What is a Barbès? Here’s the short version:
A Frenchman moves to NY. In 2003, he opens a bar with a friend in South Brooklyn. He calls it Barbès, named after a hardscrabble North African neighborhood in Paris where he used to hang out as a teenager. They start booking bands there — including his own — and it quickly becomes Brooklyn’s favorite hang for omnivorous, authentic, non-commercial and international music. Today the venue hosts more than 700 performances A YEAR.
I first walked into Barbès in 2005. By then, it already felt like an institution; a landmark in Park Slope that seemed so self-assured, eclectic and wonderful that I would never have guessed it was yet in its infancy. Since then, its been called "a cultural phenomenon” by the Christian Science Monitor; and "…the vanguard of the new Brooklyn jazz scene” by the New York Times. As one Brooklynite describes it: “It’s like a live iTunes library curated by the gods.”
Barbès is my happy place in New York. I never lived in the city but always dreamed of living a few blocks from the bar, where one could get off work and tune into Peruvian Chicha on Mondays, Slavic Soul Party on Tuesdays, Guinean griot-guitarists on Wednesdays… the monthly program, printed in small type to fit everything, reads like an encyclopedia of musical diasporas. Years-long residencies give bands free rein to rehearse, experiment and develop their sound. And like an Ellis Island for musicians, Barbès has welcomed countless performers from abroad for their first US performance.

OK, great. So now you probably want to go there.

So this is where we country mice invite the city mice for a really killer hang. Barbès in the Woods is a one-day summer music festival in Western Massachusetts with a no-filler, all-killer ensemble of musical talent from NY. The best of NY meets the best of Western Mass: idyllic, pastoral — I’m going to drop the B-word here, people — even bucolic.

What we’re talking about here is the quintessential backyard festival — the sort of festival you’ve always wanted in the middle of your Happy Valley summer. The Bartlett Farm is 12 acres of field, river and forest abutting the Sawmills Conservation Area. It’s a five-minute walk from the Book Mill. For children it’s like the Hundred Acre Woods. And there’s a pipsqueak of a dog called Gunner ambling around trying to chew off people’s ankles. If Barbès was an outdoor music festival rather than an intimate bar in Brooklyn, this is exactly what it would look like.

In a somewhat magical turn of events, The Bartlett Farm is becoming Barbès for a day. On August 17 Montague is in for a musical bacchanal, unlike anything the little town has ever seen. It is a wispy fantasy come true to be co-curating this midsummer night’s dream with my Laudable colleagues and with Olivier Conan, founder of Chicha Libre and co-owner of Barbès. This first year lineup includes a lot of the folks who made the place what it is: Slavic Soul Party, Stephane Wrembel, Combo Chimbita, Big Lazy, and Anbessa Orchestra; as well as other Brooklyn wonders like the great Antibalas (celebrating their 20th afrobeat anniversary!), Underground System, Alsarah & the Nubatones; and some local friends: Klezperanto and the Berkshire Bateria.

Get your ticket already. Ya’ll are the loveliest audience we could ever imagine — we can’t bear not having you with us for this one.


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What's with the statue?

“José Gregorio has been our mascot and protector for now 10 years,” said Olivier Conan, “Someone stole the bust. We don’t think it’s funny.”
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