TheHotSpot: Club Passim

Club Passim is easy to miss. Tucked under the Globe Corner bookstore on Church Street, it is small and unassuming. One room houses a vegetarian/vegan café, and the other is a modest performance space with room for an audience of 125. Though Passim is located just a block from the Coop, few Harvard students have ever been there.

Its history, though, is legendary—Passim is to folkies what CBGB is to punks. Joan Baez got her start there as a 17-year-old college student, and a young singer-songwriter named Bob Dylan used to play between acts. Bonnie Raitt hung out there, and Muddy Waters’ first performance at Passim was one of the entry points for Chicago Blues on the east coast. Contemporary folk stars Suzanne Vega and Shawn Colvin got there start there, too. Arlo Guthrie has played there a solid week each of the past two years.

Despite its pedigree, though, the club’s mission is to provide a stage for young up-and-comers. Its management takes this mission so seriously that the club became a nonprofit organization in 1995, and runs a “Culture for Kids” program to introduce low-income children to traditional music, dance, art, and food from a wide range of countries.

Most of the club’s funding comes from membership fees, private donations, and grants; many of its employees are part-time volunteers who donate their evenings out of sheer love of the music and the warmth of the crowd. As Lori Valigra, one such volunteer, says, “I wanted to get away from type As—the people who eat their young…There’s a lot of people who come regularly. It gets to be a second home here.”

Passim attracts a mix of all ages, from Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School kids to aging folk-hippies. When a performer launches into the chorus of a cover song, the diffuse hum of audience members singing along accompanies the music. It’s a comfortable crowd, one that exudes acceptance and ’60s-flavored tranquility.

Veggie Planet, the adjoining café is an added bonus. Obviously, vegetarians and vegans should be excited about the surprisingly good meat-free fare, but the food—especially the pizzas—has a solid reputation among omnivores as well.

Coffee, tea, and vegan desserts are available; diners can sit in the café and listen to music without buying a ticket, while those in stage-front seats get table service from friendly but absentminded waitresses. Though the club unfortunately doesn’t serve alcohol, this allows it to remain open to all ages.

Passim’s upcoming calendar is a lively one, and includes some wildly unique musicians. On March 25, the rising neo-bluegrass outfit Crooked Still brings a mix of jazz, Irish flare, and traditional American folk music to the club. Rushad Eggleston, the band’s Grammy-nominated fiddler, plays with his solo project The Wild Band of Snee this Sunday, March 6. On Thursday, April 7, the club will host Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, an American folk singer who influenced and occasionally played with Woodie Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, and Pete Seeger.

Aside from the big headliners, Passim hosts smaller and quirkier acts almost every night of the week. Every Friday is Open Mic night, with $5 admission for listeners and performers alike. Walk-in performers are welcome, and will be added to the randomized set list. Other than the Open Mic, shows generally cost between $10 and $15 and start at either 7 or 8 p.m. The club is located at 47 Palmer St.; if you walk down the alley between the Palmer and Brattle Street Coops, it will be on your right at the end of the block. Schedules are available at or in the newsletter/schedule available at the club; the latter includes brief descriptions of each performer.

—Staff writer Michael A. Mohammed can be reached at