BELLOWS FALLS—The premier concert of the Ray Massucco Concert Series will feature Dar Williams, with opening act Crys Matthews, at the Bellows Falls Opera House on Saturday, Feb. 4.
A small group of friends created the concert series in memory of Massucco, who died suddenly last September, with the first concert featuring Williams, one of his favorites.
The local attorney had great enthusiasm for a lot of things, with music and his hometown of Bellows Falls ranking near the top. It is hard to find any important project in the community, going back decades, that Massucco didn’t have some sort of hand in.
That includes the restoration of the Bellows Falls Opera House into a 550-seat theater and live music venue, with one of the largest movie screens in New England and a stage large enough to easily hold a symphony orchestra.
Concert organizer Charlie Hunter, who reported that supporters bought more than 70 tickets for the series before the acts were booked, said that this will be at least the fourth time since 2007 that Williams has performed in Bellows Falls.
She came to town so often because, for five years, her manager was Hunter, who also founded the Roots on the River Music Festival.
Massucco took over the three-to-four-day roots and Americana festival from Hunter about halfway through its 20-year run.
Working with Hunter on the new concert series are Ezra Veitch, Maridee Serebrov, Patrick LaBlanc, and Robb Fox, who had all also worked with Massucco.
Putney’s Next Stage Arts is the concert series’ co-presenter. Brattleboro’s Dan Richardson will do the sound.
Music and community faith
Williams, whose 30-year career as a singer, songwriter, and performer has established her at the top of the Americana music genre, has a strong fan base in New England.
Her songs such as “When I Was a Boy,” “The Babysitter’s Here,” and “After All” have become modern classics to many. Hunter said her song “The Christians and the Pagans” — about a pagan lesbian couple spending Christmas eve with Christian relatives — is a standard at Unitarian Universalist Christmas concerts.
“Dar was one of Ray’s favorites,” Hunter said. “I think he’d be thrilled. But he would be thrilled with any show. He loved so much music. He was a real appreciator of music.”
“I was really happy when Charlie invited me to be a part of Ray’s concert series,” she wrote in an email. “I’m happy to play the first concert, but I don’t think it’s any reflection of Ray’s preferences. He loved so many artists and genres with no hierarchy, and I’m guessing he told all of them that they were his favorites.”
Massucco worked to help found the Bellows Falls Farmers’ Market, among his many projects. Williams came to Bellows Falls in 2007 and performed a benefit show to help get the market going.
“When Dar played the Farmers’ Market benefit, she gave her full fee back to the benefit,” Hunter said. “That really helped support the market, and helped keep live music at the markets. That’s one of the reasons why this concert will be so meaningful.”
In addition to the benefit concert, Williams also came to Bellows Falls as a surprise guest when Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky performed at the Opera House. The three had performed as a trio, Cry, Cry, Cry, where they paid tribute to their favorite songwriters. Williams’s appearance helped sell out the show.
Williams explained why Bellows Falls holds a special place in her heart.
“About 20 years ago, Charlie Hunter told me he was moving to Bellows Falls, a beautiful Vermont town where he could grow the good that was already happening there,” Williams wrote.
“Bellows Falls welcomed his sign-painting skills, street-corner painting studio, and plans to fill some of the old historic spaces with new music,” she continued.
She remembers Massucco as “a great kindred spirit who loved being a part of Charlie’s indoor and outdoor music productions.”
Describing it as “the crown jewel” of these projects, Williams described the impact of Massucco and Hunter’s work in bringing the Bellows Falls Opera House to life.
“You need a lot of community faith in the commons to pull off a big opera house in a small town, especially one that’s ingeniously combined with a town hall,” she wrote. “Charlie and Ray, among others, had the vision and the energy to see it through.”
Crys Matthews will perform
Hunter said that Crys Matthews sharing the bill with Williams will be a special treat.
“Crys is such a dynamic new voice,” he said. “She did a show for Next Stage. She’s coming up like Dar did 30 years ago.”
Four shows are planned for 2023, including upcoming shows with The Steel Wheels on Friday, April 7 and Chris Smither on Saturday, Sept. 23. The fourth show has yet to be booked.
Hunter, who also managed Smither early in his career, said he’s especially happy with this 2023 lineup.
“It’s a joy,” he said. “I’m 20 years out of the music business, but it’s a joy to see two of my clients — Dar and Chris — still having viable careers.”
Williams said that she has a special goal when she gets to the Opera House for this show.
“I seem to remember being told,” she said, “when I played at the Opera House around 2006, that my manager Patty and I would have our names on two seats in the audience.”
“I’m going to get there early and see if I can find them!” Williams said.