Local Rhythms

Where do you find music? 

A better question may be – where does music find you?

Are you a mobile listener, constantly hitting the preset buttons on the car radio?  Or maybe you’re one of the many who hear a song on a TV show like Grey’s Anatomy or the Sopranos and can’t get it out of your head.

Do you still watch music videos?  Maybe you purchased a satellite radio to enjoy good tunes without commercials.  The technically inclined probably have a Pandora.com or last.fm Internet feed.

Myself, I’m lately drawn to the fifteen dollar a month library card known as Rhapsody.  For a flat fee I can listen to any album I want the day it comes out, and I don’t even need to download it.  Everything streams from the web, and the audio quality is sublime. 

But I’m a little obsessed, if you know what I mean.  I Tivo VH1 in the middle of the night, scour MySpace for new bands when I’m bored, and dabble in at least three other online services.  I hit the record stores for the occasional CD or DVD, and I have a turntable that I’m not afraid to use.

In my younger days, I was the source for most of my friends, sitting them down on the couch and forcing them to listen to something.

That’s me.  What about the more casual music fan?  How do they stay up to date?

Last weekend, there was another musically pleasant, yet sparsely attended Claremont Opera House concert.  My theory is that the performers just weren’t familiar enough to resonate with people.  The headliner mentioned WNTK, but aside from Gardiner Goldsmith’s well-chosen bumper songs, that’s primarily a talk station.

So I’m putting the call out to my readers.  Email me at mwitthaus@gmail.com or send a letter to Local Rhythms c/o Eagle Times, River Road, Claremont NH 03743.  We’ll sweeten the deal by offering an iPod shuffle as a prize to one lucky person – provided there’s an acceptable number of responses.

Your replies don’t have to be lengthy or elaborate, though if you listen to the radio I’d like to know what station you like.  If music on television is your preference, then tell me if that means Austin City Limits on PBS or hip-hop on MTV Soul.

Ultimately, I’m trying to gauge what kinds of live music might get people excited enough to get out, and maybe use this column as a bully pulpit to make it happen. 

Here’s what I like this weekend:

Thursday: The Mammals, Hooker-Dunham – Their latest CD, “Departures,” cemented their reputation as folk traditionalists with a difference.  That album added rock elements to the Americana focus of their earlier works.  Their harmonies are wonderfully complex and exquisitely textured, like a fine dish served at a perfect temperature.  Best of all, they’re even better live.

Friday: A New Kind of Blue. Sophie and Zeke’s – My favorite local trend?   Good food and great music.  I can testify to the food part, and I’ve heard wonderful things about this group’s music.  They spent a lot of time in a slightly different form at Giovanni’s.  As Dr. Feelgood, they were jazzier when they played across the river.  This incarnation features gospel and blues, presented in a great performance space.

Saturday: Heavy Trash, Lebanon Opera House – Jon Spencer comes home, taking time away from his Blues Explosion project to make rockabilly music with pal Matt Verta-Ray.   Heavy Trash owes as much to Morphine as Robert Gordon. Also on the bill are Toronto alt-darlings the Sadies, who are given to instrumentals that sound like the Ventures around a campfire.  How the West was won, and undone.

Sunday: Julie Walters Song Circle/Open Microphone, Exner Block Gallery – On the second Sunday of the month, a gathering of local musicians ensues in Bellows Falls.  Always full of surprises, and perhaps a bit poignant with the news of the contraction of the B.F. music scene with the departure of Ezra Veitch and the imminent demise of the Windham.  A 7 PM start, and as always, bring your own instrument.
Tuesday: Coheed & Cambria, Tsongas Arena – Progressive rock with an edge.  Fans should rejoice at this low-cost ($25) show with two popular bands playing.  C&C take their cues from bands like Rush and Yes, but they’ve re-invented they genre with epic storytelling flourishes.  Avenged Sevenfold merge punk-pop harmonies and power metal into a blistering cocktail.  Eighteen Visions, a more straight-up metal affair, opens the show.

Wednesday: Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble, Hopkins Center – The farewell show for members of the Class of 2006. This student-led band is a Dartmouth College tradition.  Surprisingly, it’s made up mainly of non-music majors; they nonetheless have the opportunity to perform with world-class musicians in addition to collegial collaborations. Tonight, the seniors are the celebrities.

End Nearing for Windham

For the past two years, the lobby of the Windham Hotel served as an artistic hub in downtown Bellows Falls.  Last Tuesday, with the sale of the building to a group of investors looming, that began to change.

Proprietor Gary Smith moved his Fort Apache recording studio out of the building, and the Amity Front performance scheduled for this weekend was cancelled.   A June 9  “Roots on the River” set is the only official date on the Windham calendar, though Smith plans “a few more shows – we’ve got Mr. Burns and Gypsy Jazz for June, and there could be shows in July.”

“There is some chance we’ll stay in the room when the hotel sells, and we’ll be there through the generosity of the new owners,” says Smith.  “It looks very promising from where I’m sitting.  They are very interested in the live music.  It bodes well for the culture of our little town.”

The Windham opened in April 2004, quickly becoming a mainstay of the local music scene.  With more room than the often-cramped Oona’s, local promoter Charlie Hunter began booking two to three shows a weekend.  Patrick LeBlanc took over from Hunter last year, adding more rock and blues performers to the mix, helping bands like Grace Potter and Nocturnals and the Kissers find a local audience.

“Over 200 shows in two years,” mused Smith Wednesday. “Projects have a beginning and an end, and you have to keep moving or you get stale.” 

Early on, he sensed that the Windham was a unique facility.

“I saw that at Peter Mulvey show, he had such command of the room, first time he played there, early in the game.  I could feel that there was something going on in that space that I hadn’t experienced elsewhere.   It was just the right proportion of space and people.”

“It was like a church meeting in there, “ he says.  “People got jazzed and caught up because of the shape and size.”

The closing of the Windham won’t mean an end to live music in Bellows Falls.

Smith envisions WOOL-FM, the community radio station begun last year, as integral to his future plans.  “We want it to become the purveyor of live music in town,” he says. “With all its’ music lovers attached to it, to run a venue in a nonprofit way would be revolutionary and very cool.”

What he likes about the WOOL community mode is that “it’s not necessarily the taste of one person.  It would be cool to run a venue that way, with a broad array of talent, both in genre and fame.”

“We’re looking for spaces now,” Smith says.  Ideally, the new location would include seating for 100-150 people, with space for an office and radio production facility.

Originally, Smith envisioned the Windham as a hybrid studio/performance space.  Tanya Donnelly recorded a four-night August 2004 run there.  The CD, “Live at the Windham,” should be released in the fall.

“I didn’t expect to expand so quickly,” he says, “then the next thing was the radio station,” which began with a petition drive in Fall 2004.

He’d moved his studio operation into the Windham in 2004, two years after closing the Cambridge-based business and buying Kidder Farm in Walpole.  At Fort Apache, he’d worked with some of the biggest names in the alternative music universe, including Throwing Muses, the Pixies and 10,000 Maniacs.  He still counts former Muse Donnelly as a client. 

He plans to relocate the studio back to Walpole where, he says, “I can work until 2 A.M. if I want.”

“For the time being, I’m consolidating my life at the farm, a little more agriculture, farm animals and music. “  As to the future, Smith says -“we’ll see what we can do.”