A look inside The Drake, Amherst’s newest music venue

Amherst nightlife has never been more invigorating

Photo+courtesy+of+The+Drakes+Official+Facebook+Page

Photo courtesy of The Drake’s Official Facebook Page

By Will Duffy, Collegian Staff

Run by the Downtown Amherst Foundation, a 501©(3) nonprofit dedicated to bringing arts and culture to the town of Amherst, The Drake is the newest addition to the town’s nightlife scene. The Drake is located at 44 North Pleasant Street, across from Antonio’s Pizza — a convenient location for those who wish to commute by PVTA bus. It’s named after The Drake Hotel, a famed bar and hotel that once stood atop the Amherst Cinema; visitors to the cinema can still spot the words “Save the Drake!” spray painted on its wall. Guests of The Drake will be able to spot the same words.

Calling itself “the heartbeat of downtown,” The Drake is in a unique spot that already promises a slew of talent lined up, including famed folk artist Loudon Wainwright III and band Dinosaur Jr. The Drake is a venue for more than just music; the venue promises to be a cross-cultural exchange for all forms of entertainment, from comedy to open mic to local storytelling. Although it’s in its infancy, this attraction is poised to become a must-see for both Five College students and visitors of the area.

On the inside, the venue holds a seating area and dance floor, both connected to the stage and perpendicular to one another, allowing the attendees to enjoy a musical performance any way they please. Behind the dance floor lies a bar featuring specialty cocktails, wine, draft beer and the aptly named “Bag o’ Chips” to satisfy the appetite built up from dancing. But don’t let the bar’s presence fool you — The Drake is open to everyone, even those too young, to enjoy a drink there.

Gabrille Gould, executive director of the Downtown Amherst Foundation, describes The Drake as “an arts and cultural builder.” According to Gould, “This is a great opportunity to have a hand in the culture and diversity of Amherst and bring the town and gown together.” With any luck, she said, the talent lineup will be attractive enough to bring travelers from near and far to Amherst, creating business for local restaurants and hotels.

I was fortunate enough to experience what The Drake had to offer on its opening weekend. Performing was Gili Yalo, an Ethiopian-Israeli artist, along with backing band The Ambessa Orchestra. Yalo’s music is a revival of the blend of funk and jazz that was popular in Ethiopia during his childhood. His tunes mix familiar instrumental sounds you’d hear in a jazz band with English, Amharic and Hebrew lyrics. Preceding their performance was a short word from Gould, expressing pride in what the Downtown Amherst Foundation has built and stating, “Arts and culture are what builds a community.” The fast-paced jazz and funk music mixed with Yalo’s vocals and stage presence to create a truly exhilarating listening experience. At one point, Yalo hopped off the stage and began chanting with the audience. Backed by the Ambessa Orchestra’s percussion, it was a concert unlike any other I’ve been to.

Unlike other nighttime gathering places in Amherst, The Drake has the distinction of attracting members of the community of all ages. I was surprised to see not only a large number of older people in the audience, but also parents with their children. This certainly bodes well for The Drake, as it’s a hopeful sign that business will continue to thrive through the summer. The venue does, of course, cater to students; several events (such as the one I went to) feature student discounts for tickets.

All in all, The Drake is in a perfect spot to become a landmark attraction for students and area residents alike.

Will Duffy can be reached at [email protected].