Rock To Defeat ALS – 30 August @ Claremont Moose

Inspired by a local doctor’s struggle with a debilitating neurological disease, six area bands will perform a fundraiser at the Claremont Moose Hall on Saturday, August 30.

The show, called “Rock to Defeat ALS,” is the result of efforts by Chris Bergmann, guitarist for the hard rock trio (and benefit headliners) Spectris.

Bergmann’s wife Karen has worked for the Valley Regional Hospital medical practice of Dr. Mary Joyce for the past 15 years.  Karen frequently spoke to Chris of Dr. Steve Meersman, who was part of a Claremont surgical practice until he was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease in 2005.

Upon learning of his ALS, Meersman moved back to Fort Collins, Colorado, where he died in April 2007.

“It affected that whole community [at Valley Regional] very deeply,” Chris explained, “and Karen said it would be great if someone could do a benefit.”

“We took it from there, and it’s been about a year in the works.”

Meersman kept an Internet diary from the time he learned of his condition until his death.  The “blog” provided a moment-to-moment chronicle of Meersman’s final months battling his illness, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

His courage was more than remarkable.  By the time ALS had finally claimed him, he’d completely lost the use of his legs, and all but ten percent of his hands.

Yet he never stopped sharing his experience with others.

For the last seven months of his life, a Colorado videographer captured his deteriorating condition on film.  The entire “Meersman Experience” is archived on the web site.  Its many entries are a testament to Dr. Meersman’s incredible resilience in the face of a condition that he knew would ultimately kill him.

Early on, Meersman likened his experience to a nightmare taken from a Stephen King novel. “Then you find out that there is no treatment, no way to reverse it and no one is ever cured.   I am okay with all that now,” he wrote in August 2005.  “But it does get to me at times.  I hope they find a treatment and a cure, so victims in the future don’t have to experience all this.”

To organize a benefit show, Bergmann put out a general call on his MySpace page, and the response was immediate.  “Stonewall responded within ten minutes of posting the bulletin,” he says.  Chris and the power trio’s front man, Josh Parker, are long-time friends.

Within a few days, the lineup was complete, with power rockers Eden’s Lie, the Gravity Road Band (formerly Iron Box, they have two new members and a new name), and 84 Sheepdog, a Walpole-area band featuring ex-members of Ingrid’s Ruse and the Highball Heroes.

“I had settled on five bands,” says Chris, until the drummer of the Manchester-based band Dear Anyone contacted him. “He wrote me an impassioned email.  His father passed away from ALS five or six years ago.  They’re going to kick off the show.”

He calls their music “young and angst-y,” and he’s most impressed with their commitment to the cause.   “They have all by themselves gathered all kinds of things for the raffle” to be held at Saturday’s show.  “Dinners for two at Margaritas, a free massage, a gift card from an unbelievable bakery in Hanover – he’s really busting it out.”

Rock 99 radio personality Chris Garrett will emcee the show, and the Dartmouth radio station has also worked hard to make the show a success.  Local rock station Q-106 also contributed to the performance, as well as Newport country station WCFR.

The all-day concert, which starts at noon, will primarily benefit the ALS Association of Northern New England, with a portion of the proceeds going to a college fund for Dr. Meersman’s three children.

Tickets are $10.00, and Bergmann says that anyone who wants to help out but can’t make the show can make a contribution through, or by contacting the ALS Association of Northern New England through their web site –

Fleetwood Mac News – No Crow

Lindsey Buckingham did a roundtable press conference today, on which there will be more in a future article.  During the telephone sit-down, he addressed the rumors (Rumours?) about Sheryl Crow joining the band next year, and he didn’t pull any punches:

When Fleetwood Mac was touring [in support of 2003’s “Say You Will”], Christine McVie had left, having burned all her bridges, selling her house in L.A. and moving to England.  We divided material down the middle. I had a great time because it allowed me to be a guy on stage.  In retrospect, Stevie wasn’t as comfortable with that divide.  When it came to contemplating working next year… we [thought] bringing Sheryl Crow would be an intiguing idea.  We put out the feelers and that’s about as far as it got.  Last spring, Sheryl took it upon herself to tell the world she was joining Fleetwood Mac. It was in itself inappropriate – you sit down with a band and announce it.  It bothered Stevie a great deal and Mick as well.  I thought it was off the wall. There were some harsh words, and she was given her marching orders – not that she’d been in the band in the first place.

