By Benjamin Cassidy
Mud season is music season this year in the UpCountry of the Berkshires and Southern Vermont. While the region is only a couple months away from a robust lineup of theater, dance, music and art events, March and April belong to singers and instrumentalists. At Mass MoCA, Bon Iver and Sylvan Esso will bring a slew of folks to North Adams, Mass., with new electronic sounds. Philip Glass will share his decades of wisdom with an audience at Oldcastle Theatre in Bennington, Vt. And the Cassatt String Quartet and Patty Larkin will show off their instrumental expertise at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., and Next Stage Arts Project in Putney, Vt.
Theater certainly isn’t in a rut. David Sedaris will amuse at The Colonial Theatre in the Berkshires, and a production of Terrence McNally’s “Mothers and Sons” by The Dorset Players in Vermont will strive to move their audiences. Still, music will reign on stages across the region.
BON IVER & TU DANCE
Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
1040 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams, Mass.
Last mud season, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art was mere weeks away from unveiling its latest expansion: Building 6, the 130,000-square-foot space exhibiting works by artists such as Laurie Anderson and James Turrell.
This mud season, the North Adams institution will turn up the volume by bringing in a top musical act. On March 24 (8 p.m.) and 25 (2 p.m.), it will host two-time Grammy winner Bon Iver for a pair of work-in-progress shows with TU Dance, a 10-person company based in St. Paul, Minn.
What will they perform? Well, that’s still in development. The groups will be in residence during the week leading up to the show, putting the finishing touches on a piece they’ll ultimately perform at St. Paul’s Palace Theatre on April 19. Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon will be penning the music; you can expect a mix of indie folk instrumentals and vocals with a shifting tone throughout.
With two major festivals and a smattering of indie folk and rock concerts, Mass MoCA has established that music isn’t background noise for its art; it’s a soundtrack. Yet, Bon Iver brings a new level of acclaim and fame to MoCA’s musical menu.
You may know Bon Iver best for its falsetto-filled, guitar-heavy debut album, “For Emma, Forever Ago” (2006), which featured arguably its most famous track, “Skinny Love.” But in the decade between its first and most recent (“22, a Million”) full-lengths, Bon Iver has become increasingly electronic.
Is MoCA’s musical lineup moving in the same direction? The week after Bon Iver plays the Hunter Center, Grammy-nominated electronic duo Sylvan Esso will take the stage.
Fret not, Freshgrass faithful. Banjos and mandos will be back in September. The museum’s foray into more modern, commercially viable musical territory isn’t a departure; it’s another expansion.
High Mud Comedy with Mike Birbiglia
March 16 – 17 in the Hunter Center.
This American Life regular Mike Birbiglia is joined by comedic songstress Nellie McKay, former Saturday Night Live cast member Sasheer Zamata, Reductress contributor Taylor Garron, Comedy Central-favorite Matteo Lane and many others for two days of laughs.
March 31, 8 p.m., at the Hunter Center
Bennington College graduate Amelia Meath sings in this Grammy-nominated electronic duo.
Etel Adnan, “A yellow sun A green sun a yellow sun A red sun a blue sun”
Opens April 7
An exhibit of abstract landscapes as well as written works raises questions about their relationship.
Berkshire Theatre Group
The Colonial Theatre, 111 South St., Pittsfield, Mass.
In April, many Berkshire Theatre Group devotees may find themselves on Broadway, devouring a second helping of “Children of a Lesser God.” (Those who didn’t catch the production on the Fitzpatrick Main Stage should gobble up tickets, too.) But all would be wise to save some room in April for a David Sedaris show in the familiar confines of The Colonial Theatre.
Be warned: A Sedaris performance doesn’t always go down easy. When the author and humorist brings his brand of shrewd cultural commentary to Pittsfield on April 13 (8 p.m.), he will undoubtedly say things about family, politics and other matters that annoy, even infuriate, some. His honesty, however, is undeniable; few writers would delve deep into the details of a family member’s suicide, as Sedaris did in 2013 in a piece for The New Yorker about his sister, Tiffany.
Sedaris is currently touring after the release of his latest book, “Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002).” His personal entries track his rise to fame — and its aftermath — after growing up in Raleigh, N.C. In 1992, Sedaris’ big break came when NPR broadcasted a reading of his “SantaLand Diaries” about his time as an elf at Macy’s in New York City.
The subject matter in the diaries is often much weightier. Alcoholism, for example, is at the fore in parts of the book. Navigating this terrain with a dry delivery distinguishes Sedaris’ readings and other live performances.
The Sedaris show is one of a few Berkshire Theatre Group comedy events during mud season, with JR De Guzman and Matthew Broussard coming in March and April, respectively, to perform as part of the $5 Comedy Garage series in the Colonial’s lobby. There will be plenty of belly laughs to go around.
April 22, 2 p.m., at The Colonial Theatre
An Argentine dance company brings a percussive performance filled with fast footwork to Pittsfield.
JR De Guzman
March 15, 7:30 p.m., at the Garage (in the Colonial lobby)
With a guitar in hand, JR evokes laughter about life after college and family.
April 26, 7:30 p.m., at the Garage
The up-and-coming comedian who appears on MTV2’s “Guy Code” and “Not Exactly News” works the room.
CASSATT STRING QUARTET
Bernhard Music Center, 54 Chapin Hall Drive, Williamstown, Mass.
Like maple sugarmakers in the Berkshires and Vermont, music-goers have plenty of rich sources to draw from in the region. But sometimes a world-class academic institution in the middle of these two spheres is overlooked as a place that produces some pretty sweet sounds.
