An old New England Colonial building on the banks of the idyllic Ipswich River, in the Massachusetts seaside town of the same name, was home to Stonehenge Club. Coffee and cocoa, not alcohol, were the “drugs” of choice in this room noted for its superb acoustics, hospitable atmosphere and architecture unusual for a club, including stained glass windows and two working fireplaces to warm the space. On hot summer nights, with no air conditioning, the windows were thrown open and music wafted across the salt marshes.
In the mid-1960s the building was the site of the well-known folk club King’s Rook, where Tom Rush, Richard and Mimi Fariña, Judy Collins, and Paul Butterfield played. In 1969 new owner Phil Cole (whose day job was manufacturing machine tools) and manager Don Montrose, both from nearby Gloucester, relaunched the room as Stonehenge. It presented more plugged-in acts, although acoustic artists continued to appear, and local bands often opened for the headliners.
The venue became a noted showcase for new and emerging artists, and groups touring in support of a new LP. On a memorable New Years Eve 1970, The J. Geils Band, with their first album in stores for just a few weeks, led a conga line out the side door, around the back parking lot, and without missing a beat on the cowbell returned the revelers through the opposite side door. The original Modern Lovers played there, and the two full sets of that classic performance can be heard on YouTube. The Flying Burrito Brothers sang about “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, And Loud, Loud Music”, which Stonehenge adopted it as its theme song.
Agents and managers liked to book their acts there because they looked and sounded good. Among the the many performers were Boz Skaggs, Bo Diddley, Al Kooper, Commander Cody and The Lost Planet Airmen, Billy Squier with The Sidewinders, Leo Kottke, John Lee Hooker, Martin Mull, Michael Nesmith (without The Monkees), The Velvet Underground (without Lou Reed), Liv Taylor, John Hammond Jr., Pearls Before Swine, Mimi Fariña both with husband Tom Jans and solo (she loved the room), Bonnie Raitt and her band, Tim Hardin, The Holy Modal Rounders, Jon Pousette-Dart and Harry Chapin.
A&R scouts from record companies came around to check out new talent. Beatles producer George Martin, who was there to hear Seatrain, said the place reminded him of being home and ordered English black tea. Other groups from the UK who gigged there included Fairport Convention with Sandy Denny, Matthews Southern Comfort and the Jackie Lomax Band.
But by early 1972 the tide had turned. Escalating expenses for booking bands with name recognition put the squeeze on a venue that occupied the space between a rock ‘n’ roll ballroom (the former Boston Tea Party) and the little coffeehouses of Boston and Cambridge (such as the former Club 47). Like them, the daunting finances of the music business forced Stonehenge to shut its doors. Unlike its famous namesake in England, the New England club didn’t last for thousands of years. But many magical and mystical nights to remember took place there.
As for the building itself, which was originally constructed in the late 1600s, it is now known as the Shoreborne Wilson House, at 4 South Main Street in Ipswich, and after restoration was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
(By Steve Nelson and Don Montrose)