Layla Burke Hastings wrote a great feature story about us for the Eagle Times: “Stage 33 Live provides opportunities for local, regional artists.” It was published literally two days before our first Covid-nixed show more than a year ago. We’re pasting it here with some light edits for accuracy and to bring it up to date, and we’ve also added annotations.
BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. — A brief, two-minute walk from downtown, Stage 33 Live is an intimate listening room with the echoes of industrial architecture and an incomparable natural acoustic sound that attracts music lovers from all over New England.
Just an idea in 2016, the prospect of establishing a place for musicians in Bellows Falls took on a life of its own with donations and a group of loyal volunteers, according to founder Mark Piepkorn.
“We let the room define itself,” Piepkorn said. “We are a grassroots, local-level and volunteer-run venue.”
The open space, which neighbors the independently run Black Sheep Radio, is a total immersion into the arts with a ‘do it yourself’ message for anyone who seeks a more direct connection with local-flavor creativity.
The musicians find an acoustic reaction in this old factory that by word of mouth has developed a unique following of both performers and fans.
“It’s fulfilling in lots of ways,” Piepkorn said. “Other than the complete lack of income, I can’t find a significant downside. It helps players get appreciative ears and eyes, it brings people together for a positive experience, it helps uplift the community at large. The community largely might not realize that yet, but we’re playing a long game and the trajectory is good.”
According to Piepkorn, most shows are on Sunday evenings every three weeks from fall through spring, but sometimes the venue deviates from its schedule. March 14 [was to have been] one of those occasions. On that day, the third of four installments of The Second Saturday Synthfest will begin at 7 p.m. The event is a quirky night of sound bending, with a jazz tone and some funk and groove made from all things synthesizer.
The Synthfest was a very cool limited series that was Covidus Interruptus, and was radically different from what’s usually in the room. Videos from the first Synthfest featuring Tiny Little Ghosts, Five Before Chaos, tOOthpAAt, and a long-form group improv are up on YouTube.
The second session hasn’t been produced yet, except for Jeanette Staley’s screening of her fast-moving ‘digital graffiti’ MFA project addressing patriarchy and politics. The soundtrack is that evening’s group improvisation by Infinite Is, Five Before Chaos, tOOthpAAt, Brendan Rooney, and three mystery players who were in the audience, two of whom just happened to arrive with devices.
Ten-time award-winning artist Carolann Solebello, formerly of Red Molly, sings Americana-themed music with a tiny thread of Brooklyn sound in her voice. She said playing live at the venue was more than a fleeting memory.
“The good folks at Stage 33 Live have somehow managed to turn an industrial space into an intimate and cozy listening room — especially attractive for lyrically driven singer-songwriters like me and Joe Iadanza,” Solebello said. “Whether it’s magic, alchemy, or perhaps just the right combination of thoughtful stagecraft, expert sound engineering, and good, old-fashioned elbow grease, Mark Piepkorn and his able crew have created a space that allows audiences and performers alike to fully immerse themselves in live music. No filter. No bells and whistles. Just music. And that is a rare and beautiful thing.”
Stage 33 Live features both top indie billings and locals with warm accessibility since its official opening in 2018.
According to Piepkorn, the volunteer staff films each live show and that they are processing for live video releases on YouTube.
“I like the tech side of it, but it’s the musicians who bring the love. Performing in such an intimate setting is a really vulnerable thing, but when a performer and an audience are there for each other, really paying attention to each other, there’s a magic that happens,” he said. “It can only be hinted at on tape and film.”
Carolann Solebello and Joe Iadanza co-billed in March 2019 and they were transcendent. The chops on both of ’em, wow. Plus they really liked the room and the people in it, which is always cool. A return engagement for September 2020 was nixed by Covid, but that first show is available on YouTube — minus the warm hilarity of their between-songs patter.
Performer Carl Beverly described the venue as more than a one-shot deal megaphone for musicians.
“Stage 33 Live has been wonderful for me. I’m not a well-known songwriter, and it’s a tough job promoting yourself. I showed up one day to do a short set of three songs, not really knowing the scope of what they do. I kinda forgot about the video they did and then months later a friend said, ‘Hey, saw your video on YouTube.’ When I looked it up I was blown away with the quality, taste, and craftsmanship of what they had done,” Beverly said. “I really didn’t have the resources to create something like that on my own. Now, whenever I’m trying to get a gig at a venue, I always point them to the videos. Now they can check out what I sound like live, and with a quality audio track. I’ll be forever grateful for that… Those guys are all about promoting local musicians and songwriters like me.”
