Class of 2024

Chris Freeman

Executive Director, the Parlor Room Collective: Age 39

During his 12 years playing guitar and banjo in a band called Parsonsfield, Chris Freeman recalled the outfit playing the third-ever show at the Parlor Room in Northampton and putting out a few records on Signature Sounds, the label associated with that venue.

After the band dissolved in the COVID years, Freeman took a job with the Parlor Room, booking shows and gradually moving into a leadership role there, before evolving the operation into a nonprofit model called the Parlor Room Collective.

“It always had a mission-based vibe to it, so the transition to nonprofit was pretty easy,” he said. “It’s a really special place, and I was so excited to continue its legacy.”

He also had a vision concerning another music club just a few hundred feet away — the Iron Horse Music Hall — after that venerable room was shuttered during the pandemic. “I knew it should come back, and the energy was clearly there. I started talking to different people, and there was definitely a lot of support.”

So the Parlor Room Collective purchased the Iron Horse and has raised close to $500,000 to renovate it, maintaining its intimate feel but improving facets that definitely needed improving, like its famously inadequate green room and restrooms, while expanding into adjoining space for a dedicated bar and community events. While more than $250,000 remains to be raised, the venue will reopen on May 15 with a robust lineup of concerts to follow.

“The community has been rallying around us from the start. They care about live music,” Freeman said. “We still have hundreds of thousands of dollars to raise, to pay off all the construction bills. But now we’re going to have shows on sale, people buying tickets, and the bands are coming back.”

It’s all part of an effort to re-establish Northampton as a small town that has long punched above its weight class, as Freeman put it, when one compares its population to the caliber of acts that have played here — and soon will again.

“This place has always been, in some ways, rough around the edges, but it pulls you in and makes you feel at home, and it’s been built up by the arts,” he said. “I live here, and part of the reason Northampton has become a great food scene and a great downtown culture is the arts. I’ve made it my life’s mission to make sure that never goes away, and we can bring back the glory days of such a legendary venue.”

—Joseph Bednar