The significance of a strong local music scene is often overlooked, but is no less important than eating locally grown food, buying locally made goods, and shopping at locally owned stores. It helps stimulate our local economy, helps our neighbors sustain themselves financially, and cultivates a thriving artistic community from which our lives are enriched. It also provides a necessary training ground for aspiring musicians to hone their skills so they can reach new heights with their talents.
At the basis of any healthy music scene is a network of live venues that support independent, original music. Here in the tri-state area we are lucky to have two phenomenal music venues that support such acts – Club Helsinki Hudson and Infinity Hall in Norfolk, CT. Both offer a diverse lineup of programming with ticket prices that are for the most part affordable, particularly Club Helsinki. When Club Helsinki closed the doors to its Great Barrington location, a void was created. As the only in-town venue offering original and eclectic music, many local musicians and songwriters were left without a home to perform their art and fine-tune their craft. But in the past year there has been a much needed and much welcomed shift in that pendulum. Three venues may just have the goods to turn things around.
It wouldn’t be fair or accurate to categorize The Dreamaway Lodge in Becket, MA (www.thedreamawaylodge.com) as a newcomer to the scene. In fact, they’ve been making music in the 200 year old farm house perched on the hill at the edge of October Mountain State Forest for more than 90 years. The Dreamaway is a living legend here in the Berkshires, thanks in no small part to the 1975 visitation by Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg and the Rolling Thunder Review, which appeared in Dylan's epic film Renaldo and Clara. But it was Daniel Osman’s 1997 purchase of the place that has helped catapult the Dreamaway into a breeding ground for indie talent, especially local. Building upon the fanatical weekly open jam / song circles that previous owner and Dreamaway Founder Mama Maria Frasca hosted, Daniel has expanded the music at the Lodge to every weekend year round with most Thursdays and Sundays added during the summer.
The Brick House Pub (www.brickhousema.com) in Housatonic, MA has been hosting original live music since before it was called the Brick House, but recent renovations have put the music front and center. Under the new ownership of John Flynn and Leland Kent, the Brick House boasts an enlarged stage, new house PA, and an opened up room that allows for better sightlines and dancing. It is a vast improvement over the old layout and is testament to the greater emphasis the new owners are placing on live music. At a recent Brown Bird / Devil Makes Three show, the place was packed and the walls were shaking. It was not your typical Berkshire scene, embodying more the spirit and energy of a Northampton show. The addition of Matt Blodgett to handle the bookings for the Brick House is the icing on the cake. Matt is clearly focused on booking original local, regional, and national acts with the intent to not only provide excellent, up and coming bands but to put the Brick House on the map as a sought after venue for artists.
In little more than a year, The Gypsy Joynt (www.gypsyjoyntcafe.net) in Great Barrington, MA has taken the Berkshires by storm. A wildly popular place to eat, the Joynt began hosting live music immediately after opening for business. The Gypsy Joynt is all about family. It is family-friendly (with all ages shows), has a family-like atmosphere, and is run by the Weller family, recent transplants from North Carolina. Keith and Lori’s son Jordan, a gifted singer-songwriter and musician, organizes the most popular open mic in the Berkshires on Wednesday nights and handles the booking for the café. The Joynt has hosted a wide array of national, regional, and local acts. This past May, the Joynt moved from its original location on the north side of town to downtown, taking over the old Napa space and providing the kind of laid back and friendly boho vibe Great Barrington desperately needs more of.
We are lucky to have these three fine venues, but the only way they can continue to support original, live, local music is if you support them. In part two of this series, we will take a look at ways in which you can contribute to a thriving and sustainable local music scene. In the meantime, go see a live show.
Todd Mack is a writer, musician, and producer, and owner of the Off the Beat-n-Track recording studio in Sheffield, MA. He is also the founder and executive director of Music in Common, a non-profit organization whose mission is to strengthen, empower, and educate communities through the universal language of music. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.