In theater culture, a “ghost light” is a single lamp left burning when everyone has left.
In a time when many venues have gone dark, the Boch Center is reviving live music with “The Ghost Light Series” at the Wang Theatre, televised half-hour shows that will feature artists playing to an empty house, illuminated only by one ghost light. No amps. No spotlights.
The series premieres Sept. 25 at 7:30 p.m. on NECN with the Mammals. It will air every other week in the same time slot, through at least Dec. 18. The lineup includes Chris Smither, Keb’ Mo’, Lori McKenna, Tom Rush, Noel Paul Stookey, Jonathan Edwards, Will Dailey, Livingston Taylor, Restless Age, Jay Psaros, Kemp Harris, Alice Howe, and Freebo.
“I wanted to do something in this beautiful theater to raise awareness about what independent theaters are going through right now,” said Joe Spaulding, president and chief executive officer of the Boch Center. “[W]e were the first industry to close, and we will be the last to open.”
Episodes will stream on the Boch Center’s website and Facebook after they have aired on NECN. Viewers can donate via bochcenter.org/donate.
"We are using this as a way to raise awareness that we are shut down with no way to earn a penny, but the lights will never go off, and we will be back,” Spaulding said.
One series highlight: Rush, Edwards, and Stookey (Paul from Peter, Paul & Mary) will share a bill for the episode airing Nov. 6. The show will benefit the Boch Center’s Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame.
“Venues are struggling these days, along with the rest of us,” said Rush, 79, who is now virus-free after contracting COVID in March. (“I don’t recommend it,” he quipped.)
“My fear is that some [venues] won’t survive this pandemic if we, the audience, don’t support them as they search for innovative ways to connect musicians with their audiences,” he said.
Western Massachusetts folk and blues troubadour Smither shares the same concern: “If we don’t support the venues and the venues can’t make it through the pandemic, then music lovers won’t have a place to hear music in person,” he said.
The key to music’s survival right now is adaptation.
“A few venues are starting to have reduced-capacity shows,” Rush said, adding that his 80th birthday show next February may be virtual via the Boch Center. “And I’ve started doing many more private shows than in the past.”
In the long run, though, “We need, first, a vaccine and, second, confidence in that vaccine to get live concerts back to normal,” he said.
The exact origin of the “ghost light” in theater culture is fuzzy to trace — there are safety reasons and superstitions involved, but according to the Boch Center: “The legend is that this light protects actors, patrons and theatres from bad luck and ghosts.”
“Live music, and the arts in general, are under threat, and with it our humanity,” said Boston singer-songwriter Dailey. Without a healthy arts scene, “You can feel us slipping away with each passing day. This series is a way to counter that atrophy.”