By Dan Murphy
Berklee College of Music talent takes center stage seven nights a week at a new Back Bay restaurant that pairs live acoustic performances with a menu that draws from Southern and international influences.
B3 (i.e. “Back Bay Beats”) showcases the music of current students, recent alumni, faculty and visiting artists alongside digital art installations curated by the local firm Marka27 Designs and the culinary fare of Nicholas Swogger, executive chef and an alum of the Hungry Mother, formerly of Cambridge, in a 3,850 square-foot space at 160 Massachusetts Ave. (While B3 occupies the ground level of a Berklee-owned building, the school has no financial interest in the restaurant).
A slightly raised platform outfitted with rolling steel and glass acoustical panels known as “Center Stage” is stuated in the middle of the main dining room. On a typical night, combinations of two or three musicians can be found there playing traditional Southern folk, gospel, R&B, funk, world and jazz, among other genres. Performances begin nightly at 7 and 9 p.m. to best accommodate dinner patrons, and the restaurant also offers additional live music during Sunday brunch.
Michael Borgida, associate director of external affairs for Berklee who is overseeing booking for B3, said the restaurant would offer multi-night “residencies” with the same combinations of musicians performing several nights in a row. While this practice is commonplace at the Village Vanguard and other New York City venues, it would be somewhat unique to Boston and Cambridge, he said.
Also, Borgida expects the programming would reflect the tastes and influences of a student body that includes some of the most dedicated and talented musicians worldwide.
“We’re drawing from a community of 5,000 students who want to play music for the rest of their lives, and 35 percent of whom are from other countries,” Borgida said. “You get an international perspective at Berklee that you can’t really find anywhere else.”
In addition to performing, students will also assist Borgida with booking and sound-engineering duties at B3.
Carolyn Marans, general manager, said the restaurant doesn’t have a cover charge for patrons, but the musicians are duly compensated for their time.
“We want the students to feel like they have a job and set them up for success once they graduate,” Marans said.
While the music is clearly a focal point at B3, Marans said the intention is for guests and servers to be able to hear each other speak as background music plays in a “fluid” environment.
“We wanted to create a warm, welcoming atmosphere like places in the South where people just come in, have some food and enjoy the music,” Marans said.
To reach B3, call 617-997-0211.