(NORTH ADAMS, Mass.) — The National brings its distinctive brand of indie-rock to Joe’s Field at MASS MoCA on Saturday, June 11, at 8pm, in its only northeast headline show in all of 2016. All proceeds from the concert benefit Hawthorne Valley Association – a 400-acre farm and cultural center integrating agriculture, education, and art in its mission of social and cultural renewal – in Ghent, N.Y., and MASS MoCA itself. San Francisco-based, post-pop band Yassou will warm up the crowd for the National.
The National’s sound has been compared to a blend of Joy Division, Leonard Cohen, Interpol, Wilco, Depeche Mode, U2, and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds.
Since 1999, the same year MASS MoCA opened its doors, the National – which consists of vocalist Matt Berninger, plus two pairs of brothers: Aaron Dessner (guitar, bass, piano) and Bryce Dessner (guitar), and Scott Devendorf (bass, guitar) and Bryan Devendorf (drums) – have landed on every “best of” list in print. The band’s half dozen albums receive critical praise surpassed only by the adoration of their devoted audience. Rolling Stone declares, “The National has always been fueled by a mix of big-time artistic ambitions and deep-rooted family values.”
Throughout its 16-year career, The National has been renowned for its signature sound. The band got its start in 1991, when Matt Berninger and Scott Devendorf majored in graphic design at the University of Cincinnati, where they together spearheaded a series of experimental bands. In 2001, The National released its self-titled debut album on Brassland Records, an independent record label founded by Dessner and his twin brother, Bryce. Bryce eventually joined the band as full member in 2003, for The National’s follow-up album, “Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers.”
The group’s longevity is largely due to the consistency in sound across its six albums. Berninger’s now trademark vocals are instantly recognizable for a dry baritone that provides sincere honesty to poetic lyrics. Over the group’s enduring career, lyrical dexterity has remained steadfast, tackling themes of American anxiety such as white-collar work, crumbling relationships, and general paranoia. These dark, tension-filled words combine seamlessly with lush and alluring melodies that swell and crash around Berninger’s vocals.
The National’s star truly started to rise with the release of the 2005 album, “Alligator,” where the band started openly experimenting more with instrumentation. With each album, the band grows more ambitious, more aware and subsequently, more successful. Much of The National’s success is due to its textbook-indie approach: release strong albums and then tour tirelessly around the globe with exacting and mesmerizing performances. Through its tenure, the band has attracted a who’s who of collaborators, such as Justin Vernon, Sufjan Stevens, and Feist.
Last month, the National released a monumental Grateful Dead tribute album, with contributions from Bon Iver, Sharon Van Etten, the War on Drugs, and Stephen Malkmus.
Aaron Dessner, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter for The National, says that art, music, education and agriculture offer fertile ground for creativity and that the encouragement and support of these endeavors lays the groundwork for a healthy community. “It’s pretty clear that our country and the world in general needs positive pro-social and environmentally responsible change – and people and communities transform through the creative process. So it stands to reason that if we encourage creativity, we can instigate these kinds of changes – maybe even change the world,” says Dessner, who now calls Columbia County, N.Y., home.
Dessner continues, “We saw this concert as an opportunity to support two organizations that are doing good, creative work in service of both their immediate communities, and the community at large. Each supports creativity and independent thinking which are vital to the development of innovative solutions. The work that MASS MoCA is doing to highlight visionary art and artists, and that Hawthorne Valley is engaged in – biodynamics, scientific research, and Waldorf education – positively impacts the health of their communities, and ultimately the well-being of our children and families, and the planet as a whole. It’s work we feel the need to support in any way we can.”
In addition to the headlining benefit concert, “A Lot of Sorrow,” Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s six-hour documentary opus, filmed on tour with The National, screens in MASS MoCA’s Hunter Center throughout the concert weekend.
A live, silent auction of band memorabilia, including a signed, framed “Trouble Will Find Me” gold album, a “Trouble Will Find Me” boxed set, and Aaron’s signed Bigsby guitar, all donated by the band, takes place before the concert.
