Rock Music in Boston and the Fans Who Keep it Alive

Ellie Goulding at 2016 KISS 108 Jingle Ball By Nathalie Sczublewski

 

Jonathan Bergamo, a Fan of Dave Matthews Band (at TD garden) by Yaling Hou

 

Jonathan Bergamo, a Fan Engagement and Data Specialist for Nettwerk Music Group, has been to 114 Dave Matthews Band concerts and plans to go to more. The most recent one he attended was at the TD Garden here in Boston, MA. He laughs about the number but there’s a sense of pride in his voice when he talks about his dedication to the band.

“They’ve always been like the best live performance I’ve seen period,” says Bergamo. With each venue he’s been to, Bargamo says that their performances are always different.  It’s a hobby of Bergamo’s that is shared with a few other concert-goers.

Olivia Dineen and Katie Teleo by Yaling Hou

Olivia Dineen and Katie Teleo attend at least five to seven concerts a year. Teleo, who met her fiancé at a Dave Matthews Band concert, says they go to all the concerts together as a little reminder on their first meeting.

These concerts hold a special place in their hearts and they are among a large percentage of people who go to live performances. Just last year, North America alone made around $8 billion in concert ticket sales.

For Boston, music has a historical connection to the city. Since the early 70’s, major bands like Aerosmith, (also known as the “Bad Boys from Boston”), The Pixies, Boston and The Cars, all got their start in Boston. The rock scene has been thriving in Boston for a long time. 

 

Rock is the Most Common at Major Venues in Boston (2014-2018) 

Data gathered from setlist.fm and collected from 2014-2018. Over a period of five years, top venues in Boston still seem to be playing rock music. 

 

Top venues like House of Blues, TD Garden and Fenway have a history with booking rock bands more than other genres.

“I think that’s just the history of the city,” says Bergamo, “Boston has a really famous punk history.”

Steve Morse, who has been a senior pop critic for The Boston Globe for 28 years, says that top venues like TD Garden have a history with rock music in Boston but he’s noticing a shift to more pop music.

What I’ve noticed most at the Garden historically is rock music, particularly classic rock such as U2, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, and the Rolling Stones,” says Morse, “These acts still tour on a limited basis but I’m seeing more pop and Top 40 acts play the Garden, consistent with many how radio stations have also changed their playlists.”

 

At TD Garden, Pop Music Beats Rock Genres

Data gathered from setlist.fm and collected from 2014-2018. TD Garden books more popular performances and it seems that pop is booked more than rock.

 

Bigger venues in Boston often attract bigger musicians like U2 and Elton John. In the past five years, TD Garden booked 336 artists. Morse’s suspicions on pop music gaining popularity makes sense with who performed. Although rock music had the highest ticket sales, pop music is steadily catching up.

Bergamo believes genres like rock have such a strong foothold in Boston because it is a blue collar city. He also attributes it to the college students living in Boston. It’s also clear that concertgoers in Boston prefer the larger shows instead of smaller live bands.

“Bostonians used to eat, sleep and drink live music. But that is less pervasive today,” says Morse, “There are fewer live clubs – many are gone and some have turned over to playing DJ’s instead of booking live bands. There are still diehard followings but not as much as before when there were clubs like the Rat and the Channel.”

Alessia Cara performed in JingleBall by Nathalie Sczublewski

Even if the bands don’t perform well, it’s all about the energy between the band and the crowd. Seasoned performers like Billy Joel and Ariana Grande know how to work a crowd and, according to Bergamo, it’s all about the experience.

“I’ve seen some abysmal shows,” says Bergamo, “but the band has been fun and if the crowd is willing to give that back, then it’s a great time. You laugh it off. Yeah, the singer could barely hold a note, but they were fun and that somehow made it a good time. I don’t feel like you have to be the best performer for it to be a good experience. It’s about that two way communication that happens with the performers on stage and the audience.”

And the experiences at larger venues in Boston are usually more exciting. Marc Hirsh, a contributor for The Boston Globe, says that venues like Fenway and TD Garden book bands that tend to fall under the category of “legacy acts with massive fanbases”.

 

Adele Concert at Fenway Park by Nathalie Sczublewski

 

Popular singers like Adele and Taylor Swift have a massive fan base that is willing to follow them to various venues across the world – similar to Bergamo’s passion to see the Dave Matthews Band as much as possible.

It’s an experience to see multiple shows on the tour and having that entire experience to go back on,” says Bergamo.

