WordXWord Returns for Weeklong Spoken CelebrationBy Joe Durwin
Special to iBerkshires
05:12PM / Monday, August 15, 2011
Local artists Michael Carty and Tony Sadowy were working on a 'live' graffiti mural.
Words Fill the Air at Pittsfield's Premiere Non-Venue
Posted Aug. 15, 5:12 p.m.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In a city that sometimes has more tremendous live music opportunities than it does viable venues to stage them on, Mission Bar owner Jim Benson has continuously redefined the search for usable performing art space.
Sunday night's opening stage show for WordXWord Festival exemplifies this knack, bringing a trifecta of powerful performers to a surprising locale — the surprisingly ideal upstairs "loft" of the CompuWorks building at 1 Fenn St.
As CompuWorks owner Alan Bauman put it, "We don't usually do this sort of thing. I mean, we're an office building. But we do have this space that's really ideal for performances ... and you can't say no to Jim."
Taylor Mali, who curates the poetry component of WordXWord, eased the crowd in with a functional warm-up performance of his work punctuated by anecdotes about the other spoken artists this week.
Following him was the mesmerizing Iyeoka Okoawa, whose lyrical intonation and soulful messages made me think of what might have happened if Nina Simone had been a slam poet. Her passionately spiritual and disarmingly personal utterances provoked enduring smiles and more than a few moist eyes throughout the crowd
Bella's Bartok performs Sunday afternoon in Pittsfield.
The clever, melodic sounds of string-rock band Darlingside rounded out the show. The Northhampton-based band is a strong favorite with the staff of festival sponsor Mission Bar and Tapas, where Darlingside first played Pittsfield.
Mingling during a break, chef James Burden tells one band member, "Practically everyone at Mission requested tonight off for this."
Darlingside's blend of grin-worthy lyricism and rock showmanship, woven through stunning virtuoso string performance proved a palpable hit with the hundred or so attendees. With upcoming gigs from NYC to D.C., the band appears to be going places fast, but judging by their enthusiasm for Pittsfield, WordXWord, and Mission, it's a pretty sure bet we'll see them again on local stages in the not too distant future.
The "mind-blowing" continues all this week, with seven free events Monday night at Barrington Stage, Brix, the Lantern, Micro Theatre, Mission, Palace Park and New Stage.
Shout it from the rooftop: WordXWord has begun in Pittsfield
Posted Aug. 14, 2:12 p.m.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The 3rd annual celebration of words got rolling with what many described as its best launch party yet.
"You couldn't have asked for a more perfect night," said celebrated local photographer Bill Wright, who along with associate Joseph Wilk has been hired for the second year in a row to document the weeklong series in pictures.
Only a limited number of tickets, priced at $75, were available to this now-traditional WordXWord opener. Nonetheless, the crowd seemed both thicker and earlier to gather than at last year's bash, though still moderate enough to provide a relaxed atmosphere at which guests drifted comfortably about. Enthusiastic responses were heard all around about the music, food, and libations, and the dusk panoramic view of cityscape and surrounding hills provoked a look of starry-eyed inspiration on the faces of many, from visitors to lifelong locals.
Partygoers Karen Lee and Joanna Boody; below, Mission chef James Burden serving.
Greystone building owner George Whaling seemed positively beaming about the use the rooftop had been put to.
"It was last year that I really became hooked [on WordXWord]," he said. "This is something that has incredible potential for Pittsfield."
Entertainment consisted of two thrilling sets performed by Raleigh, N.C.–based Jack the Radio, who seemed as enthusiastic to be there as the crowd was to have them. Everything about their music, look and demeanor was sweet, stylish and fun, and offstage they proved just as much so.
While there could have potentially been more dancing, this fundraiser bash had none of the stuffy gala or awkward reception elements so common in the world of arts soirees. This was a high-vibe, feel-good evening of song, sunset, and surprisingly open socializing.
Near the end of the party, Pittsfield Contemporary's Jay Elling, who is collaborating with Berkshire Shenanigans and the festival to provide Sunday’s free Block Party in North Street's Palace Park, gave a brief preview of the array of food that will be available including "lots of pig" (local, farm-raised and provided by Hosta Hill Provisions), tempeh reubens, kimchi, sauerkraut, and much more. Having been at a recent tasting of the menu, he promises, "The food was amazing. It blew me away."
The BBQ Block Party begins at today, Sunday, at 3 and runs to 8, followed by the Kickoff Show at CompuWorks at 1 Fenn St., featuring Taylor Mali, Iyeoka Ivie Okawo, and Darlingside.
WordXWord Returns for Weeklong Spoken Celebration
Posted Aug. 13, 7:41 a.m.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Now in its 3rd year, WordXWord has become too big a happening for even the more aloof and neophobic pockets of Pittsfield citizenry to ignore.
It's possible some residents might have missed the media coverage across the state, billboards, posters, fliers, schedule inserts in The Berkshire Eagle, and signs throughout some 17 venues throughout the city's downtown. Even if all that managed to slip by unnoticed, there's a good chance they still saw the gigantic concrete W X W blocks that have been popping up and down in prominent points throughout Pittsfield for weeks.
Everywhere the tagline: "Words performed. Minds blown."
This might be more than just marketing talk, glancing at the lineup for this year's show, which includes World Poetry Slam Champion Buddy Wakefield, rock-aesthete favorite Jay Farrar, Gov. Deval Patrick, and two-time Australian Grammy Award winner Mia Dyson, along with a small army of other emerging national and local artists.
I managed to catch up with Jim Benson, owner of Mission Bar and Tapas and creator of WordXWord, for a few moments at his new venture, Y, only hours before it opens to the public.
The first thing I wanted to know was: how was it that he and his network of local supporters managed to create an all-new, nationally noticed, arts festival in the Berkshires with an almost unprecedented lineup of performance fare for its duration, in just 3 years?
"Basically it was just a really good idea," said a cheerfully exhausted Benson. "There's just been a steadily increasing level of collaboration and sponsorship that's allowed us to do a lot."
The process of selecting performers and curating performances, as Benson describes it, already sounds more involved than some older, small theater companies and cultural organizations in the area. This year, they received 100 or more requests from performers around the country to participate, including the governor, whose publishers approached WordXWord as an ideal opportunity to showcase his new book in the Berkshires.
The governor will read from his memoir, "Reasons To Believe Lessons From an Improbable Life," at the Colonial Theatre on Thursday at 7 p.m.
What's perhaps most unique and impressive about this festival is that the majority of events over its eight days are free, and Benson encourages the public to come out and try to take in as much as possible in what he says was "designed to be a totally walkable festival."
However, he said there are three events not to be missed: WordXWord's now-traditional rooftop party on the Greystone Building on Saturday, the opening show on Sunday with poetry slam legend Taylor Mali, who curates the festival's spoken word performers, and the closing performance at the Colonial with Mia Dyson, Buddy Wakefield and Kingsley Flood on Aug. 20. Tickets for admission to all three can be purchased for $100.
Still, Benson said it's hard to narrow down the best, and Sunday's free barbecue in the Palace parking lot with Bella's Bartok, and the dizzying array of WordXWord events at 3rd Thursday are almost enough in themselves to "blow minds."
Schedule, ticketing, directions and other information, along with tweets by performers and staff, can be found at wordxwordfestival.com
iBerkshires.com will be providing brief updates and photos throughout the festival.