It’s always sad to realize that a venue cares more about making loot than the music it is featuring. Such is the case of Pearl Street Nightclub in Northampton, MA. Sadly, Pearl Street is one of the largest venues in Western Massachusetts. It is part of the Iron Horse Entertainment Group which is a conglomeration of the Calivin Theater, Iron Horse, and Mountain Park all owned by Eric Suher who has already seen a fair share of legal trouble in his short 40 years.
I went to see Jesse Dee and Ryan Montbleau. Both are acts I have seen before. I’ve seen Jesse close to a billion times and Ryan once in Vermont. Both phenomenal acts and they put on a great show Friday night. Too bad it had to be at the Pearl Street Nightclub.
As soon as I walked into the venue I was greeted by many warnings. If I used a camera the venue had a right to confiscate my equipment. When you read further, I can understand why they wouldn’t want people using cameras. The place was riddled with fire code no-nos. I don’t think I’ve ever planned my escape route during a show before. If I bought drinks for a minor I would be hog-tied and executed. Understandable.
The venue was dark, cold and loud. The first band, who’s name I couldn’t find anywhere, sounded like they could have been a good band, although the audio was so fucked up all you could hear was the drums. There were NO lights on except for five crappy stage lights. I am not exaggerating. THERE WERE NO LIGHTS ON (are you reading this Northampton fire department?) You couldn’t see the floor let alone your hand in front of your face. I decided to get a beer and was surprised to find out a bottle of Harpoon is over 6 dollars. I can understand high prices in a higher class venue but this place didn’t even have locks in the girl’s bathroom. When we bought a beer we had to ask the bartender for our change back for two beers (we gave him a 20, do the math). He laughed in our faces and said he thought it was “gratuity”. The fucked up thing is that he was serious. In all my many, many years of going to bars around the world NEVER, EVER have I witnessed such rudeness from venue staff. He wouldn’t sell us three beers at a time. Even though my friend was treating me and another friend who were all present in front of this man. His name was Jack according to the other bartender. Ugh. The bartenders were wearing sport jackets, you know like the Starter kind, because I don’t think the heat was on. The only security I saw was a teenager sitting on the risers texting on his phone all night.
Let’s talk about the music. Jesse Dee is one of my favorite acts in New England. He starts off his shows with a Sam Cooke-esque musical announcement of what is going to happen and the crowd always nestles near and starts to dance immediately. His music is classic soul. I love it. If you haven’t seen him yet, and I don’t know why you wouldn’t, please do. He tours all over the place.
Ryan Montbleau is a larger act and has quite a national following. He sits down like Tim Gearan and has a different guitar for every song it seems. I like that Montbleau has such a variety of content in his shows. His songs vary from folk-rock, to blues, to jam band style, uh, jams. The crowd loves this kid. He’s a cutie patootie and is always smiling. I noticed that both bands seemed disconnected from the audience. It’s my guess that they couldn’t see them in the soul-engulfing darkness of the club.
I left half-way through Montbleau’s set, honestly because I couldn’t take how disgusting Pearl Street was anymore. A small bottle of water is 3.50 by the way. Does this place think its Woodstock 99 or something? (I went to the hell on Earth that was Woodstock 99 and it was a far better experience compared to this dump.) I asked for a glass of tap and he gave me a plastic cup and told me to fill it up in the bathroom. I asked him if he had a sink behind the bar and the bartender said it was full of water. I probably need a tetanus shot.
I went next door to Bishop’s Lounge which is probably my favorite venue in the area, and was pleasantly surprised to see that Avi and Celia’s new project, Hey Mama, was playing. Sweet. They were amazing. I was not disappointed, and didn’t think I was going to be. Bluesy rock at its best. They actually kind of reminded me of Led Zeppelin for some reason, which is a blessed and enlightening feeling I’ve never experienced before. Bishop’s is a cozy venue with a great porch for smoking and hanging out. And you can hear the music on the porch. They have a dancing area and the staff is nice. It was a great relief to experience Hey Mama at Bishop’s after getting my wallet raped at Pearl Street.
Don’t get me wrong. Jesse Dee and Ryan Montbleau are some of the greatest musicians out of the area right now. I just felt like I was watching them on TV. Let this be a warning to you touring musicians and fans. Stay far, far away from Pearl Street Nightclub. In all my years in music and journalism I can say honestly, it is the WORST venue I have ever been to in my life. I don’t care if God resurrects Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain for some “Club 27 Revival Tour” and the only show they play is the Pearl Street Nightclub. I wouldn’t go back. Now excuse me, I have to take a shower and then get tested for Chlamydia.
On a lighter note, Hey Mama is playing Nectar’s in Burlington tonight. Now that’s an awesome venue. Get a Ridge Runner on tap for me.
— Meghan Chiampa