CAMBRIDGE — It’s gray outside in Central Square, but inside a vast space on Massachusetts Avenue the view is dazzling. Brightly hued T-shirts emblazoned with the locally ubiquitous “NOT ART” stencil hang from the ceiling’s acoustic tiles. A hut juts out from one wall; jewelry, paintings, old records, and sweat shirts await browsers. A large dog wanders around, sometimes stopping to get petted. Visitors wander in, intrigued by the vibrancy visible from the street.
This is Out of the Blue Too Gallery, carved out of a Central Square storefront. Artists rent out stalls where they can sell their wares, while other community members host events: storytelling, poetry, tarot card readings. And since opening in 2014, the gallery has become a reliable spot for all-ages concerts, featuring bands from Boston’s burgeoning underground and beyond.
On Friday and Saturday, Out of the Blue Too will host a two-day, two-stage festival, called Fools Fest in honor of its April 1 opening date. The roster is long, and touches on a wide number of subgenres; Northampton electro duo Home Body, dream-pop outfit IAN, “storytelling-bluegrass-really weird” act Frank Hurricane, and high-energy punk rockers Midriffs are only a few of the acts on the bill.
Tom Tipton, a musician and poet, opened the original Out of the Blue on Brookline Street in the late ’90s. A few years later, the gallery moved to Prospect Street.
“Out of the Blue’s always been quite unique — pretty wide open and accepting, and giving people a chance to do what they do without restrictions,” he says. “A creative melting pot. But doing this in 500 square feet, there was only so much you could do — dance was a little hard. But somehow, we made some kind of an impact over the years.”
Eventually, Tipton had to relocate. TJ Edson, an artist who had worked with Tipton in the past, assisted with fund-raising and organization, which grew into him becoming the gallery’s manager. (“[Tipton] just told me, ‘You’re going to come in here and help me,’ ” Edson recalls.)
In October 2014, Out of the Blue — now with a “Too” added to its name — opened in its current home, a former Blockbuster Video that had been vacant for years. Some structural trappings of the chain store, which during its ’90s heyday was accused by many of homogenizing the home-video landscape, are still present. But they’re buried under artwork culled from a wide spectrum of cultures and disciplines.
“The security mirrors are still intact,” laughs Edson, “and when you look down, you see all the art.”
Tipton credits the space’s landlord, 3MJ Realty’s Morris Naggar, with allowing Out of the Blue Too to thrive. “He could have said ‘No, you guys can’t afford what I really want,’ ” says Tipton. “But he’s let us in here for what we’re paying, and he’s doing a cool thing.”
“The mini stores, including the African gift store [in the storefront], would not exist, especially on ‘Main’ Street,” Edson adds via e-mail. “It’s a very cool opportunity for renters and customers.”
Fools Fest will operate in a similar way, giving anyone who drops by a chance to sample from a varied offering of independent music.
“As an outsider, it’s been an amazing transition to watch the culture stay the same while the space grew,” says Travis Long, who books shows at Out of the Blue Too, and whose sensibility was inspired by local promoters like Show Mom Collective and Illegally Blind. “What Tom and TJ have established here is incredible because it’s really the only venue in town that is DIY — anyone can get a night here, there’s no pay-to-play thing, and it’s completely legitimate.”
A few months ago, the gallery’s principals formed Out of the Blue Community Arts Incorporated, a nonprofit organization that, Tipton hopes, will aid in sustainability and, eventually, growth.
“There’s so many possibilities as far as what you can do in here,” says Edson. “And if you have your eyes open halfway, you’ll see that there’s something special here, and worth checking out and absorbing the space.”
The community fostered by Out of the Blue Too will be on full display at Fools Fest, but quieter moments reveal the ever-widening resonance of its impact on Central Square, and Boston at large.
“I walked in here several weeks ago on a Saturday morning, and two young girls from the area were singing,” recalls Tipton. “The P.A. was on, and a couple of friends were watching them. They had been wandering around the square with nothing to do, and they ended up in here and asked Eli if they could sing.
“He turned the P.A. on, gave them a microphone. And one of them — she was stunning on that vocal — is performing here at a show in May. It’s little things like that.”
Out Of The Blue Fools Fest
With The Barbazons, Black Beach, IAN, Magic Shoppe, Midriffs, and others. At Out of the Blue Too Gallery, Cambridge, April 1 at 5 p.m., April 2 at 3 p.m. Tickets: $13-$20 sliding scale, two-day tickets $25-$30. www.outoftheblueartgallery.com
Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.