Local Rhythms – Marinating in Music

I love writing about the local music scene, but it can be bittersweet at times.  Since I was working away from home for much of 2007, e-mailing my column from places like Seoul, London and Youngstown, Ohio, I missed a lot of the performances I picked every week.

What a difference a year makes.

This weekend, I had three days to marinade in music.

Sophie & Zeke’s in Claremont was packed Friday night for Pete Merrigan’s monthly appearance, and he tried something delightfully different. He’s released three albums of original music over the years, and written several songs besides (b-sides?).

There’s also a bunch of material from his Mad Beach Band days.

He always plays a few of his own tunes, but mostly sticks to crowd-pleasing covers like “Margaritaville” and “In the Summertime.”  Friday, Pete stuck 100 percent to his own catalog, including some selections that even his die-hard fans hadn’t heard before.

What a treat – I hope he does it again soon.

Saturday, James Montgomery made a hot day even hotter, performing on Elixir Restaurant’s back porch.  A blues scholar and a first-rate showman, his crackling band did not slow down or miss a step, playing two-plus hours and keeping the crowd dancing for most of it.

Gratefully, the elements cooperated.  I will never get used to summer thunderstorms.

The Imperial Lounge opened its new outdoor patio on Sunday with a fun set of covers from Smoke & Mirrors.  The restaurant served teriyaki chicken, burgers and hot dogs along with frosty mugs of my favorite New Hampshire beer, Tuckerman Ale.

There’s a big wooden stage for the band, plenty of room for dancing, and lots of picnic tables with umbrellas.  A party vibe prevailed – even the staff got up to dance a few songs.

Owner Steve Zhang plans to use it all summer long, weather permitting.  He says Thursdays will be “duo nights,” with Second Wind set for July 24 (Patty Marro and Brian Devenger of Smoke & Mirrors may play this week).

An outdoor annex also provides a place for patrons to get a nicotine fix – while it’s still legal.

Indoors, there’s a riser for the regular weekend bands, a very nice addition.  The Claremont club is doing a lot to boost the local music scene, and they deserve our support.

It was a splendid weekend, from start to finish.

What’s up in the coming days?

Thursday: Boréal Tordu, Woodstock Village Green (Noon) – Here’s living proof of why “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire has a French/English welcome sign at its border.  Two friends, Steve Muise and Robert Sylvain, started Boréal Tordu to carry on the rich musical traditions passed down from the Quebecois migrants, Acadians and French-speaking people of the Republic of Madawask

Friday: Cracker Barrel Fiddlers Contest, Newbury (VT) Bandstand – “The Devil went up to Newbury, he was looking for a soul to steal…” Billed as “the oldest annual Fiddlers Contest in the state of Vermont,” this event brings together enthusiasts of all ages and persuasions together to show their stuff.  Bring a lawn chair (if it rains, things will move indoors), and be prepared for some fine music;  the North Country takes fiddling seriously.

Saturday: Battle of the Bands, Whaleback Mountain – This all-day competition ends with headliner Soul Octane Burner.  TranScenT, Fall Line, RAK and Kelleyville Killer vie for a grand prize of studio time and other goodies.  At press time, two slots remained open. The whole shebang is for a good cause – Toys for Tots, and anyone arriving with a new unwrapped toy will receive 5 dollars off the admission price of $15.00.

Sunday: Chris Kleeman, Ludlow Gazebo – Billed as “Vermont’s Best Kept Blues Secret,” Kleeman has performed with B.B. King, Susan Tedeschi and others.  Former Middle Earth Music Hall proprietor Chris Jones, who knows a thing or two about good music, spoke of his talents as “an edge-of-your-seat joyride through the blues in all its varied shades.”  This show is part of the Okemo Valley Summer Series, running through August 24.

Tuesday: Norm Wolfe, Tip Top Café – A well-rounded, Vermont-born guitarist, Wolfe has played throughout the region for the past four decades, recently as a featured performer in Emily Lanier’s band, as well as Mo’Jazz.   The multi-instrumentalist once held a trumpet chair for with the Vermont Jazz Ensemble.  He’s a music director for the Hartford and Dresden School Districts, and gigged as a rock guitarist before moving over to jazz.

Wednesday: Dana and Susan Robinson, South Strafford Unitarian Church – Dana Robinson is a solid Americana singer/songwriter with a knack for recruiting awesome talent (Rani Arbo and Lui Collins played on his 1997 release, “Midnight Salvage).  For the past few years, he’s performed with his talented his wife, who adds a perfectly understated harmony to his songs, while soloing admirably on her own.