Event Calendar

Palate & Paint – Watercolor Night
with artist Robert Masla at Elmers’ Store
Thursday, July 23, 6:30 -9pm, $35 includes art materials!
Enjoy drinks & snacks from Elmers’ Restaurant as you create your own watercolor on canvas!

Space is Limited, Buy Tickets:
Elmers (413) 628 – 4003

Join the party in this stimulating, non-threatening and nurturing atmosphere where both absolute beginners and advanced artists alike will have fun and experience growth and the adventure of new possibilities. Experience the excitement and fun of spontaneous creation – painting in a whole new way with watercolor on watercolor canvas in this unique paint along demo with the expert guidance of artist Robert Masla!
Witness and experience the freedom of painting on Fredrix Watercolor Canvas as Masla leads you through exploration, play, experimentation, learning and fun.
Have no fear as in this class there are no mistakes, only new possibilities opened by this new medium, opportunities for growth, learning and change. Paint along with Masla as he assists you in easily grasping both simple techniques for watercolor painting as well as advanced concepts. As you paint in this informal mood you will also be learning traditional techniques and concepts, such as: creating shapes through negative painting, the use of values and sfumato, (the “smokey blend,” made famous by Leonardo da Vinci) to depict depth through “atmospheric perspective”, mixing color and much more.
Masla generously shares with you over 35 years of professional experience in his friendly and award wining teaching style. He demonstrates the unique properties, qualities and advantages of this relatively new support for watercolor as together you create a spontaneous watercolor painting using a variety of techniques.
You will also be introduced to other approaches to watercolor, that up to this point were the domain of oil painting. The end result is not just a wonderful 2.5+ hours spent playing with paint, but you will go home with a wealth of new knowledge, experience and techniques along with a wonderful watercolor on canvas painting, ready to frame!



Ashfield 250 Schedule



From someone who happened to be in Elmer’s when the Freedom Singers came for dinner and gave an impromptu short concert:

I read some of what you wrote about them in your email. I met them yesterday, talked a little with them. It wasn’t until they started singing their significance–not sure if that makes sense–I got goose bumps & thought holy crap, the bravery, the things they endured, the message they brought everywhere they went. I’m having trouble finding the right words…they made the images I’ve seen in books or old black & white tv news clips or radio news real, touchable. Not that I ever thought those images were false, I know it was/is real–hearing them sing, listening to the words of their songs, watching them interact with each other, (Freedom Singer member) Emory talking about what it was like–made it all true to life.   I think I sound corny & I’m struggling with my words but it felt powerful. I’m so glad I got to meet them.

For tickets call Elmer’s Store at (413) 628-4003

June 13, 2015


at Ashfield’s Town Hall


The Freedom Singers

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The original singing group of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee;  a group which grew out of the Civil Rights Movement.  In the 1960s The Freedom Singers traveled around the country telling people what was going on back home in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.  All seven members of the group are in their late 60s and 70s; one is white, the rest are black and they have the history, the stories and the songs.  This is living history and we are very excited about it. 


The SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) Freedom Singers was originally formed out of the civil rights movement in Albany Ga. at the end of 1962.  It was their mission to raise money for SNCC by performing songs of the civil rights movement, but they also served to carry the message of the movement and educate young northerners on the events of the movement, and organize people to get involved themselves. Media coverage was intermittent and never really told of the conditions that Black people lived under, nor did it inform the rest of the country about what was being done to help achieve equality for all. Through the songs the story was told and the passion for freedom was transmitted to the rest of the country in an unforgettable way.  They toured and performed all over the United States until other commitments forced the group to disband by the end of 1963.


All of the members of the group were SNCC field secretaries, working in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and other southern states to organize Black communities. By the early 1960s the main thrust was to get African Americans registered to vote.


For some of you younger people who may not be aware of things like this, two of the most important points about this group and this concert are these:


  • Black people in this country could not vote until 1965.  They could not use the same restrooms that white people did, they could not ride in the front of a city bus or train.  They had very, very few rights at all in the very country they were born and raised in.
  • This very group of people that we have coming to Ashfield was traveling around the country working on this important cause, not because they just thought it was a good thing to do – these people were working for their OWN rights.  The songs they were singing, the issues they were talking about to the audiences they performed for affected themselves, not others far away.


