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The Acton Jazz Cafe and The Bull Run


Music and Ambiance Definitely Worth the Trip

By Matt Shaw

The Acton Jazz Café

“This will be our response to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” It’s impossible to say why, but the Leonard Bernstein quote on the home page of the Acton Jazz Café’s website displays a certain uniquely apple-country, Massachusetts vibe that you just can’t find anywhere else in New England.

That’s part of the charm of this intimate little jazz club, listed in Downbeat Magazine’s “100 Great International Jazz Clubs” and situated on Rte. 2A no more than 45 minutes northeast of Worcester. It doesn’t strive to bring the smoky, blue back-alley lounge culture of New York City to small-town Massachusetts. Instead, it fosters a natural place of growth ~ albeit in a non-typical setting ~ for music that is honestly inspired by its surroundings.

tony-monaco-at-the-acton-jazz-cafe_photo-phill-davisOn the smallish side ~ the restaurant seats about 75 people ~ and with a streamlined menu featuring grilled fish, steak tips and standard pasta dishes, the AJC is unpretentious and inviting. The focus here is clearly to allow the audience uninterrupted exposure to some of the great local and national jazz acts currently making the rounds through Central MA. Actually, it’s more than a “fosuc,” it’s a substantial part of the cafe’s mission statement, proudly displayed in its entirety on the website.

As for the acts themselves, AJC owner Gwenn Vivian treasures diversity. “We’re an all-ages venue,” she says, “so in the past we’ve had a lot of younger artists play for us.” None, perhaps, was more intriguing than 16-year old saxophone prodigy Grace Kelley, who opened up for the Ferdinando Argenti Trio and Alanna Manning last December. “We also have a great relationship with The Love Dogs,” Vivian says, referring to the swing-rock throwbacks tearing up stages across Massachusetts and frequent guests at the AJC.

Between touring acts, local singer-songwriter showcases, and weekly house bands, there’s always something going on at the AJC. “In an age where music is so readily available online,” Vivian says, “it’s extremely important, especially for younger people, to experience music live.” The Acton Jazz Café could not provide a more affable atmosphere for this experience.

The Bull Run

Just a few minutes down Rte. 2A, only a half hour north of Worcester, the Bull Run in Shirley has been quietly rocking off socks for decades. If you missed Johnny Winter last summer, don’t worry; you can get your blues fix with Johnny A. on Feb. 13th, Bellevue Cadillac on Valentine’s Day, and James “Superharp” Cotton on April 3rd. In the mood for something a little mellower? Check out any one of the local singer/songwriters featured on a nearly nightly basis.

foolscdThe list of past acts at the Bull Run is staggering. Jonathan Edwards, The Kennedeys, Eric Lillequist, Dave Mason, The New Guitar Summit (Jay Geils, Duke Robillard and Gerry Beaudoin), Michael Pickett, Jon Pousette-Dart, Tom Rush, Edgar and Johnny Winter, Wishbone Ash, and The Tubes top a list that is quite impressive. Folk, blues, or rock, any night of the year you’ll hear old familiar names and new music from artists you’ll never forget. There may be no better place in Massachusetts to see blues legends live and up close than the Bull Run.

The menu boasts the usual regimen of standard New England pub fare, plus a few things you might not expect. Heavily recommended are the prime rib, which comes loaded with savory side dishes, and the seasonal turkey dinner. The restaurant is open every day of the year, and special buffet menus accompany shows on all major holidays.

Maybe not as intimate as some dinner-and-a-show venues in the Worcester area, it is nevertheless decked out in authentic and rustic New England memorabilia that give an inviting, comfortable aura. Wandering around the early 18th century tavern alone is worth the trip. Considering the value and the caliber of entertainment, the Bull Run is a definite must-visit for classic rock and blues junkies of any age.

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