It might look posh, but Gilrein's still got the blues

By John Weeks
October 2007

WORCESTER Ė Donít let the swank dťcor or the upscale sound system fool you. The latest incarnation of Gilreinís is dedicated to showcasing serious blues acts.

The legendary club at 802 Main St. in Worcester reopened this past winter amidst a buzz of anticipation. The stretch limos and long lines of socialites the club attracted would have led an unsuspecting passerby to think P. Diddy was throwing a party - not that the blues was being cranked out.

Robert Johnson himself never could have envisioned his legacy of blues would be done such honors in the smartly renovated space that is Gilreinís House of Blues. The club, once known for its sea of smoke and steak sandwiches, is now boasting a New York style. Crisp hardwood floors cover the club, which is partitioned into two sections: bar and stage room. The expanded bar is fully stocked (the drinks are strong), while the elevated stage can be comfortably viewed from several tables and rows of chairs.

The entire space is gently lit, and, along with the small glass encased candles that grace each table, creates a relaxed atmosphere - perfect for drinks after work, or a romantic liaison. Add to that free valet parking and a limited dinner menu (the steak sandwiches are back) and Gilreinís has become a destination location for all.

But Gilreinís couldnít have kept its momentum going with good lighting and strong drinks alone. The club is all about the blues. Wednesday through Sunday, from 5 p.m. to close, patrons get inundated with class act blues.

“Itís great that Worcester has a place to see great blues again,” said Chris Fitz, of the award winning Chris Fitz Band, at a recent performance. “There are a lot of great blues acts out there, but Worcester didnít really have anyplace for them to play. Boston has places, but Worcester didnít. I hope it keeps going.”

Fitz said it was his bandís second time performing at the new Gilreinís. He remembered an earlier version of Gilreinís well.

“There was so much smoke,” he said. “Gilreinís has opened and closed a few times. This time they really did it over. Itís beautiful in here. Theyíve got a great sound system and an in-house engineer. Itís easy to make us sound good.”

Along with Fitz, the club has featured such talented acts as the Billy Blue Blues Band, David Maxwell and the Maximum Blues Band, Chah Lee, Reviní Kevin and the Bak Track Band; and the Valves. The club also finds room for jazz, and was recently rocked by the Worcester JAZZ Orchestra.

Worcester native Michael Reardon, lead singer of the Boston-based band Veneer, said it was high time his hometown got back its blues club.

“I was always too young to go there, and then it was closed,” he said. “Now I can go and itís great. You know, I live in Boston, but Gilreinís is a reason to come back to Worcester.”

Reardon said he hopes the club will help reinvigorate the music scene in Worcester.

“In Boston there are so many bands and so many places to play,” he said. “Itís not like that in Worcester. Our band is rock, but weíve definitely been influenced by blues. Our lead guitarist Joe Holloway studied blues and that is evident in the riffs and solos he comes up with.”

“In Boston youíve got all this music - rock, blues, jazz, experimental, some real far out stuff. All the musicians know each other and go to each otherís shows. Worcester has really been missing that blues element and I think thatís important for a healthy music scene. You look at all those great rock bands; the Who, the Stones, you name it, they were immersed in everything. They were immersed in the blues,” Reardon said.

Fitz said he has played all over the country and Gilreinís has always been one of the most fun places to throw down with the blues licks.

“Worcester is a nice city,” he said. “Itís nice to be able to come here. Weíll be coming back again.”

photo by Keith Forbis

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