An exclusive concert pre-party, “Drinks with The National” also for the benefit of Hawthorne Valley and MASS MoCA, is sold out. “Drinks with the National” features locally-sourced food and drink with the band, and tours of MASS MoCA’s Building 6 — the site of the museum’s 2017 expansion which will double the already-massive museum’s exhibition space.
“At once precise and meticulous in their craft, but also gloriously exultant and ambitious, The National is a truly great band, complex and expansive,” notes MASS MoCA director Joseph Thompson. “We are deeply honored that they are kicking off their summer season with a rare headline show at MASS MoCA, and not only at MASS MoCA, but for it, and for Hawthorne Valley Association, as a benefit concert.”
“We are thrilled to be working with MASS MoCA, a truly innovative cultural initiative in the vanguard of the contemporary art world. And we are infinitely grateful to The National for their generosity of spirit and good will in offering their considerable talents in support of MASS MoCA and Hawthorne Valley,” says Martin Ping, executive director of Hawthorne Valley. “The National and MASS MoCA each represent how art, music, and the creative process can be foundational in building regenerative and resilient economies both locally and globally. As we come together in celebration of our inter-connectedness and interdependence, I enthusiastically look forward to the good work and to the collaborative road ahead.”
Throughout their career, The National has engaged in social activism as illustrated by their support for charitable organizations including the Yellow Bird Project which raised money for Safe Space NYC, an organization that provides safe refuge for under privileged children and families in Southeast Queens; Partners in Health. Their most notable effort this year is a 59-track Grateful Dead tribute album they curated and produced – all the proceeds of which will benefit the Red Hot Organization, an international organization dedicated to fighting HIV, AIDS, and related health issues.
Additionally, The National has performed numerous benefit concerts for such organizations as MusiCares, Artists for Peace and Justice, the Robin Hood Foundation, and Cooperative for Education’s Thousand Girls Initiative, a program supporting the growth of educational opportunities for girls in Guatemala.
Says Dessner, “Individuals – even whole nations – can’t solve all problems by themselves. We need one another. We – and all species – are inextricably linked. The road to a better world, and a healthy future for our children, depends on forming alliances and cooperating with others. As more and more positive connections are made, maybe we can realize a collective positive force for change. If our band can give us a platform to contribute in some way to connecting people doing good work, like MASS MoCA and Hawthorne Valley, we’re all for it.”
About MASS MoCA
MASS MoCA is one of the world’s liveliest (and largest) centers for making and enjoying today’s most important art, music, dance, theater, film, and video. Hundreds of works of visual and performing art have been created on its 19th-century factory campus during fabrication and rehearsal residencies, making MASS MoCA among the most productive sites in the country for the creation and presentation of new art. More platform than box, MASS MoCA strives to bring to its audiences art experiences that are fresh, engaging, and transformative.
MASS MoCA’s galleries are open from 11am to 5pm every day except Tuesdays through spring 2016. Gallery admission is $18 for adults, $16 for veterans and seniors, $12 for students, $8 for children 6 to 16, and free for children 5 and under. Members are admitted free year-round. For additional information, call 413.662.2111 x1 or visit MASS MoCA.
Hawthorne Valley was founded in 1971 by a pioneering group of Waldorf teachers and Biodynamic farmers who were concerned with the future of small and midsize independent farms as well as the need to provide children from urban environments with meaningful opportunities to connect to nature, agriculture and vocational activities. Inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner, Hawthorne Valley Association seeks to promote social and cultural renewal through the integrations of education, agriculture and the arts by engaging a mix of cultural and economic endeavors. Among its numerous dynamic programs, the association includes Hawthorne Valley Farm, a 400-acre biodynamic farm with a dairy herd, creamery, CSA, natural foods store, organic bakery, a sauerkraut cellar summer camp programs and a Farm Learning Center, and Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School, a nursery through grade 12 independent day school.