Lindsey went on to say that Fleetwood Mac is contemplating doing a “long term thing” beginning in early 2009, which included making a new record and touring.  He wasn’t certain that Crow understood that a commitment of 3-4 years was what he had in mind.  “Probably in January,  the band will start rehearsing, then see what happens,” he said.

No guarantees, but it sounds like the Mac is back.

The press conference was done as part of the promotional effort for “Gift of Screws,” which drops September 16,  It’s harder-rocking follow-up to 2006’s “Under the Skin,”  featuring contributions from Mac alums John McVie and Mick Fleetwood.  Buckingham says the boisterous title track lifted its’ chorus from an Emily Dickinson poem.  “I’m always looking to rip off things that are public domain,” he joked.  Lindsey went on to call the song, which sounds more like circa-1978 Elvis Costello than anything the Mac ever did, “Mick’s favorite drum track ever.  I played the album for him the other day, he came to my house, and he wishes it could have been on a Fleetwood Mac album.”

“Gift of Screws” was conceived way back in 1995, and shelved over the years due to Buckingham’s many (mainly Fleetwood Mac) commitments (he called them “interventions on solo work”).  Several cuts from the oft-bootlegged disk, including “Peacekeeper” and “Murrow In His Grave,” ended up on other records.  The new CD has only one surviving song from the original “Gift of Screws” – the title track – along with bits and pieces of a few others.

It’s a solid, electrified effort – lyrically mature, well-rounded and tight.  It might not be Buckingham’s most successful record ever – the music business has changed too much for that – but it’s among his best.  Lindsey’s Mac fans will feel right at home with songs like “Love Runs Deeper” (co-written with Buckingham’s wife) and “The Right Place To Fade,” which is reminiscent of a revved-up “Monday Morning.”

Lindsey Buckingham’s tour to support “Gift of Screws” begins September 7 in Saratoga, California; he’s in Lebanon, New Hampshire October 12, and Northampton, Massachusetts on October 14.  There are also shows in Boston and Ridgefield, Connecticut.  The tour ends October 19 in New York City.

Local Rhythms – Conventional Music

Politics and music make strange bedfellows – well, for one party anyway.  When fellow Georgians the Allman Brothers played to raise money for Jimmy Carter in 1976, it made complete sense. Linda Ronstadt singing for Jerry Brown was another no-brainer.  The two were dating at the time.

But when Ronald Reagan’s campaign tried to appropriate Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” in 1984, all I could think was – has anyone actually listened to this song?

The same thought crossed my mind when John McCain brought Reggaeton phenom Daddy Yankee to a rally the other day.  I don’t think “Gasolina” means what you think it does, Senator – not to mention “zorra.”

Perhaps McCain’s too crazy by half.   “A ‘genre’ of music with exactly one beat … the same song, over and over, and only the faces and presentation change,” wrote blogger Adam Serwer.  “Which is perfect for a campaign and a candidate who are offering more of the same.”

This brings me to the currently ongoing political conventions.  If you think the two parties can’t agree on health care, then check out their differences in music.

The Democrats brought the Black Eyed Peas to Denver, along with Rage Against the Machine and hemp spokesman Willie Nelson.  They will entertain a crowd that’s on average 20 years younger than their Republican counterparts who meet next week in Minnesota.

“I don’t think we can party as hard as they are now, but 20 years ago we could,” said a GOP convention talent organizer.  That explains their decades-old headliners: Styx, Sammy Hagar and the Beach Boys.

For the Dems, “old school” means Moby and Melissa Etheridge, both of whom play convention after-parties.  The Republicans?  Maybe Wayne Newton wasn’t available.

That’s not totally fair – the right does have a cutting edge of sorts.  Smashmouth plays St. Paul, but their biggest hit was a Monkees cover.  Country music, both new and old, is still reliably in the Republican corner, though, with LeAnn Rimes and the Bellamy Brothers topping a “Keep Florida Red” concert.

The GOP has “Redneck Woman” Gretchen Wilson, while the left’s convention parties include “Punk Rock 2008” and “Naughty Pierre’s Burlesque and Comedy Extravaganza.”

“Rock the Vote” didn’t even bother to send a band to the Twin Cities. That about says it all.

There’s a glimmer of bipartisan hope, however.  Colorado native son Big Head Todd is playing both conventions – a true independent.

How do things look closer to home?

