Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center
By Cheli Mennella & Dave Noonan (some photos by Mennella, some provided by venue.)
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The vibes were palpable on May 12, when the doors opened for the grand opening of the Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center. Western Massachusetts’ newest venue was making a bold entry into the live music scene by hosting the legendary Father of Dub, the one and only lunatic genius, Lee “Scratch” Perry. Fans streamed into the recently renovated space, excitement building for the sonic ride they were about to embark upon. The international star, who is now a spry 81 years young, has been known to download his heavy transmissions in a unique style that rearranges the mind and uplifts the soul. Perry was on a sold-out US tour featuring his innovative work on the 1976 dub masterpiece, Super Ape and backed by a hybrid trio of electronic sounds and live musicians from Subatomic Sound System out of New York City. The event was poised to be an epic night and an electrifying beginning to the area’s hottest new performance space.
Located in the center of downtown Greenfield, on the corner of Main Street and Court Square, the striking, brick building is an impressive piece of architectural design and historical significance. It was purchased by Steven Goldsher, a Greenfield native who believes in the power of the arts to revitalize the cultural and economic heartbeat of a town. The building has seen a number of businesses come and go over its centuries-long existence, but the name of an 1800’s clothing store, Hawks and Reed, which was once housed there, caught Goldsher’s attention. Understanding the connection between clothing and the freedom of expression inherent in the arts, and wanting a meaningful name for the rebirth of this historic mainstay, the building was re-named the Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center.
Goldsher’s sons, Jeremy and Benjamin, have taken the reins in managing the venue’s multiple performance spaces. “Our mission is to supply music, arts, and culture to downtown Greenfield with class, humility and an eye on both youth development and economic development,” Jeremy said. “Our grandfather was born in Greenfield. Our father was born in Greenfield. We were born in Greenfield. This area means a lot to us. And we see this as an opportunity to show how creative, artistic visions can succeed in Greenfield.”
They hope Hawks & Reed will attract a whole new generation of people to town and inspire small business owners and creative visionaries to fill the town’s empty storefronts. “’A rising tide lifts all boats’ is a common phrase that a lot of young people who are coming to this area like to use,” Jeremy explained. “And we totally agree.” Indeed, the community’s support has been integral to the successful launch of the new Hawks & Reed. “We’ve been learning every step of the way. We’ve had a ton of amazing people in the community step forward to volunteer their time and offer their knowledge and skills. And without the community support we would not have gotten this far. We really want to be a space that’s open to the community and that Greenfield can take pride in.”
Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center is comprised of three unique venues. The street level main space, The Arts Block Ballroom, is a large, open, and aesthetically pleasing room. Refinished floors and two new wood bars are just some of the cosmetic changes the space has undergone. The modified stage is taller and wider, and the subs fit underneath, which allows for more people on the stage and better sound. All of the acoustics have been rewired, including a new speaker in the center, making one consistent zone across the entire floor. With the addition of sound paneling, and the employment of excellent engineers, the ballroom has become one of the best sounding rooms in Massachusetts. Additionally, all of the lighting has been updated. Color LEDs have been placed off to the side and four old cans up front light the artists perfectly, which is important to the Goldsher brothers, who both have a background in film and value the opportunity to shoot good, quality footage.
In the basement of the building music fans will find The Wheelhouse, a subterranean, brick hideaway, which has become a favorite gathering place for locals. This venue features weekly vinyl spinning, karaoke, and a rotating mix of homegrown talent. Renovations down here include a reinforced sound barrier and added acoustic paneling, which has greatly improved sound quality.
The Perch is located on the fourth floor, where the old charm of the building is evident in the exposed beams and majestic windows overlooking the town. Available for shows, events, banquets, and even weddings, it is also the current home of Silverthorne Theater Company, which is doing a two-year residency in the space. The company holds monthly performances in a number of different styles, from black box theater to cabarets.
Additionally, the Goldshers are repurposing the third floor into a collaborative workspace called Greenspace CoWork, where individuals can work privately or cooperatively. And they plan on bringing a restaurant to the main space, fully utilizing the potential of this remarkable building.
“We have a good size venue here that is able to attract bigger artists, such as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, who are nationally and world-renowned, and will draw on communities from Greenfield to Northampton, the Berkshires to Boston,” said Benjamin Goldsher. “And now there’s a train that goes to New York City once a day and, hopefully as the community builds here, they’ll add more trains and it will be easier for artists to come up from New York to western Mass. We hope this will become a get-away, where artists really want to come because they know we care about what they’re doing, and because we create an environment where they might not only be able to put on a show but also record music or collaborate.”
Along with the big name and well-known acts, Hawks & Reed is committed to showcasing local talent. Besides giving them headlining gigs, the venue pairs local bands with famed performers to give them more exposure. The Goldshers are also dedicated to accessibility. Both The Wheelhouse and Arts Block Ballroom have free events on a regular basis, so everyone can enjoy music, art, and culture without being prohibited by the cost of a ticket. “We have interesting ways of making our shows available outside of the venue,” Jeremy Goldsher added. “I try to live-stream every single show, so that even if you can’t afford to be here, you can still see a part of it.” And connections to Greenfield Community Television may provide other viewing possibilities in the future.
The Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center welcomes a diverse line-up of musical genres, from jazz, folk, rock, and blues to reggae, rap, punk, world, and leading edge performers. Their choice to bring mystic elder, Lee “Scratch” Perry to bless the venue on opening night was brilliant. The near capacity crowd brought high, positive energy and tested the room’s infrastructure: attentive bartenders served thirsty patrons continually through the night; the bathrooms remained clean and well-stocked and extra bathrooms on the lower level kept lines to a minimum; guests were allowed to come and go for a smoke and a breath of cool air; and the sound was engineered masterfully, which was no easy feat considering the super heavy bass that rippled along the floor.
Lee “Scratch” Perry’s otherworldly transmissions against the backdrop of the Subatomic Sound System’s electronic rhythms, hypnotic percussion, and Ethiopian inspired jazz melodies cleansed and purified the space and left the dance-crazed audience in a euphoric and altered state. The show was pure magic, unlike anything Greenfield has ever experienced before. And Hawks & Reed put their venue on the map with this transcendent, psychedelic experience.
For more information about the venue and to see a calendar of upcoming events and performances, visit their website at www.hawksandreed.com, or find them on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/HawksandReed/ and on Instagram at @hawksandreed.
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