the logo for the 2nd Strange Ones' Ball
the logo for the 2nd Strange Ones' Ball

Bella’s Bartok with Arc Iris and Mammal Dap Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center, Greenfield, MA December 31, 2017
Story by Kelly D Audio by Phil Simon

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When I got the word that Bella’s Bartok’s New Year’s Eve concert, entitled “the Strange Ones’ Ball,” was returning and would be moving from Northampton to my hometown of Greenfield, my plans were immediately set. Anyone who has been to a Bella’s Bartok show knows they know how to throw a shindig and then some. Oh, and this time around it was Muppets-themed and they had Mammal Dap and Arc Iris signed on as support. It was in the bag! I went dressed as Janice, the bassist from the Muppets band Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. My companions all had different outfits, from Beaker to Elmo to a “glam Animal” dubbed “Glaminal.”

We were relieved to see upon arrival that we weren’t the only ones who had dressed in costume; indeed, we saw a band of Swedish Chefs, Sam the Eagle, Cookie Monster, and even a couple of the freaky alien Yip-Yips from Sesame Street. The dedication to the theme added to the essence of the evening. Glitter and fake fur ruled the scene. Mammal Dap was on first. I felt like their brand of synth-y dance-pop was better suited to go on before Bella’s Bartok rather than the initial slot. Their sound is infinitely more energetic than Arc Iris’ (nothing against AI- I’ll get to them soon!) but c’est la vie.

Our group settled in the bar area to enjoy the tunes and still be able to hold a conversation. I was stoked to see the ballroom was crammed with revelers in costume, clutching plastic cups of various alcohols and getting down best they could.

Hear Arc Iris’ set HERE:

Arc Iris went on next and while I like them just fine, I definitely felt a decrease in energy in the room. Several folks wandered by complaining that they wanted to dance, and the music, while beautiful, atmospheric, and trippy, wasn’t exactly suited to cutting a rug. I took this time to greet more and more people as they flooded in but soon realized my costume, with a blonde wig and oversized painted-on lips, was more camouflage than I had intended. Awkward.

Finally, Bella’s Bartok took the stage.

The circus punk band has been a Western Mass staple in various incarnations for about a decade now and it’s thrilling to see them literally going places, up and down the East Coast and even to venues in the Midwest.  I made my way to the edge of the ballroom crowd but got a tap on my shoulder: it was a friend of a friend asking if I was trying to get into front row. Well, that seemed like an unachievable feat given everyone squished together like furry sardines, so I settled for about seventh, telling her to hook her arm to my elbow, passing party goers as we weaved through the throng. Then, at last, it was time to dance.

Hear Bella’s Bartok’s set HERE:

Bella’s Bartok team calls their sound “circus punk” and it’s easy to see why. The six guys onstage wield horns, an accordion, and are not shy about concert theatrics. Oh, and did I mention the glitter? Cuz boy howdy do they sprinkle that on the audience, literally and figuratively. It’s impossible to have a bad time at a Bella’s Bartok. They played all of their hits, including the 93.9 River radio station staple “Ramona,” “So Calm, Relaxed” with its “la la la la” refrain, the frenetic “Ode to Bregovic,” and the singalong favorite “The Fiddler and the Devil.” I was glad I wore an outfit that was relatively skimpy because it was getting a bit warm with all the ecstatic writhing bodies around me.

11:59 rolled around and- whoops, we missed the countdown to midnight. How anticlimactic! Lead singer/bassist Asher Putnam sort of yelped out a “Happy New Year!” as we all just kinda shrugged and smooched whoever was next to us. I sure hope the lack of a proper send-off to the garbage fire of a year that was 2017 doesn’t dictate how this one is going.

I suppose that is a testament to how much we all were enjoying ourselves that we forgot to look at the clock (or the screen of our cell phones). As I was pondering all this, out came the confetti and we raged until we couldn’t rage no more. Well, there it was. Welcome, 2018! May there be even more live music in this coming year than there was in the last.

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