Serenade to a Donkey Jawbone

David Wax Museum’s Mexo-Americana sound.

A wintertime session at a recording studio in the town of Parsonsfield, Maine—which sits on the New Hampshire border west of Sebago Lake and east of Lake Winnipesaukee—may not bring to mind folk music from the sun-drenched climes of southern Mexico.

Likewise, Missourian David Wax and Virginian Suz Slezak, who met and formed the Mexican/Americana indie band David Wax Museum seven years ago in Boston, are not ethnically linked to the region of Veracruz, from where so much of their musical style derives its influence. But that has not prevented them from recording the latter two of their four albums up in Maine, and presenting their musical amalgamation with a fluidity that is accessible, authoritative, and an absolute pleasure to hear.

This week, Wax and Slezak return to the Valley—where they lived for five years—to perform once again at the Iron Horse.

“All music can be blended,” Slezak told the Advocate over the phone last week, as the couple drove with their infant daughter to Washington, D.C. for a gig with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. “Any new genre is a blending of two or more genres. So there’s nothing necessarily special about blending rural Mexican with American folk.” Because not many musicians are doing it, however, especially in the Boston area, it felt fresh, she added.

As a student at Harvard, Wax studied Latin American literature and history before getting a post-grad fellowship to study music in Mexico. Learning from living masters of the style called son Mexicano, Wax returned to Boston with a deeper understanding of traditional Mexican music and a desire to form a band that incorporated traditional instruments like the leona, a deep-voiced guitar that sounds similar to a stand-up bass, and the jarana, a smaller, eight-stringed guitar. Not to mention the jawbone of a donkey.

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Local Beer and Southern BBQ

Berkshire Brewing Company takes over the Wildwood taps this Wednesday.

Consider yourself warned: do not attempt to satisfy your curiosity by popping into Wildwood Barbecue without getting some grub. Once the delicious scent of smoked meat settles in your nostrils, it will be near impossible to avoid succumbing to your desire for a meal of barbecue.

Like a fool, I tried it last week, telling myself I would merely stop by to take a photo or two. Leaving a few minutes later with an empty belly and some suddenly over-active taste buds, I suffered through the remainder of the night, dreaming of pulled pork and imagining myself seated at one of Wildwood’s picnic tables some summer evening with a beer in one hand and some barbecue in the other.

Glenn Brunetti opened Wildwood Barbecue in Hadley last summer, and in the intervening months his Route 9 restaurant has become one of the most popular new eating spots in the Valley. On the first Wednesday of each month (second Wednesday in April) this spring and summer, Wildwood will turn its beer taps over to an assortment of local brewers, including Element Brewing Company in May, People’s Pint in June and Lefty’s Brewing Company in August.

This Wednesday evening, Wildwood’s tap will pour a selection of BBC beers, including Lost Sailor I.P.A., Berkshire Czech Style Pilsner, “Shabadoo” Black and Tan Ale, and Coffeehouse Porter.

The Advocate contacted Brunetti to learn more about Wildwood’s first tap takeover by Smuttynose last month, and to hear about this month’s April 9 tap takeover by the granddaddy of Valley microbrews, Berkshire Brewing Company.

Valley Advocate : What’s it like running a barbecue place in the northeast?

Brunetti: It’s wonderful. Customers are often transplants from the South and are happy to get a taste of home, or they are just being introduced to slow-smoked barbecue—which is different from backyard grilled barbecue—and discovering that they love it. Either way, they are an appreciative and enthusiastic bunch.

We offer classics such as brisket, ribs, pulled pork and chicken, and do smoked salmon, chicken wings, pastrami, sausage and housemade bacon on a regular basis. We have creative weekly specials and bake our own desserts, and of course carry great beers to go along with it.

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Signs of Intelligent Life

Peter Mulvey performs at the Iron Horse in Northampton, Massachusetts, U.S.A., Earth, Milky Way Galaxy…

Despite living in the greater Boston city of Somerville for a mere four years, folk singer and songwriter Peter Mulvey maintains many Massachusetts connections. He records on local label Signature Sounds, plays a regular Harvard Square summer stint at Club Passim as part of the trio Redbird (with Jeffrey Foucault and Kris Delmhorst), and considers several local musicians—including Pamela Means, Tim Gearan, the Blue Ribbons (who back him up this Thursday at the Iron Horse) and Rusty Belle (who open the show)—to be his “musical tribe.”

“I tour constantly, but I play more gigs in Massachusetts than anywhere else,” Mulvey tells the Advocate. “In many ways it has remained my artistic home, though I moved back to Wisconsin in 1996.”

But it was the combination of a cave in West Virginia and a Czech professor from the University of Washington that caused the curator of the Kansas City TEDxTalks to ask Mulvey if he would give a lecture last year. Titled “Lyrical Astrophysics,” Mulvey’s talk was based on his song “Vlad the Astrophysicist,” which he recorded on his 2009 album Letters from a Flying Machine.

