Photo: Kelsey Miraglia
Post-punk band Hill Haints have spent their years playing the northeast since they formed “out of boredom and rustbelt desperation” in The Parlor Cafe, a tiny punk coffee shop in North Adams.
This weekend, they are set to play O+ Festival there, the first year the health-focused arts festival has made its way to the Massachusetts town, sharing the bill with other Capital Region acts like J.B. AKA Dirty Moses and Belle Skinner.
“I really loved living in North Adams, and we all try to help out the communities up there, especially because that is where most of the band lives,” lead vocalist and guitarist E. S. Cormac says. “We are all really excited that O+ decided to hold the festival in North Adams and proud of the hard work everyone has done organizing it. We’re really happy to be a part of it.”
He says he was drawn to the non-profit festival—started in 2010 to bring underinsured creatives “a variety of services donated by doctors, dentists, bodyworkers and mental health providers” in exchange for their art—years ago while the event was mainly based in Kingston.
“It’s all about community health,” he says. “Initially we were kind of freaked out because Massachusetts has such a different health system but there are all sorts of things that fall off. Maybe you can afford to go to the doctor but what if you need to go to a specialist? I know in North Adams they don’t have a hospital so people are super isolated. They’re limited to what they can get to, you have to drive to Pittsfield or Bennington.”
At O+ Festival, creatives have an opportunity to see doctors and specialists. Attendees are also invited to check out farmers markets, wellness and health training expos, healing arts classes, mental health workshops and exercise classes as well as NARCAN and CPR trainings.
Cormac is the only member to live in Albany, bringing the rest of the Berkshires-based band in to play gigs at Paulys Hotel and The Low Beat as well as frequent Super Dark Collective shows at Desperate Annie’s in Saratoga Springs or the now-defunct River Street Pub in Troy.
“It’s amazing how good the scene is here,” he says. “We’re really lucky to be living here in this moment. The scenes come and go. Right now, you can do a basement show on a Friday, Super Dark can do something that doesn’t really compete, you have Mystery Girl doing their EP release last Saturday with everybody there and then Greens with their album release the same night and everybody goes to that. That’s how strong the scene is. No one is starving and we’re not all watching the same bands.”
Hill Haints frequents the Berkshires scene as well, continuing to play spots like The Parlor Cafe, which brought them together back in 2013.
Cormac had been living in North Adams—save for two Army tours in Afghanistan—finishing his degree in journalism at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
“I got out of the army, then I started a band,” Cormac recalls with a grin. “It was me, Caleb Miner on drums and Kat [Celantano], our bassist. Our friend owned the coffee shop and had jam nights. We would all show up because we were kickin’ around and we got sick of everybody playing the blues and Pink Floyd crap. So, one night we got up and raged out.”
Hill Haints played their first show there (a birthday party) with Troy’s Eternal Crimes.
“It was like our DIY spot,” Cormac says. “It has different owners now but it’s still the same. They have bands on Saturdays and open mics one night a week.”
The band has been making monthly weekend trips on a “circuit” in and around the area from New Bedford, Mass. up to Plattsburgh as well as the Pioneer Valley around Northampton where they frequent well-known DIY punk spots like Cold Spring Hollow.
“We’re post-punk, so it’s a smaller niche,” he says. “It’s not so much that we’re even a tighter community, we’re just a different community. There’s not that many of us really. We’re comfortable being in a tight spot, we don’t care how run down it is.”
This summer they’ll be taking a break, save for a May 19 gig at Paulys Hotel, to write and record a new project, taking a different approach from their April 2018 EP Carcinogen.
“We don’t want to play out our new material. We did that with our recent EP, it was basically our set that we had been playing for a year. Everyone’s excited to have it physically, but they’ve already heard all of it…Everything changes, sometimes you just get sick of playing them and get hypercritical.”
Cormac says attendees at O+ Festival can expect their set to get pretty loud.
“I have a lot of amps. I get to pull the stack out of my living room, take ‘em away from my cat. That’s where he sleeps.”
Catch the gritty “no-wave” punk band at O+ Fest before their summer break Saturday, May 11 at 1:30 PM at the Elks Lodge, 100 Eagle St., North Adams, Mass.