Live Music Field Guide: The Intimate Venues

intimate venues
Graphics by Ainsley Basic

Here at WERS, we’ve missed live music just as much as you. From Covid-19 guidelines to new hours, new locations, and unfortunate closures, there have been a lot of changes to keep track of as venues reopen. To help you navigate them, we’ve compiled a new Live Music Field Guide series. For the second edition, we are looking at how intimate venues in the area are approaching the return of live music.
 

THE GREAT SCOTT

The Great Scott located in Allston “Rock City” is temporarily closed. The venue is loved by so many music lovers and is greatly missed already. However, the venue is planning to relocate and reopen eventually. Great Scott is looking for help from their patrons in the form of purchasing their merchandise which can be found on their website. Funds raised will go towards the rebuilding of Great Scott in a new location as well as supporting “the long time passion and love” of Great Scott's owner Frank Strenk, who recently passed away. Proceeds will also be sent to B.E.S.T. or Backstretch Employee Service Team in his honor. If you have ever attended a show at Great Scott, you know the venue was a perfect place to enjoy live music and deserves all the help it can get in it’s re-creation. You can stay updated by checking up on their website (greatscottboston.com) as they hope to announce more news as soon as possible. 

- Kelsey Sidman, Staff Writer
 

WALLY’S CAFÉ JAZZ CLUB

Usually open 365 days of the year and exploding with life, the longstanding Wally’s Café unfortunately temporarily closed down when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The family-owned business best known for its jazz performances was started by Sir Joseph L. “Wally” Walcott, an immigrant from Barbados. He opened Wally’s Café in 1947 to create a platform where everybody in the community could come and see some form of entertainment, said his grandson Paul Pointdexter, co-owner and bartender at Wally’s. Many talented local artists and young aspiring musicians have made Wally’s a launching pad of their creative journeys, and Pointdexter said the family wanted to keep Wally’s dream alive.

Thankfully, the historical establishment is set to reopen in November. When asked about their plan to approach live music and re-opening, Pointdexter discussed that all City of Boston COVID-19 protocols will be enforced. “Everyone coming in here will understand the protocols that are in place for that period. If things change, they will have to adapt just like everybody else or you can’t come in. Safety above everything else.” 

He added, “the people are coming in here for the live music. And that’s our lifeline to the community.As we anticipate the grand re-opening, one might enjoy subscribing to Wally’s Café’s website here. You can also enjoy the live streaming sessions in the meantime, while we hope to hear and witness the live music soon.

- Mehvish Ali, Staff Writer
 

DORCHESTER ART PROJECT

Dorchester Art Project is a community arts collective that works to locate and provide affordable studio, performance, gallery, and arts spaces. Serving BIPOC and queer emerging creators in Dorchester and the greater Boston area, DAP hosts live shows, open mics, art exhibitions, and other events, showcasing the work of local performers. However, due to COVID-19 concerns, DAP’s nonprofit, the Brains Arts Organization, has taken a programmatic pause through December 3rd. Space rental opportunities will reopen in 2022 and DAP’s storefront will remain open every Saturday through the end of the year with 50% capacity and a mask requirement. DAP continues to showcase local talent through their digital content, releasing Tiny DAP Concerts, a YouTube series based off of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert. Episode four featuring artist Kasia Lavon is out now!

- Sam Goodman, Staff Writer
 

CLUB PASSIM

Club Passim, located in Harvard Square, is currently up and running, offering live music events! In an interview with Club Passim’s program manager Matt Smith, Smith shared that they officially reopened at the end of June and started out with a mask requirement. Not long after reopening, they began requiring vaccination for entry, since they are committed to keeping their customers and staff safe. They have also taken measures to improve the air circulation within their space. Everyone at Club Passim finds it paramount to keep everyone in their community safe, he said, since “getting back to live music is such an important part of our society… because a shared experience online does not equal a shared experience in person.”

- Erin Norton, Membership Assistant
 

CITY WINERY

City Winery is not only the site for live music, but for weddings, company events, and the City Winery restaurant. The venue is requiring their guests to show proof of vaccination or a negative test result. They also encourage that if you are sick, even if it's not Covid, you should stay home.

In a letter on their website, CEO and founder of City Winery Michael Dorf explained he wants to prioritize patrons' safety. He said, "in these very challenging times of reopening, we are carefully balancing the safety of our customers, staff and performing artists with the issues of privacy and freedom which we in our democracy cherish. Our number one mission is to create a safe, comfortable, and ideal setting for our dining guests, our artists and those attending live performances of music, comedy, or any art on our stage. Given this, our decision to move forward with creating an environment where we request that all patrons are vaccinated, and wear masks when moving indoors, will allow even more psychological comfort that our facility is as safe a place to be as possible. All guests are welcome on our outdoor patios, however masks will be required when entering the building." 

- Tatum Jenkins, Music Coordinator
 

ONCE SOMERVILLE

In November of 2020, the owner of ONCE in Somerville, JJ Gonson, announced that they would permanently be closing down the venue. But while the iconic chandelier-decorated space on Highland Street is no longer, ONCE is still going strong. Alex Pickert, who is in charge of booking at ONCE said that over this Summer they were able to produce a series of “25+ outdoor mini music festivals.” Over 6,000 people attended shows at ONCE’s set-up in Boynton Yards, a development near Union Square in Somerville.