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Moonshine On You Crazy Emerald (City)

Sometimes a pun can be taken too far. Far too far. But other times, said adventurous pun is surprisingly appropriate, as is the case with Dark Side of the Moonshine, the San Francisco-based Poor Man’s Whiskey bluegrass band’s performance of Pink Floyd’s classic album. Let’s just say that if you like your live music driven by an amalgamation of upbeat hootenanny bluegrass, concept album classic rock, and costumes of characters from The Wizard of Oz, you’ll want to be at the Iron Horse this Monday.

Having played The Great American Music Hall, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and the legendary Fillmore Hall, Poor Man’s Whiskey makes a quick one-week stopover in the Northeast before heading back out West. Its Northampton appearance will include two sets, the first featuring the band’s original music, the second covering Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, with bandmates dressed as characters from The Wizard of Oz.

The members include Sean Lehe on guitars, Aspen Stevenson on bass and vocals, George Smeltz on drums and—wait for it—suitcase, Jason Beard on guitar and mandolin, and Josh Brough—who makes a lovely bearded Dorothy—on vocals, harmonica, keyboards and banjo.

(Originally appeared in the Valley Advocate.)

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Student Athletes Sue the NCAA

An antitrust class action lawsuit has been filed by high-profile sports labor lawyer Jeffrey Kessler on behalf of student athletes against the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletics Association) and its five wealthiest conferences (Big Ten, Pac 10, Big 12, ACC and SEC). The suit aims to challenge the amateur status of men’s college basketball and football players.

“In no other business—and college sports is big business—would it ever be suggested that the people who are providing the essential services work for free,” Kessler told ESPN. “Only in big-time college sports is that line drawn.” One of the most respected sports labor attorneys, Kessler has was instrumental in forming NFL free agency, and has represented many high-profile athletes, including Tom Brady.

The suit comes less than two months after Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter and former collegiate athletes—including UMass grad Luke Bonner—formed the College Athletes Players Association, which hopes to unionize collegiate athletics (“The NCAA vs. Student Athletes,” March 13, 2014, http://www.valleyadvocate.com).

“The effort to create more of a voice for college athletes in revenue-generating sports is a major issue that’s existed for a while,” Bonner told the Advocate. “There’s no voice or vote from the players who drive this multi-billion dollar industry.”

The suit seeks no damages, but challenges the NCAA’s “false claims of amateurism,” charging that those governing college sports “have lost their way far down the road of commercialism, signing multi-billion-dollar contracts wholly disconnected from the interests of ‘student athletes,’ who are barred from receiving the benefits of competitive markets for their services even though their services generate these massive revenues.”

(Originally appeared in the Valley Advocate.)

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Good-nervous Elation

Publisher, editor and author Ariel Gore reads at Food For Thought

Author, Hip Mama founder, publisher and editor Ariel Gore may be a lifelong Left Coaster, but that didn’t stop her from hearing about Food For Thought’s financial struggles this past fall. “I was there maybe seven years ago. So when I heard, I donated to their Kickstarter campaign,” Gore tells the Advocate. “Then I reached out to see if I could do a reading there.”

Gore will be at Food For Thought this Sunday, March 23 at 4 p.m., reading from her new memoir The End of Eve. The book chronicles Gore’s experiences taking care of her dying mother. It is her “most vulnerable book” to date.

“Part of writing for me has been about getting more comfortable in my own skin, to not censor myself,” Gore says, adding that a lot of people in her supposedly narcissistic generation face the reality of declining parents. “But what does that look like? What do we owe a difficult parent?”

Self-described teen welfare mom Gore crashed the literary scene with her parenting zine Hip Mama back in 1993. After suspending publication for the past five years, she recently began printing again, and just published its 20th year anniversary edition.

“Back then it was, ‘Oh, you’re a lady author, that’s so unusual.’ Even the radical press was male-dominated, and extremely white-dominated,” says Gore. “People take you more seriously as you get older. But some writers still have a hard time getting their voice out there. Things change slowly.

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To Own A Tiffany

A church in Northampton considers selling its historic stained glass window.

The First Churches of Northampton is exploring the sale of its Tiffany window, Rev. Todd Weir confirmed in an interview last week with the Valley Advocate. The church will propose the details of its plan in a letter to the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

“We’re still very early in any kind of process,” Rev. Weir told the Advocate. “I’m not sure we’re even going to be able to do it. We’d also want to make sure it would be on public display, not in somebody’s foyer.” While he is not sure if the church can solicit bids at this point, Rev. Weir acknowledges they know there is interest, “but not in the sense we’re engaging.”

The issue was brought to the Advocate’s attention by local architect and historic preservationist Tristram Metcalfe, who says that while it’s important to “have compassion” for the church and their struggling financial situation, the Tiffany window is a central feature of the building and an integral “part of the history of our city.”

The son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of the famous jewelry and silver firm Tiffany and Company, Art Noveau designer and decorative artist Louis Comfort Tiffany lived from 1848 to 1933 and dominated the glassware world of mosaics, lighting and windows from the 1870s through the 1930s. Decades after his death, he is still regarded as one of the most acclaimed artists in American history, and is credited with revolutionizing the medium of stained glass.

“Artists, famous artists, get millions for oil on canvas,” Metcalfe told the Advocate. “The fact that it’s part of the building means that its highest value is in that original building.”

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