0312 Stage 33 Live Venue

In this Monday, March 9, 2020, photo shows the performance and seating area inside Stage 33 Live, a volunteer-run venue, in Bellows Falls.

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. — A brief, two-minute walk from downtown, Stage 33 Live is an intimate listening room with the echoes of industrial architecture and an incomparable natural acoustic sound that attracts music lovers from all over New England.

Just an idea in 2016, the prospect of establishing a place for musicians in Bellows Falls took on a life of its own with donations and a group of loyal volunteers, according to founder Mark Piepkorn.

“We let the room define itself,” Piepkorn said. “We are a grassroots, local-level and volunteer-run venue.”

The open space, which holds a total of 52 chairs and neighbors the independently run Black Sheep Radio, is a total immersion into the arts with a “do it yourself” message for anyone who seeks a more direct connection with local-flavor creativity.

The musicians find an acoustic reaction in this old factory that by word of mouth has developed a unique following of both performers and fans.

“It’s fulfilling in lots of ways,” Piepkorn said. “Other than the complete lack of income, I can’t find a significant downside. It helps players get appreciative ears and eyes, it brings people together for a positive experience, it helps uplift the community at large. The community largely might not realize that yet, but we’re playing a long game and the trajectory is good.”

According to Piepkorn, most shows are on Sunday evenings monthly, but sometimes the venue deviates from its schedule. March 14 is one of those occasions. On that day, the third of four installments of The Second Saturday Synthfest will begin at 7 p.m. The event is a quirky night of sound bending, with a jazz tone and some funk and groove made from all things synthesizer.

Ten-time award-winning artist Carolann Solebello, formerly of Red Molly, sings Americana-themed music with a tiny thread of Brooklyn sound in her voice. She said playing live at the venue was more than a fleeting memory.

“The good folks at Stage 33 Live have somehow managed to turn a cavernous industrial space into an intimate and cozy listening room — especially attractive for lyrically driven singer-songwriters like me and Joe Iadanza,” Solebello said. “Whether it’s magic, alchemy, or perhaps just the right combination of thoughtful stagecraft, expert sound engineering, and good, old-fashioned elbow grease, Mark Piepkorn and his able crew have created a space that allows audiences and performers alike to fully immerse themselves in live music. No filter. No bells and whistles. Just music. And that is a rare and beautiful thing.”

Stage 33 Live features top indie billings, locally known and underground Americana-style music with a warm accessibility that have brought 1,400 sold out shows since its official opening in 2018.

According to Piepkorn, the volunteer staff films each live show and has an endless amount of footage that they are processing for live video releases on YouTube.

“I like the tech side of it, but it’s the musicians who bring the love. Performing in such an intimate setting is a really vulnerable thing, but when a performer and an audience are there for each other, really paying attention to each other, there’s a magic that happens,” he said. “It can only be hinted at on tape and film.”

Performer Carl Beverly described the venue as more than a one-shot deal megaphone for musicians.

“Stage 33 Live has been wonderful for me. I’m not a well-known songwriter, and it’s a tough job promoting yourself. I showed up one day to do a short set of three songs, not really knowing the scope of what they do. I kinda forgot about the video they did and then months later a friend said, “Hey, saw your video on YouTube.” When I looked it up I was blown away with the quality, taste, and craftsmanship of what they had done,” Beverly said. “I really didn’t have the resources to create something like that on my own. Now, whenever I’m trying to get a gig at a venue, I always point them to the videos. Now they can check out what I sound like live, and with a quality audio track. I’ll be forever grateful for that… Those guys are all about promoting local musicians and songwriters like me.”

Beverly said he has a simple mission: Shoot for happiness.

“Stage 33 Live has also given me opportunities to perform. I co-headlined last September with Carl Goulet, a really great songwriter, and this October I will be opening for Fred Gillen Jr. from New York. I really appreciate their belief in my music,” Beverly said. “My goal is simple: Get my songs in front of people. For me, I don’t expect to get rich from them. I just want to make that connection. If one or two people get it, I go away a happy guy.”

Stage 33 Live is as do-it-yourself as it gets with its hidden mysteriousness.

“When enough people “discover” that beautiful gem hidden on a back street in Bellows Falls, who knows. Sometimes I wonder why great live music is so overlooked. For very little money you can see some amazing artists there,” Beverly said. “Just can’t say enough about the beautiful unsung mission they’re on and the vital part they play in keeping local music alive.”

Hiroya Tsukamoto, acoustic jazz and folk singer from New York, said he admires the organization for the way it naturally comes together.

“I played at Stage 33 Live for the first time last December. I didn’t know what kind of place it would be,” Tsukamoto said. “What I loved about this concert was the people who helped put the show together worked as a team. They were very nice and respectful with what I am doing and that is very important as a performer. That was the last concert of 2019 out of 100 shows I did last year and that show made my year.”

Jan Sheehey of the Milkhouse Heaters, a punkabilly duo that hails from the Rockingham area and has a wide regional recognition, said it is one of her favorite venues because of its cozy, warm feel.

“As a listening room, Stage 33 Live is pretty unique,” Sheehey said. “The architecture of the building provides an interesting visual element, especially since the stage just sort of sits at the far end of the wide-open room and can’t be ignored. The room is lively, but the volunteers who engineer the sound know exactly how to tweak the sound system so that a performer’s sound is clear and well balanced.”

The Milkhouse Heaters will play at Stage 33 Live on Sunday, March 15, at 7 p.m.

“There is also an intimacy between the artists and the audience that is refreshing,” Sheehey said. “Because audiences are small, there isn’t a bad seat in the room.”

Piepkorn said there are so many reasons why he and his group of volunteers do this.

“Whenever somebody immediately and deeply understands the point of it and the value of doing it, that’s just about the best thing whenever it happens. And in particular, when touring musicians who play all over this country and others, and have a real basis for comparison, tell us we’re doing something special and doing it right, that’s super-meaningful and moving,” he said.

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