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The Arts Issue | Magazine

42 essential arts events you won’t want to miss this spring and summer

Globe critics surveyed New England to pick their favorite upcoming shows, including 7 that are absolutely free.


By Kate Tuttle

Richard Russo — May 2

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist (Empire Falls) returns to the art of the short story with Trajectory, his first collection since 2002’s The Whore’s Child and Other Stories. He’ll read at a launch party at Portland’s Print: A Bookstore (co-owned by daughter Emily Russo), which begins at 7 p.m. and includes refreshments.

> 273 Congress Street, Portland, Maine,

FREE! Kids Read at Rhode Island State House — May 13

The kickoff for Kids Reading Across Rhode Island is open to youngsters from anywhere. This year’s book is Save Me a Seat, by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan. Each child in attendance gets a free copy of the book while supplies last. Event begins at 2 p.m.


> 82 Smith Street, Providence,

Henry David Thoreau “live” — May 20-21

As part of a series of events marking the bicentennial of Thoreau’s birth year, actor Christopher Childs reprises Clear Sky, Pure Light: An Evening With Henry David Thoreau, his one-man, two-act show originally performed during the nation’s bicentennial celebration. Childs draws from some of Thoreau’s most beloved essays, as well as his journals and personal correspondence.

> 44 Baker Farm Road, Lincoln,

Nantucket Book Festival — June 16-18

Books and their authors are beloved at this well-run annual festival. This year’s lineup includes former US poet laureate Robert Pinsky, the much lauded poet Kevin Young, perennial best-selling novelist Jodi Picoult, debut superstar Nicole Dennis-Benn (Here Comes the Sun), radio host Diane Rehm, and many more.

> Various locations on Nantucket, 508-919-6230,

A “Moby-Dick” Marathon is set to get underway in Mystic Seaport July 31. Mallory Abreu/file/Mallory Abreu for The Boston Glo

Moby-Dick Marathon — July 31-August 1

If the great white whale book is your obsession, celebrate Herman Melville’s masterpiece at this 24-hour reading aboard the Charles W. Morgan, a wooden whaling ship even older than the novel. Visitors to Mystic Seaport can read one of the classic’s 135 chapters (and epilogue) aloud (overnight readers must register). The event culminates in a birthday celebration for Melville, complete with a great white cake.


> 75 Greenmanville Avenue, Mystic, Connecticut, 860-572-5331,

Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival — August 5-6

Stock up on beach reading and more at this biennial gathering of top authors with new books. It’s thick with fiction writers: Ann Patchett, Min Jin Lee, Amor Towles, and Richard Russo are among those scheduled. On the nonfiction side, Madeleine Blais’s memoir To the New Owners chronicles her family’s beloved summer house on Tisbury Great Pond.

> Various locations on the Vineyard,

By Zoe Madonna

Stave Sessions — March 21-25

This weeklong festival presented by Celebrity Series of Boston brings together artists who experiment, innovate, and collaborate in jazz, classical, and pop genres. Chamber sextet yMusic, rising saxophonist Melissa Aldana, big band Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, and a collaboration between the hard-hitting percussion band Tigue and the ancient Moroccan grooves of Innov Gnawa come to the Berklee College of Music. All shows at 8:30 p.m.

> 160 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, 617-482-6661,

Rockport Chamber Music Festival — June 2-July 9

Artistic director David Deveau celebrates his 22d and final year of leadership with an astounding lineup of concerts. Watch the Cape Ann sun sink into the ocean through the glass back wall of the Shalin Liu Performance Center while listening to artistic standouts such as the Jupiter String Quartet, Lorelei Ensemble, and pianist Garrick Ohlsson.


> 37 Main Street, Rockport, 978-546-7391,

Boston Early Music Festival — June 11-18

Known as “the world’s leading early music festival,” BEMF this year promises riots of color and musical treats from the historically informed performance sphere, centered on a fully staged production of Campra’s opera-ballet Le Carnaval de Venise. Even veteran concertgoers are likely to hear instruments previously unknown to them (a komuz or colascione, anyone?).

> Various locations, 617-661-1812,

Tanglewood’s “Film Night” in August features John Williams.

Tanglewood — June 17-September 1

Ageless Tanglewood practically bursts with choices this summer. Look for July’s performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, conducted by Boston Symphony Orchestra music director Andris Nelsons; movie nights with the Boston Pops, including August’s “Film Night” with John Williams; David Sedaris on tour with his new book; and, to cap the season, the Avett Brothers, who make their debut at the Koussevitzky Shed.

