Music road trips always pay off despite storms, getting lost, detours and breakdowns.
When the toll ticket flew out the window on the way to the Lenox Music Inn years ago, artist Nancy Dwyer (she drew the cover of the Hall & Oates “Rock ‘n Soul Part 1” album) and I had to rummage under the seats for change to pay the full-ride Thruway fee. But we saw the last-ever Youngbloods show.
When a downed cable arced like lightning onto the road in the windy dark coming back from a Weather Report show (perfect, or what?) at Williams College, I detoured through Vermont, Massachusetts and maybe even New Hampshire and Quebec, too.
I drove to my first Richard Thompson show at the Iron Horse in Northampton through three hours of freezing rain each way: He was worth it.
Let’s look at musical destinations, starting in Northampton, with distance and drive time from The Daily Gazette in Schenectady:
The Iron Horse Entertainment Group presents shows at the Iron Horse, the Calvin Theater, Pearl Street, the Basement and Mountain Park in a destination town full of restaurants, galleries and bars, where I enjoyed my first-ever brewpub visit (after a Robert Cray show at UMass).
Also, Signature Sounds presents shows in the Parlor Room in Northampton and runs the Green River Festival nearby.
112 miles; 1 hour 48 mins.
The Green River Festival July 13-15 at Greenfield Community College presents 30-plus acts on three stages all weekend, ethnic and typical festival foods and drinks, even hot air balloon rides. Top acts: Michael Franti & Spearhead, Femi Kuti & the Positive Force, and Chuck Prophet.
132 miles; 2 hours
Around Woodstock in the Catskills, a multi-venue destination like Northampton, Midnight Rambles in Levon Helm’s barn at the edge of town, combine a great house band, top-talent stars (Richard Thompson, Patty Griffin, and James Hunter next month) and pot-luck dinners.
69 miles; 1 hour 9 mins.
Maverick Concerts in a rustic glass gazebo outside Woodstock presents jazz and chamber groups; top shows: Kenny Barron, and the Shanghai Quartet.
70.4 miles; 1 hour 12 mins.
Bearsville Theater, a cozy spot past Woodstock, was built as part of the empire of Albert Grossman, manager-to-the-stars (Dylan, The Band, Peter, Paul & Mary). It’s close by the fusion-style Little Bear restaurant, the Bear Café and across the parking lot from WDST studios, once Todd Rundren’s Utopia video studios. Top acts: reggae star Freddie McGregor, alt-rocker M. Ward, bluesman John Mayall.
71.3 miles; 1 hour 16 mins.
Hop across the Hudson River and there’s Club Helsinki in a gentrified gallery-town with eclectic restaurant choices, and more music.
55.6 miles; 1 hour.
A bit south on this side, the Senate Garage presents mostly jazz on a Kingston side street.
72.7 miles; 1 hour, 10 mins.
Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on the 1969 Woodstock Festival site presents shows in a SPAC-sized amphitheater and smaller theaters. Top show: Trombone Shorty's Voodoo Threauxdown Aug. 11, likely summer’s hottest show in its closest date to us.
158 miles; 2 hours 27 mins.
Look east, there’s Tanglewood, a sort of Boston-in-the-Berkshires. Popular bookings overlap with SPAC and Bethel Woods, but also include artists they don’t: Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, Ry Cooder & Emmylou Harris, and of course James Taylor; also the Boston Symphony.
59 miles; 1 hour 4 mins.
(Photo by Douglas Mason: FreshGrass 2017 festival at Mass MoCA in North Adams MA.)
MASSMoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, presents shows on a SPAC-like hillside, in a black-box theater and wide courtyards. This is an off year for Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival, so the giant complex’s big one this season is the FreshGrass Festival Sept. 14-16 with 20 acts. One-off shows include Ray LaMontagne and Neko Case, Courtney Barnett, and the Bang on a Can extravaganza including its six-hour free-for-all marathon. The museum’s Lickety Split café will be serving, there’s a new brew-pub almost on site and the town bursts with eateries and drinkeries, ice cream shops, even places to fish and paddle.
56.6 miles; 1 hour 22 mins.
Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival July 19-22 in Oak Hill (Catskills) is an old-style camping, cookout and string-band music fest spanning jazz to deep country. Top acts: the Del McCoury Band, the Sam Bush Band, Hot Rize, plus 20 more.
49 miles; 1 hour 6 mins.
(Photo: Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in Hillsdale.)
Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Aug. 3-5 in Hillsdale (Berkshires), in its 30th year, is very similar, with 30 folk, country and blues acts including Dar Williams, John Gorka, the Slambovian Circus of Dreams.
62.5 miles; 1 hour 4 mins.
Brewery Ommegang near Cooperstown stages shows on a big lawn behind its tasting room. Best beer offerings in the Northeast? Go pour a cold one. Top acts: Ray LaMontagne and Old Crow Medicine Show.
70 miles; 1 hour 17 mins.
The New York State Fair in Syracuse presents music on six stages, duplicating some acts at SPAC and Bethel Woods; but also including Blondie, Smokey Robinson, Dickey Betts, Maron Morris, Eddie Money, also every kind of fried and festival food and craft brews in the state.
133 miles; 2 hours
More? You bet! There’s the Montreal Jazz Festival (today through July 7; 208 miles, 3 hours 36 mins.), Rompfest in Owensboro, Kentucky (through Saturday; 906 miles; 13 hours 48 mins.), the Halifax Jazz Festival (July 10-15; 816 miles, 14 hours), the Newport Jazz Festival (Aug. 3-5; 214 miles; 3 hours 27 mins.), the Monterey Jazz Festival (Sept. 21-23; 3,016 miles; 44 hours), Celtic Colours on Cape Breton Island (Oct. 5-13; 945 miles; 15 hours 12 mins.), and don’t forget the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (next April 26 to May 5; 1,487 miles; 21 hours 17 mins.)