By John Seven
The Berkshires and Southern Vermont are hosts to history as well as creativity, and many times these converge into one pure pleasure, offering intimate spaces to encounter music at a close proximity within a setting soaked in that history.
That’s the case with Kevin’s Sports Pub and Restaurant in North Bennington, Vt. The building itself has long been a restaurant and bar, since the early 20th century, going through several iterations of bar and restaurant, and including a couple stints where half the building was either a butcher shop or a post office. Its most recent incarnation has been as Kevin’s, renowned for a special intimacy with its musical events.
“It’s cozy,” laughs co-owner Jamie Hill.
Hill loved Kevin’s so much that he bought it last fall, along with his wife Teddie and their business partner Mike Greene. And he resisted the temptation of so many who take over successful venues by not forcing his own imprint on it. He doesn’t want to mess with what is already beloved.
One of the hallmarks of Kevin’s is a community feeling that draws in repeat visitors to the gathering. It’s a homey, personal atmosphere, with a staff that has populated the place since its opening. That good feeling is helpful, since Kevin’s can get pretty packed on any given weekend night. People pour in and take the space to its limits, but the conviviality make the close quarters desirable.
“There’s no space at all,” Hill said. “But there’s a lot of people who find the room to dance.”
The sounds of Kevin’s are basic crowd-pleasers — cover bands, mostly, that are as regular as the patrons, forming the kind of rapport that only being regulars can.
“Country, ’70s, ’80s, whatever kind of music you like, they’ll sing it,” Hill promises.
Daniel Osman, owner of the Dream Away Lodge in Becket, shares Hill’s enthusiasm for small performance spaces, and sees the Dream Away’s own little music room as having an advantage over larger venues.
“The intimacy is the key,” he says. “The warmth of sound in the small space. The relationship between performer and audience.”
With a name like the Dream Away Lodge, you have certain expectations, and the Becket-based restaurant, bar and music performance space certainly delivers.
Located on the edge of civilization, adjacent to October Mountain State Forest, it seems like something out Twin Peaks, with an eclectic inside quality that can be as intangible as the name itself, lived in and mysterious.
To hear music there is an intimate experience in the close quarters of the cluttered eclecticism that rings out as both rural and urbane, and gives the feeling that you’ve stumbled into an secret oasis cut off from the conscious world, a pocket universe of secrets contained inside the two-centuries old farmhouse. These are all qualities that drew Osman to it when he purchased it in 1997, and he’s worked to keep those aspects as much as possible.
“Everything about the Dream Away appealed to me — its isolation, its funk, its relaxed and nostalgic vibe,” Osman says. “I loved the eclectic furnishings and the worn wood paneling and the antique wallpaper on the walls. Sadly, the biggest thing I’ve managed to add is a crowd, so that magical feeling of having discovered a hidden gem is somewhat lessened, but on a quiet night, it stills feels special, timeless and remote. The flip side of bringing a crowd is that the party rages on and still feels pretty fresh, exhilarating and multigenerational.”
The Dream Away has a vivid history behind it, including an alleged stint as a speakeasy and a legendary appearance by Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Review in the 1970s that led to its role in the film “Renaldo and Clara.” In Osman’s eyes, it’s a place of ghosts that instill their presence into performances there. These specters comprise the venue’s very soul and become part of the qualities that define a visit to the Dream Away Lodge.
“The spirits of Bob Dylan and Arlo and Joan Baez and the thousands of brilliant musicians from J. Mascis to Pete Seeger to Erin McKeown who have filled the room with soul and sound and fury for over 75 years of song. All these vibrations are part and parcel of the present status of the Music Room as a listening space. Music fits into the room in ways that are particularly resonant and memorable.”