If you live in Boston or any of its surrounding neighborhoods, we’re sorry your rent has gone up. Though if you’ve lived here for a couple of years, you know that’s bound to happen, often annually, because of all the construction. Rapidly gentrifying sections of Boston that were previously left untouched, like quiet worlds for an urban getaway, look like brand-new sections of the city meant for the wealthy and the wealthy alone. All of these apartment complexes and high-rise condos are starting to seem like the type of construction nobody can infiltrate… unless you’re Alyssa Spector.
Though few people want to go around sporting, much less accepting, superhero capes, Spector is someone who deserves one. She runs Lysten Boston, a music agency that’s been booking shows, promoting shows, and managing local artists, all with the intent to highlight our city’s emerging artists. Spector runs the agency these days with the same passion she did back when she founded it in 2014. That’s why she’s been nominated twice at the Boston Music Awards as one of the city’s best music promoters.
A few weeks ago, Spector went out for an afternoon walk to soak up some of the summer’s better weather. That’s when she saw it: Underground at Ink Block. For those who can’t tell one rapidly appearing residential complex from the next these days, Ink Block is a trendy upscale apartment complex that occupies multiple blocks on Harrison Avenue as of late 2015. Right beside it, hidden beneath the snaking highway lanes of I-93 and the concrete pillars holding it up, is the converted area known as Underground at Ink Block. An urban park that softens the divider between the South End and Southie, it boasts a sprawling series of murals, dog parks, bike paths, picnic tables, and more. It’s managed by National Development, the same team behind the Ink Block complex. It also cost MassDOT a casual $8.5 million.
“Anytime I’m somewhere new and see an open space, indoors or outdoors, I wonder if it’s possible to host live music there,” says Spector. “So after checking their website and sending an email, I asked if they would be open to hosting a live music show there. They responded saying they were super interested but didn’t know how to approach it. We decided to combine forces to make it happen.”
Spector quickly began organizing a dream event, one that will take place in reality, for this Friday, Aug 17. Underground at Ink Block will christen its space with music from a string of local all-star emerging acts: slam poet-turned-hip-hop star Oompa, garage rock charmers the Maxims, experimental pop genius Ed Balloon, and blissful soul singer-songwriter Aubrey Haddard. The event, dubbed “Underground Sounds,” will be free, all ages, and open to the public—including pets.
“I wanted to keep the lineup as diverse as possible, because that’s exactly what Boston’s music scene is like,” she says. “I’m looking forward to seeing the people who show up, people who wouldn’t usually see these artists, and seeing their reactions. I can’t wait to see them be blown away. Like Ed Balloon is one of the most incredible dancers ever and it’s so unexpected when you hear his music online, so that alone will be a treat to watch others witness for the first time.”
Having never worked with the company before, Spector had a few growing pains in planning Friday’s free event, like figuring out how to maximize the PA sound in a structurally awkward space, or securing food trucks—don’t worry; veggie favorite the Chubby Chickpea will pull up—because of neighborhood-specific food truck licenses. The event also doubles as the first outdoor live music event she’s ever thrown, a tricky feat in itself. But those road bumps feel minor when she remembers the event will act as a bridge for diverse Boston communities, a goal she, like many members of the city’s local music scene, have wanted to see come true for a while.
“One of the reasons I was so set on bringing live music to this space is because one of the many goals of my business is to bring live music to different spaces, to expose our community outside of our local music scene,” Spector explains. “My hope was that by bringing an event to a space like this—somewhere more known by the people outside of our scene than the people in our scene—that they will discover there’s these great, talented artists in their backyard, that you don’t have to pay $60 to see someone at the Garden or House of Blues that you could see for free or a cheap price at a venue around town. When you ask people what they’re thinking of doing this weekend, people usually say they’re going to the movies or going to a bar or going to a sporting event. Live music doesn’t usually come to mind for the everyday person. I want to help change that.”
What Spector is getting at (and trying to slowly solve) is true. Boston needs increased opportunities for local artists to play to Boston residents who don’t actively seek out music. An event like the one Lysten Boston is throwing is, no contest, a great step in the right direction. Though the divide between the music communities in Boston’s neighborhoods isn’t as stark as that of the neighborhoods’ racial segregation issues, there continues to appear to be a problem booking local artists in downtown spaces, or at least with any regularity. You’ve got your random acoustic guitar set in an Irish pub here and your all-ages DIY set at a hostel there, but otherwise the central zone of Boston’s hub doesn’t welcome local acts unless they’re capable of selling out venues like the Royale (Hi, Converge) or the House of Blues (Hi again, Dropkick Murphys). There’s a disconnect between the necktie-wearing crowd of South Station or granola-plus moms of the South End and the artists consistently killing the game out in Roxbury, Allston, Jamaica Plain, and Somerville. Local outlets like Allston Pudding, Vanyaland, or Sound of Boston do a phenomenal job of covering rising artists from our community, but that doesn’t mean everyone is reading them, especially residents who think the Paradise Rock Club is intimate and Soundcloud is an Apple product extension. Boston deserves to make it easier for people to discover local music without breaking their backs to do so. We need more cross collaboration between traditionally nonmusic spaces and local music bookers. A few outlets are already putting in the effort to make this happen, like local brewery Aeronaut running a free outdoor music series at Zone3 in lower Allston or Fenway Park’s recent dive into ticketed rooftop concerts by local musicians. We just need more of them.
“As an arts community, it feels like we’re constantly being pushed out from the city and our surrounding areas,” says Spector. “Everything is more expensive now. Seeing high-rise luxury condos and boutique hotels take up space that could have been used for the arts is upsetting. But to know that there’s a developer like the one at Ink Block who is open to renting space and letting a unique space house music is great. I just wish there was more of that more often.”
OOMPA, THE MAXIMS, ED BALLOON, AUBREY HADDARD. FRI 8.17. UNDERGROUND AT INK BLOCK, 90 TRAVELER ST., BOSTON. 7PM/ALL AGES/FREE. LYSTENBOSTON.COM