Words A Plenty

By Benjamin Cassidy

I might be biased, but it looks like writers are going to rule the Berkshires and Southern Vermont arts scene this September and October. For starters, some of the best and most promising living authors will attend the Brattleboro Literary Festival in October, attracting book nerds to an area already teeming with lit lovers.

Also in October, the region’s stages will feature two of the most accomplished American playwrights, Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams; Oldcastle Theatre Company in Bennington, Vt., will house a production of “Long Day’s Journey into Night” by O’Neill, the 1936 Nobel Prize in Literature recipient, while Pittsfield, Mass.’s Barrington Stage Company will host Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.”

FreshGrass may be a music festival, but many of the roots musicians roaming the grounds of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art this September have serious lyrical chops. (Listen to a few I’m With Her verses, and you’ll agree.) And even if Dewey Hall’s “Swing Night” with One Straw Revolution in Sheffield, Mass., and The Latchis’ 80th Birthday Celebration in Brattleboro, Vt., don’t immediately evoke pen-and-paper, we all know that scribes can use a bit of festive inspiration from time to time. They would be wise to join these celebrations.


Jackie Sedlock, Sarah McNair and Karl Mullen of The Wandering Rocks of Williamstown perform at the FreshGrass Bluegrass Concert at Mass MoCA. Photo: Gillian Jones.

Mass MoCA
North Adams, Mass.


Mass MoCA, Sept. 14-16: Some of the best bluegrass, folk and Americana musicians play at this annual festival occupying different areas of the North Adams institution.

Angel Olsen

Hunter Center, Sept. 29, 8 p.m.: The indie singer-songwriter behind “Shut Up Kiss Me” blends folk, rock and more.

The Decemberists

Joe’s Field, Oct. 4, 8 p.m.: A rescheduled show after Colin Meloy’s vocal strain prevented the group from sharing songs off of its latest album with North Adams fans this summer.

It won’t be slim pickings at this year’s edition of FreshGrass. Running from Sept. 14 to Sept. 16, the annual roots music festival features a star-studded lineup consisting of some of the best acts in bluegrass, folk, Americana and … Celtic punk. That’s right, one of this year’s headliners is Flogging Molly, the seven-piece Irish rock band known for hits such as “Drunken Lullabies” and “If I Ever Leave This World Alive.”

If booking Flogging Molly feels like a smack in the face to some FreshGrass faithful, they can take comfort in acts such as Indigo Girls, Trampled By Turtles, Rhiannon Giddens, Béla Fleck, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, I’m With Her, Yonder Mountain String Band and Steep Canyon Rangers.

Some faces are familiar, but that doesn’t mean their music will be. Giddens, for example, has prepared some new sounds after receiving the 2018 FreshGrass Composition Commission, an award that will ensure this old-timey festival remains plenty current.

Swing Night at Dewey Hall with One Straw Revolution

Dewey Hall
Courtesy photo.

Dewey Memorial Hall
91 Main St., Sheffield, Mass.

Swing Night at Dewey Hall with One Straw Revolution

Oct. 13, 7:30 p.m.: One Straw Revolution plays standards to a swing dancing crowd.

Moors & McCumber

Dewey Memorial Hall, Oct. 27, 7 p.m.: James Moors and Kort McCumber harmonize about love with an Americana sound.

Few venues can host a swing night and claim nostalgia. Dewey Memorial Hall is one of them. The Sheffield institution opened its doors in 1887, well before swing took off in the 1930s. On the second Saturday of every month (with two exceptions, one of them being September), Oldtone Productions hosts an homage to that era at the Main Street venue.

On Oct. 13, “Swing Night” commences at 7:30 p.m. with a lesson from Jason Fenton. Those who aren’t Lindy hop pros need not worry; beginners are welcome, and partners aren’t required. One Straw Revolution will start playing standards an hour later. The group features Bobby MacVeety on guitar and vocals, Roger Suters on bass, Jon Suters on guitar, Grisha Alexiev on percussion and Peter McEachern on trombone, providing plenty of rhythm to spark some jiving.

Two weeks later, a Moors & McCumber concert brings some American roots music inside the Hall’s hallowed walls. History can’t shake this place.


“The Glass Menagerie”

Barrington Stage Company
Courtesy photo.

Barrington Stage Company
Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, 30 Union St., Pittsfield, Mass.

“The Glass Menagerie”

Oct. 7-21: Reality blurs in Tennessee Williams’ classic memory play.

Truth and illusion are dancing around people’s heads these days, taking their lead from internet algorithms and political rhetoric, but the interaction between these two forces has long been examined artistically. The stage is no exception. One of its masters, Tennessee Williams, owes much of his playwriting fame to his exploration of fact and fiction in “The Glass Menagerie,” which will have a run on Barrington Stage Company’s Boyd-Quinson Mainstage beginning on Oct. 7. (Previews begin Oct. 3.)

