Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Boost for Framingham's Business Reputation

Area Development Magazine
Framingham got some nice press recently from Area Development Magazine, which is focused on covering the business topics of company site selection and relocation. The article noted that "Framingham is a thriving, diverse community that is frequently recognized for its high quality of life and well educated work force," and is home to the corporate headquarters of well-known firms such as TJX, Staples, Cumberland Farms/Gulf, and Bose Corporation.

The town was ranked ninth overall nationwide for economic and job growth, and eleventh in the category of small cities. You can read the entire article here.

And today's Metro West Daily News published an op-ed piece by MetroWest Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Bonnie Biocchi, praising the efforts of the Board of Selectmen, the Planning Board, and Town Manager Bob Halpin to make Framingham "business-ready". Key steps that were cited include the town's use of the Economic Development Self-Assessment Tool developed by Northeastern University's Center for Urban Policy and Planning, the recent BOS vote to decrease the commercial tax rate, and the article approved by Town Meeting and sponsored by the BOS and Planning Board to adopt the state's Chapter 43D, which streamlines the permitting process and guarantees decisions on priority development sites within 180 days.

While Framingham already leads the region in jobs and payroll, the recognition from a leading business publication and the recent actions by town officials point to an even brighter future for our town as a business hub.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Marathon Week

It's been a week with so many highs and lows. Being a town on the Boston Marathon route has always given Framingham a special bond to this famed race, and when the tragic bombings occurred at the finish line, it felt to me in some way very personal. I wondered if any of the people I had watched and cheered for as they ran through downtown Framingham were among the injured.

It began as a beautiful spring day. Framingham Downtown Renaissance, with its irrepressible executive director Holli Andrews, teamed up with Framingham State University to produce Marathon Fest 2013, an event that made what's normally one of the most festive days downtown all year even more special, with music, food, and other activities like sign-making to help cheer on the runners. I spent the morning walking up and down the race route on Waverly Street, taking photos, greeting friends, cheering for the runners, and smiling at how this day brought together so many of the distinctive groups of people that make up Framingham.  And it was fitting, I thought, that this diverse town was heartily welcoming the thousands of runners that streamed past, who represented so many different parts of the world, and so many walks of life.

The bombings at the finish line shocked and saddened us all, but Framingham wiped away its tears quickly and responded with compassion. Our local microbrewery, Jack's Abby Brewing, with little more than their Facebook page and sheer determination, held an amazing beer tasting fundraiser just two days after the marathon for victims of the bombing, at The Tavern on Irving Street. The line to get in stretched out the door, as people from Framingham, all over Metrowest, and beyond, packed the pub to sample beers donated by 25 different breweries from all over New England. When the last pint had been tapped, over $8,000 had been raised for One Fund Boston, the principal charity that was established to raise money for the victims in the wake of the tragedy.

And the next evening, Thursday, hundreds of town residents showed up outside the Memorial Building, a short walk from the marathon route, for a candlelight vigil, one of the many held in the Boston area and in other cities and towns across the country.

On Friday, the tension ran high as one of the suspected bombers was killed in a firefight with law enforcement, and a manhunt and lockdown at an unprecedented level in the Boston area ensued until the second suspect was apprehended in the early evening.

So while this has been a roller coaster of a week emotionally, it is ending with healing already underway because of the selflessness and compassion of so many people, and a sense of justice because the perpetrators were tracked down and captured so quickly.

And next Patriots' Day, you'll find me downtown again, clapping and yelling even louder as the runners pass through Framingham.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Rousing Music For a Good Cause

Is it possible to go to see an Irish band and not find yourself singing along after a few songs? Is it the rousing lyrics, the up tempo beat of the reels, the soul-stirring sounds of the instruments?

No doubt it's a bit of each. The Belfast Cowboys, led by Jerry Robinson of Framingham, has developed quite the local following in its twenty-plus years of existence, with frequent performances at popular pubs in area towns including Nobscot's Cafe` in Framingham.

For me, one of my favorite harbingers of spring is drinking a Guinness and listening to the Cowboys belt out my favorite Irish songs at Nobscot's Cafe` on Saint Patrick's Day, a gig they have had for years. Jerry handles lead vocals, guitar, and tin whistle, with Peter Larson on vocals, electric guitar, fiddle, and mandolin, Patrick Robinson, also on electric guitar, while Tom Brady holds down the bottom on bass and vocals. While the Cowboys have an overwhelmingly classic Irish set list, with old songs like The Troubles and Galway Girl, they also throw in some newer songs like Fisherman's Blues by the Waterboys, and Brown-Eyed Girl by Van Morrison, the original Belfast Cowboy, from whom the band gets their name.

While the Cowboys are consummate entertainers, their purpose goes beyond a good time. Jerry Robinson is the Massachusetts coordinator for Project Children, a non-profit organization that helps both Catholic and Protestant children from Northern Ireland spend a summer in the United States. All proceeds from the band's CD sales (available on their web site or at their performances) goes to Project Children.

The Cowboys will be playing early at Nobscot's Cafe` this Saint Patrick's Day - Sunday, March 17, from 4-8 p.m., so don't use the excuse that you need to get up early for work the next day to keep you home. See you there, for a good time, and a good cause!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Framingham's Modern Jazz Legacy

Did you know that Framingham was home to a world-famous jazz musician and composer, who is considered one of the pioneers of microtonal theory and composition? And that he had a son who grew up in town who has become a renowned jazz musician and composer as well? And finally, that a current Framingham resident is one of the leading percussionists in Latin jazz?

Joe Maneri, who died in 2009, was a working musician on saxophone and clarinet since his teen years. In 1970 he began teaching at the New England Conservatory of Music, where he led one of the few microtonal composition courses offered in the United States. Over his long career he released nineteen albums, and was considered one of the jazz avant-garde, an improviser sometimes compared to Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman.

Most of his recordings were issued in the 1990s, when he began performing in public more often, after decades of focus on teaching and composition. His music received mainstream exposure when it was featured on the soundtrack of the 2003 film American Splendor.

Joe's son Mat Maneri began studying violin at age five and was playing with his father by the age of seven. He received scholarships to the Walnut Hill School in Natick and the New England Conservatory of Music, and then went on to become a professional jazz musician, specializing in violin and viola. He began releasing records as a leader in 1996 and has taught, performed, and recorded world-wide with many of the leading names in jazz, particularly in avant-garde/free jazz circles. Here's a video of him playing a stunning solo as part of quintet Audible Geometry. Mat currently lives in Brooklyn.

The third member of Framingham's modern jazz legacy is Eguie Castrillo. A master percussionist in the Latin jazz tradition, Castrillo teaches at Berkelee School of Music in Boston and leads a 17-piece big band. He tours with Arturo Sandoval's band, and has also performed with Latin legends like Tito Puente, Ruben Blades, and Paquito D'Rivera. Castrillo began playing the timbales, a type of drum with a metal casing that originated in Cuba, as a child in Puerto Rico, and later mastered other drum types, including congas, bongos, and the bata. I met Castrillo years ago when he was playing timbales with a small Latin band at a house party of a musician friend, and while his playing knocked me out, I had no idea of his fame. Check out this rousing performance in one of his tributes to the Mambo Kings, and see if you can keep yourself from moving to this deep, grooving, beat.

So the next time you want to tell a friend or family member something about Framingham they probably don't know, mention these jazz legends.