This concert is living history.


The group was re-formed in 1964. 1n 1965 they were joined by their first and only white member, Bill Perlman. This group of six, Cordell Reagon, Charles and Carver (Chico) Neblett and Matthew and Marshall Jones remained together for almost two years until the end of 1966 when the SNCC organization, under the leadership of Stokley Carmichael became an all-Black organization. Mr. Carmichael felt that the organization should be an all-Black organization and dismissed all of the white members at that time.  Changes in SNCC’s leadership in 1966 and this turn towards black separatism restricted the ability of the group to find audiences. By the end of 1966 the group had disbanded.  


In the ensuing years from 1967 through the present day, various combinations of the group have performed at a variety of functions including SNCC reunions, celebrations of important moments of the Movement like the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer, and even a performance at the White House for Barak Obama.


Now a concert of the SNCC Freedom Singers is planned for June 13 at the town hall in Ashfield. Original members Charles Neblett and Rutha Harris will be joined by later members Emory Harris, Marshall Jones, Bettie Mae Fikes and Bill Perlman for a full concert of songs of the movement. 


I talked to Mr. Perlman, asking how he, a New York white kid got to be a guitarist for the Freedom Singers and here’s what he told me:


My parents were very politically active. My mother was a staff member in the early 1960s, and through her I met many of the SNCC staff. Shortly after I turned 18, I was approached by James Foreman who had heard me play guitar at a SNCC fund raiser. He told me that the SNCC Freedom Singers were looking for a guitarist, and asked if I would be interested. I was, and after meeting with a couple of members of the group, joined them in the spring of 1965. I was the first and only white member that the group has ever had.  We performed together for almost two years until the group broke up at the time that whites were asked to leave SNCC, which then became an all-African American organization.


This concert will be fascinating.  You don’t want to miss it. Listen to this:




Tickets are $20 for adults, $12 for children 12 and under 


And of course, to celebrate the occasion we will be serving dinner that night at Elmer’s, beginning at 5pm.  Please call us at (413) 628-4003 for dinner reservations.

Here’s our menu:

Anna Baguette   6

Fresh baked baguette served with rich and creamy Goat Rising Chevre and Kalamata olives.

Bread Plate   10

Fresh baked baguette served with a selection of Goat Rising Chevre, cheddar, and Gouda cheeses and Kalamata olives.

with salami   13

Soup: Cream of Tomato with House-made Croutons. 4-6

Salad: Goat Cheese Bruschetta with Caramelized Onion, Walnut, Cucumber over Mixed Greens with a Sweet Balsamic Dressing. 8

Appetizer: Clam and Corn Fritters with a Maple Chipotle Aioli and Tartar Sauce.  8

Entree: Blackened Catfish with Sweet Potato Puree, Sauteed Spinach and Red Bean Sauce. 16

Entree: Sauteed Chicken and Farfalle Pasta: With Onion, Tomato, Spinach and Mushroom, Served with Pesto Cream Sauce and Grana Padano Cheese. 15

Local Burger   9.25

Steady Lane grass-fed burger on a Gretchen-made bun served with salad and chips.

Cheeseburger: choice of Cheddar, Swiss or Gouda  add $1

 Black Bean Burger   8

Our own, home-made vegetarian Black Bean Burger with onions, pepper and tomato sauce with which to hold it together . . .

CheeseBlackBeanBurger:  choice of Cheddar, Swiss or Gouda add $1


Here’s the article about them in the Recorder last Saturday:

Freedom worth singing for: Freedom Singers coming to Ashfield June 13

Story by Richie Davis

Friday, June 5, 2015
(Published in print: Saturday, June 6, 2015)

Long before Bill Perlman was an Ashfield firefighter and selectman, a Franklin County commissioner or a member of the regional Council of Governments, he was one of the Freedom Singers.

At 18 — 10 years after he learned to play guitar — he was asked by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to become part of the group that lent their voices to the Civil Rights movement at rallies, in concerts and fundraisers throughout the South and beyond. And they just kept on singing.

“A lot of people have the view that the Civil Rights movement was in the 1960s, and that was it, that it solved all the problems and went away,” says Perlman, who will bring The Freedom Singers to Ashfield Town Hall for a rare concert appearance Saturday, June 13, at 7 p.m. “But the Civil Rights movement started in 1619, when the first slaves came, and not only is it still going on, it’s also still needed.”

