BRATTLEBORO—“Buy local” goes beyond purchasing vegetables from the farmers’ market and shopping along Main Street.
It also means showing up when area musicians perform.
On Friday, June 27, the Hooker-Dunham Theater provides this opportunity with a concert featuring notable local musicians playing folk, roots, and rockabilly music.
Singer/songwriter Abe Loomis, a native of Northampton, Mass., takes center stage, backed by his band Bright Lines, featuring an all-Pioneer Valley collection of talent.
Jim Henry, one of the band’s guitarists, recently returned from touring as part of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s band. Locals of a certain age may remember his work with the Sundogs, a popular late-1980s/early-1990s dance hall band playing “swamp-boogie-swing” music.
Also on guitars for the evening, multi-instrumentalist and audio engineer Dave Chalfant has been playing with The Nields for 20 years, and has played on and helped produce albums by local and national folk-rock musicians such as Erin McKeown, Peter Mulvey, and the Winterpills.
Loomis’s long-time collaborators Gray Maynard on bass, and Sturgis Cunningham behind the drum kit, provide the band’s rhythm section.
The night’s performance features backing harmonies and vocal solos by Melissa Shetler, who grew up on the Packers Corner commune in Guilford.
Shetler performs in and around New York City, and occasionally back home, both as a solo performer, and with her mother, Patty Carpenter (of local favorites Patty and the Cakes). Sometimes the duo appears as part of the Dysfunctional Family Jazz Band, whose name concisely explains the unorthodox lineup consisting of a daughter (Shetler) and her mother (Carpenter), father, half-brother, step-mother, father’s cousin, and husband.
“The musical resources in these parts have been pretty rich for a long time now,” says Loomis, who grew up in, and recently moved back to, Conway, Mass.
This area — southeastern Vermont and northwestern Massachusetts — has a wealth of talented musicians hiding in the woods, and occupying walk-up apartments along small towns’ quiet streets. Some bag your groceries or drive your kid’s school bus so they can afford to pursue their muse after they’ve clocked out of their day jobs.
“[As a teenager] I would mow lawns and wash cars and practice skateboarding tricks with my friends but then I would also make time for writing,” says Loomis.
While the region’s artists specialize in a variety of musical styles — funk, punk rock, power pop, glam rock, jazz, classical, experimental — “alt-country” proliferates. That’s the name for the spirited mixture of roots rock, blues, folk, and “classic” country & western, with a little bit of the energy and sensibility of punk rock. Think of alt-country as more Hank Williams, Sr. and less Hank Williams, Jr.
When asked what, if anything, about this area influences Abe Loomis’s music, he responded: “I love this part of the country. I love the smells and the light and the colors and the water everywhere. I feel very, very blessed to have grown up here and to live here now. I’ve lived in New York City and Berkeley and Paris, and I loved it all, but I prefer the country, and I basically write country music.
“Almost all of the scenes and stories in my songs are set where I live. The river, the colors in the twilight, the smell of the air in the early evening...These things inspire me and they are very specific, very rooted in this particular place.”
Loomis wrote a song about growing up in Conway, entitled “From Johnny Bean Brook.” Its lyrics succinctly and evocatively explain living with New England seasons, and the realities behind idyllic farm scenes.
“Gravel on the roads, mud in all the ponds
Weather in the air, pain in all the songs
Sunlight on the apple trees, drinking in the truck
Kenny’d fix that fence-line if he had some better luck
[...] The passage of four blackbirds moving through the air
Thunderheads above them, grumbling everywhere
Pressure’s dropping fast, better get the last bails in
Unplug the computer, come out of the wind.”
Loomis is touring in support of his debut solo album, “The Early Treasuries.” Appealing with its smart, honest lyrics about love, sincerity, reluctance, and pancakes, it reveals a songwriter comfortable with the written word. Loomis began writing music when he was 9 or 10 years old. As an adult, he wrote short stories, and has earned his living teaching English, and as a professional copy-writer.
Loomis’s baritone fronts arrangements featuring such instruments as banjo, violin, and clarinet to enhance the traditional rock combination of guitar/bass/drums. Musical styles range from quiet male/female harmonies reminiscent of Gram Parsons’ recordings with Emmylou Harris, to the rambunctious energy of Uncle Tupelo, to energizing gospel.