When Bostonians talk about the day after the Marathon bombing, one adjective is murmured more than most: quiet. The coffee shops of Downtown Crossing were open, everyone shuffling through on their way to work just blocks from the bomb site, understandably distracted in an impermeable haze. Eye contact wasn’t something people shied away from for once, as strangers nodded to each other with a fast “excuse me” if an elbow wound up where it shouldn’t. Commuters riding the T to work took their time, and nobody was blasting their music too loud on headphones for disgruntled seatmates to hear.
Boston was back to business as usual, as much as it could be, in the wake of such a jarring event, but there was a bit of a split in the music community when it came to understanding what the hell they were supposed to do.
For some, playing or hosting a concert didn’t feel right. The “Do we cancel/Do we not?” question faced venues, bookers and bands on both sides of the Charles River. Do you take it upon yourself to play through the emotional turmoil wrought by an attack on your city—the show must go on, so they say—or do you quietly close for the night in solidarity? Or do you reflect, stay home and check your phone one more time to make sure that all of your friends are accounted for, even if they were nowhere near Boylston Street just hours ago?
How do you simply do what you do when it requires your utmost physical and emotional commitment when you’ve just spent a seemingly endless string of hours glued to the TV? How do you sing to a room full of people who are reeling in the cacophonous din of hasty headlines and conspiracy theories when you’re still reeling yourself?
For members of the Boston music community, the reaction was more or less an empathetic amalgamation of these two sentiments, one that coalesced into a benefit show that raised nearly $8,000 for Massachusetts General Hospital in a matter of hours. When the band scheduled to play at TT the Bear’s Place in Cambridge’s Central Square canceled their Tuesday night set in light of the tragedy, Michael Marotta, editor of music blog Vanyaland and the former Music Editor of the Boston Phoenix, and Richard Bouchard, TT’s local talent buyer, put their heads together to see how they could use the empty room for good—and they knew they had to work fast.
“The moment I saw that TT’s was available, I messaged Bouchard about doing a benefit that night,” Marotta said. Between the two of them, Marotta and Bouchard put together a lineup that included Mean Creek, The Field Effect, Endation, Earthquake Party, Dan Nicklin of Oldjack (pictured), Cameron Keiber of the Beatings/Eldridge Rodriguez and Ruby Rose Fox. “That was around 3 p.m. A few frantic hours of organizing later, we opened doors at TTs with four bands and four solo performers. I think everyone asks, ‘How can I help? What Can I do?’ I’m not a doctor, I’m not a counselor, but I’m involved in music. I book shows, I write about music, I know bands and venues—this is was how I could help. This was my way of helping my city.”
Bouchard added, “We both worked the phones and our Gchat to get people involved. As we were doing that, unbeknownst to us, the club was making plans to help—one of the door guys organized a raffle that started with a gift certificate to a barbeque restaurant and ended up including over 30 prizes ranging up to $1,400 in value. The bartenders decided amongst themselves to donate their tips to the cause. By the time Michael and I arrived at TT’s, we had a huge raffle under way, were informed by the manager that all of the normal room costs were being waived by the owner, and that the club would be making a $500 donation.”
The bands rushed in with equal verve, doing their part to provide the audience with at the very least a distraction in the form of a rock riff or two. For Dan Nicklin, lead singer of Oldjack, his solo set struck a particularly poignant chord—Nicklin’s wife and infant children were planning on watching a friend cross the finish line the day before, and thankfully were nowhere near it when the bombs exploded. “I was singing a song I wrote for my oldest son, which I don’t ever play publicly. There’s a line that tells him to ‘close your eyes and I will be here in the morning. ‘It hit me then how much some innocent people lost the other day. I broke down in the green room after. The shock finally faded into sadness.”
“Cameron Keiber singing ‘Giving Myself Over To Boston’ filled me with pride,” Bouchard said. “By the end, scream-singing along with The Field Effect to ‘Headwrecked’ when singer Doug Orey declares ‘Good morning Boston, you don’t look the way you did last night, but I don’t mind,’ and Mean Creek’s powerful ‘You Were Wrong,’ about knowing you’re exactly where you belong, was more cathartic than I could have imagined.”
Between the raffle, the donations and the venue’s generosity, the benefit at TT’s brought in $7,740 for the Emergency Medical Services Department at Mass General. “I usually work the door at TT’s,” said Chris Keene of Mean Creek, who headlined the benefit that night. “I know from first-hand experience that a local show on a Tuesday night, usually, is poorly attended, so I found it very touching to see so many people come out to the show and give a large amount of money without thinking twice about it. To watch nearly 200 people file into the club on last minute notice and putting $20 bills in the donation box, it was clear people really cared about this and went out of their way to do something about it.”
As Boston begins the long, painful healing process, TT the Bear’s Place, the benefit it hosted and the bands who played it represent something far greater than a bunch of artists gathering to sing a few songs to distract people for a few hours. The Boston music scene rallied as a community and contributed what they could in a time of crisis, because when the city needs them—when “The show must go on” feels more like an irrelevant cliché than a business practice, when the silence is deafening—they will be there, cracked voices, broken strings and all.
“There is a lot of guilt associated with going out in the aftermath of tragedies like this,” Marotta said. “But in the Boston music community, this is what we do: we go to shows, we see bands, we support each other. This was a way for people to see friends, our friends in bands, our friends at the club, behind the bar, all over Boston—and give back and contribute to not only this city’s ongoing healing, but our individual own.”