Jan 27, 201510:37 AMArt Beat

River City Blues Club and Dart Room

Jan 27, 2015 - 10:37 AM
River City Blues Club and Dart Room

Photography by Jadrian Klinger

You have a choice when you first step foot into River City Blues Club and Dart Room – it’s either up or down.


Go down the stairs into the basement of the building, and you will find a sizeable, moody space, the walls lined with black couches, the center of the room furnished simply with diner-style chairs and café tables.


A well-stocked bar features the good stuff, scotches and bourbons, and it runs most of the length of the room. The modest stage is lit both literally, with blue-gelled spotlights, and figuratively, with the musicians’ passion for their mainstay: the blues.


The room has succumbed to the heavy languor of the bass, the molasses bend of the steel string, a grimace from the guitar player as he pushes the note further than it should go, higher than before, and now even a half step higher. The effortless stretch of a note blooms into the room above the reliable trudge of the drummer’s beat.


If instead you go up the stairs, you will find professional dart leagues locked in contentious battle as they toss darts alongside their beer-swilling brethren, the amateurs who are just as welcome here to learn the ropes.


There’s food, too, and a second bar and café on the second floor that will soon house the American dart game “baseball darts,” or “dartball.”


Did I mention that live music performances are scheduled for at least four nights a week? Who knew that there was even a demand for a professional dart room? Who would even think, in this era of declining demand for music performances of all kinds, that the blues and jazz could invigorate and draw a crowd nearly nightly?


The owners of this ambitious venture contend that the groundswell of support for their intriguingly fringe offerings can sustain an eventual seven-night-a-week schedule of blues and jazz performances. And when you get here and feel the vibe, you’ll begin to understand how this can, and does, work. Jonas Hair, Phil Dobson and Rick Heffelfinger are certainly not new to the arts and entertainment in the midstate. They have held leadership roles in a wide range of organizations, from Lancaster’s Progressive Galleries to Der Harrisburg Maennerchor, and their collective efforts have helped to breathe life into many vibrant venues and organizations.


River City Blues Club and Dart Room is based on the premise that people will come to Harrisburg from surrounding communities for a reasonably priced night out on the town if they are going to be treated to the passionate and uncompromising performances of accomplished musicians.


And while the venue is just a stone’s throw from downtown, it boasts a well-lit lot with free parking and plenty of spaces for even the busiest nights.


Heffelfinger’s experience running Steelton’s now-defunct The Blue Front has helped him and the other owners to create the perfect venue to host the kind of quality musicians with the capacity to draw customers from as far away as Baltimore.


Thursday nights are open-mic night, and Fridays and Saturdays tend to draw crowds from not only Harrisburg, but Lancaster and York as well. Wednesdays have become a night for open jam sessions, and the third Monday of the month sees the 16-piece River City Big Band overwhelm the club’s stage.


While it may not seem like a new or questionable ideal, the belief that musicians should be paid for their performances is fast becoming a relic of a bygone era. Seriously, just ask anyone with an Internet connection who has no qualms about “free-legally” downloading an unlimited supply of music.


Jonas Hair and his compatriots make sure that the cover charge, often a paltry $5 at the door, goes to pay the musicians. Because in the end, if we aren’t paying an artist for his or her art, we shouldn’t expect to have an opportunity to enjoy it for long.

So I guess I’ll see you at the blues club.


If you can’t make it tonight, you can trust that I’ll be there any other night of the week to support our region’s most courageous and much-needed venture.

About This Blog

Art matters from a financial, cultural vibrancy and economic growth perspective, and ultimately it affects the quality of life for those with access to it. It's the visceral impact of the arts that hits hard and lingers long:  the way that an indelible image may worm its imprint into your eye and then mind and then dreams.  The forlorn droop of a melody, and the sign of resignation from a local trumpet player's final note. The unbearably gorgeous and aching silence of the final scene of a film shot in our region.  Every one of these offerings exists here in the midstate, and beats strong with art, and we must support it.


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