Institute for Musical Arts launches spring concert series with Evelyn Harris and Kristen Ford
Throughout March, local radio station WRSI celebrated Women’s History Month by having historians introduce tracks from some pioneers of women’s music along with a synopsis of their impact on popular music.
One of those experts was June Millington, who happens to be both a historian and a pioneer, having founded along with her sister Jean, the groundbreaking group Fanny (David Bowie considers them the penultimate rock band in the history of the genre), the first all-female rock band band to release an album on a major label. Today, Millington and her partner Ann Hackler, run The Institute for the Musical Arts (IMA) whose mission is to prepare young women to enter all aspects of the music business.
This spring IMA will be launching a series of concerts at a renovated barn on their 25-acre estate in Goshen, which will feature an array of exceptional performers who happen to be associated with IMA as alumni and/or teachers, giving audiences a taste of the past, present, and future of female-nurtured sounds.
The IMA spring fling launches this Easter Sunday with the soulful voice of Evelyn Harris, a former member of gospel icons Sweet Honey in the Rock. For Harris, performing at IMA holds significance far beyond the fact that she has been a teacher there for several of their summer programs for girls. According to Harris, eight years ago she was fighting a losing battle to addictions, and IMA nearly saved her life. “I left NYC on September 1st, 2002 to change my life, and save my life, and had no idea where I would end up. I ‘landed’ at IMA on October 15th and never looked back. They took me in, gave me a bed and helped me get to job interviews, and soon after directed me to permanent housing.”
Since that turnaround, Harris returned the favor by becoming active at IMA. “I facilitated a voice workshop teaching 3-part harmony to fifteen women,” she said. “We forged a lasting relationship. Working with the youth at the Rock n’ Roll Girls Camp has been a highlight of my career. Being intimately involved in their performing and songwriting processes has fueled my own creativity, and made me trust myself as a teacher and mentor.”
Easter Sunday’s kickoff concert will also hold some historical value for Harris. “This gig is quite special for me as it is dedicated to Marian Anderson, who on Easter Sunday in 1939, sang before over 75,000 people in front of the Lincoln Memorial after being barred from performing at Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution.”
A different, more subtle revolution is happening at IMA where girls are exposed to much more that guitar technique and jam sessions. “Its purpose can be found in the testimony of the artists who come through their doors.” said Harris. “Each one talks about the life-changing experience they encounter when given the freedom to be the musicians they are in a safe space. This grand and glorious idea has many legs, provides support and instruction to young people even after their time at the camp,”
A prime example of this is the dynamic up-and-coming star, Kristen Ford, who will be performing on Sunday, April 11th with her band. She was part of a particularly talented group from the inaugural summer program which included recording artists Naia Kete and Sonya Kitchell. In an email exchange, Ford testified to the impact that Millington and Hackler had on her budding career. “They have been with me every step of the way, from basic music theory and notation to running sound to stage presence to producing my first debut record, Filthy Nasty. To have confidence on stage, and in studio, behind the scenes, or front and center, on an array of instruments and arranging songs and singing — I wouldn’t be anywhere near here without the IMA. Ann and June have looked after me since I was 15, and I’ll be 23 soon! I still have much to gain from that little compound in Goshen.”
I caught a set by the mercurial Ford a few months ago at PACE in Easthampton, and she exuded the energy and presence of a young Ani DiFranco. 2010 promises to be a pivotal year for the busy singer-songwriter. “I’ll be making two new records this spring, one as a solo artist and another with my bandmates Paul Hendrick and Sarah Icklan. A summer east coast tour and fall west coast tour are to follow. I plan on teaching at this year’s recording camp, and in my free time I take guitar lessons from June; host an open mic at Bloc 11 Cafe in Somerville, book bands; run sound and jam with as many musicians as possible. The band plays regularly at The Deja Brew in Wendell, and we have upcoming gigs in Boston and Northampton as well.
Ford promises a particularly high energy performance when she comes home to IMA. “We are increasingly a flow and groove based trio — working off each other and building dynamics up and down. Paul is a total R&B-style bass player, Sarah excels in jazz and world beats on drums. I am a Stratocaster player favoring jangly chords and spastic solos. I hope the crowd is ready to move, and maybe clap and sing on April 11th — because we’ll settle for nothing less!”
Where/When: Evelyn Harris, Sunday, April 4, 7pm $18 advance adult • $20 door $9 youth (under 21 @ door only)
Kristen Ford Band with The Feel and Sophia Rehmus, Sunday, April 11 • 7pm $12 advance adult • $15 door • $6 youth (door only)
All concerts take place in IMA ’s Big Barn at 165 Cape Street (hwy 112) in Goshen and begin at 7p.m.
Tickets are available on-line, at www.ima.org, or at the door.
Also coming May 2nd, Christine Ohlman & May 23rd, Naia Kete