JANUARY 19, 2021
A Photo and Interview Series by Barry Goldstein
In America, the inauguration of a Commander In Chief is traditionally a time of celebration. Politicians, special guests, and everyday Americans converge on the National Mall in front of the U.S. Capitol building to mark the swearing in of the next President of the United States. Full of pomp and circumstance, inaugurations are an important democratic ritual and a symbol of the peaceful transfer of power.
September 24, 2021
One of the most anticipated cultural events in Berkshire County is back in person this year -- just in time for Hispanic Heritage Month! The Festival Latino of the Berkshires will celebrate its 25th anniversary, Saturday Septembe
One of the most anticipated cultural events in Berkshire County is back in person this year -- just in time for Hispanic Heritage Month!
The Festival Latino of the Berkshires will celebrate its 25th anniversary, Saturday September 25th in Great Barrington -- and with its returns comes the food, music, and dancing the community eagerly awaits each year.
Zydalis Bauer spoke with festival organizer Erika Wainwright Vélez to learn more about how the event began and how it has grown and evolved since the first festival in 1995.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: One of the most anticipated cultural events in Berkshire County is back in person this year.
The Festival Latino of the Berkshires will celebrate its 25th anniversary Saturday, September 25th in Great Barrington, and with its return comes the food, music, and dancing the community eagerly awaits each year.
I spoke with Erika Wainwright Vélez, Public Relations Manager, to learn more about how the festival began and how it has grown and evolved since the first festival in 1995.
Erika Wainwright Vélez, Festival Latino of the Berkshires: So, the Festival Latino was founded by Liliana Ortiz-Bermudez and German Bermudez, as well as their friend Doris Orellana. They're the founders of the Festival Latino of the Berkshires, and in the 1980s, they were living here and they were going to different events.
And at the time, there was no, you know, Latino representation in the different events that they were going to. So, they wanted to see some kind of Latino presence in the area, but there was none.
Zydalis Bauer: Since 1995, this festival has begun, I'm sure that it has evolved and grown over the years. Talk to me about that change that has happened that we've seen.
Erika Wainwright Vélez: Yeah, the Festival Latino began purely as a celebration. They wanted to have fun. They wanted an opportunity to celebrate with the Latino community in the area. They wanted a space where they could show their pride, their culture, their folklore.
But, what they didn't realize in its inception, was that Festival Latino would become an impactful, powerful, and influential educational experience for everyone as well.
Zydalis Bauer: This festival has created a legacy in the Berkshires with its cultural performances, music, and, of course, food.
What can we expect during this milestone celebration this year?
Erika Wainwright Vélez: We have six different professional dance groups coming from New York City who are all going to perform, representing the folklore of the various countries that they're coming from. We have local performances, we have local vendors, food vendors, we have organizations coming to do activities with kids, social organizations coming to promote their services, both for the Latino and non-Hispanic communities in the area.
All around, the celebration is a is a collaboration between both local community members and businesses, as well as performances from professional groups.
Zydalis Bauer: In the Berkshire Eagle, organizers of the festival describe this event as one of the most eagerly anticipated cultural events of the year.
In your opinion, what do you think it is about this event that makes the community so eager for it to happen each year?
Erika Wainwright Vélez: I think the big part of it is how much joy and how much pride and how much just excitement there is within our culture that we're we're here to display and to represent. We come from so many different countries within Latin America, but there's so much culture within each of those countries that's represented.
It's also just so exciting to have so many different cultures within the overall umbrella of Latin America coming to this festival, and being represented, and offering not only the non-Hispanic community to learn and to participate in all of that culture, but also for the Hispanic community to really express their pride and enjoy a little piece of home.
Zydalis Bauer: You spoke a little bit about the educational aspect, which is really interesting because I also remember at the festival that there was a table to come speak conversational Spanish.
In what other ways is there educational elements throughout the festival for people to learn more about their culture if they are of the Hispanic-Latino community or for others who are from different communities in the region?
Erika Wainwright Vélez: I think every piece of the of the Festival Latino is educational in some way. Each of the professional performances are displaying some piece of their own folklore -- from be it Mexico, the Dominican Republic, where I'm from, from Costa Rica, from wherever, wherever these the countries that are being represented. Each group is coming to show off their own folklore and tell their own stories. So, that in and of itself is educational.
Learning about the different foods from the vendors, you can always have a conversation and learn about the different foods. There are artisans, there are artists showing off their art, and overall, there's just a huge community of Latin American people and Hispanic people there.