> 297 West Street, Lenox, 888-266-1200,

Marlboro Music — July 15-August 13

Running for 66 years and counting, Marlboro has proved again and again that when you put young talent side by side with seasoned masters of classical music for a summer in the Vermont mountains, you create a powerful, intimate chamber music experience for performers and audience alike. Programs, as always, are chosen by the musicians and announced in the days before each weekend concert.


> 227 South Road, Marlboro, Vermont, 215-569-4690,

FREE! Boston Landmarks Orchestra — July 19-August 23

Pack a picnic and head to the Hatch Memorial Shell for the Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s free Wednesday evening concert series. Classical mainstays such as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and Elgar’s Enigma Variations mix with a “Dance Carnival” night featuring ethnic and classical dance troupes. 7 p.m.

> 47 David G. Mugar Way, Boston,

By Karen Campbell

Boston Ballet — May 5-27

The company’s season finale at Boston Opera House focuses on brilliant choreographic/musical connections, with a world premiere by resident choreographer Jorma Elo to the music of J.S. Bach. Also included is Jerome Robbins’s quirky and humorous The Concert (or the Perils of Everybody), set to the music of Chopin, and a work reflecting an iconic artistic partnership — Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto.

> 539 Washington Street, Boston, 617-695-6955,

L.A. Dance Project — May 19-21

L.A. Dance Project makes its Boston debut in May. Morgan-Julia

Dancer/choreographer (and Natalie Portman spouse) Benjamin Millepied’s dynamic young company makes its Boston debut. Whether in pointe shoes or sneakers, the troupe piques the imagination in a wide range of contemporary dance genres. The intriguing program at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre includes choreography by Justin Peck and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.

> 265 Tremont Street, Boston, 617-482-6661,

The Yard — June 8-September 10

The renowned Martha’s Vineyard festival has curated this summer’s season around artists crossing cultural boundaries and taking new creative directions. Highlights include Camille A. Brown & Dancers, Malpaso Dance Company, and Ragamala Dance Company, among others.


> Various locations on the Vineyard, 508-645-9662,

FREE! Ninth Annual Dance for World Community Festival — June 10

This joyous day of dance sponsored by Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre returns to this weeklong festival. More than 90 groups perform, and there are dance classes, family activities, and more. The event takes place near the company’s base at Old Cambridge Baptist Church and concludes with a 6 to 8 p.m. parking-lot dance party for the entire community.

> 1151 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617-354-7467,

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival — June 17-August 27

Celebrating its 85th season, the Berkshires festival is the place to be for dance aficionados this summer, with international offerings ranging from powerhouse ballet to cutting-edge contemporary fare. High-lights include a Pillow exclusive “tap dance experience” curated by Michelle Dorrance and the US debut of Israeli company Roy Assaf Dance, as well as lots of live music.

> 358 George Carter Road, Becket, 413-243-0745,

Bates Dance Festival — June 23-August 6

This lively festival turns an impressive 35 this season, offering training programs, workshops, residencies, and performances. Look for David Dorfman Dance, zoe | juniper, and Lida Winfield, among others, as well as a special anniversary gala featuring Larry Keigwin, Bebe Miller, Doug Varone, and many more. The festival peak is Stephan Koplowitz’s site-specific Mill Town, featuring more than 60 performers.

> 305 College Street, Lewiston, Maine, 207-786-6381,

By Loren King

Independent Film Festival Boston — April 26-May 3

Since its launch in 2002, the IFFB has established itself as one of the premier cinema events in the region. It doesn’t hurt that its screening series runs for much of the year, reminding us of its dual missions: to showcase high-quality independent features, documentaries, and shorts and to support local filmmakers.

> Various locations,

Provincetown International Film Festival — June 14-18

As if one needed another reason to visit the tip of Cape Cod in June, here it is: Since 1999, this festival has combined adventurous programming with an eclectic array of special guests — Ang Lee, Cynthia Nixon, and Ileanna Douglas mingled with audiences last year.

> Various locations,

Roxbury International Film Festival — June 22-29

This high-energy festival has provided an antidote to Hollywood’s lack of diversity for 18 years with shorts, features, and documentaries by or about people of color. This year, it includes Bostonian Domingo Guyton’s personal documentary Footprints in Concrete. Shows take place at the Museum of Fine Arts.

> 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston,

FREE! The Coolidge at The Greenway — July-September

Outdoor movie screenings will start on the Greenway in July. A. Gallagher Dixon/from Coolidge Corner Theatre

Audiences can relive the days of drive-ins (without the cars) as the Coolidge Corner Theatre and the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy present a free outdoor screening series of classic movies. Last year Vertigo and a 3-D version of Creature From the Black Lagoon were highlights at the Greenway’s Wharf District Park. Movies begin at sunset and will be projected in 35mm onto a screen 12 feet high by 30 feet wide. It’s a sight to rival the stars.

