Your Favorite Memories At The Midway Cafe In JP Over The Past 30 Years

Last week, we ran a story about Jamaica Plain’s Midway Cafe, which is turning 30 years old — and today survives as one of the last real local music dives in Boston. Our feature included many fond memories of the storied club, but we wanted to hear from you, too, about your favorite nights at the Midway.

We received lots of great submissions. Inside that creaky, beer-stained bar, people met spouses and started careers. They found community and the courage to be themselves. Each story stands as a testament to the enduring power of a gathering place like the Midway, where any and everyone is welcome, and live music reigns supreme.

Here's a sampling of your favorite tales (lightly edited):

The Burning Sensations playing at the Midway. (Courtesy Ken Scobie)
The Burning Sensations playing at the Midway. (Courtesy Ken Scobie)

Despite having seen so many great shows (The Crank-Tones, Spurs, Burning Sensations and The Kaisers to name a few) my greatest Midway memory has nothing to do with music. One Sunday night, four or five of us fell victim to a tire slasher. [Owner] Jay Balerna not only assisted with changing tires, but gave every one of us $50 toward replacements. He's that kind of guy, the Midway is that kind of place.

— Rich Barstis

Ken Scobie's drumstick chandelier that hangs at the Midway. (Courtesy Ken Scobie)
Ken Scobie's drumstick chandelier that hangs at the Midway. (Courtesy Ken Scobie)

Every week, 20 to 30 bands play at the Midway. Drumsticks would get lost and left behind. I started collecting these years ago, not knowing what, if anything, I would ever do with them.

Eventually, inspiration struck and I made a three-tier chandelier that contains the blood, sweat and DNA of hundreds of drummers that have played at the Midway. I designed it so that if you hit the beater at the bottom, a stick hits the cymbal up top. It hangs there today.

— Ken Scobie

I played in a band called Buckwild on the Rim when I was in high school, with a few friends who also lived in JP. We practiced in my friend's basement on Eliot Street and our first gigs were at the Midway. We had to play Saturday/Sunday afternoon shows because we were underage at the time. I snuck in a flask of whiskey and drank it in the men's room before performing.

The band fizzled out when I moved away from Boston after high school, but I've kept playing music and have played the Midway occasionally since then. I think the last gig I played there was a benefit for the JP Music Festival that happened in April. Before that, it was in November 2013, and I was super proud that it sold out — people were waiting outside to get in, the venue was at capacity. I now play in Jolie Holland's band and tour with her — she actually sang at the JP Music Festival benefit with me. It was a night of songs by women, and I covered one of her songs and she sang backup.

— Stevie Weinstein-Foner

Snow outside the Midway. (Courtesy Ken Scobie)
Snow outside the Midway. (Courtesy Ken Scobie)

In early February of 2011, my band had been playing the Midway about three times a month, and we joked we should just practice there. Lenny Lashley, the bar manager, invited us for a Monday or Tuesday. I arrived to a bar with five guys in parkas and was told to get in before we “let the cold out.” (A joke — it was freezing outside.) The power had gone out but the generator had the light and fridges going. There was no heat in the bar until the power kicked back on, but still there was a bar crowd. It was as cold outside as it was inside. We drank beers till NSTAR showed; then played an hour or so.

— Will Good

People dance at a recent Queeraoke at the Midway Cafe. (Hadley Green for WBUR)
People dance at a recent Queeraoke night at the Midway Cafe. (Hadley Green for WBUR)

A couple years back the musician Peaches came to perform at the ICA during their summer waterfront concert series. I was honored to have been selected to open for her, being a queer DJ in the scene. She asked if I could show her around Boston before the show. I brought her to Queeraoke. She loves karaoke. After just getting out of a 10-year relationship, she got onstage and sang "Love Hurts.” Woah.

— Colby Drasher

It's hard to top the first gig I played there. My dad is old friends with the owners, so I went to a lot of his shows there growing up. One night when my brother and I had just begun learning how to play instruments, my dad let us go up and play some covers between sets. My brother was 13, I was 11. We caused a sensation. Next thing we knew, we had a paying gig opening for local legend Rick Berlin.

The band that my brother and I were in was called Insomniac, and a picture of us from that night survives somewhere in one of my parents' photo albums — the covers we played were of Green Day and Blink-182, bass drums and vocals only, and my brother Wes was playing left-handed drums with a broken thumb.

My brother and I have stayed in music since. Though I no longer live in the Boston area, I was probably best known locally as a member of Day Sleeper (some of whose members would later resurface in Krill, Frankie Cosmos and Speedy Ortiz). My brother Wes has achieved some local fame with Channels and the Craters. It was a momentous night!

