Multidisciplinary musician

Erin McKeown concert to benefit Next Stage Arts project

PUTNEY — A prolific area musician with a wide range of styles and a constellation of creative interests and a following in the United States and overseas, Erin McKeown will perform at the Next Stage Arts Project on Saturday, March 17 in a concert that will raise funds for the nascent arts venue.

“Erin's music is very eclectic,” says Julian McBrowne, a Brattleboro sound engineer who has served on the nonprofit's board and now serves as Next Stage's program manager. “It exists in the space between folk and rock.”

“She's just a really interesting artist,” he says.

McKeown, 33, bristles at describing her own musical style.

“I'm terrible at it,” she says. “It doesn't matter what I say - it's what a listener hears or appreciates.” But she eventually describes her underlying musical style as “intimate, old-time cabaret with some rock and pop.”

“I do what sounds good to me at the time,” says McKeown, a Brown University graduate who holds a degree in ethnomusicology and plays the mandolin, piano, banjo, bass, and kit drums. “It's changing all the time. I have a curious mind and a wide range of interests.”

Over the past decade, McKeown, who grew up in Virginia and has lived in western Massachusetts for 10 years, has produced eight albums, three EPs, and “Live At Lincoln Hall,” a concert film recorded to celebrate her first decade in music, due for release in late spring. She has also produced an online series of live house concerts that not only broke creative ground but also served as a method of raising seed money for her 2009 album “Hundreds of Lions” - a means of fan-funding projects that has since gained more prominence with the rise of websites like

“They turned out so well,” she says of the concerts that she describes as “Wayne's World meets the Judy Garland Show.” She has since done two more, a sports-themed concert for Super Bowl Sunday and a “Cabin Fever Anti-Holiday Spectacular” for the holiday season.

She's just finished recording an album, one “I've been working towards for a long time,” she says.

But live concerts like the upcoming Next Stage benefit - which for years, McKeown did 200 nights per year on average - “is always the inspiration for this,” she says.

Her albums might vary widely in musical style, but “I'm just as likely to play a song from 10 years ago as I am likely to play a song that's not released yet,” she says.

Teacher and student

Grainne Buchanan (pronounced, as she writes on YouTube, like “Anya with a grrr”), a 16-year-old musician from Guilford, will open the show.

“I thought it would be a really nice opportunity to do something together,” McKeown says.

Buchanan, a junior at Northfield Mount Hermon in Gill, Mass., was a camper at a girls' rock-and-roll camp at the Institute for the Musical Arts, a nonprofit teaching, performing, and recording facility in Goshen, Mass. There she met McKeown, who has been involved in the organization for a long time.

“We hit it off,” McKeown says.

Since then, Buchanan meets monthly with McKeown, who offers coaching and critiques but bristles at the terminology of “mentor” or “protege.”

“I listen to her songs and offer her my thoughts and perspectives, and I'm available to her,” McKeown says, noting that Buchanan, who writes her own songs and plays acoustic guitar regionally, often in Bellows Falls, is “at a really cool place in her career.”

“There's a pop sensibility to her, but it's not 1970s summer pop,” McKeown says. “There's a real sense of the music that teenagers are making right now, the sounds of her generation.”

“She's 16-years-old,” McKeown says. “She writes about what you think a 16-year-old would write about. But she acknowledges the craft of trying to write a song that has layers of meaning.”

Buchanan's blossoming skill in that regard is one “that young artists don't always have a handle on,” McKeown says. “They either try too hard or not hard enough.”

The media and the music

McKeown's current creative objective, she says, is to express herself in music in a way that reflects the concept of “being connected,” both in terms of current events and “living in the moment, in the spiritual sense.”

“In the world, you see a type of coalescing, lots of people learning to take action together,” she says. “I'm trying to bring some of that to music.”

Does that goal dovetail with her other activities, which include blogging, writing a book of poetry, and political activism?

“For sure,” says McKeown, who is also a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, where she joins lawyers, computer scientists, activists, and other scholars in “thinking about the Internet, engagement, networks, consequences, and technology.”

“I keep coming back to the theme of community and coalescence,” she says.

She also is a member of the Future of Music Coalition, which “works to ensure a diverse musical culture where artists flourish, are compensated fairly for their work, and where fans can find the music they want,” according to the Washington, D.C. nonprofit's website.

“I go to Capitol Hill and sit in the offices of senators and representatives and say, 'Here's how policy affects artists,'” she says. “What I like most about this work is that I can take my skills as a musician and not just make money to keep me on the road.”

Whether her music influences her other activities or vice versa is “chicken or egg,” McKeown says. “I general, I engage and activate. As I express that, I move those pieces around.”

Benefit for Next Stage

Next Stage, which opened officially in March 2011, intends to transform the 1841 Putney Meeting House at 15 Kimball Hill, owned by the Putney Historical Society, into a 160-seat theater that can serve as “a collaborative environment for audiences, performers, and community based arts and educational organizations,” according to the organization's website (

The organization is also “committed to enhancing the village of Putney as a cultural center.”

Since its founding in early 2011, Next Stage has hosted dozens of public arts events including classical, folk, and popular music concerts, a community film series, and a spoken word series.

In addition to serving as a venue for other artistic endeavors like Yellow Barn Music Festival's concerts (including the Crumb Madrigals Project on March 24 at 8 p.m.) or Twilight Music's folk and rock concerts, Next Stage is offering its own productions.

Julian McBrowne says that the organization, co-chaired by Billy Straus and Chip Greenberg, is “just beginning to get its program planned out significantly in advance.”

Eric Bass and John Burt serve as vice-chairs, and Straus also serves as secretary and treasurer.

With financial backing from the Fresh Sounds Foundation, McBrowne manages the Next Stage programs while Barry Stockwell manages the venue. “Between us, it makes it easier,” McBrowne says.

A program committee consists of McBrowne, Straus, Stockwell, Rebecca Waxman, and Elayne Clift.

It's “an interesting crew,” McBrowne says. “We come at it from all kinds of different directions.”

All profits from the concert benefit Next Stage.

“If we make money, it goes into our coffers and helps us move forward,” McBrowne says.

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