So, I think every every little component comes together to be an educational experience in a lot of different ways.
Zydalis Bauer: What has been the most rewarding part for you being a part of this festival?
Erika Wainwright Vélez: Hmm. That's a great question! So, when I was younger, I remember dancing in the in the Lee Founders' Day parade with the Festival Latino. So, now being able to participate as part of the committee organizing the Festival Latino has been incredibly gratifying.
And I have a lot of gratitude for the Latin American community in the area, as being part of my upbringing and my education, and I have a lot of love for them. So,being able to give some of that back and participate in the creation of the celebration has definitely been gratifying.
Zydalis Bauer: When I visited the festival back in 2019 for Connecting Point, I spoke with founder Liliana and I remember her telling me that in her first 10 to 12 years living in Berkshire County, she rarely saw any fellow Latinos in the community. But now much of that has changed.
So, what would you like people to know about this growing community in the Berkshire county?
Erika Wainwright Vélez: I would love people to know about our joy. I would love people to know about our talent. I would love people to know about the hard-working, community-oriented nature that we have culturally. And I would love people to know that we're a very loving people, and and we want to get to know you as much as you want to get to know us.
So, I think the festival is a perfect opportunity for our communities to all come together to learn about each other, to celebrate with each other, and to support each other.
September 24, 2021
Over the years, Connecting Point's Brian Sullivan has explored different facets of the American dining experience. Whether it's the enduring legacy of the roadside diner, the disappearing family-owned doughnut shop, or the multi-g
Over the years, Connecting Point's Brian Sullivan has explored different facets of the American dining experience. Whether it's the enduring legacy of the roadside diner, the disappearing family-owned doughnut shop, or the multi-generational pizza place that helps keep the community together, each locale offers up an experience that is just as memorable as the food.
In this next story, Brian visits Jack’s Hot Dog Stand, a small joint in North Adams that was there long before any of today's diners, doughnut shops or pizza places, and shows no signs of slowing down!
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Over the years Connecting Point's Brian Sullivan has explored different facets of the American dining experience. Whether it's the enduring legacy of the roadside diner, the disappearing family-owned donut shop, or the multi-generational pizza place that helps keep the community together, each locale offers up an experience that is just as memorable as the food.
In this next story, Brian visits a hot dog stand in North Adams that was there long before any of today's diners, donut shops, or pizza places -- and shows no signs of slowing down.
Brian Sullivan: Eagle Street in North Adams has only one way in, with an entrance that looks like something we might see in a history book of what people thought the modern American street would look like heading into the 20th century.
There's also one business on this historic road that appears as though it's been here since shovels first hit the ground in this section of downtown. And since 1917, it's managed to outlive nearly every other local business that's popped up here, from World War I to present day.
So, how did something as simple as a place that sells hot dogs and hamburgers survive over a century's worth of economic downturns and catastrophes? Well, the answer is actually quite simple.
Jeff Levanos: We put out our food as cheaply and as efficiently. It's always fresh, it's inexpensive, and people we have -- we rely on repeat customers. It's a very simple process.
Brian Sullivan: Twelve seats, a couple of grills, fryolators, lots of dogs, lots of burgers, steamed buns, and lots of locals coming in. That's been the recipe for success here.
And even though North Adams has trended more artsy and touristy since the late 1990s, Jack's has always been the townie spot for generations of working class folks raising their families here, whether they're working at the hospital, the bank, hanging sheetrock, pounding nails, or doing whatever they have to do to maintain a bottom line, this has been their lunch counter.
Jeff Levanos: This is the people you need to take care of. This is the people we cater to. It's like the cherry on the sundae to have tourists come in.
But, I know January, February, and March...you need your regular customers in here. And those regular customers are your contractors, you know, and everybody you just mentioned
Brian Sullivan: That philosophy of taking care of locals was preached by Jeff's grandfather, the first generation of this Greek family enterprise. Now, in its fourth generation with Jeff's son, Joe, in the mix manning the grill.
Apparently, the philosophy works because there are still customers coming in who've been here for all four generations.
Gene Kemp, Jack's Customer: I've been coming here for seventy four years. Can you imagine that?
I sat in there, I sat there, and my mother sat next to me. Seventy four years.
Brian Sullivan: And is not just for the townies. If memory serves, they used to let college creeps like me in here, too.
Back when I was in college out here, none of us had cars, so we almost never ventured out beyond our one block radius of campus. But on those rare occasions when we had an extra couple of bucks in our pockets, we would walk a few more blocks to come down here to Jack's.
