Smoke Gets In My Ire

It’s always disappointing when a local venue closes its’ doors. In the past few weeks, we’ve lost two – Newport’s Eagle Tavern, and now Claremont’s Coyote Creek. Both gave public reasons for closing, but I don’t think the news reports told the whole story. A successful business can find a way around that kind of adversity. What other elements might have affected the outcome?

One immediately comes to mind. In a word, smoke.

I try to get to as many clubs and restaurants as possible, to get a sense of what is and isn’t working, both with music and ambience. Invariably, everyone with an opinion feels compelled to share it with me. The one I hear the most? People avoid places that allow smoking.

They’re positive-minded about it. It’s not, “don’t go there, the air is noxious.” Usually they tell me, “I like it here because I can breathe.” It’s a quiet but effective boycott.

This is why I think mandates against smoking in private businesses are unnecessary. I enjoy a good cigar, and it makes me furious when I visit family in California, where it’s illegal in some places to operate a smoking club. Not many cigar clubs are inside a restaurant, though, and those that are either lose business, or are forced to change their smoking policy – lest their customers do it for them.

The steady drumbeat of health warnings, and recent wave of studies indicting secondhand smoke are there for anyone to see. For most of the club and restaurant owners I’ve talked to, however, the decision to eliminate smoking is a common sense, bottom line one. They don’t need the government to tell them what’s in their cash flow report at the end of the day.

Conversely, the decision to allow smoking is often made in fear of replacing old customers with new ones. In a small town, such a move can be fatal.

Before anyone accuses me of disrespecting smoker’s rights, understand that I’m mindful of your prerogative to partake in any poison you choose. You can’t, however, smoke in my house – or my club, bar or restaurant (if I owned one).

Neither can I, for that matter.

A man’s home may be his castle, but where I live, the queen makes me take my cigars out on the porch.

If you’re still with me, I’ll suggest a few entertaining possibilities for the coming days:

Thursday: Acoustic Planet Tour, Shelburne Museum – A dream team of pickers and fiddlers tonight, and worth the drive if you don’t already have plans. Natalie McMaster is a dogged road warrior with enthusiasm to match her fiddle skills. Del McCoury hasn’t reinvented himself so much as re-introduced his brand of honest bluegrass to successive generations of listeners. Bela Fleck’s madcap banjo work is not of this earth – Acoustic Planet, indeed.

Friday: Pete Merrigan, Sophie & Zeke’s – So you couldn’t score Jimmy Buffett tickets this year – again? Pete’s the next best thing; he’s even connected to Mr. Margaritaville in a “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” kind of way. Merrigan’s old partner, Harry Dailey, was Buffett’s original guitarist and co-wrote “Volcano.” Of course, Pete spends nearly as much time in Florida as Jimmy.

Saturday: Roamin’ Gabriels, Salt Hill Pub –
This fun-loving bunch make their third or fourth trip up from Philadelphia to play the pub. This weekend’s very cosmopolitan for the a place where the house drinks all come from a tap – New York’s Churchills pop and fizz on Friday. The RG’s hold forth Saturday, and they’re known for wandering into the crowd with their instruments to get the denizens up and dancing, and the locals seem to love ‘em.

Sunday: Amy Gallatin & Stillwaters, League of NH Craftsmen Fair – The premier event for the arts always has a musical component. Gallatin and her band have been on the scene for several years; lately she’s working with songwriter and Dobro player Roger Williams. Their Fair set will showcase Stillwaters songs along with selections from an upcoming duet album of country standards and Williams/Gallatin originals.

Tuesday: Peggy Hayes & Bob Merrill, Canoe Club – Beer’s the star, with a $50, prix fixe dinner, hosted by Unibroue. The Quebec brewery makes outlandishly rich beers and ales. Tonight, four bottle-aged offerings are paired with food courses. The music’s secondary, although Hayes and Merrill are a terrific jazz duo, as NPR’s Neal Charnof recently attested.

Wednesday: Junk in the Trunk, Lake Sunapee – Darrell Boyle leads this popular cover band on the Ben Mare Bandstand stage, with selections from well-known performers like the Allman Brothers, Delbert McClinton, Steely Dan and Eric Clapton. It’s the time of year when a picnic basket at twilight is something to treasure, and on a good night there are few better places to enjoy it.

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