A Bangin’ Berkshire Boîte
Club founder Heather Fisch (left) with Amy Wong and Mael Raoult. Photo courtesy DCSC.
While Sheffield’s the Down County Social Club has been generating buzz for a couple of years now, it’s still very much (and very literally) underground.
Located in the basement of the historic Stagecoach Tavern, the club calls itself “Berkshire County’s best kept secret.” Since 2008 the Down County Social Club (or DCSC) has been showcasing live music, theatrical performances, movies, open-mic nights, and more from local and visiting artists every Thursday night from 8 p.m. to about midnight, garnering a fan base of guests through word of mouth and from those who are happy to stumble upon the club unexpectedly after dinner at the upstairs tavern.
Attending the DCSC for the first time is like falling down the rabbit hole. It’s hidden behind two sets of doors and is reminiscent of the late Helsinki Great Barrington or perhaps even a hookah den sans hookah. There are velvet couches, an old wooden bar, Christmas lights, a pool table, an upright piano and other instruments that adorn the space, which is big enough for a stage area and tables. Yet it is small enough for eye-roving and intimate conversation.
DCSC was founded in March 2008 by Berkshire-based Renaissance woman and producer Heather Fisch, who wrote and directed this summer’s sold out rock opera Blue Venice. Fisch was introduced to Stagecoach owner and former proprietor of the legendary Music Inn, David Rothstein, through a mutual friend. From that serendipitous meeting, the club took off.
Evan Levine & The Howling Kettles. Photo courtesy DCSC.
“You’ve got to meet this lady,” Rothstein, who acquired the Stagecoach in 2004, was told about Fisch. He had been toying with the idea of turning the basement into a screening room. “If there is a good space it will provide for someone to do good things in it. And with Heather you can’t miss. She’s unbounded creativity.” At the time, Fisch, 27, a native of Chatham, NY and music and theatre graduate of Simon’s Rock College at Bard, had been quietly running a chess night and tapas bar with beer and whiskey from her house in Housatonic. Her mission was to create a space where people could socialize in a setting that was different from a normal bar. “Nobody is making big profits here,” she says. “With the mission different the outcome will be different.”
The club can comfortably fit about 25 to 30 people. Because of its small size, performers are able to enjoy a certain boîte-like celebrity. “I did the first gig of my life there,” says Ryan Foss, a folk guitarist from Egremont. “Which was good ‘cause you can’t fit many people down there.” While Foss has since gone on to perform at other local music venues, including the Guthrie Center, he continues to reserve Thursday nights for the occasional DCSC stop. “It’s a good atmosphere. You get an intimate experience with talented artists from all over. There’s been a significant feeling of mutual respect every time I’ve played,” he says.
David Rothstein, center, and Heather Fisch, at right. Photo courtesy DCSC.
Since this past summer, Fisch has teamed up with Casey Meade, who is Rothstein’s son and a documentary filmmaker, to divide the leadership position, working as the host or hostess on any given Thursday. Meade’s ties with artists from all over the world have helped the club bring in more visiting performers, such as Brooklyn-based guitarist Yazan. Shows at the DCSC are predominantly scheduled and include movies (the club recently screened Fisch’s Blue Venice as well as Take Me to the River, shot in India), poetry, multimedia work, and of course music: ranging from acoustic rock to experimental music, and jazz. There have been ukulele nights, hootenanny style banjo and fiddle playing, and once or twice opera has even filled the sound waves at the underground lair; and, as always, there is a small wine and beer bar to accompany the soirée.
Musicians with Cayla Buettner and Karen Lee.
As at most speakeasies, there are local favorites. Pooja Roo tells stories and strums a ukulele. Musician John Snyder rocks out with his band Dark Russian. Actress Karen Lee makes the club her summer residency for her titillating ‘Marilyn Show’ Let’s Make Love, which features guest cabaret artists and renown local pianist Joe Rose, who breathes an old-timey feeling of piano lounge into the place, as does a well-dressed band of teenagers (armed with trumpets and drums) serving as the orchestra.
“The people, the space, the land, the vibe, its intimacy, the way I make the pool table my dressing table. I love the club for so many reasons,” says Lee.
While Fisch explains there is a “diehard” crowd of DCSC fans in their twenties, the venue is multi-generational. “Guests include people staying at the lodge, people having dinner. We welcome them, greet them, ask their name, that’s the social club.”
There is no cover charge at the DCSC and guests under 21 are welcome. As for what’s coming up, the schedule is online, but all in all, “We go from week to week,” says Rothstein.
It’s old. It’s new. It’s in the middle of everything and the middle of nowhere. —Fiona Breslin
Down County Social Club
864 S. Undermountain Road
Sheffield, Massachusetts 01257
Open Thursdays 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
No cover; suggested donation.