Memories of Club Passim
Back in 2008, my touring partner John Elliott and I drove around the Harvard Square area near Boston a few times in search of the famous Club Passim. I had been touring the country for a few years and had heard tell of a basement venue where Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Muddy Waters once played, where Boston folk music was alive and well, where the audience took a seat and listened. I was excited and grateful to be a part of such a legacy for the evening. Neither of us had ever set foot in the legendary club, and we were completely lost, a common occurrence for anyone making their first drive around the Boston area. We parked on a dark, wet side street, under a dark, wet sky, grabbed our guitars and merch, and sought the club on foot.
Stepping down a few stairs, we found it under a party girl clothing store. Lively with blue and white paint, Club Passim was friendly and bright with sparkling lights. It was a deeply cold October evening, so the warmth of the venue and its accompanying vegetarian restaurant were a more than welcome change from the sharp wind of the outdoors. Matt Smith, jovial captain of Team Passim, was running sound, surrounded by eager volunteers who pledged their time in trade for a free pass to the show. Turns out Passim acts as a live music venue, a school, and a community spot where folk music fans can get close to folk music heroes – all of these things are a necessary part of the folk ecosystem.
Inside, the venue is set up either as a dinner theater or with rows of chairs, depending on the night, and isn’t much bigger than an elementary school classroom. The stage is low and inviting, allowing performers to make eye contact with every audience member. I loved that because I prefer to be able to see the audience while I’m playing; it allows a dissolution of the false separation between performer and audience. I think songs are best shared in small rooms, and Passim was perfect on both counts.
John and I played to a packed room (thanks to headliners The Kennedys) of eager music appreciators. It felt like we were all in on a big secret, watching the boots of unknowing passersby walk right past an old-time community gathering. It was one of the best nights of the tour, which included a wild night in Fayetteville, AR, when Obama won the presidency.
At Passim, we were well fed, heard, and supported with good sound. We were supported by locals who bought CDs, and when we walked the stairs back up to the cold world, it was with the feeling that songwriters actually matter. I always love a stop in Boston, but especially when it includes a night at Passim, even if the vegetarian restaurant no longer exists.