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Like Tin to Gold, The Alchemystics Heat up the Iron Horse

Photography by Sue Sparks

It’s commencement weekend for the local colleges in Northampton, MA, so the town is packed. Families and friends out on the town wait for their dinner reservations, attend speeches, and try not to get wet, as it’s a cold, rainy evening. The most electric energy, however, is over at the Iron Horse, where The Alchemystics and Bearquarium are playing the late show, and as the early band ships out, the line at the door travels down the road, past the parking lot.

The Alchemystics

The Alchemystics are there early, their cars parked in a caravan outside the venue, waiting for the okay to load in. There’s a certain impatient energy to the crowd. I ask a young group if they’re excited about Spread Hope, the new Alchemystics album and the reason for this release party. “We already have it,” they shout, pointing to keyboardist Jay Metcalf’s Subaru, where he’s selling CDs out of his trunk.

“I want one,” says an older woman, grinning. “I can’t wait.” She’s just one of many eager fans that have gathered early to get in and get ready. The Alchemystics are from around the area, and could call Northampton their home base. Naturally, they have some long- time fans.

Another group also already bought the CD, and too impatient to hear them live, have relocated to their car in the parking lot, doors open and windows down, playing the album as loudly as possible, ears turned to the speakers, listening intently.

Mike Sera and Chelz Tuson are a couple that seem to have bonded over music. “We’ve been following them for three years,” Mike tells me; “since I was sixteen.” His smile shows that he’s excited for the show and the prospect of further shows in support of Spread Hope. I ask Chelz why she loves The Alchemystics so much. “Reggae mixed with rap- that’s the best,” she replies. Mike adds, “This is what we love.”

The Alchemystics

Another fan describes them as, “Reggae, but more than reggae.” She’s standing in a circle with her friends, around the corner, passing something around. There’s a young crowd, lots of teenagers and college students that The Alchemystics are perfect for, exactly as they describe it: a bit of all the music they love, with lots of hooks, opportunities to sing along, and a definite dance party.

But fans aren’t limited to the late-teenager. An older couple wears biker jackets, white T-shirts, and the man sports some rocking facial hair. One woman explains she has the band’s first album wired into her light switch. “It’s the first thing I hear in the morning,” she smiles, adding with a laugh, “This new album should get us through the summer.”

Before they even play, The Alchemystics have exceeded expectations. Just by offering this show, the line seems enthusiastic. It’s getting late, but no one minds and The Alchemystics themselves are feeling good, meet-and-greeting with the line. Bassist/ co-producer Garrett Swayer’s car is caked in dirt with “Clean me” fingered on his windshield. One bumper sticker supports organic farms and the other simply reads, “The Alchemystics,” and the car is the last thing the line sees before the door.

The Iron Horse bartenders, despite the onslaught of costumers, remain friendly, aware that with no ventilation in the venue cold drinks are necessary. Sure enough, everyone was prepared for the cold, rainy night, and now they stand in a room as humid as Miami in July.


Bearquarium has just met The Alchemystics for the first time, but the bands have already gelled, and the Burlington-based band is a great opener because they too are a musical melting pot, and take to the stage to play their bluesy/soul/funk with afrobeat tendencies. Singer Justin Panigutti, with his mop of curly hair, is unprepared for the heat and isn’t wearing his sunglasses, a staple stage prop. Still, he grabs the microphone and greets Northampton. Tonight, Gordon Clark is the only horn player, on trombone, and Shane Hardeman is on keys. Josh Weinstein stands next to Justin, moving in time as he plays bass and they begin “Funky Georgia”.


Many of the same long-time Alchemystics fans have never heard Bearquarium before, but The Iron Horse is nearly at capacity and the band is winning everyone over. Soon enough the place is a rollicking dance party. When Justin pulls out harmonica and the sound gets really groovy, alongside the humidity, it feels like New Orleans. “Put your hand on your heart,” Justin says. “You feel that? It’s a beat. It’s all we got. Love. It’s all we got.”

After their short and sweet set, Bearquarium exchanges spots with The Alchemystics, who, after a long soundcheck, begin. Jay’s in a Roots of Creation T-shirt, (“Gotta represent,” he tells me), and Ras Jahn is in a slick Marley shirt. The band is as eager as the audience. They begin with the a’capella background provided by Ras Jahn and Ian I of “Dedication”, and then it takes off.


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