"Ye Ol' Northampton Music Fest Report"

by Geoff Wilbur
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Sometimes it pays to listen to musicians. On advice from members of Connecticut rock band The Limit, I spent an October Saturday in Northampton, Massachusetts for the Northampton Music Fest. Though I missed the great sound of the guys who alerted me to the NMF -- The Limit played Friday night -- I was treated to a small town music festival packed with big league talent. With the exception of a couple of venues, the showcases were within walking distance of each other (which is one of my favorite things about Undercurrents in Cleveland, as well). Great set-up. Anyway, enough about the conference -- let's talk about the bands I saw there:

At her Fire and Water showcase, Deb Talan (411A Highland Ave., Box #187, Somerville, MA 02144) exhibited funky, folky picking, and gut-busting, almost surprising vocal power in her soulful wailing. Deb's strong voice with its real power (her voice has a wavering, powerful, cynical, hopeful, knowing innocence) and a plethora of vocal gymnastics result in an enjoyable, trademark style. Notable songs included "Two Points," "The Gladdest Thing," and "Counterclockwise."

The weight of Siment's (8 Boynton St., Worcester, MA 01609) music didn't crush the melody, which rocked the foundation at Harry's. Take radio rock, add punk and metal musical insurgencies, and mix well, and that's Siment. Of note was the band's closing number, "Anything For You."

During the part of her set I caught at Fire and Water, Anne O'Meara Heaton (Spill Records, 192 Edwards St. #204, New Haven, CT 06511) performed songs such as "Mary," with its breathy, hoarse, emotional, soaring vocals. She closed with a new, untitled song that seems to belong on a soundtrack during a hot, sweaty, steamy montage.

Debra Cowan (P.O. Box 1335, Westborough, MA 01581) delivered an enjoyable set of traditional folk with her crisp, strong voice at her Fire and Water showcase. She oopened the set a capella with a "bonnie" olde-styled traditional folk number from Scotland. Also notable was her performance of Jimmy Driftwood's "St. Brendan's Fair Isle."

Dicey Riley delivered a set of original Celtic music at Pearl Street. "Nova Scotia My Darling" was poppy Celtic, the second song was the Rolling Stones with bagpipes, and the original "The November Nights" was blues-based, alt-rock-flavored, raucous college rock with perhaps a passing Celtic influence.

During his Bay State Hotel set, Zeke Fiddler's peformance was calm, but it was an uneasy calm. It was as if they were slow songs to begin with, recorded at 45 but played at 33. Quite an interesting live sound -- vocally and musically, sadly pretty.

The Eric Olsson Band (16 Fort Hill Terrace, Northampton, MA 01060) rocked the Bay State Hotel to singer/songwriter-style vocals with a full band backing -- kind of Rembrandts/Del Amitri-flavored, folky radio rock. One of the four songs I caught was a little edgy, while the other three were much smoother.

Singer/guitarist Henning peformed an interesting set of music whose offbeat but familiar, almost-speaking vocal style powers its eclectic acoustic rock. "Roger and Mary O'Malley and the Invisible Pirates" is just odd enough enough to be taken seriously... not! Other notable tunes included "Day Job" (shameless fun with alliteration) and "We Don't Believe in Angels."

My favorite of the day, Eric Underwood (17 Albert St., Adams, MA 01220) delivered an impressive set of aggressive, hard-driving acoustic rock. Each song carries the listeners along on its ride, and every word, the way it's sung, seems like the most important... until the next one. Notable were "Dream Away" and "Everything," which proved a most energetic, rockin' set-ender.

Next at Fire and Water I caught the first couple songs of Rik Ekstrom (rme@oculusgroup.com), whose Randy Newman-esque vocals (but not quite) and energetic strumming delivery bring his songs and music to life. Rik's vocals are drawn-out; his delivery is folky.

Finally, on the way out of town, we stopped at Grandstands to see Cola (187 Beebe Rd., Manson, MA 01057). We're talkin' metal here! But as heavy as it is, the sound's crystal clear. Good musicianship! There's also a little funkiness to the music, whose raw edge drives the songs like a chainsaw.

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