Local Rhythms – A Ride Down Autumn’s Highway

wcleaves.jpgAs I write this, the weatherman is forecasting warm, dry weekend weather.   

The New Hampshire state tourism bureau expects over 600,000 leaf-peepers, up 1 percent from last year.  Whether you’re a transplant like me or a multi-generation native, autumn’s charms are irresistible.

Is there a better time to be in New England? 

So let’s put aside our crankiness at flatlanders, who tend to slow down to 10 miles per hour at the oddest times, and map a local route to the pleasures of the season.

We’ll begin in Springfield, Vermont, a little town that’s the official home of the Simpsons, and for this Saturday and Sunday, the Vermont Apple Festival.   

Stop by and enjoy some warm cider, apple flapjacks and buy a few crafts. 

Be sure to make time for the music, which includes kid’s favorite Alli Lubin, Americana duo Josh Maiocco and Jesse Peters, the folksy Bradford Bog People and Three Way Street, an acoustic trio that travels a musical journey from 30’s swing to modern bluegrass. 

Speaking of travel … get in the car and take a ride across the Cheshire Bridge (I miss the toll booth, but not the toll), head down Lover’s Lane, and pick up Route 12 to Claremont.

The center of Saturday’s Fall Festival is the Chili Cook-Off, which closes off Pleasant Street for the day.  For a small price, any opinionated soul can be a food critic.  Though it’s a good-natured competition, the entrants take their chili very seriously.   

The only appropriate music for this soiree is Claremont’s Flames, for obvious reasons.  John Lovejoy leads the four-piece through classic rock chestnuts like “Hot Blooded.”

Now that our are bellies warm and full, it’s time for a slow drive to Warner.  Few vistas rival the Sunapee region in early October.   

Little Lake Todd, just before Bradford, is particularly beautiful. 

Take your time rolling along Route 103 – the other drivers will think you’re a tourist in a rental car, which is kind of fun. 

Warner hosts the Fall Foliage Festival (Saturday and Sunday), now in its 60th year.  There’s food, crafts and fun, including a pie-eating contest for kids, an oxen pull and a country bazaar.

The music has a decidedly old-time bent, with Dixieland from the Fountain Square Ramblers, the Stuart Highland Pipe Band and the gospel Shape Note Singers. 

All in all, it’s a lovely New England day.

What else is in store this weekend? 

Thursday: Little Feat, Lebanon Opera House – Superlatives don’t do this band justice.  If you love rock and roll and haven’t seen Little Feat, you must – it’s that simple.  I first saw them in the late Seventies, when founder Lowell George was still alive, and I literally could not stay in my seat.  By the third song, I’d moved to the back of the room.  My dancing feet would not stop moving. 

Friday: Ray DeVito, Electra – Lots of comedy in the area – when it rains, it pours.  DeVito riffs on slacker angst – the travails of dating, McJobs, and advertising (“Verizon says they have towers everywhere, which means if my girlfriend doesn’t call, it’s not their fault.  I’m just a loser”).  With the way they mix up their entertainment, this club should change their name to Eclectic. 

Saturday: I Love a Piano, Claremont Opera House – Six actors perform a musical that looks at America through the lens of Irving Berlin’s.  The show includes over 60 timeless songs.  This all singing, all dancing revue traces the journey of a piano from Tin Pan Alley to the present, as it winds its way through the lives of Americans.

Sunday: Woodchuck Hollow Band, East Thetford – An autumn discussion must include pumpkins, right?  East Thetford hosts a festival brimming with pumpkin pie, bread and soup, along with a mid-day performance from this nifty band.  They brand themselves “Organic White Mountain Music.” There are a few nods to the Appalachians and Ozarks, and on “Ruby,” a dash of Cash.  It’s all good-time country. 

Tuesday: ALO, Iron Horse – This band always makes me think of Salt Hill Pub, which booked them a few years back when they were up and comers.  These days, they are playing much bigger stages, opening for people like Jack Johnson – they recently signed with his Brushfire record label – and winning lots of new fans with their loose, rootsy sound.  It begs the question – are there other current Pub performers are due to break big?

Wednesday: Café Americano, Metropolis – Brattleboro’s newest club features some wonderfully varied talent, including this trio, which plays swing and jazz standards.  There’s also a cool open mike/jam session night Tuesday with fiddler Lissa Schneckenburger and Corey DiMario on tenor guitar and bass.  It’s worth a trip south – the leaves on the interstate should be nice for a few weeks.

