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Iron Horse Music Hall begins renovations on legendary Northampton venue

The nonprofit that now owns the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Massachusetts, is calling on the public to invest in the legendary space.

The Iron Horse opened in 1979, brought in thousands of local and national acts, and closed during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The Parlor Room Collective took it over November 1 from previous owner Eric Suher. The Parlor Room now owns the Iron Horse name and the liquor license, and leases the Center Street location.

But before the shows start again, the organization plans to renovate the 2800-square-foot concert venue.

"Our goal is to enhance the health and vitality of our community through the power of music," said Parlor Room director Chris Freeman. "And in order to do that, we want to make sure that we're providing shows in an artist-forward environment and an environment that feels inclusive to everybody.”

Sitting recently in the empty hall, Freeman pored over blueprints, his dog Fergus at his feet.

Over the next few months, he said the Parlor Room plans to make modest changes that customers and musicians have wanted for years, including accessible bathrooms on the first floor (up from the basement), better heating and cooling, and a nicer green room for performers.

“I think the vibe of the room has so much soul in the walls of this. And we are not trying to change any of that,” Freeman said. “But in order for us to kind of take this into its new existence ... it takes us having a space that people feel safe and comfortable in.”

Artists, including Vanessa Carlton, have previously complained about conditions at the venue.

The Iron Horse will keep tables on two levels where people can order food and drink during the show, and a recessed pit in front of the stage where, at some performances, people can dance.

The Parlor Room will also take over a 1,200-square-foot space next door — 18 Center Street — to serve food and drink outside of show times. The Parlor Room announced it is in talks with the owner of Easthampton-based Daily Operation to revamp the in-house restaurant.

Freeman said he’s already starting booking acts starting next May,

But first, the Parlor Room Collective has announced a capital campaign to raise $750,000.

The Parlor Room began as another music venue a few blocks away and converted to a nonprofit almost a year ago, which allows it to accept grants and other funding, including COVID-relief money. Freeman said the nonprofit is also counting on individual donations and small-scale fundraising campaigns.

He hopes local donors will consider the broader economic potential of the Iron Horse, which has long been a draw for visitors to the region. Once it’s up and running again, Freeman said he plans to bring in about 24 shows a month and 50,000 patrons a year.

“It will have some huge benefits to just the overall town morale and kind of why we love Northampton,” he said. “And we think the $750,000 is really a drop in the bucket compared to the economic benefits of having a place like this in town.”

Freeman said it will still be possible to make some renovations without raising all the money, by dipping into the Parlor Room’s operating budget, but he’s hoping that won’t be necessary.

Eventually, Freeman said his wish list includes making the stage and balconies accessible to people in wheelchairs, but that’s for a future effort.

He said the Iron Horse space will be open to the public on weekends through the holiday season to let people see the space and learn about the capital campaign.

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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