music in Western Massachusetts.
Little Roots is an acoustic, hands-on, interactive music program for children - infants to 5 years old and their grown-ups. Little Roots Founders, Annie Stevenson and Maggie Shar, are trained educators and professional musicians who strive to create connection, community, and joy in each class. Maggie and Annie sort through and write songs rooted in traditional music, American Folk and Old-Time, West African, Gospel, Irish Trad, Jazz and Blues amongst others. Annie and Maggie deeply love music and love to help introduce young folks and their grownups to the magic of music. All classes take place at our Little Roots Studio, 46 Maple St. Florence, MA.
Sweet Lightning is a winter squash variety with orange spots and stripes. It is also a psychedelic folk quartet featuring the intertwining harmonies of flute and fiddle, guitar-centered melodies, and bass that is dynamic and percussive. Formed in the winter of 2018 in Hadley Massachusetts, Sweet Lightning has toured internationally in Canada, and has been featured by local venues and productions including the 2019 Strong and Pleasant Music Festival. Introducing Gabe Camarano and Stephanie Jacco of Carinae, Lily Sexton of Mamma's Marmalade, and Derek Weaving formerly of Tiny Hazard. Look for us out in the veggie patch.