Steve Nelson

Steve Nelson

Co-Founder and President Emeritus of the Music Museum Of New England.

Steve managed the legendary rock and blues club The Boston Tea Party (1967-68), owned The Woodrose Ballroom in South Deerfield, MA (1969), and produced shows as “The Woodrose Presents” at The Paramount Theater in Springfield, MA (1970).

Growing up on Long Island, NY in the 1950s, he was a fervent fan of rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm ‘n’ blues, a loyal listener to the great DJs Alan Freed and Tommy Smalls, aka “Dr. Jive.”  But he never imagined he’d be in the music business.

Living in Cambridge in the ‘60s, he went to the Tea Party in May 1967 to see The Velvet Underground’s first appearance there. That night he met Ray Riepen, co-owner of the club. Three months later, after Ray bought out his partner David Hahn, Steve became the manager.

At the time the Tea Party mostly featured local bands, but Steve brought in more out-of-town acts, including Canned Heat, Chain Reaction (Steven Tyler’s first band), The Chambers Brothers, The Jeff Beck Group (with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood), Lothar & The Hand People (a Tea Party favorite featuring a theremin), Nazz (with Todd Rundgren), Procol Harum, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Richie Havens, The Steve Miller Band, the Sun Ra Arkestra, Tim Buckley, Tim Rose, Traffic, Van Morrison (who was living in Cambridge at the time) and The Yardbirds (with Jimmy Page). He also presented blues greats B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.

Yet he continued to support local acts, booking them to open those shows and headline gigs in their own right: The Bagatelle, The Beacon Street Union, The Cloud, Earth Opera (with Peter Rowan), Ill Wind, Quill, The Sidewinders (with Andy Paley) and Ultimate Spinach. The Hallucinations (with Peter Wolf) became the virtual house band.

Steve was the foremost producer/promoter of concerts with The Velvet Underground, not only presenting many VU shows at the Tea Party and the Woodrose, but as well designing several posters for their appearances. Also playing at Woodrose shows were The Allman Brothers, Barry T and The Studebakers (with Barry Tashian and Bill Briggs of The Remains), The Blues Project, Charley Musselwhite Blues Band, Chubby Checker, Chuck Berry, The J. Geils Band, Magic Sam Blues Band, MC5, NRBQ, The Stooges and Van Morrison. Among the many local acts taking the Woodrose stage was the western Mass. favorite FAT, still performing occasionally 50 years later.

In 1970 Steve left the music business, but remained a forever fan of the music. In 2006 this led him to co-found, with Harry Sandler (former drummer of Orpheus) and others, the Music Museum Of New England. “I always believed in the great talent which came out of New England,” said Steve, “and MMONE has become, and will continue to be, the leading vehicle to preserve and honor that amazing musical legacy.”

In 2018 he wrote a memoir, Gettin’ Home: An Odyssey Through The ‘60s. Read excerpts and listen to a playlist at      

In 2021 he wrote Homo Electric: How Coronavirus, Social Media and Climate Change Are Accelerating Evolution of a Dynamic New Human Species. It includes a section on the evolution of music, from banging on rocks in the Stone Age to banging out rock ‘n’ roll in the Electric Age. Buy it here.

Published On: August 20, 2019