By Nick Grabbe
The Drake, the music and performance space making its debut this week, received 2,000 entries in a lottery for 200 tickets to one of its first shows.
Organizers of The Drake predict an enormous benefit to downtown businesses from customers coming to Amherst for the music (see the end of this post for changes in restaurants and other businesses).
And The Drake will host numerous free concerts, open mic nights, a variety of musical styles, and monthly fundraisers for local charitable organizations.
It’s the biggest splash on the downtown scene since the rebirth 16 years ago of the Amherst Cinema, a community effort led by Meg Gage and Barry Roberts. For The Drake, Roberts has teamed up with Gabrielle Gould, executive director of the Business Improvement District (BID), and architect John Kuhn.
Located at 44 North Pleasant St., the rebuilt site of High Horse, The Drake will have a “soft opening” this Tuesday with a free jazz concert at 7:30. Here’s a link to The Drake’s scheduled performances.
When the BID was forming 10 years ago, community outreach revealed that many people wanted a downtown music venue, Roberts told me in an email. They said they’d like to stay on this side of the river and enjoy entertainment if it were available.
“We understood that if they were to stay here that they would spend money on food and drinks as well,” Roberts said. “After the BID was formed, we always kept this in mind as something that was missing in our downtown. I think this is one of the many things going on in the downtown that will be a real game changer to make our downtown more vibrant.”
The Drake’s web site has posted videos of musicians performing there during the construction.
Big names. The first major concert at The Drake will be this Wednesday, when Dinosaur Jr. performs. The rock/punk group, formed in Amherst in 1985, has produced 13 albums and is “one of the formative influences on American alternative rock,” according to Wikipedia.
Founder J Mascis will perform in his home town. The appearance has merited a mention in the popular online magazine Brooklyn Vegan, and Gould anticipates a blurb in Rolling Stone. “This tiny venue is getting exciting national press,” she said. But don’t try to get in; this is the concert that necessitated a lottery for the privilege of buying $40 tickets.
Economic driver. Many people who come to shows at The Drake will also patronize restaurants, bookstores and other businesses, Gould said. The majority of people coming to the music series on the town common last summer got takeout from an Amherst restaurant.
“This town has a lot more to offer than just the Five Colleges,” Gould said. “These concerts are things that will bring people to Amherst. We want people to come here for the leaves and stay for the music.”
With The Drake opening, work on an enhanced North Common starting this summer, and ultimately a renovated and expanded Jones Library, pressure on downtown parking is likely to increase. Gould said she’d like the Town Council to issue a request for proposals for a new parking garage in the town-owned lot between CVS and North Prospect Street, now that it has made the zoning appropriate.
Free/charitable events. Tuesday’s free concert, featuring the Northampton Jazz Workshop with sax player Gary Smulyan, will include an open jam session afterwards. On May 9, the Amherst College Music Department will present chamber music from 5 to 7 p.m. and jazz from 8 to 10, also for free, and on May 18, ARHS students will perform jazz. On June 5, pianist Jee Won Park and cellist Eddie Aaron will give a free concert. On the second Tuesday of each month, there will be an open mike night.
On May 24, The Drake will hold the first of its monthly “FEED BACK LIVE” nights, raising money for the Amherst Survival Center. Tickets are $35 and include a dinner catered by a local restaurant (Mexcalito on May 24, music by the No-Nos). Future beneficiaries include the Mobile Food Market, Not Bread Alone and the Food Bank of Western Mass.
Architect John Kuhn said it has always confounded him that Amherst has never had a live-music venue, and has ceded that role to Northampton for many years.
“This is about to change with the opening of The Drake, and it’s about time,” Kuhn said. “The energy and excitement behind this venture is palpable, and is finally a project that has universal support and little, if any, controversy, so rare for this town. We hope to be a venue for all ages and all musical tastes. We are opening at the tail end of a pandemic, at a time when people are clamoring to attend live shows again.”
Gould outlined some other changes in restaurants and other downtown businesses:
- The Humble Peach, a vegan bakery, will open at the former Henion’s space in about a month;
- Coronation Cafe, a breakfast-and-lunch place, is due to open at the former Bart’s location;
- The Amherst Oyster Bar will take over the spot formerly occupied by Judie’s;
- Ricelicious has opened on Boltwood Walk, and a “speakeasy” called Archive is due to open at the former Pruddy’s/Twisters site near Sweetser Park;
- Gould is seeking a meat and fish market and an Irish pub for the first floor under The Drake;
- A major brewery located next to Miss Saigon will be announced this Saturday;
- La Veracruzana has added Hawaiian food called “poke” (POH-kay) in back;
- Amethyst Jewelry has opened next to Art of Intimates on Main Street;
- Archipelago has bought the former Pub, with its future use uncertain, and the housing development on Spring Street is due to be ready by the fall;
- With The Pub, Rafters and Charlie’s gone, The Spoke has doubled its space;
- A restaurant called Protocol is due to open at 1 East Pleasant;
- A Chinese restaurant is due to go in the Lone Wolf spot;
- Here’s a link to a post from last September about downtown business changes.