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Psychedelic folk duo Elkhorn will follow the music at free Williamstown concert Sunday

Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner are Elkhorn.
Brennan Cavanaugh
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Brennan Cavanaugh
Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner are Elkhorn.

On Sunday, a free outdoor concert at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts will bring improvisational psychedelic folk music to the Berkshires.

The event is part of the Clark’s ongoing Locals at the Lunder Center series, presented in partnership with North Adams’ Belltower Records.

“We've been good friends with the Elkhorn duo since we started the shop, and we've been looking to get them up here- And we actually booked them for March 2020 and then the pandemic hit," said Wesley Nelson, who co-owns Belltower Records with his wife Andrea Belair. “I always thought that these kind of progressive folk musicians always had something of a spring or fall feel to them. And that goes back to me the American primitivism of John Fahey. When you listen to his music, I mean, it evokes rivers that evokes being out in nature and it conjures up these feelings of being connected with the natural world and the way that that world changes around you.”

You can hear Elkhorn's "Lionfish" LP here.

“I am the electric guitar player in the band Elkhorn, which is a duo of electric guitar and acoustic guitar that does psychedelic folk music,” said Drew Gardner.

Since playing their first show in 2013, the band has released a succession of well-received albums on labels including Western Mass-based Feeding Tube Records.

“We combine fingerpicked acoustic guitar that's played by Jesse Sheppard with electric guitar that I'm playing," said Gardner. "So we always say it's like a combination of the 1860s and the 1960s. It's instrumental music and it's highly improvisational. So it's mixing kind of earthy, almost old fashioned folk sounds with more modern and more explicitly psychedelic sounds with a heavy use of improvisation.”

“One of the things we're excited about for this show on Sunday is that we're going to have our friend Ian McColm, who's just a fabulous drummer from New Haven, Connecticut, playing with us," said Sheppard. “We do a lot of that, just combining the duo of these two guitarists kind of like interacting and weaving back and forth and creating sort of like foreground and background elements with another collaborator [who] comes in and brings their voice. That's what our music is about.”

Elkhorn revels in balancing freewheeling musical exploration with a deeply grounded sense of place.

“You always have to have a plan," Gardner told WAMC. "We have the song framework in mind, but it is, in terms of the improvisational part of it, very much about tuning into the present moment and tuning into the environment, and to the people, the particular people who are around and the social vibes well. So all of that comes together to create a kind of sound in a time in a place.”

Sheppard says Elkhorn’s genre-defying approach to music can make them a hard sell to the uninitiated, but those who take the plunge usually come out smiling.

“What you're going to see is something that's really hard to kind of categorize and describe, but sort of feels very familiar to you, and feels like really a place that you feel comforted by or maybe talks to real emotions that you connect with,” he said.

According to Gardner, for both band and audience, Elkhorn is about leaning back and being taken by the flow.

“I'm just trying to follow where the music is going," he explained. "And that if you do that in the right way, you wind up getting into really good spaces. But the main thing is tuning into where the music wants to go.”

Elkhorn performs at the Lunder Center on the Clark Art Institute campus Sunday at 4pm.

Local act Sounds For – featuring musicians Brian Kantor, Miles Lally, Wes Buckley, and John Prusinski – will open.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.