It turns out that the couple of bucks I had back in 1995 could still serve me well now, all these years later. In that case, I'll have a chili Cheeseburger and a double cheese with onions, mustard, and relish.
I did have to wonder, though, for a place that does zero advertising and, aside from the giant hot dog up front, no marketing either, how is it possible to stay afloat with prices that really don't reflect the current day and age?
Jeff Levanos: Owning the property I'm in, I mean, I don't have a mortgage. I can keep my prices down. That's that's another thing my grandfather always said, you know, if you if you own the property you're in, you don't have to pay rent. You don't have to pay mortgage. You know, you can keep your prices down. He was adamant on keeping the prices down as low as you can.
Make your profit, make your...and he always told me, you're never going to get rich owning Jack's, but if you take care of it, it will take care of you.
September 24, 2021
WRSI first went on the air in 1981 as a small, locally owned radio station in Greenfield, Massachusetts. The station has experienced many changes over the years, including a move to Northampton in 2001, but through all the ups and
WRSI first went on the air in 1981 as a small, locally owned radio station in Greenfield, Massachusetts. The station has experienced many changes over the years, including a move to Northampton in 2001, but through all the ups and downs one thing hasn’t changed: the music they play and their commitment to the community they serve.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: WRSI first went on the air in 1981 as a small, locally-owned radio station in Greenfield, Massachusetts.
The station has experienced many changes over the years, including a move to Northampton in 2001. But, through all the ups and downs, one thing hasn't changed: the music they play and their commitment to the community they serve.
To celebrate 40 years of WRSI, producer Dave Fraser talked with some of the people responsible for the Western Mass radio station's success over the years.
Joan Holliday, WRSI Host: That's the Felice Brothers on the River. I'm Joan Holliday.
I came here 11 years ago.
Monte Belmonte, WRSI Host: Coming up in 10 minutes, we'll play Get the Connection…
I started here in 2002, I was basically a glorified intern and sometimes lucky sidekick to the Morning Show host at the time, who happened to be Rachel Maddow.
Jim Olsen, Former WRSI Program/Music Director: I was mostly, as I recall, the midday host and I was the music and program director.
John Reily, Former WRSI Host: My name is John Reily and I'm known as Johnny Memphis, because that's the radio name I took when I started working at WRSI in 1986.
Ed Skutnik: It was a loan for $60,000 to build the tower, $20,000 for operating costs. And I said, "What's operating costs?"
And the guy at the bank says, "That's so you could operate for at least three months until your cash starts coming in." "Oh, that's a great idea."
So, there it was. Got on the air at noon, July 26, 1981, and our first disc, jockey Phil Drumheller, Phil D did the first broadcast.
Jim Olsen: Ed started the station, literally himself, built the equipment in the studio himself. When I got there, the music that was programed was Ed's record collection, literally.
Ed Skutnik: We're running reel-to-reel tape machines, because there was no digital back then. We ran records and tapes.
John Reily: This goes out to Dennis down in Hadley. He wanted to hear some Fats Waller.
We played like jazz, blues, reggae, pop, country, folk, singer-songwriter. It was really quite a wide mix.
I had a lot of shows, but I did eventually really end up in the afternoon. Which was really the best place for me because for one thing, I got to interview all these amazing musicians who were coming to the area who would play live in the studio.
We've got Joe Ely and John Hyatt in the studio. Joe, what you have for breakfast this morning?
Joe Ely: Quiche and caviar.
People like Taj Mahal, who of course, is from Springfield, and Dan Hicks, and, you know, B.B. King. I interviewed B.B. King on his road bus, actually, next to the Calvin. You know, hundreds of people that I got a chance to meet and have fun with.
Jim Olsen: Radio was so different back then, because this is the pre-internet era, even pre digital music era. We were playing LPs to start with. CDs were just coming in at that point.
Back then, we all worked a lot of hours and we had fun. You know, it was really a fun kind of Wild West Place back then.
Monte Belmonte: I was in the periphery of the Buddy Rubbish era, too, and he's one of the big legends of WRSI.
There was a legendary story where the beaches at Puffers Pond were going to be closed, because they couldn't afford to keep them clean or something. And Buddy was like, "I'm not going to have it!"
So he said, "I'm going to broadcast from a raft in the middle of Puffers Pond until we raise enough money to open the beaches up again."
And so, a lot of the dumb things that I've done over the years, are based on that kind of notion. So, like being stranded in the middle of downtown Northampton, in the campsite, in the cold to raise money for the Cancer Connection is a direct analog to that Buddy Rubbish on a raft in the middle of Puffers Pond.
