Rockin' Stroll: Walk Through Boston's Musical Past with The Verb and Cuseum

The Verb Hotel, whose walls are adorned with countless artifacts of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia, already functions as an indispensable monument to music history here in Boston. Now, the hotel that inhabits the old Fenway Motor Lodge is expanding, nearly doubling the size of its collection of show posters, set lists, rare artwork and more.
This latest update, set to open in September, will serve more to broaden the hotel’s breadth of coverage of history as a whole, unlike with past exhibitions that were mainly designed by theme—like last year’s local radio exhibition. The Verb will be implementing a tech component this time around to help further fill in the blanks of Boston’s vibrant rock ‘n’ roll history.

“Overall, the theme is to stay as a representation of the music that came out of Boston, to celebrate and honor it,” says David Bieber, the rock historian who is curating the project from his personal collection of musical keepsakes. “The theme in the most general sense is a tribute to, and acknowledgement of, the various styles of music, [as well as] the greats—and the forgotten—that made music and made media important, not just in The Fenway, but into Kenmore Square and greater Boston overall.”

As for the tech aspect, The Verb has partnered with Cuseum, a Boston-based startup and Techstars alum, that aims to, in the words of founder Brendan Ciecko, “bring artifacts to life.” The app, that will be available to visitors, will work as a digital docent and give visitors a guided tour by detecting where users are in relation to specific pieces, pulling up additional, digital information about the artifact in the process.
“Imagine walking up to one of the artifacts and as you approach, you’re able to listen to a quick clip of that concert and you’re able to have an enhanced experience—something beyond what’s in front of you,” says Ciecko. “A big part of our goal is to merge those experiences and amplify the impact of The Verb’s collection by tying it to music, dynamic media, or a moment in time.”

Some of Bieber’s favorites will be among the new pieces that visitors will be able to view and get a tech-based history lesson in. One of the installation’s largest framed pieces, for instance, will include handwritten press kit biography notes from members of The Cars, scratched on torn out spiral notebook paper. Another Bieber made note of has less of a direct tie to Boston, but a historical one: an autographed poster promoting a San Francisco gig for Janis Joplin’s band, Big Brother and the Holding Company (the last show Joplin ever played before she died was at Harvard Stadium in August of 1970).

“There is some significant depth and variety to the things that will be displayed that have rock ‘n’ roll cultural importance and historical value,” added Bieber. “Sometimes it’s less about the act itself and more about the design of the particular period, or capturing a moment.” For fans of what’s already lining the walls, though, fret not, while The Verb is installing hundreds of new artifacts, it won’t be displacing much of the current crowd-pleasing items (like, for instance, an old calendar belonging to the Boston Tea Party, a now defunct venue where you could go see Led Zeppelin, The Who, or The Velvet Underground for under five dollars on any given night).     

The new installation is a must-see for diehard rock ‘n’ roll fans who have already studied the walls of The Verb extensively and curious first-time visitors alike. With the updates though, there will be some rearranging. Because, even if Neil Young was right in saying, “It’s better to burn out than fade away,” preservation is important, too.

[Photography by Mike Diskin]

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