You don't have to be Unitarian to love the Nameless Coffeehouse. And you don't need divine guidance to find it, either. If you like folk music in a mellow setting, you're halfway there already. To get all the way there, head for the Old Unitarian Church in the Square, Friday and Saturday night between 7:30 and 1:00.
Located inside the street entrance to the church, the Nameless offers a wide variety of local talent, replete with guitars, harmonicas, stalwart fans, you name it. One a typical night you can expect to catch a lot of guitar music accompanied by male or female vocalists, or vice-versa. Or maybe a group. Or a commedian if you're very lucky. Most of the music is original, and sometimes it's good enough to make you want to trash your old Joni Mitchell albums. And if you don't like the first act, stick around, there are seven sets a night to choose from.
This is not just your average secondhand, worn out, reconstituted kind of folk music. This is real folk music--you know, think back to Hum 9b--music written of the folk, by the folk, and for the folk. A far cry from the standard jukebox fare.
And the Nameless Coffeehouse isn't exactly your typical night spot either. It's been run by students on a strictly volunteer basis for over a decade. As one faithful volunteer, Don Spector '81 says, "Nobody gets paid anything for anything at the Nameless." That means that everybody chips in from the goodness of their hearts. The church donates the room, the managemetn donate their time, and the acts donate their talent, all for the sake of initiating Harvard urbanites to real live folk music.
Co-manager Laurie Walker says, "It's the kind of thing that when you explain it to people, they say 'this will never work'. It's great to be able to smile and say it's been working for 12 years."
But home-grown, mellow music and the altruism of its workers aren't all the Nameless has to offer. Refreshments are served continuously by, yes, volunteer waiters and waitresses. You can take your pick from hot chocolate, cinnamon or plain coffee, mocha, tea, assorted sodas, cookies, or the best hot apple cider in town. Everything is free, but the place runs on donations, so leave something in the basket on the way out. Of course, if you're in the mood for a little good, healthy manual labor, co-manager Elizabeth Cold says they can always use more volunteers to serve drinks and wash dishes.
A stage, folding chairs, and candlelight create the eclectic Nameless atmosphere. Homey and comfortable, the place seats about 200, but on an average night about 500 people come in and out, says Walker. The music changes every half-hour, and the crowd flows on. Just the place for all you aspiring musicians with guitars hidden in your closets.
Melt into the audience and enjoy the thrill of a vicarious performance. That's part of the fun...realizing that that could be you up there! Even if you've never touched a guitar, you'll have a great time just tapping your feet--just don't kick your cider on to the guy next to you.
In case sudden inspiration happens to strike anyone in the audience, or anyone in Cambridge for that matter, auditions at the Nameless are backstage until 10:30 p.m. before a panel of one. One the average, about four people audition a night; Nameless is now booking for May.
The best acts at Nameless, those with their own following, are the "All-Stars". The coffeehouse tries to book two a night, and every three or four years they produce and album with the best of the stars. One is the works now. Some past attractions of note, or at least semi-note, were Peter Kairo, who has now released his own album; Orrin Starr, the 1976 national flat-picking champion; Stormin' Norman and Suzy, who just hit the New York scene with a write up in The Times, and David Mish, now working for Mork and Mindy.
This Friday watch for Debb Galiga on piano and Bob Holmes with his guitar. On Saturday the String Fever band will provide a little bluegrass, and John McAuliffe will strum a few tunes.
Although Nameless opens at 7:30 p.m., the music doesn't start until 8 p.m. Peak hours are between 9 and 11 p.m., but loyal supporters stick around later. And at the end, when the lights go up, everybody gets to help fold chairs. Just like back home.
So if your roommates just took off to see Saturday Night Fever for the seventh time, your steady doesn't want to go Dutch anymore, and your favorite James Taylor album just broke, don't give up. Go to church...the one on the corner of Mass Ave. and Church St., and check out the Nameless. You may never disco on a Saturday night again.