Among its other musical offerings this mud season, Williams College will bring the Cassatt String Quartet to the Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall on March 15 (8 p.m.). Featuring Muneko Otani (violin), Jennifer Leshnower (violin), Ah Ling Neu (viola) and Elizabeth Anderson (cello), this ensemble may have some audience members thinking about warmer times at Tanglewood. The group has, among a slew of other honors, been awarded a chamber music fellowship from the Lenox institution.
Founded in 1985, the quartet doesn’t mind playing classics or contemporary music. It has worked with acclaimed artists across multiple genres, including pianist Marc-André Hamelin and the Trisha Brown Dance Company. It also isn’t immune to some internal changes; in 2014, for example, Anderson replaced cellist Nicole Johnson.
The Cassatt String Quartet is one of several chamber-oriented acts arriving in Williamstown in March and April. Pianist Robert Levin and violinist Soovin Kim will also play, giving the northern Berkshires an early taste of Ozawa Hall sounds.
April 3, 8 p.m., at Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall
The violinist shows off his wide range the day before offering a master class.
Lionel Loueke Trio
April 9, 8 p.m., at Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall
West African guitarist Lionel Loueke strums as part of the Ernest Brown World Music Series.
Oldcastle Theatre Company
331 Main St., Bennington, Vt.
The Oldcastle Theatre Company has been consistent; it aims to produce one new play every season. Since a handful of New York actors founded the organization in 1972, that’s quite a few productions over the years. But the Bennington institution is defying historical precedent in a different artistic arena: music.
Though it hasn’t been a destination for top-notch music, Oldcastle will certainly be just that on March 24 (7:30 p.m.) when it hosts legendary composer Philip Glass for a benefit event. Glass will play compositions on the piano and be in conversation with maestro Thomas Lawrence Toscano during the evening.
“This is an opportunity to experience Mr. Glass’s musicianship in an intimate setting while also listening in as two extraordinary composers chat,” Oldcastle’s Producing Artistic Director Eric Peterson said.
Glass’ status as one of the foremost musicians of the 20th century stems from the dozens of symphonies, operas, ballets and film scores he has penned. “Einstein on the Beach” and “Satyagraha” are among his operatic works, and he authored music for Martin Scorsese’s “Kundun.” He is often labeled a minimalist, a term he disdains; he prefers to view his creations as music with repetitive structures.
Not all listeners view Glass as a master. Some find his experimental style odd and elusive, which is why an evening with the musician that includes hearing from the man himself will prove illuminating to all.
The Magic Show with Ben Zabin
March 31, 7 p.m., at Oldcastle Theatre
A magician aims to avoid the old tricks in this show.
Next Stage Arts Project
15 Kimball Hill, Putney, Vt.
Founded in 2011, Next Stage Arts Project is a relative newcomer to the region’s arts and culture scene. That doesn’t mean word hasn’t spread far and wide about the organization operating out of a renovated old church building in Putney, Vt. Its musical offerings have certainly pulled some ears toward the town. The nonprofit regularly works with Yellow Barn to host classical music events and frequently books folk and rock acts.
Patty Larkin belongs to this latter group. The folk singer-songwriter, who will play at Next Stage on April 14 (7:30 p.m.), knows how to work a guitar. Her sound straddles the pop and rock spheres. Her ties to Boston have led many to label her music as urban folk.
Larkin is a name in her own right, earning acclaim in the early 1990s for a string of records and, more recently, for a CD, “Watch the Sky,” in 2008. But for those who need reference points, she has drawn comparisons to Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams.
Larkin’s instrument guides her penwork, which is at the fore in her most recent CD, “Song Poems.” (The Next Stage concert is a special CD release event.) Larkin studied many of her favorite poets to produce the songs on this CD. Larkin describes the tracks as poems set to music.
Where Larkin’s work moves from here is anyone’s guess, but there are less apropos places to pass through than Next Stage to launch that journey.
March 10, 7:30 p.m., at Next Stage
The Michigan native who blends jazz, blues and folk takes the stage to promote a new CD, “Hark the Dark.”
Cantrip and Lindsay Straw
April 21, 7:30 p.m., at Next Stage
A Celtic music trio and an instrumentalist play driving tunes to commemorate Cantrip’s 20th anniversary.
“MOTHERS AND SONS”
The Dorset Playhouse
104 Cheney Road, Dorset, Vt.
Those who regularly fill the aisles of the regions’ stages have to be adept planners during the summer. Scheduling visits to numerous productions at the area’s theater institutions requires some serious juggling.
On the other hand, mud season isn’t, regrettably, giving theatergoers any logistical headaches. March and April are a bit of a slog for local theaters from a production standpoint, but don’t tell The Dorset Players that. One of the region’s longest running theater sites — the Dorset Playhouse opened in 1929 — will host a production of Terrence McNally’s “Mothers and Sons” ( March 2, 3, 9 and 10 at 7:30 p.m.; March 4 and 11 at 2 p.m.)
In the play, a mother visits the New York City apartment of her deceased gay son’s former partner, who is now married and has a child. The reunion is unexpected, and a generational divide presides. Memories accentuate how culture’s views have changed toward homosexuality and AIDS in the years since the man’s death.
Directed by Sherry Kratzer and produced by Cheryl Gushee, the play’s cast includes Lynne Marcus, Paul Michael Brinker, Mike Cutler, Lucas Bowen and Julian Pirie. All should be commended for offering a reminder that stages don’t need to extend their winter slumbers, as should those who participate in the “15th Annual One Act Festival” held in early April.
“15th Annual One Act Festival”
April 6 and 7 at 7:30 p.m. and April 8 at 2 p.m., at the Dorset Playhouse
Several one-act dramas and comedies performed on these dates.
Benjamin Cassidy is the arts and entertainment reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. A graduate of Columbia Journalism School and the University of Michigan, Benjamin now lives in Dalton, Mass.