by Seth Rogovoy
(PITTSFIELD, Mass.) – The first indoor event of this year’s Word X Word Festival took place on Sunday night in a raw space on the top floor of the Compuworks building, and featured two spoken-word performers – Taylor Mali and Iyeoka Ivie Okoawo – and the string-heavy indie-rock band Darlingside, based in Northampton but born right here in the Berkshires at Williams College.
Mali of course is from Housatonic, and along with his poet-wife Marie-Elizabeth Mali, curates the spoken-word portion of the festival, which this year, its third, includes music and readings of the written word (yes, they are spoken when they are read, but the difference is they are written to be read, not spoken aloud, generally speaking, pun intended). Along with Compuworks CEO Al Bauman, Mali acted as the evening’s master of ceremonies, and kicked things off with a brief sampler of his signature work, including a lovely number about his father’s labeling of keys (“He was a Yale man”) and a piece that must have been written just literally minutes before he took the stage, as it referenced the drive up to Pittsfield with Iyeoka Ivie Okoawo as well as Darlingside’s sound check.
Iyeoka Ivie Okoawo straddled a number of lines, which made her the perfect swing act (as in the act in between the first and the last), combining a more theatrical approach with live percussion, gesture, singing, and audience participation. This former pharmacist was at her best on pieces that drew from her rich background, including one wrapped around a Nigerian folk song. Iyeoka, as she is known, also performs as a singer with a band, and she left at least one listener hungry to hear her in that format.
The five boys-to-men comprising Darlingside totally won over the crowd with their sincere and earnest chamber-rock. The group’s sound ranged from moody to bright, with violin and mandolin played by Auyon Mukharji and electric cello courtesy of Harris Paseltiner lending classical and world-beat touches to college-rock and Beatlesesque group harmonies filled out by guitarist Don Mitchell, guitarist/bassist David Senft, and drummer Sam Kapala, who could well be the group’s secret weapon.
The consensus among those attending was everyone wanted to see Darlingside again in a venue perhaps more conducive to enhancing enjoyment of the band’s visual and sonic impact. You might have even danced.
A mighty launch for the third annual Word X Word Festival, which is already in its fourth day of activity today.