New Life for the Iron Horse



Forty-five years is a long time, and for more than 40 of them, the Iron Horse Music Hall, which opened in 1979, provided not just live entertainment, but countless moments of connection, of joy, of the kind of shared experiences folks tend to remember.

How many young people were inspired by a show there to pick up a guitar and start making their own music? How many solo concertgoers bonded over being seated together at a table, and then carried the conversation to a local bar or café afterward? How many first dates turned into long relationships, marriages, and a whole lot more concerts?

Those moments — and the music itself, of course — have been missed since the legendary College Street storefront in downtown Northampton went dark during the pandemic and, well, never came back. Until now. Or, more accurately, later this spring.

The Iron Horse’s motto for decades has been “music alone shall live.” There’s truth to that — great music does outlast a lot of things. But for a lot of us, live music is about more than the music; it’s about feelings of community, the energy of the give and take between performer and crowd — and, again, a shared, completely unique, ‘you had to be there’ experience.

And, as the story details, you can soon be there again, thanks to the efforts of the Parlor Room Collective, a nonprofit that bought the troubled property from longtime owner Eric Suher and, with the help of many generous donors to an ongoing, $750,000 capital campaign, is renovating and expanding the room.

Chris Freeman and his team certainly want the renovated space to reflect its vibrant past — seating at tables, where a reimagined menu will be served — but they’re also improving what needed improving, from the run-down green room to the famously inadequate bathrooms.

It’s a heartening development, to be sure. We’ve written often about the value of performing-arts institutions to a region, and certainly, venues like Symphony Hall in Springfield, the Drake in Amherst, Hawks & Reed in Greenfield, MASS MoCA in North Adams, and the Parlor Room itself in Northampton continue to deliver plenty of music and good times.

But the Iron Horse always seemed … well, special, with its wild array of styles — both major stars and rising lights from the genres of rock, folk, country, blues, jazz, and a dozen others have graced its stage over the years — its unique setup, and its striking intimacy.

When the Calvin Theatre returns at some point — Suher has been working on a sale of that larger concert hall as well — that will be more great news for a downtown, and region, that could use more music and fewer vacant storefronts.

But no venue has embodied the spirit of ‘music alone shall live’ like the Iron Horse, and we’re hopeful it will rise again to the prominence of its heyday, sending home countless concertgoers with the feeling they’d experienced something truly unique, together.