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The Parlor Room, a western Massachusetts music venue, relaunches as nonprofit

The band High Tea plays at The Parlor Room's 10th anniversary party in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Karen Brown
The band High Tea plays at The Parlor Room's 10th anniversary party in Northampton, Massachusetts.

A music venue in western Massachusetts is changing its economic model to accommodate the times.

With a performance from indie band High Tea, The Parlor Room in Northampton used its 10th anniversary party to officially launch as a nonprofit.

The 100-seat performance space is splitting off from the record company, Signature Sounds, that started it. Company owner Jim Olsen said he originally conceived of The Parlor Room as way to showcase artists on the label.

"We never really had a master plan for how long it would exist and how popular it would become," said Olsen.

The Parlor Room was closed for almost two years during the pandemic, which disrupted much of the live music industry. And while Olsen said ticket sales lately have been brisk, the venue has always been subsidized by the record company, "which actually kind of flourished during the pandemic because people were listening to a lot more music and more recorded music."

Signature Sounds and the now-independent Parlor Room will still share a building, but Olsen said he will not be involved in the nonprofit's day-to-day operations. That job goes to new executive director Chris Freeman, who is also a member of the band Parsonsfield, signed to Signature Sounds.

Freeman said it's hard for a small venue to survive on attendance alone.

"When you are a 100 seat listening room, the margins are thin," he said. "It's not the case if you are a big venue in in Boston or something."

Freeman said the new nonprofit will supplement ticket sales with grants, memberships, and a new music school they plan to open. But he said bringing in the public for shows is still key.

"It's important to have an audience that's engaged, that helps raise that musician up in terms of their ability to connect with people," he said, "which I think is what everybody is looking for."

Freeman is modeling the new venture, in part, on other nonprofit music venues, such as Club Passim in Cambridge and Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, New York.

"It's not an original idea, but it's something that we've seen work and seen help build a music scene in different areas," he said. "This area deserves that as well."

Some longtime concert halls in the Pioneer Valley have gone silent since the pandemic started, including the Iron Horse Music Hall. But several new venues have appeared in the same period.

The Parlor Room will officially open as a nonprofit in January 2023.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.
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