What does a post-UnchARTed Lowell look like? It’s a question on a lot of people’s minds. While there is no definitive answer, taking a step back and looking at the big picture in both time and space might give us enough clues which start to paint a picture.
The first thing people need to remember is, there was a thriving music scene well before UnchARTed ever existed. It’s not like the UMass Lowell music program popped up overnight nor did the local suburban scene. WUML was hosting the Pixies on Live From the Fallout Shelter long before many of this site’s writers were born, and Piebald was singing “Hey! You’re Part of it!” in a local garage in Andover while many were still in diapers. The point is, the Greater Lowell music scene has been thriving for decades.
“Ya but we just lost the most popular venue” … is a statement that was echoed in 2006 when Evo’s closed (currently now the college dance bar, The Smokehouse). It’s also a statement which was echoed in 2015 when The Last Safe “closed” (a.k.a. re-branded into a college bar hangout). We’ve been down this road before. The music scene didn’t die those times; it just moved. When Evo’s closed due to the owner retiring, the music scene spread out to The Worthen, Gallery 119, and various basements. When the Last Safe “closed”, UnchARTed had just opened their 3rd and final location (the one we all know and love) and people moved over there en masse. The scene never dies, it just moves.
So where’s it going to move to this time? Let’s look at the contenders:
The Worthen: It’s the old flame you always run back to. Venues come and go, but somehow the Worthen always sticks around. It knows you. You know it. The ultimate rebound venue after every major closing. It’s now in the good hands of Kelsey and Cayla thriving under their leadership.
Thirsty First: Mostly catering to the punk scene, Thirsty First (commonly referred to as “Ward”) has a new PA and a new passion for hosting shows. Though still somewhat DIY in nature, it’s a favorite spot to many.
Warp & Weft: A bit classy, yet not too classy. W&W is great for anything from jam bands to soft-rock to blues. While generally catering to a slightly middle-aged crowd, spurts of youth do occur from time to time. Don’t expect anything overly weird or loud, but good tunes are always abound.
Olympia Zorba Music Hall: It’s a very big room so it’s rare your local indie circuit appears there but it does happen on occasion. Most of the bands that play there are tribute bands. Buffalo Tom is playing there soon as part of The Town & City Festival and you best believe I’ll be going to that one.
The Hearing Room: Truthfully I don’t know a great deal about The Hearing Room other than its open mics but I’ve heard (pun) good things. It’s an all ages venue in a good sized room with it’s own weekday traditions along with miscellaneous weekend shows. I know a few people who plan to pop in there a bit more in the future to check it out, self-included.
Dudley’s: Dudley’s also always dabbled between a dance bar and a rock bar. They’ve recently redone the main room, added a slightly elevated stage, and their PA system is always ready to go. They’ve been doing more shows there lately. I don’t know how risky they’re willing to go in terms of genres and they seem to be playing it safe towards booking bands friendly to the young dancing college crowd for now. Time will tell.
Miscellaneous basement venues: I’d love to tell you all about these great places but as tradition goes, you’re just going to have to “ask a punk” and figure it out yourselves.
Of course there’s always the larger music entities like Lowell Folk Fest, Lowell Summer Music Series, the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, Tsongas Center, etc. But those are more for national touring acts. This list also does not include the several other nooks and crannies where music sometimes pops up nor the many, many events which are held directly on the UMass Lowell campus.
Will the closing of UnchARTed cause some of the local venues to reformat to fulfill the gap left behind? It’s already starting to happen. Will something new popup seemingly unexpected? There’s already people working on it. If there’s one thing the history of the Greater Lowell music scene has taught us, it’s to never, ever count it out.
– Joel Gray