Beverly said he has a simple mission: Shoot for happiness.
“Stage 33 Live has also given me opportunities to perform. I co-headlined last September with Carl Goulet, a really great songwriter, and this October I will be opening for Fred Gillen Jr. from New York. I really appreciate their belief in my music,” Beverly said. “My goal is simple: Get my songs in front of people. For me, I don’t expect to get rich from them. I just want to make that connection. If one or two people get it, I go away a happy guy.”
Stage 33 Live is as do-it-yourself as it gets with its hidden mysteriousness.
“When enough people ‘discover’ that beautiful gem hidden on a back street in Bellows Falls, who knows. Sometimes I wonder why great live music is so overlooked. For very little money you can see some amazing artists there,” Beverly said. “Just can’t say enough about the beautiful unsung mission they’re on and the vital part they play in keeping local music alive.”
Carl Beverly ain’t no slouch himself, and deserves wider recognition. Our mission is to try to help people like him get it. The live shows are the front part, and in our opinion the best part. But the documentation has legs. At this writing, we’ve hosted and documented 150+ individual performers, presenters, and artists, and views of the online clips are on track to exceed 17,500 a few days from now.
The three-song set from January 2019 that Carl mentioned is on YouTube, and his subsequent set with Carl Goulet is about half produced and posted at this writing, but may all be there by the time you’re reading this.
The one with Fred Gillen Jr got nixed by Covid, and has been rescheduled for Mother’s Day 2022, May 8.
Hiroya Tsukamoto, acoustic jazz and folk singer from Japan living in New York, said he admires the organization for the way it naturally comes together.
“I played at Stage 33 Live for the first time last December. I didn’t know what kind of place it would be,” Tsukamoto said. “What I loved about this concert was the people who helped put the show together worked as a team. They were very nice and respectful with what I am doing and that is very important as a performer. That was the last concert of 2019 out of 100 shows I did last year and that show made my year.”
What an honor to have amazing guitarist Hiroya in the room, and to read such kind words from him. He requested a return engagement and we jumped on it… and it ended up cancelled for Covid. Undeterred, he rebooked for September 2021 and hopefully we’ll be up and running again by then — it’s still dicey.
While our mission is helping local and regional talent, also having bigger acts in the room brings attention to the project, lifting everyone’s boat.
Jan Sheehy of the Milkhouse Heaters, a punkabilly duo that hails from the Rockingham area and has a wide regional recognition, said it is one of her favorite venues because of its cozy, warm feel.
“As a listening room, Stage 33 Live is pretty unique,” Sheehy said. “The architecture of the building provides an interesting visual element, especially since the stage just sort of sits at the far end of the wide-open room and can’t be ignored. The room is lively, but the volunteers who engineer the sound know exactly how to tweak the sound system so that a performer’s sound is clear and well balanced.”
The Milkhouse Heaters will play at Stage 33 Live on Sunday, March 15, at 7 p.m.
“There is also an intimacy between the artists and the audience that is refreshing,” Sheehy said. “Because audiences are small, there isn’t a bad seat in the room.”
We don’t keep it secret that Jan and Mike — The Milkhouse Heaters — were among the earliest supporters of the Stage 33 Live concept in both word and deed, and more than once their well-timed encouragement kept the project alive before it even launched. It was lots of long lonely work then, and it still is. Lots. We knew it would be, and also knew it would be worth it… but that doesn’t mean we don’t get discouraged sometimes. This doesn’t even touch on the line of descent from them to some of our most mission-critical systems and infrastructure. They’ve been in the room in every phase of its development, both on the stage and in the audience. Suffice it to say that we like ’em quite a bit as both artists and as folks of the highest order. Can’t hardly wait to have them back on the stage.
The March 15 show Jan mentioned was a co-bill with Dan Weber that didn’t happen because of Covid. It was rescheduled for a year later, and that one also didn’t happen because of Covid. The show is back on the calendar for March 2022.
Piepkorn said there are so many reasons why he and his group of volunteers do this.
“Whenever somebody immediately and deeply understands the point of it and the value of doing it, that’s just about the best thing whenever it happens. And in particular, when touring musicians who play all over this country and others, and have a real basis for comparison, tell us we’re doing something special and doing it right, that’s super-meaningful and moving,” he said.
Every now and then that guy gets something right.