You’ve got your schedule. You’ve got your books. You’re settled in your dorm room. Now, what are you going to listen to? Whether you’re from the area or brand new, one thing you should know about the Pioneer Valley is that it is bursting with great music and opportunities to see it. Amherst and Hadley don’t have much for traditional venues — it’s mostly DIY bands playing underground shows at homes with nicknames like TubeCat and The Asbestos Farm. (Want to know more? Ask a punk or consult the WMass DIY Calendar posted at your coffee shop and wmassdiycalendar.blogspot.com.) Venturing further out you’ll find some exciting live music venues — with public addresses. Below are some places to check out during your time here.
The alley-like Pearl Street in Northampton, right up against the railroad tracks, is the home of Sierra Grille. In February, the restaurant revived an old music series Re-Animate The Baystate — $3 shows every Thursday with three bands generally from the area (every so often touring bands will perform). The show goes from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. The Advocate’s live music reviewer Valley Show Girl Jennifer Levesque paid this series a visit in April to see Holyoke-based Hot Dirt — a band definitely worth checking out. They are wildly heavy with a touch of funk/jazz and some hardcore/punk, and have weird, awesome lyrics like “Did you know that Danny Devito is 6-foot-2.” Sierra Grille serves classy foods and has great beer and wine selections.
If it’s the underground metal scene you crave, you have to go up in the air — to the 13th Floor Music Lounge in Florence. The venue is actually on the second floor, directly above JJ’s Tavern. The bookers for this venue, Promotorhead Entertainment, get bands with loud, distorted electric guitars, crashing drums, doom-laced lyrics … at least usually. Check out their Facebook page for what shows — which typically cost $10-$15 — are coming up next. The Valley is home to a flourishing metal scene. Problem with Dragons, based in Easthampton, are local stand-outs, describing themselves as having “fuzz-laden stoner-rock riffs, sludge-filled bass, droning doom-metal vocals, and science fiction based lyrics.”
A jazz fan? New City Brewery offers free, all-ages jazz shows on Thursday nights with local New Orleans-style jazz keyboardist and composer Khalif Neville. He and a rotating cadre of jazz musicians hold court at the Easthampton brewery every week starting at 7 p.m. The brewery is on the backside of an old factory building with exposed beams, pulleys and brick walls. Neville’s jazz roots run deep — his father, Charles Neville, is a legend — and it mixes well with the New City Brewery atmosphere.
Maybe folksy music is more your scene. The Parlor Room in Northampton, next to the popular Woodstar Cafe, on Masonic Street, generally gets booked by Signature Sounds, which records singer-songwriters, folk, Americana and roots music. The Parlor Room is a bit tight, but it’s a great listening room and a venue you can see acts like Erin McKeown, David Wax Museum, and many up-and-coming local musicians. Signature Sounds also books acts at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke and other venues. Both places typically charge $10-$18 for admission.
Luthier’s Co-op, 108 Cottage St. in Easthampton, sells used and vintage instruments and hosts a lot of live shows. On Tuesday and Wednesday there’s some chill open mics, Thursday is for bluegrass, and about three acts are booked each Friday and Saturday. This is a small venue where people come to really hear the music. If you’re talking too much, you will get shooshed! All shows are free, but tipping the bands is encouraged.
Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield has a wide variety of acts often on the same night with a very reasonable price point (often $8 to $10) — music and stage. This place is four floors of performing space.
The decade-old Rendezvous, 78 Third St., Turners Falls, has Sunday karaoke and no-cover shows most Fridays and Saturdays. There are some weekday shows, too.
Contra dances are great places to hear live, local music, but you’ve got to move to it. Most Wednesdays at the Masonic Hall, 99 Main St., Amherst there’s a dance with live music. They’re also up in Greenfield at the Guiding Star Grange, 401 Chapman St., every Saturday and almost every Friday. No partner or experience necessary. They’re both $10 (less for students).
Then there’s the Iron Horse Entertainment Group — owners of the Iron Horse, The Basement, Pearl Street, Mountain Park, and the Calvin Theatre. The acts at these places aren’t always local, but they do draw in excellent national and international touring acts. Each venue has its own charm and price tag. Starting from least expensive and going up to most: The Basement, Pearl Street, Iron Horse, Mountain Park, Calvin Theatre.
The Bing Arts Center in Springfield is bangin’. First a gas station, then a theatre, the Bing was taken by the city for non-payment of taxes in 1999. Now it is dedicated to offering relatively inexpensive shows including musical and spoken word performances as well as film screenings. Often, student tickets are just $5. The Bing is at 716 Sumner Ave., Springfield.
If you want to head north, Whetstone Station up in Brattleboro, Vermont, has great food and does live music every Thursday and Sunday. It’s got a relaxed ambiance and is situated right on the Connecticut River. There’s plenty of space to get up and dance in front of the bands. Whetstone is at 36 Bridge St., Brattleboro, right next to the train stop. The shows are often free.
And as for local bands, the Advocate runs a weekly feature called Sessions where we host mini-concerts and release videos of local talent. Check out our video library at sessions.valleyadvocate.com. If you see someone good we should check out. Send them our way!