Thursday: Mike & Mike, Lebanon Farmer’s Market – This duo play “progressive acoustic folk,” which could mean anything.  My recommendation isn’t about music – eating locally grown food is important.  It’s a small gesture in a world of mega-stores, but a vital one nonetheless.  Right now, the quality of produce available at Farmer’s Markets like this one – and others, in Claremont, Hanover, Bellows Falls – is superb.  You owe it to yourself to partake while the calendar still says “summer.”

Friday: Amity Front, Salt Hill Pub – Since this roots-rocking combo from Western Massachusetts cancelled a planned visit to Lebanon last spring, the Pub’s been trying to get them back.  They have a new album, “Border Towns,” with some real gems – the honky tonkin’  “Leave It All Behind” and the rave up “Cold Steel Bars” in particular.  It’s a fuller-sounding work that’s probably awesome live.

Saturday: Pariah Beat, Main Street Museum – Much to my regret, I missed the Northeast Kingdom Music Festival due to prior commitments. Pariah Beat and the aforementioned Amity Front performed at the mud-soaked affair, as did 12-year old musical prodigy Jason Meese, who joined PB for a bang-up version of Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm.” They then invited him to tonight’s show in White River Junction.  The Beat is celebrating the end of its recent East Coast tour.

Sunday: New World Music Festival, Chandler Music Hall – Cape Breton fiddle master Jerry Holland has been in town recently, giving seminars.  Today he performs, along with another 20 or so bands, at this all-day (noon till midnight) extravaganza.  The festival features Celtic and French Canadian music and dance performed on five stages.  Performers include John Doyle, Triptych and Yankee Chank (described as “Cajun and Creole dance music Vermont style”).

Tuesday: Hot Tuna & David Lindley, Higher Ground – What began as a Jefferson Airplane spin-off is still going strong forty years later.  Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady were Americana before anyone knew it was called that, weaving many musical threads together into something truly unique.  David Lindley, who can play anything with strings, could and does headline all the time, making this show a real bargain. (Also Thursday @ Calvin, Northampton)

Wednesday: Hunger Mountain Boys, West Whately (MA) Chapel – A few miles south of the Vermont border, something called “Watermelon Wednesday” has been happening all summer. Today, a twangy trio that pleased fans at Lebanon Opera House a few years back, settles in for an evening of retro fun.

Local Rhythms – CRB May Put Pandora In A Box

With Apple’s introduction of the iTunes App Store, there came a whole range of things to do with the iPhone and iPod Touch besides phone calls, music and movies.

Like Internet radio – the über gadget twins aren’t the first to offer Pandora, a leader in the emerging field of personalized stations.  But these digital concierges, dedicated to finding songs that match your musical tastes, come equipped with a seamless link to iTunes, the most popular online music store in the world.

It’s the perfect scenario – create a Katy Perry station that leads you to the new Missy Higgins tune, push a button and presto! You’ve purchased the song.

The record companies must love this, right?

Uh, not so much; rather than see it as an obvious promotional bonanza, opening new markets and providing a feedback loop to help them find the next generation of entertainers, the industry seems hell-bent on killing Internet radio.

Pandora could be the first casualty.

In March 2007, I wrote about the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB), a government tool of organizations like the RIAA, and its decision to impose usurious fees on Net radio stations – up to 70 percent of total revenue in most cases.

A year or so later, Pandora founder Tim Westgarten has told the Washington Post that he’s close to “pulling the plug.”

“We’re funded by venture capital,” Westgarten said Monday.  “They’re not going to chase a company whose business model has been broken. So if it doesn’t feel like its headed towards a solution, we’re done.”

This mess began back in 1995, when lobbyists paid Congress to redefine copyright law to their liking.  What used to balance the interests of copyright owners, users and the public – laws collectively known as “801b” – became, says RAIN’s Kurt Hanson, “something nearly impossible to interpret or quantify.”

It led to last year’s stalled (but not yet dead) PERFORM Act. Which opened the door to the CRB’s decision to effectively end a promising technology before it really began.

Here’s the kicker – Senator Feinstein, who co-wrote the PERFORM Act, doesn’t even know what 801b is.  Yet she’s willing to let the industry define “fair market value” any way it sees fit.

I am so sick of these Luddites, and their handmaidens in Washington, ruining the future of music.  Pandora, formally known as the Music Genome Project, is more than a radio station.

Sadly, its fate is being determined by much less than a government of, by and for the people.

How about some live music?