 


Compared with Indoor Venues, Outdoor Venues like Fenway Hosts More Country Music

 

Data gathered from setlist.fm and collected from 2014-2018. Country music is played the most at Fenway but is significantly less popular at House of Blues and TD Garden.

 

The venues themselves also have an impact on which genre gets booked the most. Katie Teleo says that country artists perform more at outdoor venues like Fenway rather than indoor venues.

“I’ve never seen a country artist at the Garden,” says Teleo, “They tend to be outside in the summer. I think weather has to do something with it too.”

It would make sense with country music artists performing more at venues like Fenway – baseball and country songs usually go hand in hand.

With venues like the House of Blues, smaller bands draw in more of a niche crowd. House of Blues has a history with rock bands that is still prevalent today. James Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Aerosmith were among the original financiers of the venue before it relocated.

 

House of Blues Has More Small Bands and Diversity Genres 

Data gathered from setlist.fm and collected from 2014-2018. House of Blues is for smaller acts but those smaller acts usually perform heavy metal, pop and hip-hop.

 

“The House Of Blues is, in my estimation, more for mid-level acts in a variety of genres,” says Hirsh, “though I think there’s a high percentage of what we’d consider indie and alternative – plus some legacy acts that might not be able to pull a full arena anymore but still have sustaining fanbases: Sting, the Go-Go’s, Marilyn Manson, Erasure. But those still aren’t wildly out of synch. [They’re] simply from a different era.”

Even with smaller venues shuttering their doors, Boston still maintains its intimate relationship with rock.  Bergamo says that many venues around the Fenway neighborhood closed down over the years, but he has an optimistic view about local music’s foothold in the Boston area.

“There were a bunch of little venues around Fenway that have closed,” says Bergamo, “so, I feel like it’s retracted a little bit, but the foothold is still there.”

Steve Morse is also optimistic about smaller punk rock bands making a comeback in Boston. He sees the writing on the wall but hopes Boston is just in a “transitional” phase and will undergo a “major renaissance in future years.”

As for the House of Blues, they get less punk because punk right now is not as commercially successful as it used to be,” says Morse, “not that it was ever a blockbuster in terms of playing big clubs like HOB.”

There’s a similarity between people like Bergamo who make a commitment to seeing their favorite performer across bigger venues and niche fans who always show up to watch their favorite smaller band perform. Most of these fans who attend concerts at these top venues have a dedication to musicians who perform rock music.

However, fans of these musicians are more likely to see them perform at bigger venues like TD Garden and Fenway, according to Morse.

TD Garden Night View by Yaling Hou

“If you’re paying $200 a ticket to see a big headliner at the Garden, then that’s less money you have to spend in the clubs,” says Morse.

For Bergamo, it’s a unique experience each time he sees the Dave Matthews Band perform at different venues and that energy is amplified at larger venues. Each fan has a different reason for why they enjoy their favorite artist. Bergamo’s reason is the style of music and each musician’s background in the Dave Matthews Band.

Their drummer is like a jazz drummer,” says Bergamo, “they had a violin player and there were folk elements in there. Dave’s from Africa, so he’s very percussive. So all of that together sort of creates this really unique sound that not a lot of bands have. But they still have catchy songs and they still write a lot of amazing music that has lyrics that really get to you and you feel. They bring it to another level when you see them live.”

Even with rock music being the most popular at Boston’s top venues, it’s the energy of the bands that persuade devoted fans to keep coming back. But it seems that rock music brings the most excitement with its musicians, based on multiple bookings and ticket sales. It could also be the history rock has with the city of Boston.

I think that’s just the history of the city,” says Bergamo, “Boston has a really famous punk history. During the great British invasion, a lot of UK artists would come to Boston first because it was the easiest to get here. They could play Boston before they could play New York and develop here and get a foothold of the states because New York was sometimes hard to play. So there’s been this long history of rock music and punk music.”

Rock has been the most popular venues with TD Garden, Fenway and House of Blues over the past five years but it’s the music fans of Boston – like Jonathan Bergamo, Katie Teleo and Olivia Dineen – that drive this popularity. 

 


 

This piece is by Kristen Bates, Nathalie Sczublewski, Niovas Mejia, and Yaling Hou.

If you want to know details about how we created our data story, you can read our Methods to find out more.

About Yaling Hou 7 Articles
Yaling is a videographer and a bilingual writer who accept journalism education both in China and America. She is passionate about education, cross-cultural communication and youth development. She writes, produces, edits and assists multimedia stories for organizations like Sampan Newspaper and Chronicle, WCVB in Boston.