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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, April 19, 2024

Johnny D's, music club for both local, Tufts musicians, to close in early 2016

Johnny D's, a local restaurant and music club, announced over the summer that it will be ending its 46-year-long history of celebrating and hosting musical performances in Davis Square in late January or early February. The local joint, which has hosted famous artists like Alison Krauss, Ben Harper, the Avett Brothers and the Dixie Chicks, has also provided a stage for several Tufts bands and musicians.

Johnny D's was first opened as a bar in 1969 by John and Tina DeLellis. Later, it expanded into a restaurant and music club. Hosting acts from a variety of different genres -- from country to jazz, soul, rock and funk -- the 300-capacity club has long provided the Davis Square community with a distinctive venue for musicians, fans and patrons.

Carla DeLellis has owned Johnny D’s since 1985. She grew up working at the club alongside her parents and coordinating musical acts.

Johnny D’s has been in my family since 1969 … Johnny D was my dad," DeLellis said. "And then my father passed away at the end of ’84, so I grew up in the business. But I came on full-time after college, and I was booking the bands, and that’s when I first started."

While Johnny D’s has been an important part of DeLellis’ life, it has also touched the lives of many Tufts students throughout its 46 years of showcasing local music. Melissa Weikart, a senior at Tufts and a member of a band on campus, played her first show at Johnny D’s in October.

“We know some of the members in American Symphony of Soul of them reached out to us and was like, ‘Oh we need an opener,'" Weikart said. "And we were like, ‘Okay!’ So we prepared some extra songs, whipped up some stuff, and then we went. It was really fun; there was a nice crowd, and it’s a really nice atmosphere."

Although Weikart had attended a Sunday Jazz Brunch show at the restaurant before, she described being on the other side of a performance.

“It’s a great environment because it’s a very open space, and there’s a dance floor," Weikart said. "And there was a really good mixture of old and young people, so that was cool to see people who are living around Tufts who aren’t Tufts students, older couples coming out on a Thursday night. Then a bunch of Tufts students went too ... We got really good feedback from some local residents, which meant a lot because it wasn’t just my friends from Tufts who say, ‘Oh, good job.’”

Another band, Bad and Blue, comprised of four Tufts students and four New England Conservatory students, has also played at Johnny D’s. They have performed there twice since 2013, according to the band's guitarist, senior Lila Ramani.

“Our first show we played there we were not headlining, we were just opening for another band; that was our friends who happened to be playing there," Ramani said. "And that was super fun ... It was really low key; it was just our friends and family basically in the place.”

Senior Tammara Gary, one of Bad and Blue's vocalists, added details about the distinctive experience Johnny D's provided to the band during their first performance. 

“It was cool being off campus, especially as a [first-year]," Gary said. "The bar is a great space; the sound system is awesome, and the lights, and there’s a stage, so I love the vibe. It’s also nice being...part of the community of Somerville, and that’s kind of what Johnny D’s was for, at least for me -- I think for a lot of the music at Tufts [it was] a good outlet, and it gave a homey feel.”

All three musicians noted that it will be a loss to the Tufts and Somerville community when Johnny D’s closes, especially for Tufts musicians looking for an outlet that is close to campus.

“So it will just, I think, be a little harder because then you have to go more outside of Davis Square, and then not necessarily getting your friends out there to support you," Weikart said. "And then just generally our relationship with Somerville will be affected because I think that our music scene and people who play in Davis, I think, at least from the feedback I received, it seemed that non-Tufts students were enjoying the music.”

Ramani noted the strong connection Johnny D's had with Tufts musicians and its willingness to showcase Tufts bands to the local Somerville community. 

“It’s sad, because they are super into supporting Tufts," she said. "When we emailed them…they wanted us to play there. So it’s a good space for Tufts bands to play at in general, so that sucks that it’s closing.”

While many people might be looking to the past to reflect on the legendary music bar and restaurant, DeLellis is looking toward the future as she considers what to do with the space once Johnny D’s closes.

“It’s unknown right now; you never know until the deal is signed," she said. "I am considering anybody who wouldn’t be a late-night place, just because it’s going to be residential above. Honestly, I’ve got this little idea -- not that I’d want to do it myself, but you see a lot more of these coffee houses…that are starting to sell beer and wine, where it’s like part coffee house, part bar. I think that would be a really nice mix where there could be music, but it’s not late-night.”

DeLellis also spoke to the future of music in Davis Square after Johnny D's closes.

"I know Davis Square really was defined in many ways by Johnny D’s, or by what Johnny D’s brought," DeLellis said. "So I hope that somehow live music stays alive in Davis Square. Music finds its way. I know that things will be picked up and I also know that my plan is to keep a music presence in Davis Square."

The connection between the Tufts musical community and Johnny D's is something that DeLellis expressed gratefulness for.

“[I want to say] thank you to the Tufts community for supporting us and for always being good customers and supporting us and bringing their musical talents to us.”