The Hidden New Paltz Music Scene

The performance space in local house venue The Pickle Jar. Courtesy of Devine.

It’s a Saturday night, and a trio of college students are finally able to put their schoolwork on the sidelines for a night. The flier reads “Doors at 8:30 p.m., show at 9 — $7 Cover.” Knowing there’s no rush, they show up late, and the first band has already started.

Seven dollars in hand, they ask the doorman, “How is it in there?” 

“Packed,” he says. 

A quick walk through the home would reveal a crowd that could fill a medium concert hall, local artists selling their work — tables of paintings, trinkets and metallurgy spicing up the walk to the music and mosh pit. Any eyeglasses that were clear before entering the band space have now completely fogged over.

The band finishes their second song. The singer excitedly asks the crowd, “How we doing tonight?”

A cheer of pure excitement seeps into the ears, emanating from the happy faces of people with all different backgrounds and interests. Here, for just a few hours, everyone has a chance to dance, hop and sing to their heart’s content without fear of judgment. 

House shows, not to be mistaken with the house genre, are homegrown live music events put on by people in the local community in their own homes. Having gone to many of these shows — playing some of them with my own band — in New Paltz from late 2018 to now, I can say they have undoubtedly brought me to understand what being part of a local community truly means. Many of my closest friends have met through music, and through being a part of local events. 

At first, however, it was confusing to figure out how it all worked. When I first moved into town, I remember having so many questions: What’s the address? What time does it start? Do I need to pay? It took a while before I was able to figure all of this out, and I couldn’t do it without help. 

Ironically, the moniker that has become synonymous for the local live music scene is DIY (Yes, do it yourself) shows. It’s a rather interesting network of student/graduate-run dwellings. Some run individually, and some run as a collective of venues, working together and organizing show dates between one another in an attempt to not step on toes. 

Before the pandemic, there were a myriad of venues in New Paltz. The first I attended was at the spot dubbed “Crossroads” in 2018. COVID-19, and the consequential shutdown that occurred effectively flatlined community-run events. 

Riley, a local student here at New Paltz, started his own DIY venue “The Pickle Jar” in April of 2021. Riley’s last name is being excluded to protect his identity. Initially, he had his concerns: “I didn’t really want to at first, honestly. I was concerned about the number of people that could come to our house. I was so disappointed that nobody stepped up after the pandemic as far as offering up venues.”

The DIY Scene stopped in its tracks, and music occurred elsewhere in town. As Riley remembers: “It really just migrated to bar shows. Those exist, and they’re good, but that’s not what the DIY scene is about.”

There are often local events at local bars. For live music in particular: Snug Harbor — also known as Snug’s — and Bacchus Brewery & Billiards host shows often. There is almost always a live band at Snug’s on a Friday or Saturday. To stay up to date for these locations, you should check their Instagram accounts: @bacchusnewpaltz, and @snugsnpz_38main.

A photo from a late-night Saturday Snugs show. Courtesy of Devine.

These days at “The Pickle Jar,” the biggest problem Riley and his housemates have had with hosting is having to turn people away. They run by word of mouth; they don’t post anything until the day of. For Riley, it’s a matter of safety: “We can reach the maximum threshold of people that we can hold safely in the space without needing to extensively advertise.”

As an attendee of one of these events, you also take part in an element of the do-it-yourself demeanor. You have to keep yourself up to date, in one way or another. 

Riley finds out about shows by word of mouth, almost exclusively: “Listen closely to the people you meet on campus. It’s a small world and we’re all pretty connected,” Riley said. If you want to easily find flyers for these shows, Riley recommends the DIYNewPaltz Instagram page as a good place to start. “It used to be that you’d look at the actual bulletin boards on campus, but people don’t really do that anymore.” 

A virtual bulletin board, The DIYNewPaltz Instagram page. Courtesy of Devine.

In 2018, as a new attendee of DIY shows, I wondered where the money paid to get past the door went. After playing at these places here for years, and talking with many show organizers over the years, I can tell you. Often, a good chunk of it goes to the house owners, although some forgo this for certain shows. The rest goes to the band for equipment and touring capability, or to community events. One organization, Millions of Butterflies (MOB), benefits from hosting and collaborating with local events. MOB is a nonprofit organization that created the local Free Food Fridge, hosted back to school care package events and bake sales where all profits go towards community efforts. 

Maria Bella after completion of the Free Food Fridge in November of 2021. Courtesy of Devine.

Maria Bella, founder of MOB, got into the local event scene in 2019 at Crossroads where she started doing open mics. “I got up on stage one night like ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ so I talked about how to find the clitoris.” The organizers loved it, and asked her to help host. 

Originally from Brooklyn, she found it really nice to find a community of people that was more diverse than what she was used to. She described the New Paltz scene as “people who all really loved music and were coming together to have a good time safely.” She made a lot of connections through house shows that she never would have otherwise here in New Paltz. With the help of vibrating mosh pits, she started to see New Paltz more as a place worth being, not one to escape from. This made her want to start working with the community more.

Maria’s mother had a non-profit Ulster County Family Services that wasn’t being used. The paperwork was signed over to Maria, and she used it to create something of her own that could help people. Maria changed the name, inspired by a protest group she used to march in, Warriors In The Garden. Thus, Millions Of Butterflies was born.

She fondly remembers event hosts being advocates for audiences. Maria and her housemates have held a benefit show for MOB, at their venue called “The Bath House.” They focused on creating a safe space for anyone LGBTQ+, while also being free of hard drugs and supplying resources to help anyone who uses.

At many venues, including “The Bath House,” artists are able to sell their merchandise. To get a spot for this, artists can simply reach out to venues and ask if there is a space available. It’s highly encouraged, as the entire scene is about supporting local art.

There are also various open sessions throughout town that any current or aspiring musician can join. At Parlor, a local record and book store, there are often jam sessions. Info on these can be found on Parlor’s instagram page, @parlornewpaltz. Snug’s also hosts an open mic every Thursday; the sign-up sheet is available there at 9:30 p.m.

These events are integral to so many student’s lives here in New Paltz. With so many distractions raging on in the world around us, we could all use a chance to give ourselves an evening of twirling, laughing and new friends.

Devin Devine

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