Kristen Hersh (submitted photo)
Kristen Hersh (submitted photo)
Thursday October 11, 2012

BELLOWS FALLS -- Gary Smith knew he needed someone special for the first concert in the Windham Ballroom in 30 years.

And Kristin Hersh fit that bill.

The accomplished singer-songwriter has made a name for herself in the music world and met Smith in the mid-1980s when her band, Throwing Muses, opened for his.

A friendship formed and now Hersh is slated to perform the first of a series of events promoted by Popolo, a new restaurant and venue owned by Smith, Kristen Fehrenbach and John-Michael Maciejewski, located in the old Windham Hotel.

Doors will open at 7 p.m. Friday and the show begins a half-hour later. Tickets are on sale now and cost $25 in advance, $30 at the door while tickets remain and $35 for special seating (with a dinner discount at Popolo).

"People can expect a more-or-less upscale experience, more like you get in a city than you get in the country," Smith said on Wednesday. "(Kristin) is a force of nature. She's like the redwood forest or the Grand Canyon. She's an incredibly powerful and intelligent person and knows her instrument (guitar) and knows her songwriting."

Hersh said she is looking forward to playing in Vermont, which she said she has done only a handful of times over the past 20 years.

"I love what I do and in order to do it, I have to disappear sometimes," she said, adding that she uses her music to tell stories. "Keeping your world small is a much better way to learn music."

She said she has hundreds of songs to choose from and hopes local residents like her sound. Her music is a sort of alternative rock.

Hersh, who has more than 93,000 followers on Twitter, formed Throwing Muses when she was 14 years old and released 20 albums with two different bands (including 50 Foot Wave) and as a solo artist. In 2010 she published "Rat Girl," a coming-of-age memoir the New York Times called "uncommonly touching" and Rolling Stone magazine named as one of the top 10 music memoirs of all time.

The book chronicles her early public life, during which she was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and became a teenage mother.

After signing with 4AD, a prestigious British label at age 18, she later switched to Sire Records, an American label, which has worked with Madonna, The Pretenders and The Ramones.

She is from Newport, R.I., and spends time living there, in California and in New Orleans, where her husband/manager Billy O'Connell teaches artist management and music marketing at Loyola University, during the academic year.

Smith, who with his business partners rents spaces in the building from the Windham Development Group, said the show will be held in one of the additional spaces. It sits next to his former music room and recording studio, once called The Windham. He said he produced at least 12 albums there and held 265 shows in two years.

"It's an intimate experience," he said looking out at the space.

Smith, who once managed Natalie Merchant and worked with The Pixies, has fond memories of the day he met Hersh with Throwing Muses.

"I loved them. I had actually heard of them before they played for us. I was really into working to get women into rock ‘n' roll. I had had a lot of feminist study classes," he said with a laugh, though Throwing Muses was not made up entirely of women. "I just fell in love with the band."

He compared its music to that of bands Hüsker Dü or Mission of Burma.

Smith said Hersh will deliver a strong performance with the Amtrak train passing under the building's foundation.

"This woman has played at every major venue in the world," he said. "She's somebody they write about. She's not like a big pop star. She has a real strong cult following."

For more information, call Popolo at 802-460-7676 or visit popolomeanspeople.com.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.