— Cas Kaplan

Lisa Grossman and her now husband Alex Lussenhop. (Courtesy Lisa Grossman)
Lisa Grossman and her now husband Alex Lussenhop. (Courtesy Lisa Grossman)

My husband Alex and I had our joint bachelor/ette party at Queeraoke last summer. We weren’t into the idea of separate, gendered parties, and the Midway’s inclusive atmosphere was exactly what we wanted. We sang that old romantic standard, "Shoop," by Salt-N-Pepa. Then at our wedding, our friends got the band to play "Shoop" and we reprised the performance in front of our grandmas!

— Lisa Grossman

Proof that Lisa Grossman and her husband Alex Lussenhop performed "Shoop" at their wedding. (Courtesy Ze Liang Photography)
Proof that Lisa Grossman and her husband Alex Lussenhop performed "Shoop" at their wedding. (Courtesy Ze Liang Photography)

A friend brought me to Queeraoke when they had only known me to present as a cis straight guy. I was uncomfortable so brought a paper bag puppet to do the talking/singing. One girl asked, "So what's your story? You seem pretty effeminate but your paper bag has a mustache." Very direct of her, but I was on my way to accepting my trans identity and began frequenting Queeraoke presenting as myself.

One night after dancing, drinking a little too much, and screaming Marilyn Manson songs, the lights came on and the bar cleared out. I stepped outside carrying my dress and heels in a bag when this cisgendered guy I had made friends with just that evening yelled, "Boo! Why'd you change? Don't be ashamed!" I know he had good intentions, but I was drunk so all I thought to do was sit down on the sidewalk and feel ashamed. A group of girls began scolding this poor well-intentioned guy saying, "You can't talk to her like that!" "You can't tell her how to dress!"

Watching this whole scene take place was a transwoman named Krystal, a regular at Queeraoke I had otherwise only known for her go-to song "The Impression That I Get" by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. The group dissipated as people found their Ubers, but Krys lingered. She told me all of those people wanted to be helpful and thought they understood, but they didn't. They couldn't. She told me to transition at my own pace and how everyone's life and circumstances are different. I wondered why it took me so long to have this conversation with her. I thought about how thankful I was that a series of life choices and/or random chance had brought me to Jamaica Plain and the Midway Cafe.

— Kassandra Kelly

I saw G. Gordon Gritty play a show there and they ended up putting a hole in the wall. It wasn't even an insane performance or anything like that, I think somebody tripped and they hit the stage wall pretty hard. They weren't allowed back there after that, though.

— Matthew Altieri

The Chandler Travis Philharmonic performs at the Midway. (Courtesy Ken Scobie)
The Chandler Travis Philharmonic performs at the Midway. (Courtesy Ken Scobie)

I met the guy who is now my husband at the Midway, at an Innerpink show in November of 2000. I've seen a lot of great shows there, but for obvious reasons, that's my favorite.

I went to the Midway that night with a friend, having never heard of the band. My now-husband asked to borrow my lighter (this was back in the day when smoking in bars was allowed, and we both smoked at the time) and we struck up a conversation about music and various other topics. By the end of the night, I was both an Innerpink fan and smitten with the guy I would eventually go on to marry.

We spent most weekends of our courtship going to the Midway, as well as many Wednesday nights during the Chandler Travis Philharmonic residency. We don't get there much anymore, but it will always hold a special place in my heart.

— Diane Loud

My favorite memories of the Midway are the weekly open mic that happens every Sunday night. During these witching hours, which attract those with nothing to do on Monday or who don't mind a rough morning, hosts Angela Sawyer and Gabe Stoddard do a fantastic job of cultivating a supportive environment for creative expression which attracts comics, musicians and performance artists of all stripes.

— Michael Stewart

Dave and Jay Balerna. (Courtesy Ken Scobie)
Dave and Jay Balerna. (Courtesy Ken Scobie)

I moved to JP in 1986. The Midway Cafe was a run-down bar in need of quite a bit of work. For example, when you flushed the toilet in the men's room, water leaked from the bottom. Jay and Dave Balerna took over and started the process of slow renovation.

My now wife, Linda, worked evening shifts at a local hospital. She and a co-worker stopped by after work. I had just been in a motorcycle accident, had a separated shoulder, and an arm in a sling. She asked if I could dance; I gave it my best shot. After closing, I asked for her number. She wrote "Linda, from Monday night" and her number on a slip of paper. I still have that paper stapled to a Rolodex card.

We celebrate our 25th anniversary in October, 2017. We have two adult children. Last Saturday night, I took my 21-year-old daughter to see the Crank-Tones and Roy Sludge. I think she liked it. I should have danced with her.

— Lee Hargraves

A pup at the Midway's bar. (Courtesy Ken Scobie)
A pup at the Midway's bar. (Courtesy Ken Scobie)

If you've got a story, tell it in the comments section. 


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Amelia Mason Senior Arts & Culture Reporter
Amelia Mason is an arts and culture reporter and critic for WBUR.



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