HiLo Music Club is setting the stage for touring bands
After 120 years, the building at 55 Union Street in North Adams is making some noise in its new life as the HiLo Music Club, a mid-level venue aiming to attract a range of touring bands that typically bypass the Berkshires.
The club, situated on the first floor, features a custom bar with a stage on the opposite wall and the dark ambiance every nightclub requires. The floor comfortably hosts a standing crowd of 200, or 100 seated. A smaller lounge space sits to the side of the stage, perfect for no-performance nights when the club doubles as a neighborhood bar.
The building also houses the headquarters of its new owners, the three partners of Very Good Property Development. They lease the club space to Joad Bowman, owner of Pittsfield’s Thistle and Mirth, to oversee operations. HiLo serves Mexican food by North Adams restaurant Trés Niños and plans to offer comedy performances. Upcoming music shows include Peter Mulvey (October 3), Lady Moon and the Eclipse (October 12), Kat Wright (October 18), Habibi (October 19), and Mommyheads (November 9).
HiLo derives its name from a paint and varnish that was sold during the building’s earlier incarnation as Quinn’s Paint and Wallpaper. It had been a paint store since 1920, but it served as a bar prior to the Prohibition. It became a bar again briefly when the Crystal Hard Hat Saloon moved in, then saw short stints as an antique store and the ill-fated Museum of Dog. Very Good Property Development then bought the building for $99,000, half the market price.
Brian Miksic, HiLo’s prime instigator, has wanted to open a music club in North Adams since he moved to the city nearly 20 years ago. He drew from his own experiences with music venues, both as a patron and a performer, to conceive HiLo. It all adds up to something that some of the most urban clubs aren’t known for: comfort.
“The specifics are important to me,” Miksic says. “I want it to sound good. I want it to look good. I want there to be good sightlines. I want the bathrooms to be clean. I want to be able to get a beer in less than 40 minutes. Just a pleasurable customer experience.”
Miksic hopes this focus distinguishes the club not just for patrons, but also for performers. He has spent time quizzing touring musicians for their input, which covered everything from ease of loading and unloading to frustration over spending entire days off at the laundromat. These suggestions especially informed the second-floor green room, which doubles as a performer apartment that can accommodate an entire band. It features a kitchen and a washer and dryer, and offers easy access to the loading area for the van.
“Because of where we are and we’re in a small town, we need to be able to attract good musicians, so I want to make this as musician-friendly as possible,” Miksic says.
He hopes that HiLo helps nurture an already growing music scene in the city. Very Good partner and North Adams native Glenn Maloney is pretty sure there’s never been anything like HiLo in North Adams and thinks the club is symbolic for those who have patiently worked for years to help North Adams’s resurgence. “It just takes time to build the culture, but those things that we thought were going to happen, they are finally happening,” he says.
The club’s booking agent, Jennifer Crowell, agrees that one huge advantage is an audience that has been craving a dedicated music venue. But she also acknowledges its status as a club focusing on music, which makes it an experiment and also guides the club’s booking philosophy. “We’re really trying to be super diverse in what we’re offering because we really don’t know what folks are going to be excited about,” she says.
The experimental nature keeps the ticket prices low and the shows early. Crowell says that the 7 p.m. showtimes take into account the concentration of parents that constitute the local audience as well as out-of-towners traveling in for a show. They also hope to keep ticket prices at $12. It’s all part of creating a user-friendly venue.
Very Good partner Orion Howard’s interest is the big picture. He co-owns Bright Ideas Brewing and A-OK Berkshire Barbeque, both located on the MASS MoCA campus, and his investment interests represent a desire to help harness the city’s energy in order to grow.
Says Howard: “HiLo is what Brian wanted to have in North Adams to make it a hip place to live. He came to North Adams, he felt the energy, and he wanted to do some of the stuff that MASS MoCA was doing. Brian’s passion is kind of like completing the reason he and his family came to North Adams, and this is the culmination for many people of what they’ve seen as the venue they want in North Adams.”
(Photo: Owners of The HiLo Club in North Adams, Massachusetts – (from left) Joad Bowman, Brian Miksic, Orion Howard and Glenn Maloney)