For 5+ years, Night of the Living Deadhead has been the best curated event in the city. I discovered dozens of bands and made many friends sitting around the bar at Zuzu, coloring in blank show posters, and sipping a beer. Johnny Allen started his Monday night weekly shows with the intention of bringing good music to good people, and he has succeeded marvelously. Sadly for us, Night of the Living Deadhead is coming to a close with it’s final show this Monday. I got the chance to talk with Johnny and pick his brain on what these past years in Boston have meant to him. He’s an incredible guy doing incredible things for local music community, and his presence will be sorely missed.
Jacob Rosati: Besides being one of the best named weekly music nights in Boston, Night of the Living Deadhead has consistently hosted fantastic bands from Boston and beyond. What was your philosophy on curation?
John Allen: I tried the best i could to book music i thought was entertaining or interesting. I always would ask bands starting out because i think Zuzu is the perfect room for that- no stage, really laid back vibe, very intimate room. I would also try to have friends play or friends of friends that soon enough would become friends of Zuzu. Hospitality was a top priority. I’ve gone on tour myself and from experience there are the places that make you feel welcome and wanted and the ones that simply don’t care. I wanted the atmosphere at Zuzu to be a famously welcome and warm place to play and see live music. I also met a lot of people from behind the bar and when i would find out they also had a band I would encourage them to play as well. I thought that was important too, that people that came to support the night would also be a part and play too!
JR: Okay, it’s a lame question but I want to know: proudest moment? Go.
JA: This is not a lame question, just a difficult one. There are so many it’s hard to pick one. I was really proud once things started to click and I started to notice regulars coming to hang and color posters and stay for the music They had no idea what the music was that night but would stay and have a great time and then come back again and again. It felt kind of rad when people would come in and when the server would greet them and ask if they were there for dinner the guests would reply “we’re here to color”
I feel proud of the bands that have played some of their first shows at Zuzu and have since gone on to play bigger rooms and have great things going on for them. There are many moments- just last week my best buds were playing and called me up to play drums for a song- that felt like a dream.
JR: If you were to go back and start Deadhead over again, what is one thing you would change?
JA: I would try to keep the shows to two bands. Most of the nights were 3- sometimes it was 4. There is limited to time. I have to have the room ready after dinner ends (10pm) and cleared out by 1. Sometimes things feel a bit rushed. I would like for the bands to have plenty of time to play but more importantly plenty of time to hang with their friends and fans.
JR: It has been a dynamic 5+ years booking at Zuzu filled with surprise (I’m sure). I’d like to know about two of these surprises specifically. The first one related to a band (perhaps a damn good discovery?) and one related to a customer (perhaps you had to get the cuffs out??). Tell all.
JA: Hmmm band surprises- One night I went through the kitchen to the corner bar to say a quick hello to (bartender) Sean McCarthy and there were two girls up on the corner stage playing. They were playing ‘Jesus Don’t Want Me For a Sunbeam.’ I asked Sean what was happening and he said they were just killing time up there waiting for their guitar player to get there. I checked back and dug what I saw. I mentioned to Sean they should play at Zuzu. Later that night when closing up one of the girls knocked on the door and gave me a tape. I thought that it was endearing that she handed me the tape and then kinda ran off – I got in touch and we set up a show. That is how I met Mariam and the Fat Creeps. Now, Mariam and I are good friends and bandmates! (She has recently joined Headband)
I have never had to get the cuffs out- but it is central square and sometimes you have to kick someone out – they are usually wasted, have no money, and have no idea where they are- so I tell them there is free booze outside! They better go right now before somebody else gets it!
JR: Real talk. Your Facebook promoter name is Edison Tesla. Where do you come down on the AC/DC feud? Does Zuzu use outlets or is it entirely battery operated?! Time to spill.
JA: Ha! the Facebook thing- I think I was able to use fb as a unique promotional tool. Documenting all the shows with fliers and photos of the bands and artists, I would tag everyone or even let them tag themselves so it wasn’t annoying. I also never made fb event pages. I left that up to the bands- I didn’t have time for that too – and i didn’t want to bug the same folks all the time with event pages.
The story of the name is silly. When the night started the FB handle was “Living Deadhead” – at some point the FB police got hip to my game and told me to “pick a real name” I had just watched that Drunk History episode with Crispin Glover and John C Reily. So it stuck and can’t be changed.
I think AC is the way to go. Zuzu has 1 outlet and 28 extension chords.
JR: Where, oh please where will we be able to see those incredible coloring book style show posters after you’ve gone?? Please tell me they’ll live on the Internet forever. Coloring and drinking had never been considered by me until I met you.
JA: Thanks man! People would say it was a very relaxing thing to do at a bar. I would like to have an art show or make a book with all the great flyers. Some people had signature styles. It would be nice to have them involved as well. I always thought of the night as such a community. Lot’s of people were involved in making it such a special night. I will keep the Edison Tesla FB page up for sure! I always wanted to make a proper website but i like that you can tag people in the pictures and posters.
JR: We’ll miss Night of the Living Deadhead so much. When is this last show? I’d love to see an event page and show poster
JA: The final show is this Monday Nov 25th. Joe Marrett will be taking over Mondays next month with a new night in his own vision. He is one of the best and most creative dudes I’ve met and I’ll be there to support his night on the other side of the bar. He suggested a few weeks ago that for the final show I play and not work. I’ll be playing in both Fedavees and then later in Headband. In the middle, will be a very special Bobb Trimble set with a video premier by the Eye Design.