Many music fans have worried what the recent closure of Johnny D’s means for the scene in Davis Square—and throughout Somerville. But just down the street, The Burren Irish Pub is picking up the slack and providing an intimate venue for performers of all sounds with a newly invigorated live music series.
The Burren (247 Elm St.), which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, is no stranger to the neighborhood. But the Burren Backroom series only launched in 2011. According to Burren music manager Tom Bianchi, the backroom has long had a lively schedule, hosting everything from late night cover bands to original live acts to craft fairs (and, of course, offering spillover seating from the front bar). Its main show was A Celtic Sojourn, hosted by Brian O’Donnovan. Owners Louise Costello and Tommy McCarthy were so impressed with the Wednesday night show’s turnout that they recently decided to host shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights as well.
In addition to local musicians, many of whom have found a home at the Burren for years, national and touring acts are entering the Somerville scene through the Backroom series. Upcoming acts include Jonathan Edwards (April 8), Melissa Ferrick (April 13 and 14), and Jeffrey Gaines (April 23).
“I’ve been doing local work for so long that all the local acts do very well, bringing in family and friends of the performer” says Bianchi. “Now, the national names and touring names are bringing in a whole new clientele.”
“The Burren is not known for this ticketed series, it’s known as a music bar,” Bianchi adds. But all that is changing. Doors open for the Backroom series at 6 p.m. purposely, so audiences can have an opportunity to enjoy dinner and a show.
“It’s a proper listening venue for audiences, with a high quality killer sound system and a killer vibe,” says Bianchi. And audiences are responding well. “It’s been great, it’s been wonderful,” he says.
The timing of this series could not have been more of a coincidence. The idea was birthed and put into motion last spring, before anyone was aware that popular music venue Johnny D’s would be shuttering its doors. And while Bianchi has a “when one door closes, another opens” mentality, he says the Burren never saw Johnny D’s as competition. “It’s a community,” he says of all the music venues in Somerville and Cambridge. Local club owners have been helpful and have even given Bianchi and his creative team advice on how to build their audience.
Tom Pendergast, known locally for playing Johnny D’s weekend brunch sets, has signed on with the Burren to play theirs. It’s a collaborative effort between all the neighborhood venues to keep music thriving in Davis Square.
“Some shows sell out, some shows don’t,” says Bianchi of the new series. “We’re still getting the word out.”’
Shows cost between $12 and $30, depending on the act. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights can be spent the way they should be—eating a good meal and listening to great music.
“We have a great room,” Bianchi says, “and it’s silly to keep it in the dark.”