Thursday: Jeff Warner, Lebanon Farmer’s Market – Warner is a New Hampshire singer/guitarist who recreates the 19th century in music – North Carolina Outer Banks fishing villages, Adirondack lumber camps and New England whaling ports.  If the new millennium is bringing you down, this may be the perfect remedy.  Hearing these songs wafting through stall selling locally grown produce and freshly baked bread helps, too.

Friday: Hitchelfit, Electra – Alt-metal music from this Lebanon band, with a healthy dose of tunes from the likes of 3 Days Grace, Stone Temple Pilots, Finger Eleven and other modern groups.  It’s been a long time since Hitchelfit played Electra – 10 months to be exact, so this should be an energized night. Check this West Leb nightspot’s calendar for some good local talent that’s stopping by in the coming months.

Saturday: Sirsy, Salt hill Pub – One of my favorite New York imports returns to the area.  If you haven’t seen them, Sirsy is a two-person band that plays like five.  Lead singer/drummer an flutist Melanie Krahmer belts it out like there’s an amp wired inside her chest, and guitarist Rich Libutti doesn’t just ride along – he drives the action, too.  Sirsy packs Sh every time they’re in town.

Sunday: Joey Leone Trio, Outback –
A guitar virtuoso with a summer residency in Killington.  Leone’s “Chop Shop” (with a massive collection of guitars) appears Fridays, while the stripped-down (but no less rockin’) trio holds forth on Sundays.  Blues dominates, along with reinterpretations of Great American Songbook standards like “Misty” and “Over the Rainbow.”  But the focus is always Joey’s amazing chops – no pun intended.

Tuesday: Robert Cray w/ Keb’ Mo’, Shelburne Museum –
Two masters of the American blues idiom perform with their bands and share the stage.  There’s some excellent YouTube footage of the two singing “Bring It On Home,” with Cray’s electric guitar out front, and “Shave Yo’ Legs” – on the latter, Mo’s easygoing singing is a joy to hear and behold.

Wednesday: Fred Haas & Sabrina Brown, Elixir – Expect a different theme each week for this “Jazz Show and Jam Session”  – Ellington, Ella, Gershwin, Mercer ad everything in between. The husband/wife team – he plays sax and piano, she sings – will invite friends to the series (which runs through November) to re-create a New York supper club vibe in downtown White River Junction.

Local Rhythms – My Favorite Years

I don’t really have a definitive answer to the question, “what’s your favorite band?”  Before the Beatles, all I cared about was television cartoons.

All I cared about after was … rock and roll, so it’s probably the Fab Four.

But I can tell you my favorite time – mid-1970 to mid-1972, right after the Beatles officially broke up, and a new order stepped in to fill the void.

The shear amount of music released in that short time was staggering.  Many great bands made their best albums – “Who’s Next,” “Aqualung” and “Sticky Fingers” come to mind, but that just scratches the surface.

There’s Neil Young’s “After The Gold Rush” and Paul Simon’s masterful first solo record.

Don’t forget the Stooges’ “Fun House” or Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew.”

There was definitely something in the water.

Alice Cooper’s three best records came out in the space of 16 months – “Love It To Death,” “Killer” and “Schools Out.”  I could say the same for Black Sabbath – their eponymous debut, “Paranoid” and “Master of Reality” were a fine triple play, but that band’s fans are a scary lot, so I’ll let them decide.

Two artists in particular made a career’s worth of music in those two years.  Elton John may have become famous for “Bennie and the Jets” – a novelty song, in my opinion – but he won me over with four flawless albums in a row over two years.  Those songs filled a well that Elton’s (justifiably) never stopped returning to.

Rod Stewart took a smidge more than two years to make his four best records (I’ve been embarrassed for him since “Hot Legs,” so don’t even go there).  But during that time, he managed to finish a pair of great discs with his band the Faces.

That’s six records, an average of one every four months.  If you wonder why this stuff endures, it’s partly because there was just so much of it.

None of this nostalgia makes me want to go and re-live it at a live concert – when “Hippie Fest” recently rolled through town, I just chuckled.

But there are some excellent DVDs from the period.  The best, “Fillmore,” can only be found on eBay.

Every generation has their own golden era, but none as prolific as this.  These days, could anyone even afford to make so many records back to back, even if they did come up with the material?

Well, maybe Ryan Adams…

What’s live this week?

