Funky salon at Down County Social Club

Thursday January 12, 2012


Weather reports may not always bear much evidence, but the calendar indicates that we're headed straight toward the dead of winter. One South County gathering spot is looking to seize on this typically quiet time of year to accelerate a revival of its own.

Down County Social Club (DCSC), a funky, somewhat informal weekly event in the whimsically decorated basement of the Stagecoach Tavern here, is launching a six-week Dead of Winter dance party series beginning next Thursday, Jan. 19. (The club, which is always open to everyone, has a typical evening featuring live music tonight.)

Guiding spirit Heather Fisch, a Great Barrington-based performance artist, hopes the series will help folks shake off their winter doldrums, as well as underline the recently thriving renewal of this weekly event, which had gone dormant after she stepped aside from its first incarnation in September 2009.

"We all live in the Berkshires and by the end of the winter we're all morbidly depressed," Fisch said in a telephone interview, before letting loose a joyful cackle.

She recalled a winter night she spent dancing at a wedding, when she noticed therapeutic results.

"I thought it would be great to do that every week in the middle of winter, when it's so hard to feel alive and interact with people and move your body... I thought it would be good to build a ritual gathering based on exorcising that stagnation that happens in the middle of winter."

It's also a big move for the DCSC, which was dubbed the Down County Revival for its first months after re-launching in September. The proceedings will move upstairs for this series, to the winterized porch of the Stagecoach. It features a mixture of live music, DJs and dance instruction, with a different style of dance featured each week.

As always at DCSC, there is a very flexible suggested donation of $10. Food and drink from the Stagecoach are available.

Highlights will include an evening of Italian tarantella dance on Jan. 26, complete with live music led by Christopher Sblendorio and information about the history of the dance; a Bollywood /Bhangra-themed night with DJ Poonjami on Feb. 2; and Latin dance on Feb. 23 with live music from Lobo Loco.

Break out accordian

Along the way, there may be instructional films or slides, dance instruction, multi-media experiments, and the likelihood Fisch will break out her accordion at some point.

It fits the ethos of the club, envisioned as a sort of salon where people would come together for informal, sometimes unconventional artistic experiences. Though live music has predominated, Fisch envisions incorporating more film, spoken word, and offbeat offerings.

Not a nightclub

David Rothstein, owner of the Stagecoach and formerly director of the legendary Music Inn in Lenox, said he was inspired by a basement space at Wheatleigh where the Music Inn folks would sometimes have a jazz jam or cabaret. He brought in Fisch to create a similar-feeling space in the disused basement of his restaurant.

"We don't want a nightclub; we don't want a bar," he said. "We want a salon, and that's exactly what it is -- and Heather is the grande dame," he said.

After creating a must-go Thursday night scene in 2008 and 2009 -- the sort of place where the out-of-tune piano and not-quite-regulation pool table only add to its subversive charm -- Fisch shuttered the DCSC when she didn't feel the energy to battle the dismal economic picture, and also wanted to divert attention to the development of her one-woman show. (She gave her first performance last summer at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center.)

Hit-and-miss affair

It returned for a time earlier in 2011 under different curatorship, but didn't quite catch fire as before.

Since the revival, it has sometimes been a hit-and-miss affair. A 1920s-themed night saw only a handful of patrons show up for a screening of a documentary on rum running, but shortly thereafter a double bill of the Last Chance Band and The Interlopers drew a packed house.

Typically there's a mixed crowd; on that particular night, fans of The Interlopers (composed of students and current graduates of Monument Mountain Regional High School) danced alongside veterans of the original DCSC, as well as folks whose memories may have been stirred by the black and white photos of Music Inn shows that line the walls.

"It was a great opportunity. We were absolutely honored to play there. I didn't know much about it, but the vibe was actually great. For me it was one of the best vibing shows," remarked Max Weiner, bass player for The Interlopers, who said the crowd resembled the band's usual audience. "We've had little toddlers dancing at our shows and 90-year-old grandpas dancing. It's a really good feeling to see that mixed crowd."

Based on recent evidence, the momentum of this revival is growing.

Fisch said her goal is to bring together friends and encourage people to make new ones, in a space where community is prized and a sense of adventure prevails.

"The bi-fold social mission is that people who don't know each other meet each other, and people who do know each other have different things to talk about," she explained, "because they're going to a cultural event and they're seeing something that they wouldn't normally see in the Berkshires, and they have a whole other level to connect on."

What: Down County Social Club

Where: Basement of the Stagecoach Tavern, 864 South Undermountain Road (Route 41), Sheffield.

Hours: Thursdays, 8 to 11 p.m.

Cover: $10 suggested donation, flexible.

Special: Dead of Winter dance series on The Porch at Stagecoach Tavern, weekly Jan. 19. through Feb. 23


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