Joan Holliday: Coming up, we'll have Bird Songs today, we'll talk....
Oh, I do bird songs with Dan Zomick, because everybody loves Bird Songs. It's sort of a it's a hallmark of my show now, which I never thought would happen. But if I miss a day, people freak out.
Announcer: Different is Good. Mornings with Monte on the River.
Monte Belmonte: This was another Facebook sing along Thursday...
Ed Skutnik: It's unique, it's live, and I think there's more diversity in this area. Then you're going to find in the big cities.
John Reily: It was allowed to kind of flourish in this way, in this soil of the Pioneer Valley, and become this thing that's very unique, like the Pioneer Valley is unique, in a way that's not so predetermined that you know, you can flow with it a little bit, flow with the river, as it were.
September 24, 2021
Author Bill Harley’s latest novel weaves a fictional tale about a young girl, her on-the-spectrum brother, and their monumental cross-country journey after the death of their mother. Harley joined us to share an excerpt from that
Author Bill Harley’s latest novel weaves a fictional tale about a young girl, her on-the-spectrum brother, and their monumental cross-country journey after the death of their mother.
Harley joined us to share an excerpt from that novel, “Now You Say Yes,” where protagonist Mari contemplates her future as a foster kid while watching a solar eclipse during her journey across the U.S.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Author Bill Harley's latest novel weaves a fictional tale about a young girl, her on-the-spectrum brother and their monumental cross-country journey after the death of their mother.
Harley joins us to share an excerpt from that novel, "Now You Say Yes," where protagonist Mari contemplates her future as a foster kid while watching a solar eclipse during her journey across the U.S.
Bill Harley, Author: So, briefly, to get the context of this passage, Mari and her nine-year-old adoptive brother Connor, are driving across the country. And she gets Connor to go,he doesn't want to go, he wants to stay in Los Angeles, even though there's nothing there for him. But he loves astronomy and she -- it's the week of the Solar Eclipse in 2017, in August. And she says, "If you get in the car, we'll go to the eclipse." And that's all Connor wants. So he gets in the car.
And they get to Missouri the day of the eclipse, and they come -- they park in a rest area on Route 40 -- Route 44-- and they're there with a couple of hundred other people watching the eclipse.
And so, this passage is really, in some ways at the heart of -- Mari's afraid of going into the foster care system, she's lost, she doesn't know what happened to her. She doesn't know if their grandmother, in Lynn, Massachusetts, is going to take them in. And here's the eclipse.
She's with -- they're with a family, a family has is sitting with them, a family from Texas.
A sudden and brilliant explosion of light makes Mari jump. Through her dark glasses, she sees a small speck of sun, the tiniest sliver, peek out from behind the dark moon. It bursts across the heavens, showering everyone there in its shining. A bright, gleaming light that promises something beyond all promising.
"Oh my god!" Marco whispers.
Mari feels a giant intake of breath. Everyone, not just this family, but the entire planet, or at least everyone along the path of totality, gasps.
Then she hears a collective sigh, a breathing in and out like one being. She lowers her head and takes off her glasses, and what she sees around her is as astonishing as what is happening above.
She sees everyone looking up, their mouths open. But she sees beyond that. She sees their pudgy knees and their wheelchairs and their skinniness and their grasping and their wanting and their desperation to fit in.
She sees the group of teenage girls peering upward, their neediness and cliquishness forgotten for the moment. She sees that everyone is broken, not all broken in the same way, but in myriad different ways.
They may try to hide it, but they are. Mari is broken, too. She has lost her mom. She gets mad too easily. She has a bad mouth. Some people look at her funny because she's a foster kid or because she's adopted or just because she is who she is.
She's not alone. It's the hiding of the brokenness that keeps everyone alone. She belongs to all of this. It's being broken. That makes her part of it, part of being alive.
People laugh and hug one another. Disregarding differences and seeing sameness. Birds start calling like it's morning. A breeze ripples across the grass and through the crowd. Connor stands there, staring at the vanishing eclipse.
Mari puts her glasses on again and watches the sun come back. The moon passes on by, inching ahead of her brighter sibling.
"Goodbye," Mari whispers to herself.
September 24, 2021
Don’t touch that dial! We’re looking back at 40 years of unique music and community-focused radio at WRSI the River. Erika Wainwright Vélez previews the food, music, and dancing you’ll find at the 25th annual Festival Latino of th