Thursday: Fred Haas & Peter Concilio, Sophie & Zeke’s – Two busy bees in the area’s cross-pollinating jazz scene get together.  Haas plays sax and piano, occasionally at the same time, while Concilio lays down the rhythm on bass guitar.  Fred plays next Wednesday at Elixir with his wife Sabrina Brown on vocals, while Peter sits in with Emily Lanier a couple of times (including the 28th at this Claremont restaurant) before month’s end.

Friday: Yer Mother’s Onion, Cornish Fair – The much-loved YMO hasn’t been gigging much of late, but they always play this Fair, now in its 59th year.  Other performers coming to the stage over the weekend include country singer Tammy Jackson’s band, the traditional sounds of Maria Rose, the Celtic-inspired Spirit Fiddle and the local singing group Gospel Train.  If you don’t like that, eat some fried dough and go on one of those spinning rides.

Saturday: For the Heroes, Twin State Speedway – A Nashville-based musical contingent visits Claremont to celebrate the men and women in our uniformed services.  Military, police, fire and rescue workers get in free, and the music starts at 4:30 (contrary to a report in Sunday’s paper). Local bands Little Memphis, High Ground and foreverinmotion join the artists behind the recently released “For The Heroes” country music compilation.

Sunday: Jeffrey Foucault, Armadillo’s (Keene) – One of my favorite new folksingers, with a dusty, weathered voice and songs that cut to the quick.  “Northbound 35” is, in my opinion, one of the five or six best songs written in the last 10 years – “you were as much in my hands as water, or darkness or nothing could ever be held,” he sings, and the blood just drains from my heart.  That’s what a good song should do.

Monday: Music Showcase & Jam Session, Summer Mansion (Hartland) – Ringmaster Dave Clark sends out an invite to “musicians, artists, dancers and music lovers of all stripes” to bring their instruments and voices for a collective good time.  Heck, what else is happening on Monday night?

Wednesday: Hal Ketchum, Iron Horse –
A Claremont favorite who’s played two memorable Opera House shows does an intimate Northampton club date.  Expect songs from his upcoming “Father Time,” a record Neil Diamond calls “so real and unpretentious and so much fun to boot.”

Finally: R.I.P. Doug Bashaw, a good-hearted, talented and enthusiastic participant in the area music scene.

Meadowbrook Marathon – Live, Collective Soul & Blues Traveler

In what could have been billed as a festival (Post-Grunge-Palooza?), three bands that helped shape rock in the 1990s shared the stage at the Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion Saturday night.  Live, Collective Soul and Blues Traveler each attracted their own focused contingent of fans, a testament to the decade’s fragmented music landscape.

Few acts reached critical mass back then, but plenty did the kind of respectable business that today’s performers would welcome.  This fact also made the ride home from a sold-out show easier than usual at the end of the night; many fans headed for the parking lots after seeing their favorite perform.

It also gave those who stayed an enjoyable 6-hour musical marathon.  Many spent a large portion of the show milling around in the two lounges adjacent to the stage, each of which afforded excellent views of the stage.

The facility’s design allows fans to be connected to the musical action no matter where they stand.  With each show, Meadowbrook continues to impress, both with its staff and amenities.  The venue is as much a star as the bands on stage.

The afternoon sun still shining brightly, Blues Traveler strolled onstage without introduction.  They set the bar high early with a scorching version of Charlie Daniels’ “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” followed by their biggest hit, “Runaround.”  On “Mullin’ It Over,” John Popper’s harmonica playing echoed the Stones’ “Midnight Rambler” during the extended jam, which ended when the band uncorked “But Anyway” – one of the best moments of the night.

They played a few selections from the upcoming “North Hollywood Shootout,” including “What Remains,” a loping rocker featuring rich organ swirls and passionate vocals from Popper.  Opening act Hana Pestle then joined the band for Steve Miller’s “The Joker.”

The crowd rose to their feet immediately for Collective Soul’s well-received set. The band went from a whisper to a scream on songs like “December” and “Shine,” while 45-year old lead singer Ed Roland ranged across both ends of the stage like a man half his age.  During “Better Now,” Roland hauled ten women (and one over-energized man) onto the eight-foot tall stage to dance, much to the consternation of the security team.  Later, he invited John Popper out to join them for “Hollywood.”

While headliner Live played several familiar songs (“Selling The Drama,” “The Dolphin’s Cry,” “They Stood Up For Love”), their set also featured some nuggets.  They did “Black and White World,” from their first album, and a reworked version of the Johnny Cash song, “I Walk the Line.”  The latter caused a kerfuffle when Daughtry tried to pass off the arrangement as his own on “American Idol” (they’ve since made nice).

