Solid Sound returns to North Adams, and it’s music for everyone

Besides commerce, what Solid Sound offers is the bright idea that music can take you to countless new places. Launched in 2010 by members of enterprising rock band Wilco, this year’s edition features Sylvan Esso, Japanese Breakfast, cult country legend Terry Allen and his Panhandle Mystery Band, plus a launch party for the 12th Wilco’s studio album, “Cruel Country”.

For Angel Bat Dawid, a free-jazz clarinetist from Wilco’s hometown of Chicago, the city they share is “a citadel for improvisation and spontaneous composition.” Performing on Saturday, she became an associate of longtime band Sun Ra Arkestra, which plays on Sunday.

“Chicago is the best place to build your sound, to find where you are,” says Bat Dawid. “There is room to do it. There’s a lot of juicy music.

In fact, North Adams looks a bit like Chicago East whenever Wilco moves into Mass MoCA’s sprawling campus. In addition to the usual sets from various Wilco-related side projects, this year’s lineup includes appearances by Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist NNAMDÏ and veteran rock band Windy City Eleventh Dream Day.

Bat Dawid, who grew up in a family of music-loving ministers, prefers to call his solo performances “services”. Embellishing his clarinet explorations with keyboards and rhythms, his music oscillates between hymnody and avant-garde explosions. It’s cathartic, for her and for her audience.

“If I want to explore my emotions on any level, from love to hate to anger, the most appropriate place to deal with it is in performance,” she says. “In ritual.”

Ayo Edebiri grew up playing the oboe, but that’s not what brings him to North Adams. The Dorchester native was invited to join John Hodgman’s Comedy Cabaret alongside Nick Offerman, Negin Farsad, Josh Gondelman and others.

With her acting career on the rise, Edebiri recently joined the voice cast for “Big Mouth”, the very naughty anime series on Netflix. She replaced Jenny Slate as Missy.

It was a natural exchange, she jokes: “We are two anxious women from Massachusetts.

Before Solid Sound, Edebiri said, the closest she had been to the Berkshires was Springfield. His family often visited an uncle who lived there to set off fireworks on July 4th.

Wes Nelson and Andrea Belair moved to North Adams to open Belltower Records in a factory about four years ago. They bought out the contents of Toonerville Trolley, a 40-year-old record store near Williamstown that closed in 2018.

This year, Belltower serves as an on-site pop-up store for record sales at Solid Sound. Nelson and Belair, Archivist of the Clark Art Institute, love the area.

“It’s an old industrial town that still has a working-class feel to it,” Nelson says. “People here are very unassuming, but there’s still a lot of art and culture that you wouldn’t expect.”

Closed for three months at the start of the pandemic, Belltower has reopened to sustained activity. With music fans unable to congregate for live events, Nelson says, “there was this voracious appetite for records. It was maybe one of the few places people could hang out.

“Human connection in general – music is such an enabler of that.”

Wilco bassist John Stirratt became so enamored with North Adams that he joined the investment team behind Tourists, a reimagined motorhome on the banks of the Hoosic River, in 2018.

“All these musicians follow,” says Howard, the brewer, many of whom are moving from New York. This influx has helped make North Adams a model city for the creative economy.

Some growing pains persist, however. Howard is currently embroiled in a legal dispute with his former partners at HiLo, a pop-up concert venue that closed last year.

At Bright Ideas, its staff puts on intimate performances, mostly of the singer-songwriter variety. There is a network of musicians who can make a living by visiting the brewery circuit, he says.

In addition to Solid Sound, local businesses get big boosts from other regularly scheduled events. Bang on a Can, the three-week program of contemporary music that pushes the boundaries, returns in July, followed by Freshgrass, a weekend of bluegrass and roots music in a new genre, in September.

“There’s a lot of very clear sustainable economic development now in North Adams that transcends Mass MoCA and Solid Sound,” Howard says.


At Mass MoCA, North Adams, May 27-29.

James Sullivan can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.

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