The beginnings of Belleville Roots
The Belleville Roots Music Series has been bringing top-quality roots music to Greater Newburyport since 2011. But the Series had its origin several years earlier, in the fall of 2005, when Doyle Lawson approached founding Rounder Records partner Ken Irwin and asked him if he knew of a place in the area where his bluegrass and gospel group Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver might perform. After checking around without success, Ken offered that he and his wife, Donna Wilson Irwin, would put on the concert themselves. They approached the Belleville Church two doors down and secured space for the event, and the concert was held on February 26, 2006.
Fast forward several years. Ken and Donna had a chance meeting with Ross Varney, pastor of the Belleville Church, who asked if they might be interested in promoting musical events to help raise funds for church maintenance and renovations. The Irwins agreed to be part of a committee that would promote concerts in the Church's beautiful, yet underutilized, acoustical spaces. Pastor Varney found initial organizing talent in Maria Niswonger and several others from the church community, and Ken shared his wealth of roots music experience and contacts with the committee. Ken and Donna offered lodging and meals to the performers at their bed and breakfast near the Belleville Church. Belleville Roots' first concert, C.J. Chenier for Mardi Gras in 2011, was so successful that music lovers from the community in attendance began volunteering to help.
Belleville Roots Music Series has experienced significant growth since that initial concert in 2011 and is now a fixture on the Newburyport cultural scene, all the while remaining true to its own roots. The Series helps to build community through music while it helps maintain and preserve the historic Belleville Church by bringing a diverse range of nationally- and internationally-known roots artists to Newburyport.