Fall River is not what you’d think of as a natural home for a “music geek’s paradise.” The city doesn’t have a built-in demographic of folk, roots, and indie rock fans. But that doesn’t mean the Narrows Center for the Arts hasn’t been successful. On the contrary. With a mix of great sound, inspired bookings, and a friendly atmosphere, the 300-seat venue has, despite an ass-stubborn music biz and a frigid live music climate, managed to thrive. This month the Narrows celebrates its fifth year of doing business.
MAGICAL MAN: Jones.
“I think we have good taste!” says Patrick Norton, the venue’s “de facto president.” “I mean, we’re not snobs, but we’re big-headed enough to say that we book really good music.” The calendar, with 90 shows this year (400 since its inception) including Richard Thompson, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and Greg Brown, truly speaks for itself. “With the quality of our performers, we can go toe to toe with the major venues in this business and really hold our own.”
The Narrows began under the aegis of Bert Harlow as a small art gallery with an occasional “open mic” night in 1997. But a real estate development deal forced the gang out of their space and into a 15,000-square foot space with lots of potential. “We could see that there was a void for a venue like this one in the area,” says Norton. When they began booking music, the founders envisioned a folk/acoustic room, a sort of Stone Soup for southeastern Massachusetts. But that all changed when they started tinkering with the possibilities.
“When we found out who our audience was, we really wanted a broader sound,” says Norton, noting that 90 percent of his patrons come from Boston, Providence, Newport, and the Cape. “Serious music fans feel left out of this [Live Nation] world,” says Norton, “with lousy venues, poor sound quality, and $5 watNarrows are starting to stick.” Today, the space boasts state-of-the-art sound and a comfortable hang. “Most people figured we wouldn't last six months,” says Norton, who works as a district representative for Congressman James McGovern, in addition to booking the talent and coordinating art shows in the space’s gallery. “But this year we’ve had about 12,000 people attend around 80 shows, all of which run from pretty mild to pretty wild.”
Given the roll the venue’s been on, that number promises to grow as the Narrows enters its sixth year. They’ve made significant improvements to the space, and have received a grant to make the venue wheelchair-accessible. December gigs with Kaki King and Kelly Joe Phelps and 2007 shows featuring Dave Alvin, Alejandro Escovedo, and Chris Smither portend another ambitious and successful stretch. “I think because we have a high-quality focus, regardless of genre, we’re almost a brand name right now,” says Norton, 42, whose own taste runs from Miles Davis to Nirvana. “People have come to let us do the talent shopping for them. And we don’t mind that at all.”