The Upstate Beat: Albany’s Lark Hall quickly established as one of best local music venues

Jon Spencer and the HITmakers are shown performing Tuesday night at Lark Hall in Albany. (Kirsten Ferguson)

Jon Spencer and the HITmakers are shown performing Tuesday night at Lark Hall in Albany. (Kirsten Ferguson)

At Lark Hall on Tuesday night, a chaotic but fantastically musical scene erupted from the stage of the venue, located in the heart of Albany’s historic Center Square.

Drummer Bob Bert — formerly of Sonic Youth and several other influential New York City experimental rock bands — wielded hammers for drumsticks and wailed on his junkyard drum kit, which included two metal trashcans and a bass drum with a gas tank perched on top.

Bert was playing an electrifying set with the HITmakers, the art-punk group backing Jon Spencer, a legend in underground rock, who looked preternaturally young as he executed sweaty knee bends and monstrous guitar riffs.

Tuesday night’s show was just one of several stellar performances that I’ve seen this year at Lark Hall, which hosts a wide range of music — from louder rock and jam-band shows to quieter acoustic fare.

Americana songwriter Patterson Hood, who fronts the Drive-By-Truckers, played a spell-binding solo show there in December, and indie-rock stalwarts Yo La Tengo were equally riveting in September.

“We’re really focused on making sure the space is diverse musically and that we capture audiences for all genres,” says Albany native and resident Jennifer Miller, who owns and operates the venue, including handling booking and event planning. (Spaces downstairs in the building are available for private parties.)

The relatively new music club, which officially opened in the summer of 2021, has a comfortable homey vibe, beautiful wood floors, art deco-style wallpaper, a mezzanine balcony with a private bar, and clear sightlines that make it easy to see the historic proscenium stage from nearly anywhere in the 300-person capacity club.

Lark Hall is also gathering a reputation as a venue that treats performers well by paying attention to details like having a well-appointed backstage area for artists. “INCRED venue. Green room was bigger than my apartment!” Bert wrote on Instagram after the show.

‘We take a lot of pride in making sure artists love the place and that it feels like home to them,” Miller says.

Surprisingly, many local music fans still have not made it out to the new venue, which seems to be hiding in plain sight in a building at 351 Hudson Ave. on the corner of Lark St.

“The outside of the building doesn’t really capture what’s on the inside,” says Miller, who bought the building at auction in 2018 with her husband Justin Miller. “You don’t realize it has this big giant hall on the second floor.”

Built in 1916, the 14,00-square-foot building originally was a chapterhouse and meeting hall where members of Daughters of the Eastern Star, a women’s auxiliary of the Freemasons, gathered. Then in more recent years, it housed Electronic Body Arts, a nonprofit dance and music studio.

The Millers are long-time music fans who have travelled all over the country to see some of their favorite bands, including roots-rock outfit My Morning Jacket, one of their favorite groups.

“We have a mutual love of music. We’ve always enjoyed music and going to concerts,” Miller says. ‘We have friends all over the country who we meet up with to see shows.”

The couple spent several years on restorations and new additions like bathrooms for the upstairs, an elevator to make the space accessible, and a state-of-the-art sound system. “We wanted to keep the building true to its history while including those touches that were important to us,” Miller says.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit at an unfortunate moment for the club, delaying its start by months. But the additional time also allowed the couple to pay extra attention to the details, like fixtures and artwork.

“We want the [venue] to be something organic,” Miller says. “We’ve taken a lot of time and put a lot of attention into the inside and how we treat artists and our neighbors. It’s a business but it’s more than that to us.”

Upcoming events at Lark Hall include Hayley Jane with Hold on Honeys tonight (8 p.m.); Flipturn with Hotel Fiction on Feb. 10; and The Seapods on Feb. 11.

Reach Kirsten Ferguson at [email protected]

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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