There were a few overly earnest moments.  Lead singer Ed Kowalczyk spent too much time introducing “Turn My Head” as a giant hit record he used for his wedding ceremony (did he hire a band to play it?), but Live’s 90 minutes of family-friendly rock was for the most part easily digested.

Though with a relatively equal amount of platinum records (each band has four – Live’s “Throwing Copper” is the biggest seller of all), Collective Soul could have topped the bill – or Blues Traveler, for that matter.

Sensible Shoes and Friends

The area music scene thrives on collaboration.  A Thursday night supper club soloist frequently turns up as part of a six-piece Friday night band.  Sensible Shoes is a familiar version of the latter variety, an energetic combo with a knack for packing the dance floor.

Tim Utt and Barbara Blaisdell often perform as Sensible Soul, a somewhat softer, jazzier combo, with Tim playing guitar and Barbara on piano.  Drummer (and Sensible Shoes member) Steve Drebber sometimes joins them; Friday at Elixir, Pooh Sprague plays bass, guitar and provides vocals.

This spirit of community and musical interplay fuels the band’s latest CD, “Sensible Shoes and Friends,” a work in progress (with release planned for early next year) that includes some of Vermont’s finest talents working in a variety of musical styles.

Utt, Blaisdell and Drebber began by laying down the basic tracks and then, Barbara says, “we decided to let each song dictate the instrumentation and vocal style.”

The strategy paid off in ways they hadn’t imagined.  Jen Hartswick of Trey Anastasio’s touring band had been invited to play trumpet, which she does quite well on “All Dressed Up” and “My History.”   When someone heard her singing along to one of the tracks during playback, Hartswick suddenly had another task – lead vocals.

With Hartswick’s gutsy, soulful voice at the helm, “Message Machine” kicks things off, anchored by Tony Markellis on bass and Tim Utt’s (shades of Steve Cropper) chop n’ strum guitar.  Fellow Anastasio alum Dave Grippo supplies a smoky sax solo for this sexy, loping blues/rock number.

Utt and Blaisdell have placed songs in soundtracks (“Philadelphia,” “Manchurian Candidate”.  The joyous “82nd Street” belongs in a movie about a hardscrabble couple who never lose their can-do spirit, at the point in the film where dreams are coming true.  With a hearty chorus of “we had to walk in our sensible shoes,” it’s also a band theme song of sorts.

Blues vocalist Eric Bibb contributes to two tracks.  The sinister “Petty Crimes” is a multi-tracked gem, with Utt stitching a nimble electric lead into an acoustic structure.  Co-producer Chuck Eller supplies an ominous, pulsing Hammond B3 organ, and Bibb gives the love and betrayal ballad just the right balance of sorrow and rage.

Bibb could be singing to the same lover on his other track, “Bound to Be With You,” a breezy tune about abiding a n’er do well partner, because, well, there’s nothing else to do.  “You’re unfair, I don’t care,” sings Bibb – “I know I’m bound to be with you.”

“Moving Day” was born in a Rosanne Cash-led songwriting workshop Blaisdell attended. The band recruited singer Christine (Adler) Venisnik.  She shares Cash’s enunciating vocal style, with mixed results.

“Sensible Shoes and Friends” includes one instrumental – “Cut, Split Delivered” – that owes a debt to the Spencer Davis Band’s version of “I’m A Man,” but manages to find its own way when Utt and Eller begin trading guitar and organ solos like gunslingers.

Hopefully, Sensible Shoes plans on bringing “Cut, Split, Delivered” to their (big band, crowded bar) live shows. The record is a solid effort so far, with the addition of a few more tracks an exciting prospect.

Sensible Soul – Tim Utt (guitar), Barbara Blaisdell (keyboards) and Pooh Sprague (bass, guitar and vocals) play Friday, August 15 at Elixir in White River Junction.

For The Heroes Concert 16 August @ Claremont Speedway

For Pat Kelley of Springfield, it began with an email, one of the many passed around by friends and family trying to understand the Iraq War.  Kelley’s nephew Shaun read the message, an attempt to describe the life of a soldier, and it touched a nerve.

“He responded to it courteously but strongly,” says Kelley.  Shaun, a Marine veteran of the first Gulf conflict, is usually taciturn about his wartime experience, so Pat called him.

