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Old 11-20-2014, 10:18 PM   #1
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Live Music in Boston/Musical Culture/By Extension, Culture in General

I dont know if this has a lot of places to go, but one thing that's always bugged me about Boston is the lack of good, local and small-venue live music places. If you want to hear top-40, Faneuil Hall-style crap you're in luck, but there aren't too many small venues, nor are there enough hole in the wall pubs that play good, fun live music. Kenmore / Lansdowne / Boylston was a huge nexus of live music in the 60s thru the 80s. We don't even have a music district anymore.

Part of the problem is the generally bland, rich, white yuppie atmosphere that pervades nearly all the new watering holes and the general flavor of commercial establishments. The same vibe that makes Boston surprisingly anti-everything associated with youth unless it's fratboy "clubs" and overpriced "Irish" gastropubs. Part of it is the insane expense of devoting part of your floorspace to music and losing table space for paying customers. I would hazard the guess that the city doesn't make it easy at all to get a license for live music, in part due to reflexive and institutionalized puritanism and in part due to NIMBY complaints. I'm not asking for New Orleans, where literally every single establishment has free live music, but we could do a lot better to embrace a nocturnal culture beyond Tavern in the Square.

I should include that when I went to Boston Calling earlier this year, Mayor Walsh came onstage and stated that young people were important for Boston and he wanted to make sure to make Boston a city for young people as well. I admired that. I know he got shot down about the late-night thing and I hope he keeps pushing. I was very glad to see that although the state idiotically refused to lift their control over the number of liquor licenses X town can dispense, we did get a large number of new licenses, part of which are tied to neighborhoods - so as to fix this horrid Seaport vortex of buying out every place in Mattapan, Roxbury and Dorchester and killing the last remnants of what was still left of the old places in those parts. I would like to see Walsh ask that police stop skulking the internet trying to find out where the underground shows are, and simultaneously promote more musical acts inside smaller venues and promote more midsize music venues like Brighton Music Hall.

In a single year, Cambridge opened the Beat Hotel and the Sinclair, next door to each other - the Beat is a MASSIVE place and it's PACKED the three times I've been - two were weeknights. The Sinclair also draws big crowds. The point is that the market is there for non-squares who want to go see non-fratboy music. I am sure that Boston could open up several places tomorrow and they'd all be filled. It's very sad knowing the history of 60s and 70s rock and 70s and 80s punk - the punk chapter is probably more well known to most people here, but for other music, the Grateful Dead spent every single New Year's in San Francisco save one: 1969, when they were in Boston (Boston Tea Party, formerly the Ark, later the Avalon and now HOB). They were wildly popular here. Ditto for the Velvet Underground. In Bob Marley's 1975 tour, he spent far more nights - I think 7 or 8 - in Boston than in any other city in the world (that was at Pall's Mall, on Boylston, a very popular blues club frequented by BB King, among others). It's probably common knowledge that Dylan spent a fair amount of time in Harvard Square (Joan Baez' father taught physics at Harvard). It's sad to know that Wally's is only the last survivor in a whole host of blues and jazz clubs that existed in Lower Roxbury (the definition of which marches ever closer to Melnea Cass and eventually will not even exist, at least in a realtor's vocabulary), clubs that all closed down one by one during the race crises, urban renewal and gentrification.

There are a lot of people on here who mourn various aspects of "dirty old Boston" (yes, I am referencing the facebook page), and I don't want to use lenses that are too rose-colored and ignore the fact that Boston assuredly is a far better place overall now than in 1975. But one aspect of the gentrification/yuppification/wholesale whitewashing is that we have lost the common places where interesting people can go enjoy themselves in interesting places. To a certain extent, art - and music, as a form of it - require an environment that is unfinished and rough around the edges. While one might find good, soft jazz in a flashy new swanky restaurant, most other musical genres will not flourish in all the new places that are cropping up. Thats why they need protection. We seem to have done a halfway decent job for the visual arts in the Fort Point and Thayer Street. We should do the same for music.

