PITTSFIELD -- Ahhh, the new year -- a fresh opportunity to try new things, go different places and meet new people.

Last Saturday night I decided to check out some local bands I haven't heard before in a veteran venue with an old friend.

Anyone who has ever driven down Crane Avenue here knows where the GEAA golf course is. Next to it, you can't miss the billboard for its adjoining club hangout.

To some, it's The Back N9ne Bar & Grill. But to most, it's simply known as The "A," as printed on the standing beer case behind the bar.

It's a place that's open to the public, where people of all walks of life can go in and grab a beer, a bite, shoot the breeze and/or catch some live music.

I've popped in a few times over the years, and can remember each one. The first time, I was newly 21, and a friend brought me there to see a rock band. It was loud, crowded, and there were a lot of people with big hair, beyond just the band.

The second time, it was also very loud and crowded on account of being Thanksgiving Eve. It was also mostly guys. The guy friends I was with decided we'd best head elsewhere.

The third time was a year or so ago, to dance to DJ Mama. She's still there rocking the turntables, and does a darn good job.

Saturday night was my fourth visit, inspired by a recent Berkshire After Dark column.

I regularly get emails when the local blues-rock trio T-Bone Daddy plays. This New Year's Eve time, I also got an email from a band I hadn't heard before called Dys-Funktion (Dave Gigliotti on guitar, vocals; Dave Robertson doing keyboards, vocals; Greg Babich on bass, vocals; Gerry Giguere doing drums, vocals and David Jermakian on sax, percussion).

I like blues. I dig funk. So I thought, what the heck.

I arrived around 9 p.m., when the bands were scheduled to start. The parking lot was not very full and since it's hardly sit-and-wait-in-your-car weather, I walked right in.

I would've walked right past the check stand if a blonde-haired lady hadn't raised her voice saying, "Uh, if you're going to come in to listen to the bands it's $5. And your ID."

"Oh, ah, sorry. I stuttered," and fished out my ID (now a compliment as I approach age 31) and a $5 bill.

I believe they've become more vigilant about having a 21-and-up crowd since a large group of minors got in and got busted last summer, resulting in a brief suspension of their liquor license.

Still, I didn't have to wait for a hand stamp or wrist band so I walked to the bar area.

The set of taps was a disappointment: No microbrews to try. As I stood pondering what to order, I ran into Tyler Fairbank and Jeff Link, frontman and newly joined bassist respectively of T-Bone Daddy, who offered to buy me a drink.

I went with a Sam Adams on draft (delivered in a clear plastic cup).

They ordered white wine (delivered in small, but actual glass vessels) as I was introduced to their drummer, Lou Parreault.

I looked around. There were only about a dozen people there, and I was probably the youngest at that point. The guys started to play anyway.

The A has four areas: The old wood bar which is lined with stools; the area across from it, which has about a half-dozen high top tables; a recreation area with a pool table, a pair of dart boards, four televisions, a digital jukebox and some defunct video games just beyond that.

Then there is the main dance floor area, with one of the larger floors in Berkshire County, surrounded by tables.

The latter makes sense considering that the golf club often holds functions, fundraisers and family celebrations there.

I seated myself at a high-top table, where my friend, Eric, joined me around 10 p.m., just as DysFunktion was going on.

It's not the best sound quality, but it's pretty decent. It was loud, but not so loud that my friend and I risked damaging our vocal chords just to talk.

The later it got, the more populated the bar. By 11 p.m., there were close to 40 people there, and the crowd was much more diverse and definitely lively.

At one point, I counted nearly 20, mostly women, dancing away to covers of "Get Up [I Feel Like Being a] Sex Machine," by James Brown and a Red Hot Chili Peppers song I was so surprised to hear that I forgot the name of it.

During the night, some people sat and watched the bands, while others watched the rest of the Green Bay vs. Minnesota NFL game. Some college basketball and a "Resident Evil" movie marathon were on the other TVs.

When I went to buy a round of PBRs for Eric and myself ($6.50), I found the bartender to be very friendly and prompt.

Both Eric and I decided that The A is a great place to people watch and eavesdrop. It is almost certain that, if like us, you grew up or have lived in the Berkshires for a long time, you will run into someone you know.

Some things hadn't changed since my first visit, like the big hair and the occasional reveler shouting to friends "let's get drunk!"

Also, being it's winter, the place seemed a bit less crowded than summer.

Both the bands played very well, and I was particularly floored by the guy in the Patriots sweatshirt who did the James Brown-like splits move.

The A is not a place you'd want to take a first date to make a good impression, but for laid-back rock and social banter, The A's where it's at.

To reach Jenn Smith:
jsmith@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink

If you go ...

The Back N9ne Bar & Grill/The A, 303 Crane Ave. (GEAA Golf Course), Pittsfield. Opens at 1 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Closing time varies. (413) 442-3585. On Facebook: http://on.fb.me/VNtc9w.

Style: Tavern and live music venue.

Dress: Casual.

Cover: Usually $5 for live entertainment, and age 21 up.

Food: Dining in and take-out hours vary, but they do offer a range of pub appetizers, salads, burgers, pizza and sandwiches, most under $10.

Entertainment: Weekly listing is outside on the billboard. Live entertainment includes open mics, bands (mostly rock), deejays and occasional comedy shows. They often host community events and fundraisers.

Our rating: 1 mug, Run away; 2 mugs, Yawn; 3 mugs, Cheers; 4 mugs, "I'll be back"; 5 mugs, "Round's on me!"

Your rating: You can rate The A at www.berkshireeagle.com/The413.