The Red Room @ Cafe 939
Berklee College of Music is a music industry powerhouse in the middle of Boston. Hundreds of Berklee alumni have won Grammy Awards, including Quincy Jones, Bruce Hornsby, and Esperanza Spalding. The question is not if each year’s graduating class will produce the next big thing, but who it will be.
At Berklee’s all-ages venue, The Red Room @ Café 939, audiences can experience some of the best student groups in town as well as touring acts in an intimate setting – the room fits about 200 people at most. The Red Room has hosted performances by superb local indie rock groups Nemes, Grey Season, and folk duo The Western Den, as well as now internationally recognised artists such as Hozier, Young the Giant, and Ingrid Michaelson. With plush couches lining one wall, it’s as if you’ve invited the artist right into your living room.
Not only is The Red Room sure to produce an up-close-and-personal experience, but it’s also easy to get to. Chris West and Deni Hlavinka, who together make up The Western Den, highlighted the venue’s central location as one of the factors that make The Red Room one of their favourite places to play and to see a show. “With so many different sub-cities around the area, being right in the city of Boston is a huge plus for fans travelling to and from the venue.”
With Berklee you expect top-notch performances night after night, and that’s exactly what you’ll get at The Red Room @ Café 939. See who’s up next.
Don’t Take Our Word For It:
On the best show Grey Season has seen at The Red Room @ Café 939:
‘The Milk Carton Kids – this was back in 2011/early 2012, before they had their big break on [David] Letterman. They were captivating, and though the room can be rowdy and loud with a burning live act, on this occasion it was filled with chairs and everyone sat quietly and attentively listening to the duet fill the room with golden harmonies and rooted, bluegrass, country solos, reminiscent of when America was a much greener, pastoral place. It was the type of show that could change your life.’ – Ian Jones, Bassist/Vocalist, Grey Season
Address: 939 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02115
Club Passim resembles the earliest classroom you can remember, where you learned the difference between squares and triangles. Brown beams support a popcorn ceiling, bread crumbs cover white radiators that line one basement wall, the opposite marked by wooden cabinets you’d expect to hold antique versions of Monopoly and Battleship. Passim is completely unpretentious, yet one of the most influential clubs in Boston’s musical history.
This legendary venue opened in 1958 as a jazz club and soon became a staple in the burgeoning folk scene of the 60s. 17-year-old Joan Baez first performed here (then known as Club 47). After building a following, Baez would introduce the audience to a young man named Bob Dylan who would perform between acts.
Today Passim is home to more than 400 concerts a year, with tickets ranging from $5 – $50 depending on the show. Listeners can take in an evening filled with folk, jazz, blues, Celtic, and more. You can find local artists such as folk duo Tall Heights, indie acoustic quartet Darlingside, and banjoist Mark Whitaker performing to audience members sitting around small tables, drinking craft beer and wine. “Even the farthest seats from the Passim stage are still closer to the action than you’d find yourself at most venues,” said Don Mitchell, guitarist and vocalist for Darlingside. “Can’t beat that. Also, there are delectable local beers.”
Boston banjoist Mark Whitaker had similar thoughts about the venue that sits just over 100. “Club Passim keeps the focus on the music. It’s a cosy room with table seating, food, drinks, and a great vibe,” he said. “But musicians aren’t just thrown in a corner to add to the ambiance – they’re front and centre at Passim. People really listen to the music, you’re close to the performers, and the sound is top-notch. It’s a wonderful place to take in a performance.”
Don’t Take Our Word For It:
‘Club Passim is at the crossroads of storied and hip. It’s where classic meets modern. It’s the only place that could have so much history, and remain relevant in today’s music scene.’ – Paul Wright, Vocalist/Cellist, Tall Heights
Address: 47 Palmer Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
In the middle of Harvard Square, and neighbour to folk-hub Club Passim, stands concert hall and restaurant The Sinclair. Having just opened in late 2012, The Sinclair has quickly become known as one of the best venues in Cambridge. Names like Sam Smith, Grouplove, and Cold War Kids have all performed in this roughly 500-person capacity venue, and tickets usually sell for around $20 or less. If you feel like busting a move, step onto The Sinclair’s large dance floor in front of the stage – or if you want to relax and just listen, climb up to the balcony that wraps around the venue. And with its kitchen next-door serving up delectable entrées like miso roasted chicken and Parisian gnocchi, The Sinclair is a one-stop shop for a satisfying night.
Lead singer and guitarist Ross Livermore who has played at The Sinclair with his rock/soul outfit Ross Livermore Band cited the venue’s sound quality and the hospitality of the staff as two factors that contribute to it being a great place to perform. “The staff were so humble and accommodating to us, it was almost surprising in a way,” he said. “Because of that we were all super relaxed and played a great show.”
Livermore went on to describe his favourite show at The Sinclair – Boston folk duo Tall Heights in April 2014. “I think it was my favourite because those guys have been such good friends of the band over the years and I was so proud to watch them up on that stage, but also I think I was just amazed at how a two-man act could sound so full and rich in a room that otherwise would be more of a rock setting,” Livermore said. “It just was great to see how this club can be so versatile with genres.”
