Musicians perform a Summer Bandwagon concert for an audience at the Retreat Farm. This year’s lineup features 20 performances weekly through October.
Next Stage Arts
Musicians perform a Summer Bandwagon concert for an audience at the Retreat Farm. This year’s lineup features 20 performances weekly through October.

‘We keep it fresh’

Next Stage’s Bandwagon Series, born out of the pandemic, brings performers from around the world to perform in family-friendly outdoor concerts in Windham County

PUTNEY-Twenty shows - one per week - strikingly diverse and all outdoors. That's what the Next Stage Bandwagon Series offers again this summer.

Next Stage Arts Project Executive Director Keith Marks promises this summer's offerings will surpass last year's record-breaker program for attendance and reach.

A Covid-driven idea, the Bandwagon Series began as a way to keep the Putney-based producing venue going during the pandemic shutdown, by providing a way to bring people of all ages together safely for music and dancing on fields and in parks throughout Windham County.

Named for the signature mobile stage designed by architect Chip Greenberg of Putney, constructed by him and Nick Kyle of Westminster West and owned by Patrick Noyes of Putney, Marks says, "We kept [the series] going because the community response has been tremendous."

The Bandwagon Series endures "because it's a real community event," he says, with Next Stage believing "that broad access is essential for audience development and community engagement."

"We made kids' [admission] free from the very beginning, which made it accessible to younger families," Marks continues. "And a kids' play space is offered, featuring Imagination Playground blocks."

Over the years, Next Stage has made free access available to more people "through individual contributions and support from several sponsors."

"We donate tickets to all 17 public libraries in the county," Marks says. "Now we've expanded to the [Putney Foodshelf] and a number of different organizations, and this year we'll be donating more passes to organizations like The Root and Women's Freedom Center."

"The other reason it endures is because we really focus on joy," Marks reflects. People want to dance and be outdoors in beautiful weather and enjoy what Vermont offers.

And, he adds, "we keep it fresh."

"Every week is a different style from a different country, a different culture," Marks says.

Because the outdoor setting can accommodate more attendees, Next Stage can book artists that it otherwise wouldn't be able to afford in its indoor performance space on Kimball Hill.

"We are really curating with a strong eye toward ethnic and cultural diversity," Marks says. "We're bringing in top-quality talent."

A diverse musical lineup

The Bandwagon opens Saturday, May 18, and runs through Thursday, Oct. 10, "featuring artists from around the world," a Next Stage press release notes. "It's like staging a festival every weekend with an emphasis on Vermont-made brands" that sponsor diversity in their programming.

Band selection is the purview of Marks with Barry Stockwell, production director at Next Stage.

"It's a team effort between me and Barry [...]. I have a healthy network of musicians and presenters that I am in communication with. Different artists come in different ways."

The following descriptions of this year's lineup come from Next Stage publicity materials, peppered with Marks' remarks.

Saturday, May 18: Mehrnam Rastegari on a Persian stringed instrument joins forces with Habbina Habbina. "Greek wedding band surf party music," says Marks.

Saturday, May 25: Yasser Tejeda, Dominican jazz guitarist and composer, offers danceable Caribbean music.

Saturday, June 1: Midwood, contemporary klezmer/rock celebration of freedom and the Jewish tradition of wandering and migration.

Saturday, June 8: Bristol Lightning. An Odyssey of American Music. Bluegrass band fronted by popular and widely heard Grammy-winning cellist Dave Eggar, who has performed at Next Stage.

Saturday, June 15: Combo Daguerre, noted psychedelic French ensemble gypsy music.

Saturday, July 6: Bondeko plays a mix of Roma melodies, Cumbia rhythms, Malinke singalongs, and Balkan tempos, peppered with waltzes. This band is, Marks says, "immigrants from five different countries" - all working construction.

Saturday, July 13: Villalobos Brothers, one of the foremost contemporary Mexican ensembles in the world, with a unique fusion of Mexican folk, jazz, and classical music performed by three brothers, all virtuosic violinists.

Saturday, July 20: Pahua, the rising star of Mexican electronic folk, whose band plays electronic Latin fusion and dance music.

