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State Room new intimate-listening Northampton venue

  • Joe Belmont and Sarah Swersey rehearse Sunday in Northampton for their upcoming show at the State Room.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • CAROL LOLLIS<br/>State Room manager John Nuhn
  • CAROL LOLLIS<br/>State Room manager John Nuhn
  • (L to R) Russ Nieman, Joe Belmont, and Sarah Swersey rehearse Sunday in Northampton for their upcoming show at the State Room.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

For Valley acoustic musicians, it’s a perennial issue — finding a place to play, especially a place where people are really going to be listening to you.

But in Northampton, the search for new venues has just gotten a little easier.

The State Room, part of a small commercial business complex on State Street in Northampton, is opening its doors to live music and promising a venue that will offer not just comfort — attendees will be able to lie down on a thick carpet if they’re so inclined — but an intimate atmosphere, good acoustics and enough space to accommodate up to 60 people.

Though a few small-scale music shows have taken place there already, the 2,000-square-foot space will host its first real headline event tomorrow when Dúo Fusión, the guitar and flute combination of Joe Belmont and Sarah Swersey, take the stage at 7:30 p.m.

Belmont, who’s been gigging in the area with Swersey for a number of years — the two are regulars at Northampton’s First Night celebration — says he’s thrilled about the chance to play in a new venue in Northampton and sees the State Room as a great opportunity for other acoustic musicians.

“I think this is the start of something really great,” said Belmont, a versatile guitarist who plays jazz, rock, blues and, with Dúo Fusión, Spanish and flamenco guitar. “When I first went into the space, I was blown away — it’s a great sounding room and I hadn’t even known about it.”

John Nuhn, who manages bookings for the State Room, explains that the venue is part of 35 State St., a small office complex for therapists and other health specialists. The State Room itself was previously a day care facility for dogs, Nuhn notes, with a concrete floor and brightly painted walls where people dropped off their dogs for a day.

But a couple of years ago, he said, Thom Herman, a therapist who bought the complex and has an office in the building, decided to renovate the space and transform it into a multipurpose room. Herman added wall-to-wall carpet, a sound system with wireless and wired microphones and other features, such as a kitchen and a small sitting room.

The room has since hosted a number of functions, Nuhn added, including yoga classes, workshops, a Zen Buddhism meditation organization and a Christian group. “Thom’s idea is that anything that contributes to people’s wellness would be a good use of the space,” he said.

That said, adding music is high on Nuhn’s agenda. “This is a comfortable place to perform and to listen to music,” he said. “We like to call them carpet concerts.”

The State Room offers seating on standard chairs, or people can lie on the carpet or use Backjacks — a legless chair that allows a person to sit on the ground with back support. No food is permitted in the space; water is allowed in covered containers or bottles.

“It’s not a nightclub or cafe,” Nuhn said. But, he added, that makes for a less time-consuming evening for people who want to see a show but don’t want to sit through a meal.

The State Room can be rented for $50 for an hour, $85 for two hours or $100 for four hours, plus some service fees, though the latter can be waived by groups or people that use the space on a regular basis.

Good acoustics

Belmont, who’s been playing music for years in area venues, said he first discovered the State Room during a jazz guitar workshop held there in September. He thought the room had excellent acoustics, even though carpeted floors can sometime muffle sound.

Belmont noted that he and Swersey have played in a number of different places, from churches to private living rooms in house concerts, and are always on the lookout for new venues. “Places like bars and restaurants aren’t really great,” he said. The State Room, by contrast, “is really a nice informal setting, but a place where people will be listening.”

The size of the room also struck him as an ideal setting for Dúo Fusión, which plays a wide mix of Spanish and flamenco music, jazz, Celtic, Broadway show tunes and even a touch of rock, with its own arrangements of compositions from Mozart to Miles Davis. The duo’s 2010 debut album won praise from a number of critics, including the web site All About Jazz, which said of the CD “The best music sometimes comes in the smallest packages.”

Both Swersey and Belmont bring plenty of instrumental firepower to their playing. Swersey has performed orchestral and chamber music in the United States and in Europe, performing in settings such as Carnegie Hall in New York City and the Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox. Belmont, in turn, plays in the world music band Viva Quetzel and leads his own jazz trio. He also teaches music at Amherst College and directs the Jazz Studies program at the Northampton Community Music Center.

Dúo Fusión will be joined tomorrow night on some songs by percussionist Russ Nieman.

Given that Signature Sounds, the acoustic music label, recently opened a Northampton office and performance space, Belmont said prospects for acoustic musicians in the area “have gotten a little brighter.”

Nuhn said the State Room will likely be focused mostly on acoustic music, but he’s open to other styles as well. “We’d like to make music a regular thing.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

Tickets for Dúo Fusión at the State Room will be available at the door and are $15 (half-price for students and seniors). For booking information, call John Nuhn at 586-6393 or email him at John@35StateStreet.com.

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