Staff Writer

July was a challenging month for outdoor music shows, with the heavy rain that flooded local farms and roads also washing out some concerts and threatening others.

Organizers for upcoming music festivals in Easthampton are hoping things dry out by September, when three separate events are scheduled over two consecutive weekends, bringing some 30 bands and artists to the region.

A new event, the River Roads Festival on Sept.9, will see former Valley singer-songwriter Dar Williams return to play alongside a number of other acoustic artists in an all-day festival designed to benefit a cleanup of the Connecticut River.

Singer-songwriter Dar Williams, who once lived in the Valley, has organized a new music festival in Easthampton in September to help the work of the Connecticut River Conservancy. Image from Dar Williams website

The following weekend, returns to Millside Park for three days (Sept. 15 through 17) of diverse music, as well as volunteer work to coincide with an annual program, run by the Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC), that sponsors cleanup efforts along the river’s entire 410-mile length.

And on Sept. 17, the Arcadia Folk Festival, a co-production of Signature Sounds and Mass Audubon, returns to the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary for its fifth season — and — like its predecessors, it will be built along sustainable lines, such as having on-site food vendors serve their fare with compostable or reusable utensils and dishware.

Local hero The Suitcase Junket, aka Matt Lorenz, will be at the Arcadia Folk Festival in Easthampton Sept. 17. Photo courtesy Bill Foster

The new kid on the block, the River Roads Festival — it will take place at Millside Park from noon to 10 p.m. on Sept. 9 — represents a collaboration between Williams, Laudable Productions, and the CRC, the Greenfield based environmental organization.

In a phone call from her home in the Hudson River Valley in New York, Williams recalled that her first live gig following the worst of the pandemic, in summer 2021, was at Black Birch Vineyard in Hatfield. It reminded her, she said, of her continued attachment to the area. (Williams lived in the region for several years in the 1990s and early 2000s.)

“It brought back memories of driving along river roads here, and all the dear friends I’d made,” she said. “And I’ve always thought this region is more connected than many other places to environmental issues.”

Given she’s long been concerned about the environment herself, she later began imagining a musical event that could be tied to that cause. She also knew the principals at Laudable Productions, including Kyle Homstead, from the time he ran the sound system at the Iron Horse Music Hall.

Williams has also played at the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity in Florence, founded by Homstead and his partner, Cassandra Holden, and likes what they’re doing there. “They’ve really merged art, history and community,” she said.

Her manager, Patty Romanoff, who lives in Easthampton, broached the idea of an environmentally themed concert as well, Williams noted.

For River Roads, she’s enlisted some of her old musical friends in the Valley, such as The Nields, and other regional performers like Heather Maloney and Aisha Burns. Also on the bill are veteran artists Shawn Colvin, Amy Ray, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and a number of other acts.

Sweet Honey in the Rock will join the River Roads Festival in Easthampton Sept. 9 to help the work of the Connecticut River Conservancy. Photo by Christopher Robinson

It’s an all-female lineup, though Williams says that’s because the first group of artists she contacted were women “and they all said ‘yes,’ so we had enough performers.” She plans to enlist male artists in the future, as she wants to make the festival an annual event.

“The theme for the festival is water justice,” she said. “Water, clean water, is essential for all of us, and it’s also tied to social justice — you can’t have one kind of justice without the other.”

Part of the proceeds from the festival will be devoted to CRC and its work. In addition, musicians from the show and other volunteers will take part in a Sept. 10 cleanup that Holden says will be focused primarily on Lower Mill Pond in Easthampton and along the nearby Manhan Rail Trail.

“We love working with CRC,” said Holden, who noted volunteers for the Sept. 10 cleanup will meet at Millside Park at 9 a.m. “We’ve done that in the past with, and this will be another opportunity to help them.”

The lineup for this year’s, the free (donations encouraged) concert series staged at Millside Park for the last several years, is still being finalized.

But in keeping with the tradition of hosting a wide range of eclectic bands — last year’s — festival included groups from Ukraine, Estonia and Mexico — the 2023 festival will include artists from France, Ethiopia and Switzerland, among other places.

For instance, Ethiocolor, from Ethiopia, is described as a rich mix of “Ethiopian music and dance traditions and cross-cultural exchange” that “draws deeply from the bardic well of Ethiopia’s diverse heritage.”

Also part of the lineup over Sept. 15 and 16 will be the Valley’s own Young@Heart Chorus, as well as the New Orleans-flavored blues and jazz of Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen. On Sept. 17, the festival will conclude with a day’s worth of Irish music.

Meantime, the Arcadia Folk Festival will also take place Sept. 17, from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. As in the past, the lineup will include Valley-based artists, including The Suitcase Junket and Wallace Field, and those from further afield such as Valerie June, a Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter from Memphis, Tennessee.

From Memphis, Tennessee to the Valley: Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter/poet Valerie June, whose music encompasses folk, blues, gospel, soul, and country, will be at the Arcadia Folk Festival in Easthampton Sept. 17. Image from Valerie June website

Also on the bill will be acclaimed rootsy singer-songwriter James McMurtry from Austin, Texas, who will be making his first appearance in the Valley with his backing band. (He’s played solo in the region a number of times before, including early this spring at The Drake in Amherst.)

The festival presenters hope the weather gods will be kinder in September after July’s mix of heavy rain, high humidity, and air sometimes suffused with smoke from Canadian wildfires.

“We’ve had really good luck for all our ( shows so far,” said Holden. “I hope it continues. There’s nothing like the energy at an outdoor music festival when the weather’s good.”

For information on the River Roads Festival and, visit Information on the 2023 Arcadia Folk Festival is at