Here's a piece I wrote about 15 or 20 years ago about the Iron Horse in Northampton. Kind of funny that I'm amazed the place doesn't allow smoking. But overall, the description still applies today. Greatest place ever to see music. Must get back there soon.
A Night at the Iron Horse
By Ron Miller
As you walk down the side street away from Main street, you could easily miss it. Tucked away behind a store front; only the posters advertising future shows give it away. Still, you could confuse it for an abandoned store that someone has decided to use as a billboard.
You walk in-if you can-the way it works is you stand in line outside and proceed slowly toward the door. There's a little bottle neck in the door way, as you make your way to the front counter and collect reserved tickets or buy available tickets. Inevitably, there are conversations in line with strangers who are kindred spirits bound together in a line waiting to see a show.
Move a little further and after some delay the host/hostess seats you in a rather uncomfortable seat. The seats and the bathrooms, these are the only weaknesses of an otherwise perfect place to see music. If you need to go to the bathroom, there are only two-tucked away down stairs-definitely not handicapped accessible and almost impossible to get to during an intermission.
If you are sitting downstairs, the artist must walk by to come in the building and again to come on stage. The opening act usually sits in the audience after the show and watches the main attraction. This must be unique in all of club land to have such intimate contact with the audience
On stage, there are no barriers between the artist and the audience. It is close and personal with not a bad seat in the house. Perhaps that is why musicians love to play here. You feel as though the artist is in your living room giving you a personal concert and if you look behind the stage during a 7:00 show in spring or summer, you can see the light of day fade through the plate glass, store-front window. In the winter, you see the headlights as cars drive by. It is often a strange effect because caught up in the moment of the music, you forget about the outside. There is only the music, then suddenly, you realize there is a world outside the window.
There is no smoking allowed. How many clubs can boast this? You can sit and enjoy a show, eat some food (not great, but certainly good), drink some beer (or your drink of choice) and leave at the end of the night without the stench of smoke on your clothes and in your hair. Not all patrons, including the artists consider this positive, however. You see many people snaking through the first-floor tables, making their way outside to feed their nicotine habit. Not even the beauty and wonder of such intimate live music can assuage their desire to go outside and smoke.
I only began visiting this local jewel about a year and a half ago. (Where have I been? ) Already, however, I have seen more than my share of great moments. The final show of the Sleeveless Theater improvisation group was certainly a high point, two shows by folk singer Ellis Paul (we walked in one Saturday evening and were simply amazed; he was singing solo, but it sounded as though there was a chorus), or guitarist Leo Kottke who sounded as though there were two guitarists instead of just himself, but perhaps the greatest show belongs to Marc Cohn (you know, he sings "Walkin' in Memphis). I won tickets for this show, which fell conveniently on the night before my birthday. My wife and I didn't know what to expect. We had heard a song or two on WRNX, but were not familiar with his music. It was my birthday and we wanted to see a show.
He proceeded to take the place over. He walked on stage with the presence of a well-respected school teacher, demanding attention without speaking. Even a table of obnoxious people nearby seemed to sense that they must be quiet and listen. He played several songs, and while tuning his guitar, looked out at the audience and said, "Just talk amongst yourselves; you seem to be doing it any way." A couple of more songs and the audience was into it now. He spoke to the audience again. "Ah, those steak dinners digesting now, are they" he asked with sarcasm and humor in his voice.
After about another hour he was sent a note from club management asking him to wrap it up. He read the note to the audience and told us that he wasn't aware that the club had booked a second show. He wanted to play longer. The audience roared their approval. A little later he was handed another note; this one stated he could play as long as he wanted.
Usually when there is a second show, the early act is offstage and the club is cleared by 9:30, but this night was different. On this night, Marc Cohn played until 10:15, and even though I felt bad for the folks waiting outside in the cold drizzle of an early May evening for the second show, I knew we had witnessed something special, something that could only happen within the cozy confines of a this wonderful little club. Marc Cohn asked the audience to apologize to the people waiting in line on the way out, but we all knew he had given us a show to remember.
My wife and I walked out into the evening past the line of people waiting for the next show and proceeded back up the street, past the lingerie shop, past the alley way and back into the bright light of Main Street.
Photo Credit: vinzcha on Flickr. Used under CC 2.0 license.