Down County Social Club: A hidden secret with a welcoming vibe
Sheffield — The Down County Social Club is one of the more subtle must-attend music venues in the Berkshires, nestled in the basement of an over 200-year-old farmhouse and wrapped in casual, bohemian intimacy that has evolved into something perhaps more exotic, but still cozy and mysterious.
The club is part of the Stagecoach Tavern and its eight-year history reveals what club hosts Casey Rothstein-Fitzpatrick and Heather Fisch describe as a reboot, keeping all the elements that have made it so beloved by patrons, but taking it to a new level as well, physically and spiritually.
"It's totally eclectic," said Rothstein-Fitzpatrick. "We can go everywhere. It's a very intimate musical enjoyment experience."
The reboot began a year and a half ago with renovations, specifically a new paint job and a relocation of the bar outside of the performance space and into the back room to give people not only more room to enjoy the music, but also a more contained space to hang out and chat. And decor has followed in turn.
"It kind of has an 'I'm in a genie's lamp' type of vibe right now," Fisch said. "It started out as a super-danky hobo flophouse situation with some rusty cans as decor. Now it's pretty nice in there."
The club has also begun offering food and has created an auxiliary menu to the one from the restaurant upstairs. Open mic nights and karaoke nights have been added, as well as a popular gathering that lets the audience share their favorite YouTube videos with each other. And the Thursday night concert has returned after a hiatus with the same unusual mix of performers as ever.
Upcoming this summer are Cambridge swamp rockers The Clippertones on June 8, Berkshire ukulele iconoclast Francesca Shanks on June 22, genre-bending Maine folkies GoldenOak on June 29, and haunting Canadian roots duo Mama's Broke on July 6.
The reboot has also provided an opportunity for Fisch's full-time return to the club, after some absence. It was Fisch who started the club back in 2008, after a spell of running speakeasies out of her own home and friends' homes.
"I had moved into an apartment that historically had been a bar and then it was all sectioned off and made into apartments," said Fisch. "My apartment was a one-room apartment that had a big bar in it and that was my kitchen. I was like, I should have a bar night and invite my friends and we can all play chess and hang out at my bar. That's how it all started."
This blossomed into recurring events featuring local music and tapas, which spurred Fisch to find a space to make it more legitimate. She was introduced to Rothstein's father David Rothstein, who told her about the basement space under his Stagecoach Tavern, and the Down County Social Club was born.
"Over the years it's morphed and found different physical manifestations, different ways of organizing itself, but it's kept a lot of the same vibe," said Fisch.
Fisch ran the club alone until Rothstein-Fitzpatrick returned home in 2012 and he took over duties, with Fisch slowly backing off. In this new incarnation, the two split booking and hosting duties, working together on the concepts and offerings.
"The big change is how we are providing a fuller service experience," said Fisch. "I'll be there as an active host introducing people to each other and creating a really lively social situation down there, which is something that has been absent."
Fisch explains that the "social club" part of the name was much more literal at one time, meaning that part of the experience was that you could expect to meet new people thanks to Fisch working the crowd and making sure that no one remained lonely. That aspect of the club is returning in a big way.
"The idea with the social club is that you show up and someone asks you what your name is and they introduce you to people who are there, like you become invited into the social scene in a very intentional way," Fisch said. "The whole vibe of the room has a real strong community vibe and at each it could be full of completely different people, but it's what comes together and alchemizes each night, becoming different because of who's there and who's bringing their personal individualized flair."
And Fisch says there are also wisps of the supernatural in place, with special magic ingredients in food, the claim of ghostly presences and a planned Wizard's Congress this summer, a meet-and-greet for local wizards and other magical folks in the Berkshires.
These are all garnishes to the club's traditional draw, an interesting mix of musical acts garnered from personal friendships and word of mouth, making the club an almost hidden secret attracting bands that might not otherwise come to the Berkshires, in many ways hearkening back to Fisch's speakeasy days.
"We want to cultivate a community of people with an awareness of what's happening so that people can just show up and trust and feel good that they're going to be wowed and have an amazing time," said Rothstein-Fitzpatrick. "And not just with the enjoyment of the musical offering, but also in the enjoyment of the community that surrounds it."
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