Monday, August 15, 2011

Boston Can Do Music Too

Boston is decidedly not the first city any American, or even visitors from around the world, think of when considering a quality nightlife or music scene. The Massachusetts capital is well-respected mostly for its historical significance and the droves of colleges and universities nearby. According to Travel+Leisure in their article “America’s Best Music Cities,” featuring Boston in 11th place last year, “The college music in Cambridge is the heart of the Boston area’s music scene.” This, however, does not account for its reputation for music in everyday conversation, not to mention the frequency with which many musicians leave the town out of their tour schedules.

Dinosaur Jr. playing at the now-defunct Avalon club in 2005 

The city that birthed successes like Aerosmith, Dinosaur Jr. and The Pixies does earn its spot among America’s best places for music with a mix of shows and festivals with up-and-coming acts of all sorts, in addition to venues, large and small, that feature local acts, independent and  big-name artists from around the country.

There are plenty of events from the former category to partake in soon. Although the bulk of the festival season is drawing to a close, with summer as its primary lifeline, several events are still on the horizon. The first Jamaica Plain Music Festival, for example, takes place on Saturday, August 20th.  The festival will feature 20 bands, all from or based in Jamaica Plain, on two stages located a short walk away from scenic Jamaica Pond. The event is fully funded by donations. The local acts cover a broad spectrum, from alt-rockers, falsetto singer-songwriters to large band performances.

One important factor to also weigh when considering music from Boston is the role of the Berklee College of Music. The prestigious school not only supplies the city and the world with a steady supply of trained musicians, but organizes several concerts series to showcase the talent of their students. The college currently has two shows left in its Georges Island music fest, along with other series at Kendall Square and the Institute of Contemporary Art, among other locations. These shows also host a wide range of performers, with classically-trained acts, jazz musicians and traditional folk and pop artists.

The Museum of Fine Arts also has a summer concert series, the Elaine and Jerome Rosenfield Concerts in the Courtyard, in progress. There are two shows remaining, the first featuring singer-songwriter Mirah, the second with headliner David Wax Museum, on August 17th and August 24th, respectively.

As well as hosting a variety of festivals and series during the summer and beyond, many quality music venues, large or small, can be found throughout Boston. Every sort of hall or club is available, although some require a bit of exploration to discover.

Boston’s House of Blues, however, is not one of these. The larger-scale, 2500-capacity hall opened in 2009 on Lansdowne Street, feet away from Fenway Park. The House of Blues brand had outgrown their smaller Harvard Square location, where their first establishment opened in 1992. The venue plays a unique part in the city’s musical sphere, accommodating well-established artists who can draw large crowds but might have trouble filling arenas such as the Bank of America Pavilion or the TD Banknorth Garden. House of Blues Boston books a wide variety of such musicians, with house fan-favorite Deadmau5, post-rockers Mogwai and City and Colour all on the upcoming roster.


The Paradise Rock Lounge fills in the next steps down from halls like the House of Blues nicely with a capacity of 904. Located in the Allston area, half-way between Boston University and Boston College on Commonwealth Avenue, the venue appeals largely to the college and indie music fan. It nevertheless features a variety of acts as well, with mellow electro band Toro Y Moi, popular alt-rock act Motion City Soundtrack and synthpop outfit Ladytron scheduled to stop by this fall.

Its sister location, Brighton Music Hall, within walking distance, hosts similar acts on a smaller scale. It acts as a lead-up for bands and musicians hoping to headline events at Paradise, Royale and other larger venues in the future.

T.T. the Bear's, with its slightly larger neighbor The Middle East to the left

Unlike its bigger counterparts, Brighton Music Hall is a more focused venue; previously known as Harpers Ferry, the location re-opened under new ownership this past January, which eliminated its lounge and pool areas in favor of additional crowd space. Co-owner Ryan Vangel told the Phoenix in January that “We want to make it feel like a music venue and nothing but a music venue.”

Among the smaller venues, which include popular spots such as Brighton’s neighbor, Great Scott, T.T. the Bear’s is also a well-known hotspot. The tiny venue, with a maximum capacity of under 300, is nevertheless a popular place for music enthusiasts, as it was dubbed best small live-music club for four of the past five years by Boston magazine. T.T. the Bear’s features live music seven days a week, with acts from upstart touring bands to unknown local musicians, often offering several hours of live performances in one night.

Given all this activity, any citizen would be hard-pressed to go without a show on almost any given night. Not only are there several large arenas and halls hosting well-known acts or party events with lesser-known musicians, there are dozens of smaller venues, such as the Middle East, the Lizard Lounge and Middlesex that give the latter group more time in the spotlight. Boston might not be under as a bright of a spotlight as Los Angeles or New York, but there is an endless amount of music to experience for those willing to explore.

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