“Art and careers need rooms where they can grow and Atwood’s provided that for so many amazing artists.”
Whether you live in a metropolitan city or rural town, there are hopefully places where people gather and enjoy themselves. Oftentimes, these spots have beer poured from a few taps, cocktails mixed behind the bar, and excellent music coming from the stage. These are not your typical watering holes though—they are institutions, places of refuge and, to an extent, a second home.
Located on 877 Cambridge Street in the city of the same name, Atwood’s Tavern has been the place I just described for wanderers, musicians, and various creative types, among others, for the past 16 years. Sadly, this is the last week that the establishment will open its doors, joining a growing list of local independent music venues ceasing to be in the Boston area.
Even as a Providence resident, Atwood’s has always been a place I heard a lot about. Musicians have spoken highly of the place; so when I heard the news about Atwood’s closing, I took the opportunity to check out Matt Charette & the Truer Sound’s album release show on March 10, and had a blast with both local punk legend Lenny Lashley joining Charette and his band putting in front of a packed house with a positive vibe.
While at that show, I ran into Ben Vosk from the Boston country rock act These Wild Plains, who was helping out behind the bar. Vosk is just one of many musicians who are affected by the loss of another venue; a lot of them are wondering what the future will hold around the city and the Boston metro area as a whole with a dark cloud of uncertainty hovering over the current situation.
“From an artistic perspective,” Vosk said, “Atwood’s closing is another quarter turn twist of the already deeply seated dagger against artistic viability in the city, affecting both national tour routing decisions to bypass Boston all together, as well as making it abundantly clear to local acts that you’re not welcome here. It’s a shame that progress in a community means complete neglect and disregard of the artistic soul and authenticity which originally had folks flocking to the city. The slow death of creativity.”
Another local band that recently played their final show at Atwood’s was alt-rock stalwarts These Wild Plains, who took the stage there on March 18. They always dug the venue’s intimate setting that in turn fostered an energetic symbiosis between the audience and the band. They also always appreciated the fact that on any given night, you could see an excellent display of musical talent.
“Atwood’s always felt like being in someone’s living room on a cold winter’s night,” guitarist and vocalist Ryan Walsh of the band Hallelujah the Hills said. “Boston’s most comforting music venue, I think. Randi Millman followed up her stellar run as the booker of TT The Bear’s and brought a similar sensibility to Atwood’s. By that I mean, you could walk in to any performance booked and very likely hear something of top quality. It will be missed!”
Local singer-songwriter Rachel Sumner fondly remembers the monthly and weekly residencies that took place at Atwood’s over the years. There would often be impromptu collaborations that created a unique experience that could only happen there.
“Atwood’s has been an important incubator for Boston musicians,” Sumner said. “A good deal of residencies were held there, which allowed and encouraged artists to experiment with their live sound. I remember many of those residencies becoming highly collaborative too with local musicians and bands dropping in on sets and making magical moments exclusive to those Atwood’s nights. It was a very special thing to watch, and when it happened, they were even more special to be a part of. The balance you’d find on the show calendar between national acts and local acts was perfect.”
“You could tell Atwood’s really valued and championed local musicians, it’s such a loss for us,” Sumner added. “I’m truly heartbroken and worried about the future of the Greater Boston music scene.”
The tavern was a place you could catch the country-rock band Ward Hayden & The Outliers playing every once in a while when they weren’t on the road. The same went for musicians coming from out of town with the venue being the ideal place for them to perform.
“This is a huge loss for the Boston music community and beyond,” Hayden said. “Atwood’s booking agent Randi Millman did a truly amazing and admirable job developing this room and using this stage to cultivate and champion a wide array of roots based music from the Cambridge/Boston music scene. Plus, she grew Atwood’s into a very popular tour stop for countless nationally touring acts that in years past likely would’ve skipped our city because there wasn’t the right room for their music. She made it a home for so many talented and established acts and also allowed the room to serve as a vital and important stage for up and coming artists working on honing their craft and developing their live show.
“A venue like Atwood’s is not easily replaced, it has a scene where patrons know that on any given night they’re going to see good live music, and if they start frequenting shows then they’re going to start seeing more and more friends every time they go there to see live music.”
“Venues like Atwood’s build and sustain music scenes, stages like this are where art is born and developed,” Hayden added. “You don’t start a band and then go play Fenway Park the next day. Art and careers need rooms where they can grow and Atwood’s provided that for so many amazing artists from the Boston area, including many who’ve gone onto great acclaim and widespread fame. Atwood’s was an asset to the city and I’m really thankful for all it gave to us as fans and musicians and I’m really sad to see it go.”
On Friday, March 31 after last call, Atwood’s will close up for the last time and it’ll become another empty space with an unknown future. Be sure to stop by at some point this week, raise a glass, and pay your respects. Afterwards, make an effort to go support one of the few remaining independently run small venues around the Boston area because no one knows how long they’re going to be around for.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.