Oh, and according to The Sinclair’s FAQ section on their site, if you’re named Larry Bird, Bobby Orr, Carl Yastrezemski, or Tom Brady, you get in for free.
Don’t Take Our Word For It:
‘You go see a show at The Sinclair because it’s easy to get to, the sound is amazing, there isn’t a bad spot to stand, the food is great, and the best up-and-coming bands and artists in the business are rolling through – like Lake Street Dive, Bernhoft, Allen Stone, and countless others. There really isn’t a reason NOT to see a show at The Sinclair.’ – Ross Livermore, Lead Singer/Guitarist, Ross Livermore Band
Address: 52 Church Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
The Middle East
Actually three live performance venues packed into one (Upstairs, Downstairs, and Corner), as well as a restaurant called ZuZu that hosts live music, DJs, and dance parties, you’d be hard pressed to find a place that has more music going on in the city than The Middle East. Located in Central Square in Cambridge, you’ll find a diverse crowd at The Middle East, made up of college kids, young professionals, and folks young and old. Up-and-coming Boston rapper Dutch ReBelle loves the community aspect that The Middle East fosters. “It’s in the heart of the college and art scene of Cambridge,” ReBelle says. “It brings out the most diverse crowds of all different ages and musical tastes.”
If you’re a fan of hip hop and rap, The Middle East is the place to be. Many hip-hop artists featured on Sound of Boston’s Beantown Beats column perform at The Middle East, such as Dutch ReBelle and hip-hop/funk group Viva La Hop, and the venue has even had the likes of superstars Eminem, Big K.R.I.T., and KRS-One grace the stage.
Viva La Hop’s founder and drummer Andrew Ellington has fond memories of playing at The Middle East Downstairs – a 575-person capacity room. “The best show I’ve seen at Middle East was either The Pharcyde or Pete Rock & CL smooth, a show that Viva La Hop was a part of two years ago in our younger stages. They aren’t afraid to turn the subwoofers up, and boy do they have some speakers to get it thumpin’.” Bring some earplugs. It’s about to get loud.
However, the venue does not exclusively showcase hip hop artists – far from it. With so many concerts every night in each of its venues, The Middle East offers almost every type of music. From folk to punk, rock and reggae, this venue has it all. Alex Glover, bassist for local rock group Nemes, described his experience playing their sold-out CD release show at The Middle East Upstairs in front of nearly 200 people. “Its intimate atmosphere and expert in-house sound technician make for an excellent opportunity for a rock band to melt some faces (and hearts),” Glover said. “To look down from the stage and see so many of our fans packed in close, singing along with us was a memory we’ll cherish for many, many moons to come.”
Don’t Take Our Word For It:
‘If you’re a fan of unique and thought-provoking bathroom graffiti, look no further.’ – Alex Glover, Bassist, Nemes
Address: 472-480 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139
Brighton Music Hall
Before Brighton Music Hall (BMH) opened in 2011, 158 Brighton Avenue was home to Harpers Ferry, a staple in the Boston music scene since 1970, hosting raucous shows ranging from artists like Bo Diddley, to Maroon 5 and Jefferson Starship. Nowadays you can find Boston bands such as funk group Ripe and indie rockers Air Traffic Controller getting the party started at the 476-person capacity venue. Tickets are routinely sold for $15 or less, and with an intimate yet open layout and a bar located on either side of the hall, you’re bound to see a lively performance.
“The concerts that come through Brighton Music Hall have been consistently the highest energy shows I’ve ever been to,” said Ripe‘s lead singer Robbie Wulfsohn. “Even without knowing the act I can tell you this room lends itself to bands giving everything they have.”
Not only will you witness a band poised to break out or one that’s just starting to gain national recognition, but the venue itself provides for a well-rounded experience. “The sound system is great, the staff are professional, and the artists are treated well,” added Rory Given, the bassist for Gentleman Hall. “They do a good job of booking some great touring acts and putting together a good night of music as opposed to just slapping bands together based on availability.”
Wulfsohn recalls going to show about a year ago at Brighton Music Hall where he saw Vance Joy, the opening act, play a free set when the headliners weren’t able to make it. “Nobody had heard of them, but people showed up because the show was free, and they absolutely tore it up,” Wulfsohn said. “I hear that song Riptide on the radio now, and it’s just crazy to watch bands that are about to break through go absolutely wild at BMH.”
Whether you’re into indie rock, EDM, rap, or another genre, one thing is for sure: the artists who play Brighton Music Hall will be moving up the ladder soon, so catch them here while you can.
Don’t Take Our Word For It:
‘You have this feeling that you are one of the few people that is excited about this band, and you walk into Brighton Music Hall and you find an army of people around you that are in the same boat…shouting out song names, singing along, waiting in line to meet their personal music heroes. It’s an unforgettable experience.’ – Dave Munro, Lead Singer, Air Traffic Controller
Address: 158 Brighton Avenue, Allston, MA 02134,
Written by Jon Simmons, Sound of Boston
Live music in Boston © iStock