> Between India and Milk streets, Boston,

Maine International Film Festival — July 14-23

Maine’s largest and longest-running film event celebrates 20 years by bringing back 20 of its favorite guests. There’s a good reason why the crowds come to Waterville for something other than snow: more than 100 thoughtfully curated American independent, international, and made-in-Maine movies make the trek worth the trip.

> Various locations, 207-861-8138,

Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival — August 8-13

Do you rush into the room when the Oscar winners for short films are announced? If so, this festival is for you. RIIFF is one of only six festivals worldwide whose winners in the Live Action, Animation, and Documentary Short Film categories qualify for the Academy Awards. Plus, there are numerous international features and documentaries.

> Various locations in Providence, 401-861-4445,

By Michael Andor Brodeur

Chance the Rapper is among the big draws scheduled to perform at Boston Calling. Kevin Winter/Getty images

Boston Calling — May 26-28

This home-grown three-day multi-stage festival has rocked City Hall Plaza yearly since 2013, and for its eighth throwdown, it heads farther afield (really, to the fields of Harvard Athletic Complex). A powerhouse lineup features Tool, Mumford & Sons, Chance the Rapper, Run the Jewels, and the Knowles you oughta know, Solange. And for movie buffs, there’s a film component curated by Harvard grad Natalie Portman.

> Harvard Athletic Complex, Allston,

FREE! Berklee’s Summer in the City — May through September

This sprawling concert series, which runs from May through late September at venues all over the city (and beyond), is like a free immersive summer course on every facet of Boston’s music scene, showcasing rising talent in pop, folk, rock, electronic, jazz, R & B, and world music. Schedule posts online in April.

> Various locations,

Solid Sound — June 23-25

This Wilco-curated biennial hootenanny, held every other year in the hills of North Adams, sprang from frontman Jeff Tweedy’s desire to “make a festival we wouldn’t be miserable at.” The event fills Mass MoCA’s campus with music, comedy, art, food, and kid-friendly events. This year’s lineup features Wilco (natch), rock legends Television, Kurt Vile & the Violators, Alloy Orchestra, the Jeff Parker Trio, and more.

> Mass MoCA, North Adams,

The Total Package Tour — July 8

There are plenty of non-ballgame reasons to squeeze into a seat at Fenway this summer — Dead & Company on June 17 and 18; the return of James Taylor and special guest Bonnie Raitt on August 11; Billy Joel on August 30. But the July 8 all-star gathering of retro-pop heavy hitters New Kids on the Block, Boyz II Men, and Paula Abdul is, as advertised, the total package. Remember, friends don’t let friends peg their pants.

> 4 Yawkey Way, Boston,

Green River Festival — July 14-16

This staple of summers in Western Mass. has a little of everything: a wildly diverse array of music, a crafts fair, plenty of family fun (kids younger than 10 get in free), and local food, beer, and wine. This year’s stellar lineup includes Lake Street Dive, The Mavericks, Amadou & Mariam, Funky Meters, and Chicano Batman. And if you’re not afraid of heights (and dropping some extra cash), nightly hot-air balloon rides offer a bird’s-eye view of the festivities.

> Greenfield Community College,

Newport Jazz Festival — August 4-6

This year’s Newport Jazz lineup just keeps getting stronger. Catch sets in the sunshine from Maceo Parker, Andra Day, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Maria Schneider Orchestra, Christian McBride Big Band, Hudson (a supergroup featuring Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield, John Medeski, and Larry Grenadier), and more.

> Various locations in Newport, Rhode Island,

By Don Aucoin

String Around My Finger — April 4-23

Brenda Withers first came to public attention when she collaborated with Mindy Kaling on a Damon-Affleck spoof, Matt & Ben. Since then, Withers has fortified her reputation as a playwright-actress with a wholly original and distinctive sensibility. Portland Stage Company hosts this world premiere of her latest play, an “unexpected comedy” in which a young couple reconsider their plans to get married after a medical emergency saddles them with crushing hospital bills.

> 25 Forest Avenue, Portland, Maine, 207-774-0465,

The Gift Horse — April 22-May 14

For this Boston-area premiere, Lydia R. Diamond (Stick Fly, Smart People) has revised her 2002 comic drama about Ruth, a teacher and artist who confronts the forces that shaped her as she takes the audience on a journey through her sometimes-wrenching past. Directed by Jim Petosa, the play brings a very promising cast to the New Repertory Theatre.

