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Club Passim's Matt Smith discusses new projects and the path to a band's success

Located at 47 Palmer Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts and conveniently at the Harvard Square T stop, Club Passim has entertaining audiences with live performances since 1958. With a wide array of daily performances, audiences are treated to anything from Berkeley American Roots Music series to their annual campfire festival, which is a collection of renowned musicians jamming to one another’s songs. Visit www.passim.org for more information!

Club Passim staff:  Kristina Latino, Matt Smith, Courtney Gallagher, Dan Hogan, Jon Dorn, and Lis Rhodes
Courtesy of Passim

I had the honor of speaking with the man behind Club Passim’s music, Managing Director Matt Smith, about Passim’s School of Music, special events, his own music tastes, and how

Club Passim is not just for individual bands. You have different projects that you work on. For example, the Vinx Sessions are brand new. Tell me a little about that.

Well, Vinx put that together. It stems out of something that he runs called Soul Kitchen, like a songwriter’s retreat he puts on. I think he came up with that idea seeing some of the other series that we were running, like a lovely series with the Berkley American roots program. Students from Berkley who are in that program come do a showcase. We are always trying to reach out to the community to find new ways to present acts.

Not only do you choose music, but you also do workshops for Passim School of Music.

Absolutely, we have a monthly storytelling show with Massmouth program and a monthly open Celtic session where people can bring in their instruments and play along with Celtic bands. We’ve got a bunch of workshops tied in with our Bluegrass festival next month over Patriots Day weekend. We’ve got our second annual down home up here Bluegrass festival. We’ve got two days of bluegrass music and we are tying that in with a bunch of workshops that are happening up in the school of music. Various people that are playing the festival are also going to be teaching workshops on their instruments.

It has only hit 30s as far as the temps outside, I know that there is a lot of spontaneity in your annual campfire festival.

Absolutely! We put a lot of folks in the round, so there are some up on stage that don’t know each other. They listen to each other and hopefully try and join in on each other’s songs.

That happens twice a year.

Yes, Memorial Day and Labor Day.

So, the big question is, what is your music taste?

My music tastes are all over the map. I love what we program here, but I also listen to a lot of other things. I also love listening to 60’s, Motown, soul, and pop bands from that era as well. I am a big Beatles fan and Crowded House or any number of great pop bands from the past and present.

I really try to find out what kind of music is new out there. Not just in what we are programming, but finding other ways to incorporate the other things that are out there. I’ve got to keep my ears open not to just what I am going to like, but our audience will like.

What are a few exciting bands that are coming up?

We’ve got Dietrich Strauss coming in at the end of the month on March 29, whose new album is one of my favorite records. He is just one of the most incredible local talents these days.

We’ve got Stray Birds on April 4, another one of the best new bands out there. They are blowing up, and have already gone from selling out one show to selling out two shows at a time. On April 12, Heather Maloney and Darlingside, they were just out at the Folk Alliance conference and they‘re local. They just put out an EP with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s 'Woodstock.' Graham Nash was at the conference and spoke about how great their version was.

What do you hope to accomplish this year for Club Passim?

As always, bringing in the best talent that we can find and getting audiences out to see them, expanding the programming, and continually finding new talent. Our mission is not to rehash what’s been done, but always be finding new things and developing those new talents while also making sure that we are tipping our hat to our history. We’ve got a long standing history. We’ve got a lot of folks that have been playing at the club that have been playing here since the 60’s and 50’s in some cases. It’s an incredible thing to keep that connection, to make sure that we are still honoring those folks as well.

Do you ever have those moments where you say “and they started at Club Passim?”

All the time! Right now, the band, ‘Lake Street Dive’ is creating national buzz. They were just on the Colbert Report, David Letterman, the Ellen show, and they are mentioned on the cover of the new issue of Rolling Stone. It wasn’t all that long ago that they were playing here, less than two years ago. They got their start right here on our stage. It’s a really great thing to be able to have acts like that.

Click here for more on Passim School of Music and visit www.passim.org for their full schedule of upcoming talent headed to Club Passim!