The 1944 memory play focuses on the Wingfeld family, a clan beset by exasperation in various forms. Writer Tom Wingfeld narrates, warning early on that he will “give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” His sister Laura’s shyness and glass figurines, oft-analyzed in this classic work, contribute to this murky air.

Anybody who checked out “The Royal Family of Broadway” toward the beginning of Barrington Stage’s 2018 season knows that the Pittsfield-based company isn’t afraid to bring a family with a few problems to its biggest stage. The Wingfelds’ tribulations perhaps have more depth than the Cavendishes’, but then again, it’s hard to know what — and whom — to believe in this drama.

The Latchis’ 80th Birthday Celebration

The Latchis
The Latchis Theatre fills up for an event in 2016 Cr. Ben Zackin/For Latchis Arts

Latchis Theatre
50 Main St., Brattleboro, Vt.

The Latchis’ 80th Birthday Celebration

Sept. 22, 10 a.m.: A commemoration of a Brattleboro institution featuring free live performances, movie specials and cake.

George Winston

Oct. 21, 7 p.m.: The pianist draws from folk for his sound.

While some may be reveling in the beginning of fall on Sept. 22, Latchis Arts has a different reason to celebrate on that particular Saturday. Eighty years earlier, the Latchis Memorial Building was set to open, though a hurricane forced it to wait a day. Undeterred by this technicality, the Brattleboro organization has decided to throw a day-long birthday party on the original date that features free live performances, movie specials and, yes, some cake.

The events will begin at 10 a.m. with special film screenings that will continue throughout the day. The Main Theatre will host live events at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. The New England Center for Circus Arts and indie rockers Moxie have already been booked for the nightcap, and you can count on performers from Brattleboro Music Center, Vermont Jazz Center, New England Youth Theatre and Brattleboro Youth Rock Festival and “Turandot” (an opera set to be staged at the Latchis) contributing to the festivities as well.

For those more visually inclined, an exhibit of photographs and archival material will be on display at Latchis’ gallery throughout September and October. But the other events will surely provide plenty of visual stimulation — if not 80 years’ worth, perhaps a season’s.

“Long Day’s Journey into Night”

Nigel Gore and Christine Decker in “The Lion in Winter.” Courtesy photo.

Oldcastle Theatre Company
331 Main St., Bennington, Vt.

“Long Day’s Journey into Night”

Oct. 5-14: Eugene O’Neill’s classic drama follows a day in the life of the Tyrone family at their Connecticut summer home.

In Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” Mary and James Tyrone aren’t what you might call a happy couple. Mary’s sanity has saddled up with morphine; James’ acting career has been in bed with greed.

But the two actors set to play these roles in an October production of O’Neill’s famous drama at Oldcastle Theatre Company must have been beyond content to be paired for this show. That’s because Christine Decker and Nigel Gore spearheaded an acclaimed production of “The Lion in Winter” the last time they took the Oldcastle stage together (pictured here). Gore played a “bullying, forceful” King Henry II of England, while Decker took a “masterly” approach to Henry’s wife, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, according to The Berkshire Eagle’s theater critic, Jeffrey Borak.

Whether Gore and Decker can recreate that magic onstage this fall remains to be seen. If they do, the Tyrones will look just as miserable as ever.

Brattleboro Literary Festival

Brattleboro Literary Festival
Roy Blount Jr. and Tom Bodett at the Latchis Theatre during the 2011 Brattleboro Literary Festival. Photo: Beowulf Sheehan.

Brattleboro, Vt.

Brattleboro Literary Festival

Various venues in Brattleboro, Vt., Oct. 11-14: Several dozen authors arrive in Brattleboro for a weekend celebrating the written word.

It may not be New York or London, but Brattleboro, Vt., has the literary world’s attention for at least one weekend every fall. Starting in 2002, the Brattleboro Literary Festival has invited both established and rising authors in a variety of different genres to come speak at various venues around the town. In the past, authors like Saul Bellow and Colum McCann have visited; this year’s batch includes Stephen Greenblatt, former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin, Joan Silber, Kate Christensen, Wayétu Moore, Laura Shapiro, Kate Greathead, Aaron Thier, Alia Malek and Tom Sleigh, among more than a few dozen other scribes

Big names might draw some people to the festival, which runs from Oct. 11-14 this year. But listening to talented newcomers might make for the best stories in time. For example, Greathead released her debut novel, “Laura & Emma,” this year; Moore’s “She Would Be King” is due out in September.

Perhaps their titles will one day line shelves at Brattleboro’s several bookstores. For now, they’ll have to settle for participating in the town’s signature literary event.

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.

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