Opening on a 'Hi' note at HiLo North Adams

HiLo North Adams brings nationally touring acts to Berkshires

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NORTH ADAMS — NeeNee Rushie looked quizzically at the crowd dancing in front of her. The singer had just taken the stage with the rest of The Big Takeover on HiLo North Adams' official opening night, and though the Hudson Valley-based band had begun to offer a sample of the Jamaican pop-inspired songs it would play that night, its members were merely in preparation mode.

This is just soundcheck, Rushie informed the swaying spectators, eliciting some apologetic laughter.

Music enthusiasts and other night owls can be forgiven for being overzealous when it comes to HiLo, the new bar and performance space that opened Sept. 6 after some well-attended "soft opening" shows. The Union Street establishment has already attracted more than a handful of nationally touring musical acts, helping fill an expanse in the North Adams live music landscape between the city's locally rooted performances and internationally-known concerts at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. The venue will debut its monthly comedy nights with an 8 p.m. Monroe Martin show Thursday.

"We've definitely had more people at events than expected," HiLo co-owner Brian Miksic said.

Thus far, acts such as Francesca Blanchard, Oshima Brothers and Seratones have visited the venue, which can fit roughly 200 people standing and about 100 sitting in its music area. The Alchemystics and The Quins play Friday and Saturday nights, respectively, and Peter Mulvey, Habibi and Misty Blues are all on the October slate.

"I'm really just trying to be super diverse," booking agent Jennifer Crowell said of the club's initial genre and act choices.

A veteran of the Burlington, Vt., music scene, Crowell drew from her agency contacts to start landing acts. She would ask her connections about which of their clients would be coming through the region that fall. Though radius clauses — for instance, a band playing in Northampton one night might not be able to play as close as North Adams the next — and the "numbers game" can be hurdles sometimes, Crowell has found that North Adams appeals to a wide range of musicians.

"We're very well-routed here," the Williamstown resident said, noting North Adams' proximity to New York City, Boston, Burlington and Montreal.

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For example, this summer, she noticed that Seratones had a "hole" between gigs in Boston and Montreal. So, she reached out to the group about stopping in North Adams along the way. The rockers played HiLo on Sept. 11.

"You kind of have to be watching," Crowell said of bands' tour schedules.

For Miksic, it's important that shows are "for all ages." Early audiences have reflected that generational diversity, he said. A pleasant surprise has been the range of audience members' geographic origins. Through online ticketing, Miksic knows that ticket-buyers have hailed from as far as 300 miles from the venue. At the same time, North Adams, Pittsfield and Bennington, Vt., residents have been well-represented, and not just on show nights. The bar is open daily from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., with Tres Ninos serving up Mexican fare until 11.

"We knew it wasn't possible to have music seven days a week," Miksic said.

Located in a corner opposite the stage, the bar will look familiar to those who have been inside Pittsfield's Thistle & Mirth. Joad Bowman, an owner of Thistle, is operating the venue. On the bar's back wall, a rotating lineup of beers and ciders on tap and in cans are presented in chalk. Though they're likely to change often, those beers are often slotted; in other words, if you like IPAs, there will always be at least one there to try. Cocktails and wine are also available.

"Joad Bowman excels at putting beer and drink lists together," Miksic said.

Cafe seating can be found in a room next to the stage, a pairing that underscores the transformation HiLo undergoes on nights without shows.

"It turns into your neighborhood tavern," Miksic said.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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