Woody's Roadhouse Reunion: Getting the bands back together

In the 1970s, if you wanted to go see live music in the Berkshires, Woody's Roadhouse on Route 9 in Washington was the happening place to go. The club closed in 1997, but its spirit will take the stage at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield in the form of several of the venue's most popular bands of the era.

Woody's Roadhouse regulars Fat, the Zarvis Allen Band, and Burnt Bacon and the Home Fries will relive the magic of the 1970s on Saturday, Oct. 28, along with The Spampinato Brothers Band, featuring brothers Joey and Johnny Spampinato, both members of NRBQ, who frequented Woody's stage. This is the second time Woody's has inspired a reunion concert, the first was held in 2012.

Musician and booking agent Vinnie Brandi put both shows together and has fond memories of his days as a patron at Woody's. Known as the Maple View Ballroom in the 1920s, the Route 9 building in Washington was purchased in 1971 by Pittsfield resident Woodrow Witter and renamed Woody's House of Washington and later rechristened Woody's Roadhouse. Performers like Jonathan Edwards, Tom Rush and the Cars frequented the stage, usually as a springboard to becoming a national act.

"I saw NRBQ, Fat, David Bromberg, The Stompers, John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, The Outlaws, Commander Cody, Bonnie Raitt, Orleans, Foghat," Brandi said. "It was endless. It was a different era."

Dalton band Burnt Bacon and the Home Fries were regulars at the club, specializing in original country rock-boogie music for dancing. The band was together for about seven years and they played Woody's during their entire run, after which they morphed into a band called Shake And Bake that continued for another 20 years. Dave Bacon still plays around and remembers the roadhouse as an exciting place.

"Woody was great because he was a very innovative guy and he brought in good music, and he was very energetic," Bacon said. "He made things happen."

Bacon points out that Woody's was part of a network of music venues back in the '70s and early '80s that provided area bands with constant employment.

"There was always a ton of places to work, you'd set up on Thursday and you'd leave on Monday," he said.

Peter Newland, who fronted Woody's regulars Fat, describes the roadhouse as part of a support system that defined the music scene in the 1970s and made the opportunities for live, original music so plentiful.

"Back in those days, if Woody put three or four hundred people in that place and it was a $7 cover charge, we'd walk out of there with enough money to pay our bills and to eat and maybe to buy some recording time," Newland said. "The big piece that's lost on a lot of people is that there was a thriving scene, which meant that, first of all, a lot of people liked music and they came to hear it and they paid for it, and so bands were able to support themselves."

Newland remembers seeing area bands like Shenandoah, lead by Arlo Guthrie, and Good Friend Coyote, which featured Bev Rohlehr. He also remembers the night Rory Block played and finished the evening by signing with Chrysalis Records.

"That to me was kind of the really interesting nature of Woody's," Newland said. "Yeah, it was in the middle of nowhere, it was down-home, it was country, but there was a very creative energy about the place and there were some really significant things that happened there."

Newland's band Fat came out of Pioneer Valley (they still perform) and was eventually signed to Atlantic Records, who put out the band's first album. The band toured with the Allman Brothers and were a sure-fire sell-out for the Roadhouse. The vibe the place created still resonates with people who were there and they look to it as a symbol of an era that is long gone and probably can't be recaptured. To those who weren't there, it can sound a little wild.

"The venue was just a hotbed for live music back in the day," Brandi said. "You don't really find venues like that around anymore, where it was in a small town on a rural road, and you'd drive out to the middle of nowhere and all of a sudden there'd be hundreds of people jammed into this roadhouse."

"It was definitely a younger crowd," Bacon said. "The drinking age back then was 18, so the place was packed. It was a different world then. There weren't any drinking and driving laws, so everybody was driving around. It was totally different."

Newland's fondest memory of Woody's didn't involve the crowds, though — just a communal experience within the club. His band, Fat, signed with Atlantic and prior to recording the album, the producer wanted the band to go through a pre-production process to finalize the songs and decide which of them would end up on the album. Woody's hosted that for Fat.

"This was during the week, so there was no one there. We just went in and took over the club, and did our pre-production process there," Newland said. "It was an amazing time and memory for me, and then one of those nights there was a blizzard, so we were stuck there until they plowed the roads in the morning. We just jammed and partied all night long."

If you go

What: Woody's Road House Reunion II

When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 28

Where: The Colonial Theatre, 111 South St., Pittsfield

Cost: $35, $45

Information: berkshiretheatregroup.org


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