Local Rhythms – A Year of Highs and Lows
This year’s local music scene is best summed up by one of my favorite all-purpose sayings – “When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” I believe I heard it first, appropriately enough, in “The Sound of Music.”
There were more opening windows than closing doors in most places this year, but not, sadly, in Bellows Falls. In what seemed like one fell swoop, the Windham closed and Oona’s burned down. Roots on the River won’t be the same next year, but it got a raucous (if damp) sendoff in 2006 with scintillating performances from Crooked Still. Ingrid’s Ruse and James McMurtry – not to mention Fred Eaglesmith, who will definitely be returning next year. As, I hope, will Bellows Falls.
Newport’s short-lived Eagle Tavern shut its doors, but a few months later Josh and Joe Tuohy came to the rescue. Salt Hill Two – Joe confirmed the name last night – will open late next month.
In Springfield, the Royal Flush filled a void left with the closing of Morningstar Café, presenting lots of local talent, and cornering the market on tribute bands.
The aforementioned Ingrid’s Ruse epitomized the ups and downs of 2006. They released their only album and promptly broke up. The displeased gods (or the CD factory, depending on who you believe) held up the disk’s release, forcing the band to do two farewell shows at the Heritage. This year spelled the end of one of my favorite fusion bands, Oshe, but also the emergence of another – Oneside.
Hexerei endured personnel changes, but ended the year on a high note, winning a slot on the Family Values tour and releasing a new album. Stonewall finally put out a record, as did the Conniption Fits. All three bands shone at Rock the Whale, the high point of the summer (and maybe the year).
In Claremont, the new year began with the promise of a new downtown restaurant. Sophie and Zeke’s opened in the space formerly occupied by Café Cubana, and fast became an area magnet. In early summer, they began offering music, first with Thursday jazz (more on that later), then with a varied slate of other live talent.
Performers there included everyone from Pete “Three Season” Merrigan, Josh Parker of Stonewall playing solo, bluegrass from the Spiral Farm Band and Spare Change, and the smooth vocals of Al Alessi (with the stunning piano of Bill Wightman). In one year, “Sophie & Zeke’s” became synonymous with “music,” and is predictably packed most Thursday and Friday nights.
Tomorrow, Sophie and Zeke’s celebrates its first birthday, welcoming Dr. Burma for a raucous dance party. Bandleaders Ted Mortimer and Linda Boudreault are regular Friday night favorites with their blend of jazz and pop standards. During the dinner hour, they’ll stick to that format. Later, however, they’ll clear away a few tables and welcome the rest of the group for some high energy rock and soul.
What a perfect way to celebrate one of the great additions to the local scene. What else awaits in the coming days?
Thursday: New Kind of Blue, Sophie & Zeke’s – The band that started the musical ball rolling. Tom Caselli and Nate Thompson provide steady rhythm; Larry Welker adds guitar spice to the mix. Floating above it all is vocalist Emily Lanier, with an easy style that suits this room perfectly. Of all the versions of “Route 66” played at Sophie & Zeke’s this year (I’ve counted four so far), theirs is the best.
Friday: Gully Boys, Seven Barrels – I took way too long to check this band out, and I won’t make that mistake twice. They borrow from the likes of Widespread Panic, the Grateful Dead, Umphrey’s McGee and Phish. Their sound, however, is distinctive – quite a feat considering the many configurations of the band over the years. They fit nicely into Seven Barrels (no mean feat).
Saturday: Stonewall, The Heritage – One of the best Windham shows of the year, this band continues to be one of my favorites, a veritable three man army. A tip of the hat, while I’m at it, to Martin Hansen, for booking some of the best bands around to this odd-shaped Charlestown room. Here’s to another successful year.
New Year’s Eve: I’m going to switch up a bit and provide multiple picks for Sunday night. You decide. Start with dinner at Bistro Nouveau, then catch Dr. Burma at Salt Hill, where last year’s groovalicious show is still being talked about. Or greet 2007 with the Conniption Fits at Shenanigans; their new, punchy and crunchy CD will win them more fans this year. Yer Mother’s Onion, another shining light on the local scene, light up Seven Barrels. Finally, Jeremy Lyons and the Deltabilly Boys raise the roof at Middle Earth. Happy New Year!Conniption Fits, Dr. Burma, Hexerei, Local Rhythms, Sophie and Zeke's, stonewall