Annual night of music is back community

  • The Deerfield Coffeehouse will take place this Saturday. Courtesy

For the Monitor
Thursday, April 07, 2016

Twice a year, Leslie van Berkum gathers local musicians to perform at a fundraiser coffeehouse in Deerfield. It’s been so successful that the coffeehouse is now in its 25th year.

“It riveted me when I realized that the town is 250 years old, and we’re 25,” van Berkum said. “The coffeehouse has been going for 10 percent of the town’s life. That statistic really blew me away.”

The Deerfield Coffeehouse will be held Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Old Town Hall in Deerfield. Three acts will perform: Liz and Dan Faiella, Susan Fischer and Walt Kutylowski, and the coffeehouse band, Benjammin’. All proceeds from this concert will benefit the Deerfield Food Pantry.

The audience loves the coffeehouse.

“It’s not a loud place where people are talking all the time,” van Berkum said, “but they have a chance before and after, and during the break, to catch up with people in town that they might not have seen in a while.”

“There’s the real magic of sitting with candlelight in a relaxed kind of venue, no high pressure, and watching live music,” she said.

The musicians love it, too.

Walt Kutylowski, one of the founding members of the coffeehouse, has been playing there for years.

“Coffeehouses are one of my favorite places to play,” he said. “People come to hear the performers. There’s no talking and no disruptions. It’s a concert setting.”

Any musician who has had to contend with noisy bar crowds can relate.

“It’s tough,” Kutylowski said. “I wish there were more places to play instead of bars.”

In addition to local musicians – some professional, some dedicated amateurs – van Berkum brings in guest musicians. This time it’s Liz and Dan Faiella, siblings who have performed Celtic and traditional New England folk music all across the Northeast.

Liz, who teaches at the Concord Community Music School, sings and plays the fiddle; Dan plays the guitar and low whistle. That simple description doesn’t do justice to their mesmerizing performances, though.

It’s their first time playing the coffeehouse, van Berkum said, and we’re honored to have them with us.

Kutylowski and Susan Fischer, an optometrist in the town known for her a capella singing, will give a vocal and instrumental performance. Both are in local bands, Jubilee and Grace Notes. Kutylowski also plays in the bands Cordwood and Fat Hands.

The constant at each event is the “house band,” Benjammin’ – with Frank Mitchell on drums, Jackie Bellows on bass, Kris Shores joining the other vocalists, and van Berkum on guitar. Her husband, Peter, often joins the group with his concertina. Kutylowski and Jake Heisey will step in, too.

While the band has performed together for a long time, theirs is not a casual jam at the coffeehouse. Each musician favors particular genres of music, and each suggests pieces to include.

“Leslie does a lot of Celtic and folk songs,” Mitchell said. “Jackie does jazz. Kris tends to do a lot of ballads, melodic songs with poignant lyrics that bring tears to your eyes. I do mostly country, folk and bluegrass.”

That means a lot of rehearsal as everyone learns to play new things. They practice twice a week for a couple of months before each coffeehouse, Mitchell said.

“That’s one of the things I like about it,” he said, “having to learn those different styles and playing something different than I normally would on my own.

And he said the practices are like a show in itself. The women do a three-part harmony that takes a lot of working out and a lot of practice. It’s very impressive, he said.

“This time, Leslie’s doing an old Celtic song, among others,” he said. “Jackie’s got a Ray Charles blues tune. I’m doing a reggae song. Kris will do melodic ballads and an old song from Fleetwood Mac. It’s quite a mix.”

Van Berkum’s dedication to the coffeehouse goes beyond the music. Altruism is a driving force, and a different organization benefits each time. Recent recipients include Bearpaw Regional Greenway, Joe Stone Scholarship Fund and Catamount Womenaid.

Fifteen dollars a piece pays for food and music and it goes to a good cause, she said.

“I buy the plates, cups and everything that we use,” she said. “The organization that benefits provides the food. Every penny we make goes right to the benefiting organization except the musician fees. If I hire a professional musician who makes his or her living that way, I will pay them.”

“But I try to get a good rate from them,” she quipped.

The success of the coffeehouse has not gone unnoticed by other organizations.

“I’ve been asked several times over the years by people in different towns, ‘How did you get this to the point where it’s either sold out or nearly sold out? You get over 200 people at a time. How does that happen?’ ” van Bekrum said.

There are a few things she’s learned along the way that she’d be delighted to share, she said.

“I’d love to see coffeehouses start in other towns,” she said. “I have a lot of ideas how to make them successful.”

Just don’t call her during the spring and summer months, when she and her husband Peter are busy running van Berkum Wholesale Nurseries. She said she’d love to talk to people in the fall, though.