Sunday, July 14, 2024

We Black Folk Fest performers Sunday, from left, Aisha Burns, Haasan Barclay and Almira Ara. )(Photo: Michael Gutierrez)

You’re cold. I’m cold. We’re cold.

Deep in the doldrums of winter there is a chill you can’t shake, no matter how many sweaters you wear and hot toddies you sip.

But haven’t you noticed the days are getting a little longer? Even as we suffer the frigid hell of a New England winter, the season of shivering is already anticipating its curtain call.

Another sign that spring (and the white-hot boil of incandescent summer) is right around the corner? The warm weather music festivals are starting to roll out their lineups. And none are more eager than Boston Calling, our local monument to blue-chip billboard pablum.

In late May the festival takes up its usual residence at the Harvard Athletic Complex for three days of headliners that get plenty of spin from DJs at supermarkets and megastores. While you’ve never purchased an Ed Sheeran album and you can’t explain why someone would, there exists a level in your cognitive framework at which you grasp his popularity and magnetic draw. It’s probably the basement level, and it smells like an old ham sandwich.

There’s always a bright side. On top of the warm spring breeze rolling off the Charles, there’s also the prospect of our local artists getting a chance to play to larger audiences.

That’s right, scroll your eyeballs past Trey Anastasio and the “take me to church” guy to the fine print below. You might recognize one or two names of local artists who ply their craft all year long at smaller venues but are ready to throw down on a big stage with big names and big crowds.

It’s a little local music redemption to wash away the sins of ho-hum headliners. JVK goes from kicking out the pop-punk jams at The 4th Wall to getting within spitting distance of Leon Bridges on Day One. Cakeswagg goes from spitting bars on the Bite-Sized tour to rubbing shoulders with country star Tyler Childers on Day Two. And Tysk Tysk Task goes from making waves at last year’s Rock & Roll Rumble to rumbling alongside rock ’n’ roll hitmakers The Killers on Day Three.

You love to see it. You love to hear it. Just get there early, because the as-yet unpublished schedule is sure to trot out the local openers before you’ve fully digested your midday food truck repast.


In the meantime, check out some choice shows in the neighborhood. Who knows? Maybe one or two of the artists below will be on stage at Boston Calling in 2025…

Friday: Jerome’s Dream, Sinaloa, lonelyisaneyesore, New Forms (Sonia, Cambridge)

With Valentine’s Day coming up, you’re going to want to find a place to scream. In joy, pain, frustration, whatever you like. No better place than a quadruple-stack screamo lineup in Central Square. “Screamo” is pretty amorphous as a musical genre, and each band on the bill takes it in a different direction. Watch for post-hardcore, art-damaged miniatures from New Forms. Most of the songs from the band’s last album “As Dust Collects” clock in around one minute or less. More than enough time for screaming.

Saturday: Hereboy, Otis Shanty (Remnant Satellite, Cambridge)

Once upon a time breweries were places that brewed beer. They were factories full of sweaty, muscular men on union contracts filling brown bottles with brown beer until the whistle blew. They sure as shit didn’t want you showing up on their doorstep to quaff in good health and take selfies. These days, though, outfits such as Remnant Brewing are champing at the bit to create “a unique and inviting space” where you can drink 8 ounces of beer with names like “Dream Pop” and “Cosmic Dawn” while listening to free indie rock. Okay, some of that sounds pretty good. But are the workers getting COLAs?

Sunday: Mattias, Berm, Good Judgement (The Jungle, Somerville)

Go get your Jungle fix. Three bands on this bill so far. Who knows, another act might fall out of the apple tree before Sunday. So far, so alt. Mattias is a local quartet with chainsaw guitars and sweet pop melodies. The music you can find online from Berm is a post-punk take on Americana. Will they haul out the cello for this gig? And credit Good Judgement for going with the classier British spelling of “judgment.” Like “theatre” and “labour,” some words just look cooler when you spell them like a Redcoat.


The first date of the inaugural We Black Folk Fest was Sunday night at Club Passim. The stars must have been in alignment, because it was the same evening in which Tracy Chapman, African American folk icon, brought down the house with a rare performance at the Grammy Awards.

The subterranean showroom in Harvard Square was filled to the brim for a long bill of geographically diverse black artists who found their way to the stage, hailing from the tip of Texas to Maine.

The audience didn’t know quite what to expect, and for parts of the show the musicians didn’t either. But artist, educator and man-about-town Cliff Notez served as emcee to keep the festivities rolling with wit and good cheer.

The central conceit of the evening was black erasure in the history of folk music. Cliff Notez hit upon the banjo as a kind of cornerstone symbol of what’s been lost: The stringed instrument with West African roots traveled across the Atlantic aboard slave ships.

The folk music and culture that grew out of the banjo (and other instruments) remains linked inextricably to that historical moment. And yet there is a lingering sense of displacement among contemporary black folk musicians with respect to a musical tradition that their predecessors helped establish.

How do you reclaim tradition? There’s no one way. And there’s no turning back the clock. Whether it was the Texas-tinged strumming of Aisha Burns, the simmering soul of Stephanie Mckay or nouveau funk whammy bar action from Melo Green, artists found new paths forward and new landing spots in which to recontextualize folk today.

Chapman would’ve dug it.

Michael Gutierrez is an author, educator, activist and editor-in-chief at Hump Day News