Wednesday Folk Traditions: The Art Steele Blues Band

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The Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum will kick off its 31st season of Wednesday Folk Traditions on June 6, 2012, with The Art Steele Blues Band. Frontman Art Steele—philosopher, poet, raconteur—will perform alongside veteran band members Vishnu Wood on upright bass and Billy Arnold on drums. Steele, who for years has been a behind-the-scenes presence at the Folk Traditions and a fixture in the New England blues scene, will be giving his first performance in more than two decades at the Folk Traditions series. This and all other performances are held Wednesday evenings at 6:30 pm in the Sunken Garden at the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum, 130 River Drive, Route 47, Hadley, MA  01035.  General admission is $10, or $2 for children 16 and under. Picnickers are welcome on the museum grounds beginning at 5:00 pm. This is a smoke-free site.

The Art Steele Blues Band, a staple in the Valley music scene and beyond,  performs quintessential American music. “When we play,” says Steele, “we want to sweep people into our framework, paint a picture in their head and a feeling in their heart.” Steele, who bought his first guitar at age 12, has been active in the music business as both a musician and a sound technician. After moving to the Pioneer Valley area in 1970 to work and attend school at UMass Amherst, he met the a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock and began working as a sound engineer for their annual concerts, later touring full-time with them. An honest and passionate guitarist, Steele now owns and operates a production service company, Audio Promedia.

Over the years Steele has become known not only for his technical work, but for his performances, which are lively and poetic and strongly driven by rhythm. Says Steele, “A lot of people complain that blues musicians mumble, but the diction is very advanced. The rhythms cause the words to break, and if you listen to what they’re doing, it’s not mumbling, it’s that the diction is dictated by the rhythm. Also, when people break language in blues, it becomes an index to emotion. The poetry is extraordinary.” Steele’s energetic performance and experimental philosophies on blues music ensure that the Art Steele Band will deliver a performance that is not to be missed.

Bassist Vishnu Wood has performed and recorded with the likes of Dizzie Gillespie and Charles Mingus. Wood also provides multicultural education programs as a means of helping people of all ages understand the roots of jazz music. Drummer Billy Arnold has played with such jazz greats as Teddy Wilson and Charlie Ventura as well as Motown act Junior Walker and the All Stars. He is the drummer for the Young@Heart Chorus and teaches at the Community Music School of Springfield.

Wednesday Folk Traditions continues on June 13 with a performance by Tríne Chéile with Rosemary Caine, and will continue throughout June and July (with the exception of July 4th). Tríne Chéile, Gaelic for cheerful disorder, play an eclectic Celtic mix, including songs of  those “Wilde Irish Women” inspired by local Irish harpist and songster Rosie Caine and performed by a stunning quintet of Valley artists.

Wednesday Folk Traditions is funded, in part, by grants from: the Marion I. And Otto C. Kohler Memorial Fund at the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts; and the Hadley Cultural Council, a local agency, supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency; and with generous support from many area businesses, including Hadley’s Mountain Farms Mall, Easthampton Savings Bank, and the Walmart Foundation.

The Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum is located at 130 River Drive (Route 47) in Hadley, two miles north of the junction of Routes 9 and 47. The Museum is open for guided tours Saturday through Wednesday from 1pm to 4:30pm and by appointment. For further information about the tours and the Wednesday Folk Traditions series, call the museum at 413.584.4699. or visit