Ari Jewell, Festival Storyteller
I met someone on Friday, a Great Barrington resident named Jackie. We met on the sidewalk, standing just in front of the open mouth of an alleyway off of Main Street. We were both watching Nido Di Cuculo, a duo playing Italian folk music on a mandolin and a button accordion. (Earlier, I had overheard someone say, simply, “They really are good!” It’s true. More than once I caught someone watching Nido Di Cuculo with rapturous attention.)
But back to Jackie and me— she’s a lifelong arts lover, she worked at NYC’s iconic venue “The Kitchen” back in the day, and more recently she was a curator.
“There’s pure pleasure listening to live music,” she said. Her exuberance about Berkshire Busk! was evident and contagious. I know why I love this festival, and last week I wrote about the magic I found on the first night. This week, I’m more interested in what everyone else thinks.I asked Jackie to tell me more about why she was drawn to this event. “It’s kind of grounding,” she said. This sticks with me, and I spend the rest of the night thinking about place and time, and why it matters that the festival is happening here and right now.
Chadd Deitz, or as he is more commonly known, Wacky Chad, performs unreal stunts on a neon orange pogo stick and a unicycle that towers over the audience. His feats are the stuff of viral videos, but it’s his presence in the moment that makes his show so successful. Busking, Chadd says, is “a direct connection between audience and performer.”
Watching him perform, it’s clear that he’s devoted to his audience. He recruits audience members left and right to do things like prop up his unicycle as he’s climbing atop or spin a rope as he athletically jumps over it in all sorts of positions. And he banters with the audience nonstop, cracking jokes for kids alongside more PG-13 comedy. His show is so successful, he tells me, because he performs for each group, each person watching. Everyone feels like they are a part of it, because Chadd is devoted to the audience in front of him and to the moment he’s in.
I’m tired of the seemingly inevitable pivot to COVID-19 in every piece of writing I read these days, but at the same time I don’t think I can talk about Berkshire Busk! without talking about the pandemic. The first day of the festival was the first time I’d seen live music since February 2020. During the isolation of the pandemic, live music began to feel simultaneously impossibly out of reach and constantly accessible. Bands began to stream live performances; I explored the nooks and crannies of live videos on YouTube. Before, I had driven hours in the snow to see bands I loved, now I was watching while eating dinner on my couch.
Watching live music digitally during the pandemic has been a much-needed balm. But at the same time, I’m realizing that it made me feel that live music was unmoored from a time or place. Remembering that I’m having an experience in a specific place, surrounded by specific strangers, is adding to the delight of Berkshire Busk! When I notice this, I remember what Jackie said about “grounding.” The weekly ritual of this festival is, slowly, making me remember the space I take up in the world: the little square of sidewalk I’m standing on, and the strangers — or new friends — I’m surrounded by.