> 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, 617-923-8487,

Kunstler — May 18-June 10

Theatergoers in the Berkshires are well acquainted with the versatile Jeff McCarthy, who was equally believable as Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha and as the transgender Lola Cola in Southern Comfort. Now McCarthy is portraying another free-spirited character who marched to his own drummer: radical lawyer William Kunstler of “Chicago Seven’’ fame.

> Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, 413-236-8888,

“Wicked” opens June 7 at the Boston Opera House. Joan Marcus

Wicked — June 7-July 23

It’s not just a blockbuster musical that imagines a back story to The Wizard of Oz. Beyond the gaudy trappings of fantasy, this show gives due weight to the complexity of female friendship and — underscored by songs like “Defying Gravity’’ — takes seriously the aspirations of women. Given the current political climate, that message seems mighty important for young girls to hear.

> Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston, 800-982-2787,

Downstairs — June 22-July 8

Real-life siblings Tyne Daly (Cagney & Lacey) and Tim Daly (Wings) have never acted together onstage — until now. The Dalys will portray a sister and brother in this focal production of the Dorset Theatre Festival, the world premiere of playwright Theresa Rebeck’s twisty drama about a quirky, gifted man who moves into his sister’s unfinished basement, giving the siblings a chance to work through some troubled family history.

> 104 Cheney Road, Dorset, Vermont, 802-867-2223,

FREE! Romeo and Juliet — July 19-August 6

Shakespeare’s immortal tale of star-crossed lovers has inspired operas, ballets, parodies, a classic musical (West Side Story), and movie versions by directors as different as Franco Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrmann. Now here’s your chance to see the play itself, outdoors and set in New Orleans, as part of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s Shakespeare on the Common.

> Boston Common, 617-426-0863,

By Malcolm Gay

Listen Hear: The Art of Sound — March 8-September 5

The Gardner Museum has long taken an expansive view of the arts, embracing everything from sculpture and painting to flowers, fabrics, furniture, and books. Now it reminds us that music is not the only aural art, presenting 10 site-specific sound-art installations across the museum and in nearby neighborhoods. Featuring the work of 12 artists and architects from around the world, this show promises to change our sense of art.

> 25 Evans Way, Boston, 617-566-1401,

Highest Heaven: Spanish and Portuguese Colonial Art From the Collection of Roberta and Richard Huber — March 11-July 9

Among the most potent tools the Spanish Empire had to impose its worldview on the New World was religious art, which transcended language to articulate a faith and social order. Art’s role in the expansion of Catholicism in the Altiplano, or high plains, of South America in the 17th and 18th century is the subject of this Worcester Art Museum show, which includes more than 100 pieces — including sculptures, paintings, ivories, works in silver, and furniture — by artists well known and obscure.

> 55 Salisbury Street, Worcester,

FREE! Art on the Marquee — March 16-April 17

See eight new digital artworks play out on the massive three-sided, seven-screened, 80-foot-tall marquee at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. This canvas makes for art on a most public scale. Among the artists will be Clara Wainwright, First Night founder, still trying new things at age 80.

> 415 Summer Street, Boston,

Botticelli and the Search for the Divine — April 15-July 9,

More than five centuries after his death, Sandro Botticelli is most closely associated with his painting Birth of Venus, which remains one of the most recognizable works of the Italian Renaissance. But as the world around Botticelli changed, so did the artist’s work, moving from the sensual to the severe. Visitors can explore his artistic evolution in this MFA show, the largest Botticelli exhibition ever to be presented in the United States — which includes everything from Venus (but not that Venus) to the Virgin.

> 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston,

Nari Ward: Sun Splashed — April 26-September 4

In February, contemporary artist Nari Ward was awarded a $100,000 Vilcek Prize in fine arts for his work in sculpture, photography, collage, and other media to create large-scale installations. Now the Jamaican-born Ward is getting a close-up in this mid-career survey, which presents roughly 43 works — made from shoelaces, shopping carts, oil barrels, and stroller wheels, among other objects — to explore issues of migration, naturalization, the legal system, and racial identity.

> 25 Harbor Shore Drive, Boston,

Mass MoCA: Building 6 — Opening May 28

Where to begin? When the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art finally unveils its renovated Building 6, the North Adams museum will be ushering in a new era in contemporary art in the state. The building not only adds some 120,000 square feet of usable space to the museum’s 16-acre campus, doubling its gallery area, but will also include a series of long-term installations by heavyweights Robert Rauschenberg, James Turrell, Jenny Holzer, Louise Bourgeois, and Laurie Anderson.

> 1040 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams,

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This article has been updated to correct the dates of the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival. It’s being held August 5-6.