The Massachusetts Walking Tour -- this year highlighting the local area's Ten Mile River Watershed -- runs June 17 through 29. All on foot, the traveling musicians give a free concert in each community they stop at and host daily community hikes to bring awareness to local natural resources. In each town, they invite local performers to share the stage with them, promoting local arts and culture in the process.
Like traveling minstrels of old, songwriters Mark Mandeville and Raianne Richards are getting ready to pack up their instruments and other gear and take their show on the road.
The pair is marking the 10th year of their Massachusetts Walking Tour - this year highlighting the region's Ten Mile River Watershed.
The tour, which runs from Monday through June 29, is all on foot, with musicians giving free concerts in each community they stop at and hosting daily community hikes to bring awareness to local natural resources. In each town, they invite local performers to share the stage with them, promoting local arts and culture in the process.
"Initially, the idea of a 'human-powered tour' was a way to combat gas prices, which were almost $4 a gallon back around 2010 when we started," the Webster-based musicians said in a joint email. "A friend of ours did a tour by canoe from Buffalo, New York to New York City, New York on the Erie Canal and Hudson River, paddling about 25 miles per day and performing concerts in towns along the river."
The two pitched the idea of a walking tour, and thus was born the Massachusetts Walking Tour.
Helping them with their local hiking routes and stop-overs this year is Bellingham resident Marjorie Turner Hollman, known for her series of books, "Easy Walks in Massachusetts."
When Turner Hollman met the duo at a trails conference in 2017, it was like a match made in heaven.
"Mark and Raianne were doing a workshop about their work with the Massachusetts Walking Tour and they did some music. I went to them and said 'we need to work together.' I handed them a copy of my first book," Turner Hollman recalled.
They recognized it would be a great match up, and before long they all began the long process of planning for the 10-year tour anniversary through the Ten Mile River Shed.
Turner Hollman said the tour is great fun.
"They put together sets of local musicians and at every concert, the first hour is different because it's all local musicians," she said.
The folk coffeehouse-style concerts are held from 6-8 p.m. at each stop. This year the tour begins Monday with the kick-off performance at the Holliston Public Library.
Each day after, the show goes onto a different stage. On Tuesday the tour - which also includes performers Vito Caccavelli, Amy Alvey and Mark Kilianski - will stop at the Millis Public Library. Other stops include the Federated Church of Norfolk on Wednesday, the Boyden Library in Foxborough on Thursday, the South Common in Mansfield on June 21, LL Bean in Mansfield on June 22, the Wrentham Senior Center on June 23, Telford Park in Plainville on June 24, the First Congregational Church in North Attleborough on June 26, the Attleboro Public Library on June 26, Seekonk Meadows in Seekonk on June 28 and Christ Church in Swansea on June 29.
The June 22 stop at LL Bean, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., will include a special appearance by Turner Hollman, who will be on hand to sign copies of the "Easy Walks" books at the store, which she is excited to say will be offering her books for sale going forward.
Mandeville, Richards and their fellow musicians are getting to be old hands at the minstrel life. But it wasn't always like that.
"Our first year we were very inexperienced at everything: The hiking, promotion, etc, but we somehow walked from Becket, Massachusetts, in the Berkshires all the way to Boston - 161 miles, mostly on Rte. 20 and Rte. 9," they revealed.
Their second show on the tour was in a town that had not had a concert in 20 years, they said.
"That was a big motivator for us to continue. Then our second year in we hiked along the Mid-state Trail instead of doing all road walking and we realized what a great partnership it was to work with a trail," they explained. "Our promotional efforts brought them some much deserved recognition for the hard work of keeping the trail open and brought awareness to what a valuable resource a trail can be within a community -- especially when used for something as cool as what we were doing."
From then on they have used trail systems whenever possible and "helped forge connections between the outdoor enthusiast community and the artistic community" -- something that couldn't please Turner Hollman more.
All of the trails the musicians are hosting walks at this year are featured in the local author's books, and LL Bean is sponsoring a guided walk in Wrentham at Knuckup Hill as part of the event on June 23. Anyone interested in joining that walk can go to the L.L. Bean Mansfield site and sign up using the events calendar.
The two say the most rewarding part of their effort is "seeing the joy in someone's eyes when they stop us along our walk to find out what we are doing walking around with these big packs and instruments.
"Also getting to create an appreciative listening audience and the opportunity for local people to perform and share their music and art right in their community," they said.
Organizing a tour of such magnitude has its challenges, including "establishing a route which attempts to include a contiguous series of trail systems, collaborating with venues appropriate for an all ages community concert, promoting an original event in unfamiliar towns, writing grants and seeking to fulfill a modest budget.
"We do our best each year to draw from our experiences as professional musicians, teachers and community organizers to create a tour which will help as many people as possible. We are a staff of two people," they said.
Since they began, they said, "we've been lucky enough to work alongside larger organizations such as the Appalachian Mountain Club, National Park Service, Freedoms Way or with authors like Marjorie Turner Hollman."
"These folks recognize the value in our partnership and help us establish routes which highlight properties deserved of public attention," they remarked. "After that first year walking primarily on asphalt, trails have become our main focus."
That, and promoting the local artists.
"Every community should value those who endeavor to create a better place for us to live - and we'd just like to recognize their efforts and celebrate their talents, if only for one evening in the summer," they said.
The concerts are funded in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, private donors and cooperating venues. In 2017, the MWT was recognized in the congressional record by Sen. Ed Markey for a dedication toward community service.
For more information, visit www.masswalkingtour.org.