Boston’s Cantab Lounge to be sold – longtime home for bluegrass

A pall has fallen over the bluegrass and acoustic music community its in Boston over the news that the Cantab Lounge, the region’s home for bluegrass shows and jams for many years, is to be sold.

The popular night spot, located on Mass Ave in Cambridge, MA near the MIT campus, housed two music clubs in one. The Cantab was upstairs, and the Club Bohemia down, with shows going six nights a week with live music, jam sessions, pickin’ parties, and the Boston Poetry Slam. Always a familiar hang out for the area’s grassers, it also served as a beacon for the many young acoustic musicians who studied in the city’s many music colleges.

Mile Twelve, a hot bluegrass band touring all over the world, met there during the jam nights, and consider it their home spot in town. Every major bluegrass artist in the northeast has played the club at one time, and many acts from outside as well.

Word is that The Cantab, which has been shut down since mid-March, has hopes of reopening in a new location as soon as live music returns, but one never knows if the magic will be the same. Lots of bluegrass memories were made in this admitted dive bar, and lots of fine music was shared.

Tony Watt, an area native and well-known instructor now working with Alan Bibey & Grasstowne on guitar, tells us that it was an important piece of him being involved in bluegrass.

“I started going every week when I graduated from Georgia Tech in 1999, and my dad, Steve Watt, has been the de facto house band leader for most of the past 25 plus years. I attended almost every week from 1999 until I moved to Johnson City in 2002, and then I started attending again when I moved back to Cambridge in late 2008. I hosted a weekly jam there (as part of the bluegrass Tuesday night line-up) for roughly two years from 2017 until 2019.

Many bluegrass musicians ‘cut their teeth’ at the Cantab, including current and former members of The Infamous Stringdusters, Crooked Still, Della Mae, The Gibson Brothers, Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, Joy Kills Sorrow, The Steep Canyon Rangers, Town Mountain, The Deadly Gentlemen, Tim O’Brien’s band, Mile Twelve, The Lonely Heartstrings Band, and many more.”

Today this message was shared on The Cantab Lounge Facebook page from Mickey Bliss:

“We are sad to announce that the Cantab Lounge is being sold. After the C-Note this is yet another club is a victim of COVID-19. We want to thank everyone for all the support over the years, we wish you well, and we will keep the Bohemia website open. Please send us your ideas as how we can continue to keep promoting artists during this COVID-19. And we’ll see what happens.”

Geoff Bartley, who has hosted an open mic night there for some time, shared this…

“Yes… it’s sad but true… our home-away-from-home… our song-swapping soiree… our fiddle tune temple… that sweet little joint everybody knew… the mighty, ever-burning Cantab… is being sold. I know nothing about the new owners’ plans, but think it highly unlikely that they include reopening the ancient and funky Cantab the way it is.

The virus will have to die down before we start up again in a new place, and that could take two or three more years. But do not be discouraged! My associates and I will be plunging valiantly ahead, scoping out potential venues and processing input and feedback from you.

So be patient! Don’t let yourself be hospitalized for withdrawal symptoms! Don’t lose your chops! Keep singing! Keep learning new songs! Don’t sell your mandolin! Don’t move to Nashville or Austin! Keep writing! Don’t let your calluses get soft!

We Shall Rise Again!”

It’s the end of an era for Boston bluegrass.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.