The 68-year-old retired electrical engineer, the youngest member of the otherwise all-black group that formed in 1962, decided to stage the concert to make a definitive, live recording of the group — a back-burner idea that’s been simmering for years but is becoming more important as members grow grayer.

“Were losing ‘movement’ veterans daily,” says the stocky, white-haired Perlman, who also sports a white handlebar mustache and was wearing wide black suspenders over a red chamois shirt during a recent interview.

Acting on a request from Elmer’s Store owner Nan Parati, he has arranged for the five singers who’ll be joining him to speak to Mohawk Trail Regional School students about the historic era. “To be able to talk to people who were there gives a perspective that’s almost impossible to get any other way.”

Joining him in concert will be Rutha Mae Harris and Chuck Neblett, who were part of the original, Georgia-bred Freedom Singers, along with Bernice Johnson Reagon and her future husband, Cordell Reagon. Also there will be Rutha Mae’s brother, Everett Harris, who traveled with the group in 1964 and 1965, as well as Marshall Jones and Bettie Mae Fikes. Some of the performers now live as far away as California.

“A lot of them have been in and out,” said Perlman of the group, which included the late Cordell Reagon, Neblett and his brother, Chico, who’s since died, plus Jones, whose then-member brother Matthew has also died. “Chuck was the one who’s been kind of steady all along and there were probably six or eight people who were in and out over the course of time.”

Perlman grew up in New York surrounded by “very, very progressive, radical, politically active people,” including a mother who had joined the SNCC staff two years before he did, a father who’d been a labor organizer in the 1930s and an uncle who was a civil-rights lawyer. “When people ask how I got involved in the Civil Rights movement, I say, ‘I went into the family business.’ Involving myself in things like that certainly wasn’t a rebellion.”

SNCC Executive Secretary James Forman invited him to be one of the Freedom Singer after hearing Perlman as a last-minute substitute playing his Martin 00-21 guitar at a 1965 fundraising event. The teen had recently dropped out after a month of community college in Brooklyn.

“I wasn’t doing much, so I joined,” Perlman says.

The group’s members were paid a $10 weekly wage as SNCC staffers. Their main role was to raise money for the organization, singing “Which Side Are You On,” “We Shall Overcome” and other songs on Northern college campuses like Yale, Brandeis and Mount Holyoke, as well as in large concert halls and house parties in Boston, New York, Chicago and elsewhere around the North, including a 28-day tour of eastern Canada.

Its goal was also “to carry the message up North, letting people know what going on down there, telling the story in song, with comments from the stage, and talking to people,” Perlman said.

In rallies in Southern churches, the singers tried to boost morale and bring people together.

“There was a spiritual kind of feeling to it,” he said. “A lot of the stuff we did came directly out of gospel church music, but there was a folk influence.”

That upset some people, like writer LeRoi Jones, Perlman remembers hearing, because the Freedom Singers’ earlier a cappella sound had been replaced with guitar accompaniment. And Bernice Johnson Reagon, who went on to form the a cappella singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock, also wasn’t happy with the new sound.

“I remember hearing that LeRoi Jones was objecting strenuously that I was laying down the rhythm for this group when we were doing a concert at church in Harlem,” Perlman says. Yet Matthew Jones, who also played guitar and was a university-trained musician, “had expanded the group’s musical vocabulary beyond gospel-sounding stuff. He wrote a lot songs that were closer to folk than to gospel.”

At one point, he even recalls the group drifting in to performance of a Phil Ochs song and even to The Beatles’ “Yesterday.”

Unlike song leaders, who specifically led rallies and marches, “The Freedom Singers were performers, entertainers. We came up with interesting, complex harmonies. That was very different than getting hundreds of people singing.”

For that reason, some in SNCC thought the group “thought too much of ourselves.”

And as SNCC under Stokely Carmichael’s leadership began seeing nonviolence as less a way of life and more a tactic that had served its purpose by 1967, and with the “black power” slogan alienating more moderate members, the Freedom Singers broke up as a group.

They stayed in touch, Perlman says, “but for a lot of years, didn’t do anything.”

