Stone Rooster owner aims to share the melody with all who seek it

By Andrea Ray | Aug 29, 2017
Photo by: Matthew Bernat

Marion — Nonagenarian bar owner Gilda Pietragalla Downey just wants everyone to sit down and enjoy the music—from her bar, not the parking lot.

On the weekends her bar, Gilda’s Stone Rooster, is in full swing with the sounds of big band jazz. Downey has been a “music mother” to many Old Rochester Regional High School musicians, who practiced at the Wareham Road bar before they went on to bigger and better things.

Former student Aaron Janick practiced under Downey's watchful eye before endorsing trumpet companies around the world; Mack Williamson played the drums in the corner of the bar before touring at the likes of the Bern Jazz Festival. “Wait until you hear what they’re doing these days,” Downey said excitedly as she reminisced, a note of pride evident in her voice. Her former high school music players still swing by to perform whenever they’re in town.

The musicians who play always draw an appreciative crowd. One recent band performance by the South Coast Jazz Orchestra had the entire audience singing along. “The band sang 'Friends' and everyone just had their arms up in the air, waving along. I tell you, I had goosebumps,” Downey said. “I’ve been doing this a long time and I never saw anything like that. That’s what I want people to experience.”

Ten people who came by to hear the music play experienced the effect all right—from the parking lot. It happened to Janick’s parents as well, when they came by to hear him play several weeks ago.

“I had to turn them away,” Downey said. “I was already at capacity. I opened the door and let the music drift out but they couldn’t come in.”

Downey has spent the last few months trying to get the capacity of her bar, currently set at 80 people, upped to 90 people for two nights per month.

“I just don’t want people hanging out in the parking lot to listen,” she said. “I have big bands here twice a month, that’s the only time I even get that many people in here.”

In a letter to Marion’s Board of Selectmen, Downey noted, “I have done all I can to take reservations and make sure that I stay within my limit of eighty people; however with myself, a bartender, one helper at the door and seventeen instrumentalists, only sixty customers can be allowed in to hear a great performance.”

“When I’m at capacity and the band and sixty customers are seated. I still have empty chairs. The customers I turn away ask ‘why?’ There is still plenty of room. Adding fifteen to twenty people will not overcrowd the room and everyone will have a seat.”

Downey’s request cannot be fulfilled by the Selectmen though, according to an August 10 letter to the Selectmen from Marion Building Commissioner Scott Shippey.

The capacity of Gilda’s Stone Rooster was capped at 80 in the Chapter 304 Acts of 2004, which came about after the Station Night Club fire killed over 100 people in 2003. According to Shippey, the Chapter 304 Acts give a town's fire chief the authority to order any establishment that falls within certain guidelines and within a capacity of 100 or more to install a code compliant sprinkler system.

“I believe the Fire Department, in conjunction with the Building Department, conducted several site inspections of all the bars, restaurants and nightclubs in town and the owners were given the choice to either decrease the capacity or sprinkler their respective establishments,” Shippey noted in the letter. He went on to explain that Downey would need to file an appeal of the capacity order or petition the Massachusetts Fire Safety Commission and Automatic Sprinkler Appeal Board to increase the bar’s capacity without the installation of an approved sprinkler system.

Downey remains unruffled. "I'll sort something out," she said. "I want this to be a community. I want people to hear the music."

In the meantime, she made it clear, everyone is welcome at Gilda's Stone Rooster for a drink, some music, and a good time. "Everybody should have the chance to hear this music," she said. "Music is what keeps us young. The moment I hear it, I'm happy again."

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