Saturday, July 27: Bombay Rickey, a five-piece band, offers a unique sound evocative of 1960s movie soundscapes. The group plays both covers and original music that borrow equally from the worlds of surf rock, cumbia, spaghetti western, and Bollywood, balanced with operatic vocals. Co-presented with New England Center for Circus Arts, "this is like a grab-bag mix party - every song is different," Marks says.

Saturday, Aug. 3: Glen David Andrews Band returns with a combination of funk, R&B, jazz, gospel, and zydeco; "a joyful, communal noise that prompts even the most casual listeners to lose their inhibitions, whoop, holler, and shake their booty." This New Orleans street beat music is co-presented with the Vermont Jazz Center.

Friday, Aug. 9: Slavic Soul Party! With Balkan brass, funk grooves, Roma accordion, and jazz, this 10-piece Balkan brass band has played the Bandwagon before - "the largest show we've had," says Marks.

Saturday, Aug. 17: Myra Flynn is a Vermont-based Vermont Public broadcast journalist with a side career in original indie soul and funk.

Saturday, Aug. 24: Soles of Duende. Three women from three distinct cultural backgrounds dance the rhythms of tap, flamenco, and Kathak dance to the music of an instrumental trio.

Saturday, Aug. 31: Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars offer high-energy Eastern European party music led by London, one of the world's leading klezmer trumpeters.

Saturday, Sept. 7: Rev. Vince Anderson and His Love Choir, a self-described "dirty gospel" musician.

Sunday, Sept. 15: La Sonora Mazurén, a septet that, as described on the group's Bandcamp page, "combines the flavours of popular Latin American music with the tropical sounds of raw Bogotá, creating a ceremony in which dance and festivity take control of the audience, transporting it to the golden years of tropicalia."

Saturday, Sept. 21: Cyro Baptista, a Brazilian-born percussionist in jazz and world music, has played with Paul Simon, Sting, and Phish. This is his group's first U.S. tour.

Sunday, Sept. 29: Yemen Blues Ravid Kahalani is part Prince, part James Brown, and his music reaches into Moroccan gnawa, Nigerian afrobeat, ecstatic jazz, and global soul. Kahalani offers "traditional Yemenite music in a new spin," says Marks.

Sunday, Oct. 6: Jacob Jolliff Band is Americana and bluegrass. This contemporary mandolinist and his band are co-presented with Twilight Music.

Thursday, Oct. 10: OneBeat, a global music exchange will present a showcase of global music. "OneBeat is a nonprofit," Marks explains, "funded by the State Department, bringing 20 musicians together from around the world."

Trusting the curators

"The most important thing I have," Marks says, "is the community's trust in [our] curation." He notes that they seem to "hit the mark more than we miss it, and that has created trust."

Bandwagon audiences come from throughout the region, primarily from Putney, Dummerston, and Westminster West at the core and then from ever-widening circles beyond to Keene, Greenfield, Bellows Falls, and Wilmington, says Marks.

This year's focus is on local audience development and local business support. Thus, a limited advertising budget will be spent concentrated in local press.

"We want to be sure our dollars are being spent locally; it's the right time for doing that: We need to count on the local audiences," to support local businesses, to spend as locally as possible, he says.

"The cost for everything has gone up," he said. "Our tickets are $20; if you go to Northampton, tickets are $35 to $45. We are so mindful of keeping this accessible, though. We want to be an organization for the whole community, so we need to do the dance," juggling costs of insurance, maintenance, repairs, programming, and public relations, all with a staff of four.

"We try to pull on every lever possible," Marks explains.

Marks, 44, moved with his wife and two children nearly five years ago from Florida, where he was a journalist, to take the position at Next Stage, which had launched a nationwide search.

He'd lived and worked in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East; he holds a master's degree in teaching and just finished a second master's in nonprofit leadership.

A musician and a trained massage therapist as well, he's studied improvisational theater performance; he's had a record label and a booking company, and he's been a tour manager over his 30-year involvement in the arts.

His background as an eclectic generalist serves Marks well as he further hones his business savvy to navigate the arts production and marketing scene in southern Vermont, and to collaborate with others therein.

"I think of administration as my art," he says.

Tickets for the Bandwagon '24 series can be purchased at Series passes - yielding savings of 37–47% - are available there, too. Locations of each concert are listed on the website: note that in case of rain, the backup venue is the Next Stage space at 15 Kimball Hill in Putney.

This Arts item by Annie Landenberger was written for The Commons.

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