fb-pixel Skip to main content

Live music is now on the menu around Greater Boston

Athene Wilson, a soul and R&B singer from Dorchester, performs with David Fuller on drums, Daniel Day on bass, and Rollins Ross on keys at The Porch Southern Fare and Juke Joint in Medford.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Jonathan Post moved to New England from his native Nashville to attend culinary school at Johnson & Wales in Providence. After graduation, he worked at some of Greater Boston’s top restaurants, including Ming Tsai’s Blue Ginger in Wellesley and the farm-to-table 80 Thoreau in Concord.

In 2016, Post and his partner, Cenk Emre, opened their own spot for authentic southern cooking in Wakefield. The place was tiny, and immediately popular. With just 20 seats, The Porch quickly outgrew its space.

When a luxury apartment complex opened at River’s Edge in Medford — just north of the Wellington MBTA station — Post grabbed an opportunity to create a spacious anchor restaurant on the ground floor. The new Porch opened in 2019.

Advertisement



There’s plenty of room at The Porch for the “juke joint” feel that Post first envisioned in Wakefield. Live music, he says, “was always part of the plan. Growing up in Nashville, you go into any bar, and there’s a band. You kind of take it for granted.”

Today, The Porch serves up live music five days a week — along with short ribs, Texas brisket, and blackened snapper.

As fears over the pandemic subside and more people grow comfortable joining crowds again, some are finding they don’t need to venture all the way into the big city to enjoy live music.

West of Boston, they’ll discover Steel & Wire, a brand-new renovation of the former Worcester bar called Nick’s. Head south and there’s the Magic Room, a performance space carved out of a former tile showroom in Norwood.

Diners during a performance by Athene Wilson & Friends at The Porch Southern Fare and Juke Joint.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

The Porch books soul, blues, and reggae acts, mostly from around New England. Daytime and early evening sets are free with meals; later shows are ticketed. In the lobby, the walls feature guitars that have been hand-painted, folk-art style.

When the restaurant was closed at the beginning of the pandemic, the owner and his soundman, Hendrik Gideonse, arranged live streams in the empty space for their regular musicians. When they reopened, they added plexiglass sheets around the stage to minimize the spread of the virus. The musicians called the setup the “Aquarium.”

Advertisement



“They were hyper-vigilant about the restrictions,” says Dorchester gospel-R&B singer Athene Wilson, who has a monthly residency at The Porch with her band. “That was great. They were very progressive.”

She calls Post “a bighearted person. He understands. And he loves great music.”

Frank and Mara Inangelo made plans two years ago to open their own place in Worcester.

When the pandemic hit, of course, they postponed their plans.

“For a while there, it did seem like, ‘Why would you ever want to open a place like this, or go into this industry?’” says Mara Inangelo.

Her husband worked at Vincent’s for more than 20 years, developing relationships with local musicians. When businesses began reopening, owner Vincent Hemmeter asked if the Inangelos might want to take over his other nightspot, Nick’s. Since Steel & Wire opened in May, the couple has been pleased they stayed the course.

“What we’ve found is that people really want that in-person connection,” says Mara. “They’re ready to come out again. And the live music is a huge part of that.”

Athene Wilson has a monthly residency at The Porch with her band Athene Wilson & Friends.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Long before opening the Magic Room in Norwood, Bill Desmond was known around Boston as the guy who gave musicians a place to play. Beginning about four decades ago, “Des,” as everyone calls him, offered affordable rehearsal space in a succession of big, repurposed buildings in the city, collectively known as the Sound Museum.

Advertisement



Some years ago, Desmond operated a performance space at the Sound Museum in Brighton called the Magic Room. Like his other spaces, it eventually got squeezed out of that location by developers. Over the past few years, he has recommitted to running a live music stage, this time by doing what a lot of people do who get priced out of the city: by moving out to the suburbs.

Desmond built the new Magic Room at the mixed-use commercial facility in Norwood known as the Space Center. Opening last fall on the grounds of a historic mill, the Magic Room features a state-of-the-art sound system and a wild array of Desmond’s signature homemade and thrift-shop decor.

“I love being part of that creation,” said Desmond, known to adventurous fans of Boston’s music scene as the principal member of the long-running theatrical rock group the Bentmen.

The Magic Room is only open on nights when a show is booked. Desmond has lined up the veteran New York City garage band the Fleshtones for a gig in August. On Friday and Saturday, June 24-25, the room will host a two-night “Concert for Ukraine,” with proceeds going to women and children affected by the war there. The Dogmatics headline on Friday; “Breakfast with the Beatles” DJ Cha-Chi Loprete hosts the Saturday show.

“We’ve had about 25 shows so far,” Desmond said. They stock beer and wine, but don’t offer food.

Advertisement



Desmond’s daughter, Casey, moved back to the area from California to help run the club. (A musician herself, she was once a contestant on “The Voice.”) With a capacity of 125, the 3,000-square-foot space has plenty of room for Bill Desmond’s Mardi Gras figures, artwork by the psychedelic cartoonist Joey Mars, and an assortment of tile patterns created from dead stock found on the premises.

“I want it to be a weird destination spot,” he explained.

When the comedian Steve Sweeney headlined the Magic Room recently, he told Desmond how cool he thought the place was.

“Then he got up onstage and started picking on me,” Desmond said with a laugh.

James Sullivan can be reached at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.