Tim Sample & Bob Marley – A Tale of Two Mainers

bob.jpgComedy fans have a chance to see two examples of Down East humor in the coming weeks.  Tim Sample performs this Saturday at the Newport Opera House, and funny man Bob Marley returns to the Claremont Opera House the following Saturday. 

But these two Mainers each take distinctly different approaches to their craft.  Sample’s folksy observations come straight from the pages of Yankee Magazine, a “Prairie Home Companion” with rocky beaches.  He riffs genially on clueless tourists and delusional transplants – the ones who believe that 40 or 50 years in-state has earned them the right to be called natives.

“It don’t work like that theyah,” scoffs a pitch perfect Sample, who once made a disc called “How to Talk Yankee” with Bob Bryan of “Bert and I.” 

In fact, after Marshal Dodge (the other half of “Bert and I”) died in 1982, Sample worked with Bryan to carry on the duo’s humorous tradition.  Together, they recorded four CDs.

“Every now and then Bobby and I still perform onstage together,” says Sample.  “Whenever we do I am privileged to join him for some of the original stories he and Marshall made famous (“The Body in th’ Kelp,” “The Lighter Than Air Balloon”) and we always do some of the classic material from “How to Talk Yankee.” 

His wink-and-a-nod anthropology pokes plenty of fun at the “born, live and die in Maine” crowd, but Sample’s comedy stays comfortably within his home state’s borders.

Bob Marley is also a native (born in Portland), but the similarities with Sample end there.   

“In all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve only run into Tim once.  We travel in different circles,” says Marley, with a thick, unmistakable accent.  “I do a lot of clubs, road houses and one-nighters.”

Someone who’s never set foot in Maine can easily get their brain (and funny bone) around Marley’s stand-up routine.  It’s an everyman revue of daily life – family, friends and supermarket hijinx – familiar to all, regardless of where they were born. 

Marley’s constantly at work on new material.  With over 200 appearances a year, he’d probably go crazy otherwise.  He promises an entirely different show next Saturday.  “You know the Vegas dancer who’s been doing the same routine night after night, looking at her nails while she’s on stage? You can practically read her mind: ‘did I do my laundry?’ I never want to be her,” he says.

These days, his mind is on the season and its’ oddities.   “Fall’s kind of a hassle. I never know how to dress,” he says.  “In the morning, it’s 12 degrees, and by afternoon I’m sweating like Mike Tyson at a spelling bee.  I’m ripping off my clothes like a stripper, down to a thong and pasties.” 

“And what’s the deal with gourds?” he asks.  “Who decided we should put these things on our table?  They’re like squash with herpes.”

How about the Red Sox?  “I know they’re doing wicked good, and they have a great pitcher named Suzuki Kawasaki or something,” he says.  “But if I have to hear Jerry Remy try to speak Japanese one more time, I’m gonna shoot myself in the head. Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto? Jeez!” 

Marley has a new CD of stand-up material (his 12th, along with 5 DVDs) due next month.  His half-hour Comedy Central special last February was so well received that the network is negotiating with him to do a full hour.

Marley moved back to Maine after a few years of chasing fame in California to do east coast comedy full-time, and he’s built a nice franchise.  Lately, however, he’s feeling the lure of Hollywood.  He recently returned to L.A. for work on a DirecTV project, a pilot with fellow comedians Bob Saget, Dom Irrera and Jon Lovitz called “Comedy Justice.”  The show is patterned after “Judge Judy” and “People’s Court,” but with comedians as lawyers. 

But he loves his life here too much to move back.  “If they can put something on tape and be done with it, that’s fine,” he says, “but I’d have to think hard about doing a series.” 

Why would he want to?  He packs houses from Maine to Maryland.  His Manchester shows have drawn so well, there’s talk of playing the Verizon Center next time around. 

As for Claremont, Marley says, “I’m psyched – I had such a great time there last time.”  In January, he played to a sold out house, and lingered in the lobby for over an hour after the show, signing CDs and posters for fans.  For Saturday’s show, he’s bringing George Hamm.  “He gets the crowd going from zero to sixty in nothing flat,” says Marley.  “He headlines in Boston.  He could do that in any room, so it’s great to have him opening for me.”