How Will Boston's Local Music Scene Weather The Pandemic?

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The sign outside of Wally's Cafe, discreetly curved into the shape of a saxophone (Amy Gorel/WBUR)
The sign outside of Wally's Cafe, discreetly curved into the shape of a saxophone (Amy Gorel/WBUR)

With many small music venues around Greater Boston remaining closed during the pandemic, and some now closed for good, we reflect on how — and if — our local music scene is weathering this storm.

We took listener calls and heard from Frank Poindexter, general manager of Wally's Cafe and Jazz Club, and Carl Lavin, who's working to be the next owner of the now-closed Great Scott in Allston.

On how indoor music venues are faring amid the pandemic:

Frank Poindexter: "To be honest, it's been really difficult. We've lost about six months of revenue — even more than that. We've lost opportunities to provide young musicians with the stage and the platform so that they can reflect and work on their craft and ... create networks that are going to carry them through."

On Lavin's tentative plans to reopen Great Scott at the site of Regina Pizzeria in Allston, another victim of the pandemic:

Lavin: "The owners over there are incredibly supportive. They are very much on board with the idea of having everything happen over there. At this point, it's literally just a matter of being able to make sure that we can be on a safe and stable financial footing going forward as we await Phase Four of everything. We're just getting our financial ducks in a row and hoping that that everything can be in place when we're able to hit the ground running."

On the crowdfunding campaign launched by Wally's Cafe and Jazz Club:

Poindexter: "We're dealing with the same type of situation ... It's going to take time for us to actually prepare the location and against the thinking about [Phase] Four. You know, when is that even going to come, and what is that going to look like? OK, so we may get into [Phase] Four, but then that you still have to deal with the fact that you may only be able to have a third of your customers or less ... We are waiting for [Phase] Four and we're preparing ourselves so that we can continue to provide the service that we've been giving to the community for the last 73 years." 

On the threat of losing arts venues in Boston, even pre-pandemic:

Lavin: "Artists and musicians and and the entire artistic community are are losing these spaces. I don't even know that it wasn't going to happen without COVID. I mean, the way things are so expensive and the way that landlords treat artistic spaces ... has been a problem as the years have been going on anyway ... My heart breaks for all of the artists and musicians who don't have a place to be able to go out and get in front of people and get that visceral experience of connecting with people who enjoy what they are doing."

Poindexter: "We have a special musical ecosystem here, which is not replicate anywhere else on the planet. We have some of the most prestigious schools for educating musicians ... The loss of these venues, you know, we're the places that help the students develop the theory that they're learning in the classrooms ... They go to places like ours and they apply, they build their networks. That leads to what's going to happen 10 or five years ... down the road when they're musical directors for ... some of the top touring bands, they're working for the record labels?"

On what listeners can do to support Boston's music scene right now:

Lavin: "Just continue to care. It's as easy as that. Local music is always going to find a way, whether it's a venue or it's gonna be a basement or it's going to be a house show. Music is always going to find a place. It's just about how do we make sure that we are able to support, amplify and and empower the artists that are just trying to make ... living in Boston such a unique experience."


This segment aired on September 2, 2020.

Headshot of Walter Wuthmann

Walter Wuthmann State Politics Reporter
Walter Wuthmann is a state politics reporter for WBUR.


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Tiziana Dearing Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.



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