Story by Joe Viglione
Full disclosure, Hotline to the Underground author Joe Viglione is also publicist for
The Cantab Lounge
1938 was when the great Bobby Hebb, composer of “Sunny” and “A Natural Man,” was born. It was also the year of the launch of the Cantab Lounge, an iconic fixture in Cambridge’s Central Square and the New England music community.
From bluegrass to spoken word, jazz, blues, rock, punk to just enjoying a friendly neighborhood bar The Cantab Lounge has survived The Rathskellar, The Club in Cambridge, Cantones, Jaspers, Harper’s Ferry, the Garage, The Boston Club and other memorable ‘cellars full of noise,” to paraphrase Petula Clark’s “I Know a Place.”
In 1974 the Cantab was an elegant little basement club, not as far downstairs as the Stone Phoenix on Mass. Ave near Berklee College of Music. When the band Stories featuring Ian Lloyd (pre “Brother Louie”) played there in the early 1970’s it was two flights down! The Cantab had comfortable lighting, tables and chairs, and a stage where the Backstreet Beat performed as house band. Upstairs was a Chinese restaurant, the door of which is still on its hinges welcoming you to the lounge.
Flashforward to March 2020 when the pandemic hit. Suddenly, all nightclubs and restaurants shut down, something that no one on the planet expected.
“Fitzy,” beloved long-time owner, had a strategy. Put the club up for sale BUT kept his options open. If no buyer arrived he would continue the rocking blues establishment.
“The Chicken Slacks, opening the Cantab Lounge, December 9th” 9:05 pm here in the Spin Room (on Monday night, Nov 9th on his radio show.) “Let’s Stay Together” – a new cover of Al Green aired by Lou Spinnazola, just as WMWM Salem’s Bob Nelson announced the Slacks at the Cantab on his Saturday 11/27 “What’s Happening” radio show on 91.7 FM. The community is buzzing on Facebook and Twitter about the event, which is quite historic, if you think about it. Here’s a club that survived eighty-three years, it’s century mark a mere 17 years away, surviving the pandemic, and reopening in December of 2021.
Mickey Bliss, founder of the revue Club Bohemia, is now booking both floors – Club Bohemia situated downstairs, The Cantab Lounge upstairs. On Sunday evenings Lee Lundy is hosting “the R & B Jam” with Wednesdays’ jams handled by Berto B. at the Cantab main floor. Tuesday nights upstairs will be bluegrass again, with Tony Watt as your host, a fellow who is on the board of directors of the Boston Bluegrass Union. You can find him on https://tonywattbluegrass.com/ and downstairs on Wednesdays Jeff Robinson has spoken word.
Go to the Facebook page TheCantabLounge for calendars of upcoming events. On New Year’s Eve the highly popular Summer of George, which would pack the old room, is back for the festivities upstairs with Soul Association downstairs to bring in the new year. The Club is even talking to Ian Lloyd and his Stories along with John Ford of the Strawbs for a special show. On January 8, 2022 Andrae Carter, former guitarist with Damian Marley, will fly in to perform on a bill with former Columbia Records artist Andy Pratt who will perform his self-titled album with “Avenging Annie” in its entirety. There is a void left by Johnny D’s in Davis Square going the way of all flesh, and the Cantab Lounge has some surprise artists scheduled for 2022 to hopefully fill that Johnny D’s void.