The independent, multi-room music and arts venue is temporarily closing July 31 with a goal to re-open in the fall. Over the course of August, the venue will undergo a “transition to a new internal structure” and a cosmetic facelift to its two rooms, the 300-person capacity ballroom and 100-person capacity lounge.
“Our goal is to be open in the early fall, when the season starts in September,” ONCE proprietor JJ Gonson tells Vanyaland. “That is the goal, that is the dream… We don’t know what the future is.”
In a statement set to be released to the public on Friday morning (July 6), Gonson details the troubles the Highland Avenue venue has endured in recent months, including the cost of operating a live music venue and a May office burglary that left parts of the venue vandalized and its staff shaken. Since then, Gonson has called upon the city of Somerville for assistance, and asked the local music community to support it by attending shows in the ballroom and curated events in its lounge.
“ONCE is a cultural incubator and gathering space and it is also a business,” Gonson writes. “It is a business that lives in a chaotic realm — balancing on a knife edge of reasonably priced tickets and drinks while paying artists, staff, licenses, utilities, rent, taxes etc. The business model is quite simple on paper, but in the heart of ONCE we prioritize art over the mundane which makes that knife edge all the more sharp and tricky to balance on.”
This upcoming break in the calendar will serve as a recharge for the venue and its staff. The room itself will be cleaned and upgraded, including the painting of the ballroom and a steam-cleaning of the lounges carpets.
“Over the next few months you will see changes at ONCE,” the letter continues. “Our mission will remain the same as will our focus to foster and support local artists and their art, to bring cool events to the neighborhood, and maintain our deep ties to the community by being a gathering space. But we must transition and hone to keep the business viable.”
After the May burglary, Anngelle Wood, organizer of the annual Rock and Roll Rumble (which in 2016 found a new home at ONCE, only to be postponed this year after a corporate restructuring by its longtime operator, WZLX 100.7 FM), set up a GoFundMe to help the venue get back on its feet. The crowdfunding campaign raised more than $20,000 by 430 backers in roughly five weeks, but Gonson tells Vanyaland the venue is not accepting the money until it figures out its future. She wants everyone who donated to know just where the money is going.
“Please note that while we transition to a new internal structure, the GoFundMe that was set up in an emergency situation will remain untouched until such time as we have designated a clear and specific use for the donations,” the letter states. “Broadly, the money will be exclusively used to keep ONCE open. But we want our donors to have the specifics about for what exact purpose the money will be used, and we want to emphasize that donors always have the option of a refund if in any way they feel the cause they thought they donated to is different from the decision made. Donors will be notified directly through the GoFundMe regarding the use of the money.”
As ONCE assesses its future, there are shows currently booked for the fall, though not until November. Those include Mom Jeans on November 1; Roky Erickson on November 2; Jamali Maddix on November 8; and MC Lars on November 13. This weekend, ONCE hosts Future Teens tonight and Screaming Females on Saturday, and the July calendar features 18 events in all, including appearances by Worshipper on July 13; Wild Moccasins on July 22; and Radium Girls on July 26.
“Although it is unclear what the future state of ONCE will be, we sincerely hope you stick with us in continuing to realize our vital mission of focusing on local arts and artists,” ONCE states. “We have a full calendar in July with hundreds of talented artists relying on this community to support them. Please show your support of those artists and come to an event! We will have a quiet August as we regroup and though we are not sure when we will reopen, we hope to fill the Fall with even more exciting events to bring the cultural community that much closer together.”
Read ONCE’s message in full below.
Featured image by Scott Murry for Vanyaland, from the 2017 Rumble final.