Arc Iris Brings Mixed Musical Stylings to North Adams Elks

By John SevenSpecial to iBerkshires
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Arc Iris performs Saturday night at the Elks in North Adams as part of the Monster Smash.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — When you see Jocie Adams perform with her band Arc Iris, you might not recognize her as the quiet multi-instrumentalist from the folk band The Low Anthem. Singing in her trademark gold lamé catsuit, you definitely won't forget her either.

"When I was in the Low Anthem, I wasn't like, I'm going to go start a band and wear sparkly stuff," she said. "That just sort of happened. The presentation really grew out of moving away from the past and into something new. It wasn't at all pre-meditation."

It's about more than the catsuit of course — Adams and her co-horts carefully craft their music from a folk-based song-writing standard into a swirl of sounds and musical experimentation that has grabbed ears locally since their previous show for the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts and Common Folks Collective this past summer.

But the catsuit is part of that sound, a visual cue that you are about to hear something you might not expect, a mix of folk, cabaret, chamber music, jazz, psychedelia and much more. At some point, Adams says, it did become a conscious decision to present herself that way.

"We realized that our music is challenging for some people, and that's great," she said. "It was a decision to try to do something with the stage presence that prepares people mentally for what they're about to experience, or to readjust how they come into the show and think about what kind of music they're going to see. If we all got up there in flannel and ripped-up pants and stuff, you might not be able to digest the music in the same way because you would be expecting something that it was not."

The band will offer a return performance, also presented by Common Folks Collective, this Halloween — an all-ages performance at the Elks Lodge in North Adams at 7 p.m.

Arc Iris began while Adams was still with the Low Anthem, growing further from a solo project with the band's cello player, Robin Ryczek, also bringing in Zach Tenorio-Miller on keyboards, Max Johnson on bass  and drummer Ray Belli as the band's core. Those three originally met as teens playing in a school of rock program and later  toured with bands as diverse as the Butthole Surfers and Yes, and studies in classical and opera.

"I knew I wanted to explore more, and it really just came together as it came together," said Adams. "I'd been playing with a bunch of different people. When we made the album, there were nine people on the album. The debut album have nine people on it, all of them I have played with at one point or another. We just figured out what the best combination is by trial and error, and it's been rewarding."

Adams says that the diversity of these players has broadened her own musical path, and offered her the chance for real sonic exploration on a level that she long hoped to achieve.

"There's been quite a bit of exploration with the facility of the musicians in the band," Adams said. "Everyone is so talented with their instrument that there's a whole other universe of options that weren't available before."

That's also allowed Adams to take things further once past the songwriting stage than ever before. Her goal wasn't to expand into one specific style, but to explore all the possibilities, and match up the hopefully limitless sound aesthetics with her lyrics. She says that is exactly what has happened thanks to her bandmates, each member offering a song a chance to live its own individual life.

"Different songs take different life cycles, for sure," said Adams. "Sometimes it starts out thought out from the very beginning, and sometimes it starts out as a song that sounds like a traditional song and it ends up sounding like something much more complex, and that has to do with the band and collaboration and arranging and putting our minds together."

And the sound has evolved further through the live performances. Adams says the spirit and the musicality hasn't been transformed, but has rather shifted into a sound that she believes is more rock-oriented. It's a sound that defines the band's second album, which has been recorded and is looking toward a spring release date and which she says explores the further limits of the band's musical universe.

"It's sort of like exploring the extremes more, the extremes of the music," she said. "We have moments that are more quiet and intimate, and moments that are huger and more raucous than ever before. It's a process of exploration and pushing limits. It's more group oriented. It's more experimental sonically."

Tickets are $12 at the door; sponsored by Common Folk Collective, FNProductions and Smash Frequency.

Tags: band,   music,   musical performance,   

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MCLA Food Pantry Receives $3,000 Grant from James and Robert Hardman Fund

NORTH ADAMS, MASS.—The MCLA Food Pantry has received a $3,000 grant from the James and Robert Hardman Fund of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation.  
The Hardman Fund grant will support the diversification of the food pantry's offerings, including the addition of more fresh and perishable food items, one of the pantry's longtime goals. The pantry will also purchase carts so guests can pick up pre-packaged meals and supplies outside the pantry. Funds will also be used to hire student employees to take inventory and maintain the pantry's physical space, as well as work on its resource page which launched this spring on MCLA's curriculum software Canvas. Student employees will also restart MCLA's Swipe Out Hunger program, paused due to the pandemic, which allows students to donate excess parts of their meal plan to redistribute to students in need. 
The MCLA Food Pantry opened in 2017 and provides canned goods, prepackaged meals, and supplies such as toilet paper and cleaning products to MCLA students from its location in the Amsler Campus Center. Half of MCLA's students are eligible to apply for a Pell Grant, which are available for college students who demonstrate extreme financial need. In 2020, the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice conducted a national survey that found that 41 percent of four-year college students are food insecure. Of MCLA's students, 37 percent have self-reported experiencing food insecurity. The pandemic has greatly increased this need and the pantry has experienced more demand for their services.  
The pandemic has provided new challenges for the pantry. When MCLA pivoted to remote learning, the pantry lost many of its student employees and volunteers, and had to restructure their distribution system to accommodate remote ordering and pickup. MCLA's Director of Civic and Community Engagement Spencer Moser said the biggest concern has been "decreased and irregular contact with our students. We are frequently alerted to students struggling with basic needs by professors or staff and will work with students to provide aid beyond immediate relief." These services include counseling in how to apply for SNAP benefits and rental assistance, as well as how to access transportation. These are resources the pantry hopes to make more accessible with the Hardman Fund's grant by hiring a part-time student to refine the pantry's online resources.  
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