Cambridge, MA is a Top 10 City for Best Music Scene Outside of Nashville, NYC & L.A.

The Middle East in Cambridge, MA
The Middle East in Cambridge, MA

Cambridge, MA is home to two of the foremost universities in the world, Harvard and MIT, but has far more going for it than the typical college music scene, in part thanks to its proximity to Boston, just a few miles southeast.

Artists such as Aerosmith, The Lemonheads, The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., The Modern Lovers and Dick Dale have all called the Boston area home, with the band Passion Pit hailing from Cambridge itself. Renowned singer Joan Baez began making a name for herself in Cambridge, performing her first show at the Club 47, now Club Passim, which was at the center of Cambridge's huge folk scene in the 1960s. Other artists who have performed there include Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Shawn Colvin, Tom Rush and Suzanne Vega, and the small underground space in Harvard Square continues to be a favorite local venue for live music. 

"The strongest part of the music scene in Cambridge revolves around a street corner with three venues: The Middle East (upstairs and downstairs venues) and T.T. the Bear's Place. I would say The Middle East is the most well-known club in Boston/Cambridge and probably my favorite place to play in town," says Boston-based drummer and music educator Jimmy Pemberton. "I've been lucky enough to play there a good amount with different acts and have never had a bad experience."

Pemberton has worked with numerous artists including New England Music Awards Country Act of the Year Kiley Evans, who shares admiration of the venue: "The sound system is pretty amazing, which largely attributes to the reputation of the venue. The whole vibe of the place is raw and to-the-point, which makes the whole experience easy, whether you are there to perform or to listen. One of the perks of playing there is a nice discount on dinner, and the food was wicked good!"

Adding to Cambridge's top-notch venues are a variety of record stores – unusual for a city of about 100,000 – plus more in Boston, of course.

Artists with Cambridge/Boston ties: Passion Pit, Joan Baez, The Pixies, The Lemonheads, Aerosmith, Dinosaur Jr., The Modern Lovers, Dick Dale

Noted venues: Club Passim, The Middle East Restaurant & Nightclub, T.T. the Bear's Place

Cool record stores: Weirdo Records, Planet Records, Cheapo RecordsStereo Jack's, Armageddon Shop

Fun fact: In 1640, the first book in America was published in Cambridge, MA: the Bay Psalm Book.

*Photo courtesy of Adam Salsman.

Check out more fun things to do in Cambridge.