UnCommon CoffeeHouse

Michael Conley on the UnCommon Coffeehouse

Article from "Featured Coffeehouse of the Month" by bostoncoffeehouses.org

Tom RussellIn pop music today, it seems that bigger is always better. Community coffeehouses are thriving in the Boston area these days precisely because they don't believe that. Just listen to Michael Conley, president of the venerable, two-decades-old Uncommon Coffeehouse in Framingham.

"We don't want every show to be a big one, nor do we want every show to be a small one," he says. "Intimacy is a nice thing about a coffeehouse, and while a big audience can bring a lot of energy, it's also nice to have the closeness of the small shows. When Tom Rush plays to 240 people here, he has to play big, to project out to everyone - and he's very good at that. With a smaller audience, there's still good energy, but it's closer, more personal."

Attendance ranges from 30 or 40 up to 250 for bigger headliners. Because of the Uncommon's wide range of concert experiences, and its well-earned reputation for booking the best of today's folk headliners, audiences have paid it the supreme compliment: they often come, as Conley puts it, "on spec," never having heard of the performer appearing. They're just in the mood for an "Uncommon" experience.

Small shows are held in Scott Hall, the social hall of the church. It’s a comfortable room with a high-peaked ceiling, great acoustics and clear sight lines from every seat. "Performers like it, because they don't have to belt it out or over-amplify," Conley says. Larger shows are held in the spacious meeting house, a classic New England church space, built in the mid-1920s.

The Uncommon is also proud of its multigenerational audience. All shows are family-friendly, and they do two or three kids’ shows during the day every season, including an annual puppet show. Conley says they also make a point of hosting a couple of “BGLT” (bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transsexual) performers every season.

As at all BACHA venues, dress is casual. Ample free parking is available on a large lot adjacent to the church, and on-street. Shows are held on Fridays, roughly every three weeks from September through May. Food runs to desserts, hot and cold nonalcoholic beverages, and a house specialty called "gorp," a mixture of peanuts, M&M’s, and other munchables.

"I'll be honest," Conley says of the club's musical personality, "I bring in the people I would love to see. Singer-songwriters are the backbone of the schedule, but we always bring in a special holiday show in December, and more traditional acts as well: some Celtic, blues, string bands, ballad singers. Basically we're looking for lively performers with something useful or exciting to say. We want audiences to laugh a little bit, cry a little bit, think a little bit. and come away exposed to something they didn't expect.”