A look at the ultra-inclusive multimedia series that’s uniting performers across race, gender, geography and genre.
Anna Rae didn’t know if this thing was going to work.
Rae moved to Boston to play music about seven years ago, which she does today as the bassist and songwriter for the band Hemway. But the more she familiarized herself with the city, the more she realized that there was a problem in the area’s arts community.
“I was learning a little bit more about the city and the demographics of the city, and was starting to understand how segregated it is racially and how that affects all kinds of resource flow: spaces to make art, money to make art, resources to do the art,” Rae explains. “Obviously, that shows up in rock music, which is still very white, male, hetero … the numbers are crazy off.”
At the same time, she was starting to feel a little bored, quite frankly, with folk and rock shows. It all seemed the same: three or four bands performing familiar songs, repeating the rituals. Performers, she says, can sometimes get lazy (much like the rest of us), which in turn means the audience isn’t well-served. (She compares it to Starbucks—sure, there’s something to be said for knowing what you’re going to get, but are you getting the best? It means you’re never really challenged to think differently or try something new.)
Rae knew there were inspiring artists out there, like Boston’s burlesque dancers, or the avant-garde performance artists she saw on trips to New York City. Why, she wondered, couldn’t she bring that energy to a rock show? What about a multifaceted, multidisciplinary night of art, music and more?
“I wanted to try creating space that I wanted to be in, that would be more diverse, have more genres and start bringing in artists from out of town,” she says.
“She kind of decided to just create it,” laughs Jane Park. Park, who performs under the name Poor Eliza, was already friends with Rae and familiar with her work. She’d attended songwriting workshops at Rae’s home, where local musicians often discussed the straight, white, male state of Boston music as they honed their songs. “We’d talked about how we go to shows and see the same kinds of people on stage all the time,” she recalls. “[Anna Rae] took it further and developed this idea of putting together a show specifically for women, people of color, and performers who identify as LGBTQ+.”
Rae called the series All Together Now, and it launched last year.
It was a risk, financially and otherwise. Rae wanted to pay all the artists—which she did—and hire professional photographers to capture the energy of each evening—which she did. But it took a lot of work, and the first three shows in 2016 were a trial run of sorts. She wasn’t sure if other people wanted an event like this, if they were hungry for those kinds of spaces. As it turns out, they very much were.
“It was kind of surprising and really heartwarming who responded to the concept,” Rae says. For example, there’s a group of middle-aged, white, straight men who who says have been incredibly supportive—sharing every post, attending every show. “They really get why this is beneficial, not just to the people I’m making space for but also to them,” she says.
One of those men is Reid Simpson, a photographer who loves art, music and theater but jokingly describes himself as “white-bread, middle-class America.”
“I’m 56 this year, turning 57, a suburban guy,” he says. “I’ve tried to engage and change my perspective as much as possible, and Anna Rae and others have been instrumental in opening up doors and opening up eyes.”
As he attended his first All Together Now event, Simpson was somewhat worried that it would feel like everyone was in cages—“in that the population she was supporting would be looking at me, and I’d be looking at them, and we wouldn’t interact except through the bars.” But that hasn’t been the case at all.
“She actively engages everybody,” he says. “There are no outsiders in her world. And when you’re there, it works. It is all together now. We really are all together now.”
After receiving a grant from the Boston Foundation this year, Rae is keeping it running, and the sixth All Together Now installment will come to the Burren in August.
Park, who’s performed with All Together Now and later came on board as the marketing assistant for the series, acknowledges that Rae isn’t the only artist in Boston who’s trying to make a space for marginalized groups. But the show is somewhat different in that it engages people from so many communities rather than sectioning performances into silos: “This is a queer show. This is a show for Southeast Asians.” And Rae, of course, sees the value in having intentionally and specifically queer spaces, women-only spaces, spaces for people of color. That’s just not what All Together Now is about.
“I feel very strongly that feminism is for everyone and that men are as isolated as women, just in a different way,” Rae explains. “They have a lot of privileges that women don’t have, but it’s not a happy space to be in, being isolated in male-only space. I think the goal is for all of us to share space together.”
That means breaking down barriers between different communities, be they separated by race or by gender or by genre. At any given All Together Now evening, you’ll find experimental filmmakers on the bill with beatboxers and magicians. Musicians take the stage with comedians. At one All Together Now production, there was an adult clowning act involving fried chicken. It’s a truly unifying—and truly one of a kind—experience.
“People have maybe been to a female music festival, they know what that’s about,” Rae says. “But to have a space that’s about diversity and out of town acts and multidisciplinary performance, it’s pretty unusual.”