For the past two years, the lobby of the Windham Hotel served as an artistic hub in downtown Bellows Falls. Last Tuesday, with the sale of the building to a group of investors looming, that began to change.
Proprietor Gary Smith moved his Fort Apache recording studio out of the building, and the Amity Front performance scheduled for this weekend was cancelled. A June 9 “Roots on the River” set is the only official date on the Windham calendar, though Smith plans “a few more shows – we’ve got Mr. Burns and Gypsy Jazz for June, and there could be shows in July.”
“There is some chance we’ll stay in the room when the hotel sells, and we’ll be there through the generosity of the new owners,” says Smith. “It looks very promising from where I’m sitting. They are very interested in the live music. It bodes well for the culture of our little town.”
The Windham opened in April 2004, quickly becoming a mainstay of the local music scene. With more room than the often-cramped Oona’s, local promoter Charlie Hunter began booking two to three shows a weekend. Patrick LeBlanc took over from Hunter last year, adding more rock and blues performers to the mix, helping bands like Grace Potter and Nocturnals and the Kissers find a local audience.
“Over 200 shows in two years,” mused Smith Wednesday. “Projects have a beginning and an end, and you have to keep moving or you get stale.”
Early on, he sensed that the Windham was a unique facility.
“I saw that at Peter Mulvey show, he had such command of the room, first time he played there, early in the game. I could feel that there was something going on in that space that I hadn’t experienced elsewhere. It was just the right proportion of space and people.”
“It was like a church meeting in there, “ he says. “People got jazzed and caught up because of the shape and size.”
The closing of the Windham won’t mean an end to live music in Bellows Falls.
Smith envisions WOOL-FM, the community radio station begun last year, as integral to his future plans. “We want it to become the purveyor of live music in town,” he says. “With all its’ music lovers attached to it, to run a venue in a nonprofit way would be revolutionary and very cool.”
What he likes about the WOOL community mode is that “it’s not necessarily the taste of one person. It would be cool to run a venue that way, with a broad array of talent, both in genre and fame.”
“We’re looking for spaces now,” Smith says. Ideally, the new location would include seating for 100-150 people, with space for an office and radio production facility.
Originally, Smith envisioned the Windham as a hybrid studio/performance space. Tanya Donnelly recorded a four-night August 2004 run there. The CD, “Live at the Windham,” should be released in the fall.
“I didn’t expect to expand so quickly,” he says, “then the next thing was the radio station,” which began with a petition drive in Fall 2004.
He’d moved his studio operation into the Windham in 2004, two years after closing the Cambridge-based business and buying Kidder Farm in Walpole. At Fort Apache, he’d worked with some of the biggest names in the alternative music universe, including Throwing Muses, the Pixies and 10,000 Maniacs. He still counts former Muse Donnelly as a client.
He plans to relocate the studio back to Walpole where, he says, “I can work until 2 A.M. if I want.”
“For the time being, I’m consolidating my life at the farm, a little more agriculture, farm animals and music. “ As to the future, Smith says -“we’ll see what we can do.”