Pickert explained the decision, “being outdoors just felt like the safest option to return to live music at the time, we were all just starting to leave our cocoons and spread [our] wings.” But as the weather gets colder, ONCE has shifted focus onto a few final events in conjunction with Boynton Yards and indoor options. On October 23rd, they will put on an outdoor OKTOBERFEST with six local bands, beer tastings from Portico Brewing, Taza Hot Chocolate, and more. Pickert said, “while we continue the search for our new home, we are going to be doing a series of shows at The Rockwell in Davis Sq. and also a few shows at the brand new Crystal Ballroom at The Somerville Theater!” It is clear that ONCE is doing whatever it takes to continue making a space to celebrate live music, build community, and uplift local artists and businesses.

As for current COVID-19 guidelines for outdoor shows, which are detailed in this faq, ONCE asks guests at the door if they have been vaccinated or received a negative test result in the past 72 hours, takes temperatures and only admits guests that have a temperature of under 100 degrees, and requires unvaccinated guests and children 2-12 to wear masks. 

- Nora Onanian, Web Services Coordinator

IRON HORSE MUSIC HALL

Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton’s longest running live music club, hosts a wide variety of events from rock album anniversary celebrations to pop-folk fan groups. Reopening for their first show since their early summer shut-down (Robyn Hitchcock on October 20th) Iron Horse will require all fans, artists, and staff crew to present proof of COVID-19 vaccination and remain masked while not eating or drinking. Pearl Street Nightclub and the Calvin Theater, two other Iron Horse Entertainment spaces, are also re-opening this week with the same COVID policies.

“We're all getting used to weirdness and creative solutions,” Iron Horse Entertainment Marketing Director Jim Neill said in an interview with WERS. “[I hope we can] all enjoy live music even more and appreciate that we should never take it — or anything — for granted.” 

- Sam Goodman, Staff Writer
 

THE MIDDLE EAST

The Middle East, a staple of Boston’s music scene, finally has a robust calendar of upcoming events on their website, making a full return since closing due to the pandemic. Over the years, the venue has expanded into five different spaces — Upstairs, Downstairs, Sonia, Zuzu, and Corner — each with varied capacities and atmospheres. Per guidelines posted online, all parts of the establishment require that guests present a picture or physical copy of a CDC issued vaccination card from the place of administration with dates and full names that match ID. Or, guests can provide a negative covid test from within 72 hours of the event and guests “MUST wear a mask when [they] are not eating or drinking.”

- Nora Onanian, Web Services Coordinator
 

THE CANTAB LOUNGE

While it seemed The Cantab Lounge in Cambridge was closing for good, the iconic intimate venue announced via Facebook yesterday that they will make a return on December 2nd. The venue may be under new ownership, now led by general manager Michael Cronin, but it is clear that Cronin is committed to keeping the experience as authentic as possible. In an interview with the Cambridge Daily, he explained that the space is receiving some light restoration and said “you’ll walk in and it’s going to be the Cantab that you remember. But you’re going to notice all these little, subtle things – some of them not so subtle, like a nice granite bar top.” Additionally, keeping tradition alive, opening night will see a performance from the Chicken Slacks. The seven-piece classic motown, funk, and soul dance band, has performed at The Cantab weekly on Thursday nights for close to 15 years. The Cantab posted on Facebook that they hope to get a website up and running soon and are expected to make more updates soon. 

- Nora Onanian, Web Services Coordinator
 

ARTS AT THE ARMORY

A historic armory repurposed into a center for arts for the community of Somerville and beyond, Arts at the Armory was founded upon creativity. The establishment includes two spaces for live music— a main hall and a café. After halting live events due to the pandemic, Operations Manager Jess White shared that they were excited to start introducing small events in June and July and have had more of a full live music performance schedule since mid-August. 

As outlined in The Armory’s COVID-19 guidelines, they require proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID test result within 24 hours of admittance. All guests are required to wear a mask inside of The Armory including children under the age of 12, who do not need to provide vaccination proof or a negative test result. White added that the venue provides extra masks at the door, hand sanitizer, and frequently reminds guests of policies. 

She said she keeps up with city guidelines, CDC recommendations, and what other venues with similar capacities are doing to assess the safest option, “not just for our patrons but our staff as well.” So far, White said, guests have been compliant. “[it seems] the people who are coming to events love live events and just want to be a part of it and are willing to do what they have to to make it happen.”

- Nora Onanian, Web Services Coordinator
 

LIZARD LOUNGE & THE TOAD

Located in Cambridge, Lizard Lounge and The Toad typically offer a place for food, drinks, and live music. But unfortunately, both venues are still temporarily closed. In an email statement from co-owner Holly Heslop, she said that they are hopeful that they can reopen in the future, but currently don’t have a date set. The two sports are a part of Cambridge Eats & Beats’ group of family-owned restaurants in Cambridge, all of which are hopeful to make a comeback. 

- Erin Norton, Membership Assistant
 

DARRYL’S CORNER BAR AND KITCHEN

Darryl’s Bar and Kitchen, located in the South End, has been continuously serving up their southern comfort food and offering live music! Their website and reviews indicate that they are in compliance with Boston’s mask mandate and are still attracting a crowd for their live music events, which require reservations in order to attend. Live performances coming up include Gregory Groover Jr. on the night of October 21st and Leland Baker on the night of October 23rd.

- Erin Norton, Membership Assistant
 

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