I should stay on my own topic that I'm creating, but I'm not really just talking about music but all places of communal social interaction (that involve more than straight drinking) that seem to be disappearing at an alarming pace. As happy as I am to see Assembly Sq. cleaned up, it's sad that places like Good Time, as crappy as they were, are disappearing. I don't like King's much - if I want to go bowl or play pool or whatever, I'd like to have some lawnmower beer and play the damned game in a venue without blasting music, and save the $12 Patron shot for a different kind of night. And Do Re Mi - this will be a big loss. No place like Do Re Mi is ever going to open in a new building in Boston. I was actually reminded of this whole thing by this post: and was reminded of various musical studios in old warehouse buildings that time and again get replaced by condo towers. With all the development going on in the city, especially all the luxury condos built for a different sort of clientele, we need to think about how we can defend and rebuild the city for the young people that the city needs. (Sorry I know plenty of older people enjoy live music but you know what I mean).

So, in summary, I believe the city - the mayor, and the BRA - should offer incentives to new developments to consider commercial establishments geared toward music and younger crowds. I think any neighborhood near Boston is fair game but it would be nice if there could be a cluster or two of them. Id like to see more micro-local music in pubs and bars, and more pubs and bars that cater to this crowd. I have yet to see a new bar in the City (excluding Cambridge) that does this. Those are my thoughts. What about yours?
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Old 11-20-2014, 10:32 PM   #2
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Re: Live Music in Boston/Musical Culture/By Extension, Culture in General

I couldn't agree more, and will say that I am SO HAPPY to be working at the Beat. Live blues/jazz/reggae/bluegrass every night of the week, big band on Sunday. It's one of the best places I've worked specifically because of the live music. I feel like this sounds like a plug (I promise it's not), its just SO refreshing to not be at basically the same damn bar every place you go.
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Old 11-20-2014, 10:38 PM   #3
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Re: Live Music in Boston/Musical Culture/By Extension, Culture in General

Nice - I was actually amazed when I went there the first time... it seemed too good to be true. I thought, wait, this is way too reasonable for the Boston area. A huge venue, no cover, live music, not full of total assholes?! Where am I!? Thankfully Cambridge is keeping it real, but we need like 10 more of this.
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Old 11-20-2014, 10:51 PM   #4
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Re: Live Music in Boston/Musical Culture/By Extension, Culture in General

The scene has definitely changed (or "evolved" over the past two decades or so). It's a bro game now. But there's still an opportunity for creativity. I love Brighton Music Hall. I saw Agnes Obel with my chick at the Sinclair not too long ago.

Also, check out Vanyland. It's a website that was created by former Phoenix critic Michael Marotta. It's the only place where I get my rock 'n roll news these days.
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Old 11-20-2014, 11:41 PM   #5
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Re: Live Music in Boston/Musical Culture/By Extension, Culture in General

Cool site I had not seen it...
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Old 11-21-2014, 09:25 AM   #6
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Re: Live Music in Boston/Musical Culture/By Extension, Culture in General

In all fairness, if you're in a band and looking to play a show a month plus out, you'll have no problem booking either O'Brien's, Great Scott, the Middle East Upstairs, or TT's (not to mention the places like PA's Lounge, Tavern at the End of the World, etc. if you're really desperate). All of those are great local clubs, so I'm not personally sure the problem is lack of venues. I think if there's anything that's "wrong" with the Boston music scene, it's that we seem to have a hard time developing an actual scene. I don't know the reason why, but if I had to guess, I'd say its some combo of the incredibly transient population and the high cost of living (which micro economically impacts rehearsal space rental, beer at the club, ticket pricing, etc). Basically, it's expensive to be a musician, it's expensive to be a fan, and the majority of people are only here for a few years and are mostly focused on school and/or work.

Source: played around town in bands from 98-present, spent a lot of time at those clubs and with local bands.

Also, vanyaland is great. and are also great. If you're feeling like nothing's ever going on, check those three. You'd be surprised at how well Boston does musically in spite of everything.

Last edited by underground; 11-21-2014 at 10:07 AM.
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