The Beat

The Old Eg: A call for help from South County's other nightclub
By Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., January 26, 2001) -- The Old Egremont Club is in trouble, and owner/operator Rick Tiven is appealing for help.

“We just want to get more people in the door to appreciate the club like it used to be appreciated,” said Tiven in a phone interview last week.

Tiven said that over the last year-and-a-half, the Old Eg, as it is known, has been experiencing a “slump” in attendance. Tiven speculated it might be due to increased competition on South County’s live music scene as well as a hidden slump in the service sector, from which he has typically drawn a large portion of his clientele.

“From a business point of view, you have to scratch your head and wonder what’s going on,” said Tiven, who has managed the club since 1994. “But we’re not throwing in the towel.”

In fact, Tiven is doing just the opposite. He has recruited three of the venerable roadhouse’s most popular acts - Advanced Phunk, the Rhythm Method and One Straw Revolution - for a “cabin fever dance,” to be held tomorrow night at the Route 23 venue located near the New York border, from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Tiven said the 21-and-over crowd could also look forward to an appearance by a “special guest artist” at the dance, which will include blues, r&b, funk and soul music.

The Old Eg has long been noted for its weekly menu of blues, roots and r&b bands from the Berkshires and the surrounding region. Tiven acknowledged that the club has a reputation for attracting an “older” crowd, even though it has also fostered several up-and-coming bands of younger musicians, including Chillbone, Suitcase, and the newly-reconstituted Xavier.

The older crowd, said Tiven, doesn’t go out as much as it used to, which has hurt the club. On the other hand, catering to a more mature crowd means the club rarely has to be concerned with patrons’ behavior. “We’ve never even had anyone wag their finger at anyone,” said Tiven. “We’ve never tried to be anything we’re not, which might be the charm of the place.”

Tiven acknowledged that the club’s slump might in part be due to competition from Great Barrington’s Club Helsinki, which opened a little over a year ago and consistently draws crowds for its lineup of regional and national performers.

Tiven nevertheless spoke with great passion about the Old Eg, which was first opened as a music venue in 1946 by Tiven’s father-in-law, Carsten Jenssen, and his Dixieland jazz-loving brother, Bjorn.

“I’ve always felt like I’m just the caretaker and curator of the club,” said Tiven, who first came to the Berkshires from the New England Conservatory in 1971 as a violin fellow in Tanglewood’s summer program. Tiven hooked up with some local musicians and formed the band Goodfriend Coyote - whose home base was the Old Egremont Club. Since then he has been a fixture on the local music scene as a musician, music teacher and club owner.

Tiven said the Old Eg has always been “a place where people radiate for no explicable reason.”

The intimate venue, which on weekend nights typically hosts blues, r&b and roots-rock bands from the Berkshires and the surrounding region, has always boasted the feel of the old-fashioned roadhouse it is, from the moose’s head that looks out from over the fireplace to the well-worn wooden beams and fixtures.

Tiven said that on one visit to the club -- which began life in 1935 as a garage and filling station -- Arlo Guthrie dubbed it “the Time Capsule Café.”

Tiven spoke of the need to “jump-start” the club, however, and said he hopes tomorrow night’s celebration will usher in a “renaissance” for the Old Egremont Club.

Tiven said that it has been difficult to manage the club while also holding down a day job as a music therapist, continuing his career as a performing and recording artist, and being a committed, responsible parent. “To have kids and run the club the way it should be run is impossible,” said Tiven. “You’d never know if they were bringing homework or weapons to school.”

Tiven said that until now he has been able to rely on a coterie to help keep the club open and in good repair. He said this “kitchen cabinet” of musicians, friends and co-workers includes Billy Voiers, Steve Ide, Nick Osborn, Mike Dubois, Rick Barron, Amy Feld, Melody Salamone, Jonathan Shapiro, and Tiven’s wife, Dara Jenssen.

But Tiven hinted that the time might be coming for him to surrender the managerial reins to someone new.

“We’re calling for help; that’s what’s going on,” said Tiven. The club has occasionally tried to juice up its menu of regional performers with nationally known acts, such as Charmaine Neville and ‘70s funk group Average White Band, and Tiven said he hopes to showcase a few other better-known acts in the near future. The club has also developed a reputation among musicians passing through the area, and among those who have stopped by as visitors are Greg Brown and John Prine.

The Old Eg’s unique characteristics include a large dance floor, suited to the club’s lineup of party bands, and a house policy that allows performers to decide whether or not to permit smoking inside the club. This might appeal to some clubgoers, but it is also possible that the cigarette smoke might turn others off. Smoking is banned in all bars, restaurants and nightclubs in nearby Great Barrington.

Tiven said even when things have looked bleakest for the club, “It’s worth keeping it going when a few musicians pat you on the back and say don’t ever close. So we’re just hanging in and rolling with the punches.” Upcoming shows at the Old Eg include rockabilly band Lustre Kings tonight, roots music group Krakow on Feb. 2, the Rhythm Method featuring Steve Ide on Feb. 3, One Straw Revolution with Bob McVeety on Feb. 9, Shake and Bake on Feb. 17, a reunion of the Shy Americans on Feb. 23, and Advanced Phunk on Feb. 24.

For more info, call 528-9712.

Concert watch

The Portsmouth, N.H.-based trio, Dreadnaught, at Club Helsinki tonight, is one of a growing number of post-Phish “progabilly” bands, fusing a roots-rock sound with an improvisational approach. The group’s CD, “Una Vez Mas,” suggests the group has spent equal time listening to roots-rockers like the Band and Little Feat and to more experimental, open-ended artists like Frank Zappa, Yes and King Crimson.

Somewhere between Sade’s smooth-jazz approach and Stevie Wonder’s pop-r&b lies Mother’s Favorite Child. On its demo CD, “The Birth of Us,” the Boston-based group, which performs at Club Helsinki tomorrow night, suggests it has been digging deep into ‘70s funk. Vocalist Eddie Sanabria channels Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway, while the instrumentalists, particularly keyboardist Neil Podgurski and guitarist Dave Cinquegrana could be members of the Family Stone.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on Jan. 26, 2001. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2001. All rights reserved.]



Seth Rogovoy
rogovoy@berkshire.net
music news, interviews, reviews, et al.


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