That changed with a 1994 performance in Mississippi and subsequent, periodic reunion appearances, with a 2001 concert at Stanford University in California resulting in a recording that Perlman played for Parati at Elmer’s one day.

That’s what led him to decide it was worth it to bankroll production of a concert in the town hall, which has a capacity of 350.

Getting the entire group together is “a very rare happening,” says Perlman, even though members will appear at periodic events like the 50 year anniversary of SNCC or of Freedom Summer in Jackson, Miss., at Selma Ala.’s commemorations of the Edmund Pettus Bridge crossing by voting rights activists in 1965, or at Tennessee’s Freedom School annual teacher trainings.

“To hear her talk about that incident was just amazing,” recalls Perlman, who also heard countless other first-person accounts of the era’s battle for civil rights from SNCC workers — one of them recovering from a gunshot wound — when they returned from the South to the organization’s New York offices.

“It was shocking and it gave you real reason to do what you were doing. Meeting someone who had registered to vote and then went home to find he’d just been evicted from his dirt-floor shack where his family had lived for years because the landlord was so intent on making sure this voting thing didn’t go forward,” Perlman remembers. “They were sharecroppers and as soon as they expressed interest in this, they were gone. SNCC had to set up tent cities for people who’d been evicted. Here were people who were willing to give up everything for this right to vote. They had put up with the degradation of their entire lives. It was heard to comprehend, but you could see it down there.”

And he got a taste of the discrimination himself, at restaurants where he was refused service because he was part of an integrated group.

Even worse, “There are people out there who want to kill you, make no bones about it,” Perlman remembers. As a participant in the 1966 James Meredith march from Memphis to Jackson, Miss. he was sent by car to fetch water to relieve the intense heat for marchers. He got the OK from the black sharecroppers to refill some water jugs, but then was shot at by the angry white landowner.

“We got out of there,” says Perlman, also recalling being beaten up by a state trooper in Philadelphia, Miss. during SNCC’s voting-rights campaign. 
“We were living in giant tents and things had gotten quiet, so the press left. So the police closed in and fired tear gas into tents, and people ran out and a lot of us got clubbed. And we got chased by a couple of pickup-loads of yahoos,” he remembers. “There’s a kind fear you experience that in some ways makes you immune from feeling that kind of fear again. You’ve been inoculated. It just solidified in my mind that what I was doing was necessary.”

Those couple of intense years of Perlman working for SNCC ring out when the Freedom Singers perform songs like “The Buses are Coming,” “Governor Wallace” and “Mississippi River,” which was about the other civil-rights worker bodies pulled from the river in 1965 when police were searching for the missing Freedom Summer activists Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Cheney, who’d been murdered.

For Perlman returned to the North and was immediately drafted for the Vietnam War after informing the Selective Service that he was employed by SNCC — he then got deferred. The anguish of his work down South came in 1968, while singing solo at a civil rights rally at New York University Someone walked on stage and handed him a note to read to the crowd, telling them the Rev. Martin Luther King — someone he’d met several times — had just been assassinated.

“It was one of the most emotional moments I had … extraordinary,” recalls Perlman, who expects the Ashfield concert will be different from the kinds of civil rights-hardened crowds the Freedom Singers has been used to sharing its songs and stories with over the past few decades.

“This will be more of an arms-length audience than we’ve played with in a long time,” he says. “The vast majority of people around here have had no experience with the movement in the South, and with this music, so it’s going to be interesting.”

The ’60s civil-rights struggle for which the Freedom Singers provided part of the soundtrack, beginning with lunch-counter protests and buses and moving on to voting rights, had a dramatic impact, Perlman says. “But there’s a core of problems that haven’t been touched.”

“The old problems haven’t gone away entirely and new ones are here,” he added, citing attempts by some states to reverse the gains of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the recent spate of police killings of young black men.

“Now you realize it wasn’t enough of a goal,” he says. “and, you hadn’t changed as many hearts as you’d hoped.”

Senior reporter Richie Davis has worked at The Recorder for more than 35 years. He can be reached at rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 269.


For Elmer’s Events, you can call us at (413) 628-4003 for tickets, reservations and information.  Note:  Tickets are NOT available via this website.  Please call the above number to get tickets.