With a capacity of just over 900, The Paradise isn’t the only intimately-sized music venue in town with few worries about the economy. Down the road sits Allston’s Great Scott, an independently-owned venue that houses just 240 people. Carl Lavin, 41, handles in-house booking for both Great Scott and its sister venue, O’Brien’s a few blocks away; both focus on booking local, underground rock bands.
“The very nature of being an independent venue means we aren’t as subject to the whims of the market the way corporate-owned rock clubs would be,” said Lavin. “I can’t imagine that a lot of people not having as much money is helping anything necessarily. It’s definitely a challenge, but it seems like one that we’re doing O.K. with so far. We’re doing great.”
While they are all competing against each other, the heads of Allston’s live music industry like Billy Bud and Lavin all have ties to several clubs, webbing an interconnected music scene for the city. And from their work, both agree that they’ve found comfort at a time when many small businesses struggle to maintain a customer base in a city whose unemployment rate is at nearly 8 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But Tracey Hansen, 36, a bartender for The Paradise, Brighton Music Hall (capacity 340) and T.T. the Bear’s Place in Cambridge (capacity 300), is a bit more cautious with her optimism about the success of the city’s smaller music venues.
“There are a lot of smaller clubs opening up that are catering to local music,” she said. “I think that has more to do with people being out of conventional work options, so they’re going towards more creative job ventures. But I don’t think that’s something I would undertake at this point – I would feel uncomfortable with that.”
Citing other local venues like The Middle East (capacity 550) and the Lizard Lounge (capacity 80), both in Cambridge, Hansen said she’s noticed an audience more selective with how it spends its money come payday – whereas only a few years ago, she said, people would wander into multiple clubs exploring the music scene. She’s even noticed concert goers buying fewer drinks.
But Jeremy Karelis, 22, from Allston, said he frequents smaller venues like Great Scott and the Middle East about three times a week, despite his less than affluent economic status.
“As a recent graduate, I do what I can to afford to live,” said Karelis, who graduated from the New England Institute of Art this year. “But when I really want to go to a show, paying isn't a problem. Music is a top priority for me and $8-$15 is totally worth the experience at these smaller venues.”
Concert-goers like Karelis make Hansen feel secure with her career within the city’s smaller music venues, despite her limited optimism.
“As opposed to a regular bar or restaurant, we don’t really depend on the same people [for revenue],” Hansen said. “We can still have a constant turnover of different people, because they’re always coming to see a different show. It’s always somebody’s special night. It’s always somebody’s favorite band.”
The audience may not be clearing out the bar anymore, but going to a concert to see your idol on a smaller, more intimate stage is a pastime not easily given up by the cash-strapped population. And that’s just what these music venues are banking on.
“The best three or four months here in the past five years were December through March of ’08 and ’09, when everyone just tanked and everyone got laid off,” said Lavin. “Everyone was just like, ‘You know what? I got a severance package. I’m collecting unemployment. I’m gonna go to a show.’”
Carolyn Vallejo wrote this story for the Boston University News Service, a partnership between Boston.com and the Boston University College of Communication.