Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Kira McSpice performs Aug. 4 at Somergloom. (Photo: Ben Stas)

JJ Gonson has a lot of irons in the fire.

Photographer. She’s been shooting since the }80s, documenting the underground music scene and capturing intimate photos of artists (some who went on to become legends) in their natural habitat.

Caterer and personal chef. She’s the creative force behind the company Cuisine En Locale, committed to a culinary philosophy of serving local, farm-fresh and seasonal food onto your plate.

But local music fans know and love JJ Gonson best as the head of Once, an “itinerant” music venue. Once upon a time the venue enjoyed bricks-and-mortar digs on Highland Avenue in Somerville, but the location became an economic casualty during the pandemic. Undaunted, Gonson reinvented the venue as a pop-up concept, and today you’ll find Once shows sprouting up all over town.

The Rockwell in Davis Square is a regular horse in the Once stable. On April 10, Ezra Furman will conclude a four-show residency at the black box theater, “Ms. Ezra Furman Doing What She Wants.” The series is not the first time Furman and Once have collaborated.

Said Gonson: “Ezra and Once have done multiple residencies together over the past four years. Each has been loosely thematic. I think that residencies offer artists opportunities to try things more than once, and to hone what works best for them. In Ezra’s case … it has provided a platform for her to experiment with multiple formats: poetry, comedy, solo performance and band performance.”

In recent years Once has been a staple of the summer festival scene. We asked Gonson what we should look forward to as the weather heats up. She dished: Somergloom returns!

The “celebration of all things dark and heavy” will be at the Center for the Arts at the Armory on Aug. 23-24. Gonson promises the event will be “bigger and gloomier” than ever. You heard it here first.

With all these professional hustles, filing taxes must be murder for Gonson. But here’s one activity that doesn’t require additional entries into her 1040: reading James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” She’s an aspiring Joycean, tackling the mammoth of modern literature within the collegial community of Billy Hough’s sold-out seminar on the subject. Embarking on a more than 700-page voyage into the steely waters of high modernist literature is a more agreeable prospect when you have company.

“Ulysses” is the type of book that demands a strategy. Gonson’s approach is to “read the pages like poetry,” then use the class to bring the poetic insights into focus. A book such as “Ulysses” is less a leisurely Sunday afternoon read, more a problem-solving activity for those who love puzzles. Not at all out of character at all for a music booker who has spent her professional life jigsawing bands and stages and dates and who-knows-whatever-else is required to make the cat purr.


Worth the trouble? The local music scene says yes. Molly Bloom says yes, yes, yes! And you should say the same to hitting these local shows.

Friday: Fatoumata Diawara (Crystal Ballroom, Somerville)

Global Arts Live must have the direct line for the Malian Music Department. No complaints here. Last week we shouted out the kora virtuoso Ballaké Sissoko, who played Davis Square on Tuesday. Just a few days later fellow compatriot Fatoumata Diawara will bring her electric guitar to the same stage. She knows how to put on a show, having gotten her start as an actor. But she’s full steam ahead on a music career, touring the world and collaborating with heavy hitters such as Herbie Hancock and Flea. The vocals will be sung mostly in Bambara, the national language of Mali. So sit back, relax and enjoy a cold frosty biyɛri as the afropop rains down.

April 4: Shotgun Waltz, The Magic City, Sunshine Riot, Twig (Middle East Club, Cambridge)

Be there for the opening night of the 2024 Rock N Roll Rumble. We’re tempted to list every show on the Rumble calendar. It’s a competition, after all, and there’s a special sort of thrill watching the action unfold from the first whistle. If March Madness is any guide, the preliminary rounds might be the most entertaining. The Magic City channels ’70s-era David Bowie. Shotgun Waltz listened to a lot of FM radio in the ’80s. Sunshine Riot sounds most comfortable in the grunge vernacular of the ’90s. And Twig kicks like the most hard-rocking version of Paramore you heard in the ’00s. May the best decade win …

April 5: Dru Cutler with Dutch Tulips & Chris Walton (The Lilypad, Cambridge)

Brooklyn’s Dru Cutler pays a visit to the Lilypad with a songbook that waxes in poetic reverie. The sensibility roots around the familiar territory of indie rock, but the choices he makes within those bounds are a pleasant surprise. Bespoke songwriting for music fans who wish Sufjan Stevens replaced Thom Yorke for exactly one album between “The Bends” and “Kid A.” On his Bandcamp page Cutler highlights a Vanyaland review of his latest album “Will to Mend,” which called his songs “digestible.” Really, my man? That’s the review you’re going to copy and paste across all your platforms? Joined by indie rock quartet Dutch Tulips and singer-songwriter Chris Walton.


Last Saturday night a hip-hop show featuring Akrobatic, Big Shug and Edo.G camped out downstairs at The Middle East. The world of hip-hop is one that reveres places, spaces and history. (You don’t get indie rock bands repping their neighborhoods quite as hard, although the Flaming Lips love to talk up Oklahoma City.) So it was no surprise that the artists shouted out the venue for nurturing young rap talent on its stage over the years. No surprise, either, that the showcase was titled “Respect Boston.”

Respect is something we all crave. But Boston-area hip-hop has a special ax to grind, situated within spitting distance of New York City, a metropolis that has traditionally garnered more national and international attention for its hip-hop artists. Mattapan’s Big Shug watched his own group Gang Starr relocate there in search of greener pastures at some point in the late ’80s or early ’90s. It’s a tough business – you go where you think you have the best chance to succeed.

Let other towns put a question mark at the end of “Respect Boston.” The downstairs on Saturday night came with the exclamation point. A laundry list of local talent joined the headliners. Highlights included a performance of Lateb and Mello Dee’s “Shooter” (with XL the Beast on hand for the featured spot), a morality tale about an absentee father and the disastrous result. Reggie Hue was a marvel with an easy, medium-tempo flow and an everyperson wit. DLabrie landed on stage like a surreal asteroid, just back from Philly, turning up for soundcheck with the same clothes he’s had on since Thursday. That’s 72 hours strong, which is borderline unhealthy, but how can you second guess an artist whose moniker stands for Love And Beauty Reside In Everyone?

Still researching the “D” …

Michael Gutierrez is an author, educator, activist and editor-in-chief at Hump Day News