Just ask Bella’s Bartok… or my own parents for that matter. It is nearly impossible as a band, or a human, to experience that genesis and not find yourself endowed with a certain spirit of spontaneity, improvisation, and adventure. Bella’s Bartok will be leaving the street behind for the stage at The One Stop this Thursday. This “circus punk” band hailing from Amherst, Mass., has been winning audiences up and down the East Coast with their envelope-pushing Klezmer Punk sound and their boundary-defying musical expression.
This is not a band born from hours of rehearsals in dusty, high-ceilinged rooms. This is a band that formed while its core members were still in school at The University of Massachusetts. Vocalist and all around entertainer Asher Putnam explains it this way: “Playing out in the street was pretty much our main way of coming together. We were really just an acoustic street band for like two to three years.”
“When we go to a new place,” Putnam continues, “we try to play on the street first just to see what the scene and the vibe is like. Usually, after the show we end up staying at someone’s house and jamming there, too.”
Bella’s Bartok is, in many ways, made for the outdoors. There are few clubs that can really contain a Bella’s Bartok show. Venue-owners book these cats at their own risk. Such was the case the night that Chris “Fancy” Kerrigan found himself initiated into the band. Kerrigan met the band when he was studying physics at UMass.
“The band actually played a house show at my place in college, and they broke the floor,” he begins. “It was winter and there was no heat and I was just there and wearing these fingerless gloves and Asher came up to me and was like: ‘You play clarinet. I see it in your room. Grab it and join us.’ It was very inclusive right from the very beginning.”
Kerrigan continues: “Afterwards Asher was like ‘come to practice tomorrow.’ I had always been kind of a loner musician and I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll come to your stupid practice.’ They were playing really good songs but at the end of practice I was like ‘This is fun but I don’t want to be in a cover band.’ They were like ‘What? We wrote all these songs ourselves.’ That was when I realized that there was some serious talent here and that I needed to latch on to it.”
That talent has ensured that no one ever goes to their only Bella’s Bartok show. From the punch of the horns to the grit of their lyrics their dirty, exuberant sound attracts repeat business. With tightly melded harmonies, burley song-writing, and an approach that features shows, not concerts, your first show might be an accident, but the next five will be planned.
Still, in all the madness, their is something deeper going on. The inclusiveness, the interaction with the audience, is not coincidental. That connection, that sharing of approval, is something that they strive for.
“We are performers, but we are also activists,” Putnam explains. “We are very conscious of marginalized folks and they are really the majority of our fans. We are thankful for that, that is just the way we like it.”
Bella’s Bartok plays The One Stop in Asheville on Thursday, March 23.
Caleb Calhoun studied writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and music at a plethora of clubs and bars across the southeast. He is the author and publisher of Rosman City Blues and currently resides outside of Asheville with his dog and best friend, Dr. Gonzo.