GREENFIELD, Mass. -- Meet Dan Kasnitz. Amiable and highly focused, he's a friendly force of nature who wears many hats as producer and promoter of events at The Arts Block in this town.
Currently Kasnitz is busy lining up details for the rescheduled Mardi Gras Dance Party and Benefit Saturday, March 2, at 8 p.m. at 289 Main St., site of The Arts Block's main building.
Samirah Evans and Her Handsome Devils are highlighting the festivities along with a strong supporting cast of Evelyn Harris, singer-guitarist John Sheldon of Amherst, pianist-singer Becca Byram of Turners Falls, along with singers "Moonlight" Davis and Morningstar of Erving.
"This show has all the makings of a most memorable evening," said Krasnitz, who's been with The Arts Block since last July. "Samirah and John are both very popular here. She's the hostess of our ‘Ladies and Jazz' series, which has been extremely successful."
Kasnitz, who makes his home in Brattleboro, Vt., also notes that attendees may dress up in Mardi Gras costumes, pointing out that a prize will be awarded for the best costume that night. The dance party will feature mostly uptempo music with the emphasis on Mardi Gras plus other music.
The performance will benefit Samirah Evans and her husband, Chris. After moving from New Orleans, LA to Brattleboro in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Chris and Samirah endured a chimney fire at their New England home Feb.
The dance party was originally booked for Feb. 9, but thanks to Winter Storm Nemo, it was postponed to March 2. Tickets are $12 online and $15 the night of the show. All ducats for the postponed show of Feb. 9 will be honored. For more info, including ticket purchases, please visit theartsblock.com.
Samirah, who specializes in both jazz and the blues, has toured as a headline act on four continents: Asia, Europe, plus North and South America. Evans has also shared stages with superstars such as James Brown, B. B. King, and Irma Thomas, New Orleans' Queen of Soul. In addition, Samirah and Her Handsome Devils have recently released a third CD entitled "Hot Club."
The Mardi Gras dance party is one of the varied, diverse events Kasnitz oversees at The Arts Block. Dan began his work for "The Block" when he took a gig fixing sound for Alafia, a friend's band from Brattleboro. Since then, Kasnitz has been adding duties: house engineer at the recording facilities, marketing and press relations, along with producing shows.
The Arts Block itself offers four unique venues and a recording studio
contained in two classic and beautifully restored buildings in downtown Greenfield. Developer George Arms constructed The Arms Block in 1869. Located at the crossroads in the center of town, the block was a four-story building that occupied 17,000-square feet. The complex housed a medical office, hardware and supply store, printing company, clothing store, and other enterprises.
"Fast forward to the present," said Kasnitz, "and the original building has been transformed into The Arts Block. On the street level is The Arts Block Café, our primary performance space, with a capacity of up to 445 guests.
Downstairs is the Wheelhouse, a rathskeller-style room that has more of an urban "vibe." The Wheelhouse can accommodate up to 110. The Fourth Floor at the Arts Block, recently opened, features great views of Greenfield.
The fourth venue, the Pushkin Theater, is located across the street at 4 Federal. It's a three-story marble atrium in a restored bank building whose audience size is 120 people. "Our acoustics are similar to those at St. John the Divine in New York City," said Kasnitz.
"We have an eclectic mix," Dan added, "of musical offerings at our four sites
classical performance, jazz ensemble, rock concerts, and Americana (alternative) presentations. We also have excellent world musical groups that draw their inspiration from other countries, musical styles, and cultures. It's an amazing mix."
In addition, the Pushkin showcases a topflight art gallery and houses a recording studio. Extensive green construction techniques are emphasized in both buildings, such as geothermal heating. And both edifices are totally handicapped accessible.
Dan is very proud to be right at the center of the scene. "The Arts Block," he said, "was started, quite simply, to promote the arts. That's its mission. The mission is not to make money. It's a wonderful feeling to be associated with something so culturally enriching."
Kasnitz points to emerging international artists who have performed at the block, including such notable musicians as violinist Luca Ciarla of Italy, guitarist-vocalist Walter Strauss from California, and the Henley Sisters of Ireland, folk singers extraordinaire.
"Greenfield has a strong advantage in attracting outstanding acts," said Kasnitz. "We have terrific regional artists and touring artists, on the road to Montreal, Boston, or New York, are learning we're halfway to their destinations. We're very fortunate."
Dan himself is a very talented fellow. He's a composer, vocalist, and recording engineer who plays lead, rhythm, and bass guitar, the kazoo, and keyboards. A native of Concord, Mass., Kasnitz earned a bachelor of music degree from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1986.