“I don’t know who writes these things,” Shaun told his uncle, “but they don’t know what they’re talking about. This is what it’s really like.”

Pat Kelley listened, but not just as a family member.   The Springfield car dealer is also a budding songwriter.  Recently, he’d started working with Bucky Jones, who wrote country hits for Lee Greenwood, Crystal Gayle, Charlie Pride and several others.

In First Lieutenant   USMC   S h a u n   K e l l e y’s words, Pat heard a story that he knew needed to be told.

So he picked up his guitar and pen, and came up with “Did You Think of Me Today?” It’s a song about the rigors of military life – long nights, tasteless MRE food, desert sand and  “socks so damp, they’re part of my skin.”

It was also a reminder to not let their sacrifices become lost in our busy lives:

“Did you think of me today?
Are you proud of who I am?
It’s your freedom that I’m fighting for in this foreign land.”

Now it’s the lead single from “For the Heroes,” a compilation CD released by Nashville-based Bruce Allen Music, and the centerpiece of a country music concert scheduled for August 16 at Twin State Speedway in Claremont.

The show features all the Nashville performers from the record, including Mike Kidd, the young singer who recorded Kelley’s song, along with three others set for Kidd’s debut album.  The day will have a local flavor, with sets from area bands Little Memphis (led by Claremont native Dan LaPorte ) and High Ground.

Local singer Kyla Beardsley will sing the National Anthem, something she did last year at Fenway Park .

Other performers appearing at “For The Heroes” include Heather Necole, Nathan Neff, Charis, Ashley Leigh, and Elisha & Deana Shelton.   The musicians, along with label head Bruce Allen, will meet fans and sign autographs the day of the show at Kelley Sales & Service in Springfield.

Brendon Thomas, who normally specializes in atmospheric rock with foreverinmotion, will also play a short set.  “It could be a fun change of pace rockin’ the country scene,” says Thomas, who will be joined by Meagan LeBlanc for a performance of the Johnny Cash/June Carter Cash hit “Jackson.”

LeBlanc is the daughter of Jane Eno, a sales rep at “The Wolf,” the West Lebanon radio station sponsoring the show.  Pat Kelley is quick to praise the station for its’ support. “They have been instrumental in their efforts to make this promotion a success,” he says, also thanking Dennis Fleury for making his racetrack available for the show.

A Newport country station has also helped with “For the Heroes.”  WCNL Program Director Steve Smith interviewed Kelley on the air, and thinks “Did You Think of Me Today?” is a great song.  Smith also added the Little Memphis CD, “Let Me Down Easy,” to the station’s play list.

“One of the flag men at the Speedway gave it to me,” says Smith.  “It’s really good.”

Admission to the show is free for anyone serving in the military, as well as the people Kelley calls “local heroes” – police, fire and rescue workers.

“At times, the service men and women are entertained while on duty, but this event gives them the opportunity to enjoy and share our show with their family and friends,” says Bruce Allen.  “It’s also a chance for the community to show their appreciation and support.”

“This is for all of our soldiers,” says Pat Kelley.  “I think we have to step back, regardless of our politics or whether or not we believe in the war, and really understand what kind of sacrifice these folks are making for us every single day.”

“Honor the troops,” he says.  “I think the honor is by saying, ‘we know you’re there, we know the sacrifice you’re making, and we appreciate it.’”

And, of course, by providing them with some good American music when they come home.

Local Rhythms – Internet Radio Goes Local

Writing about music is fun, but it’s no substitute for the real thing.  That’s why I frequently point readers in the direction of Yellow House Media, a one-stop repository for local bands.  Dave Clark’s web site offers selections from 51 different artists, who perform in venues from Brattleboro to Burlington.

Let’s say you’ve considered attending this Sunday’s Whole Hog Barbeque, but don’t really have a sense of what the music will be like.  With just a few clicks, Dr. Burma and the Stone Cold Roosters will be playing on your computer speakers.

But with that example, you need to know what you’re looking for.  Absent such motivation, there’s no reason to visit, right?

Ah, but now there’s Yellow House Radio, a newly launched service that streams random music from area artists – endlessly.

I fired it up the other day, and within minutes I’d been clued to Loose Cannons, a Plainfield band specializing in acoustic rock, and family-friendly Django Reinhart disciple Lewis Franco – just for starters.

Finding out more about these bands took a bit of work. Artist biographical information is basically nonexistent, but that’s what the Google is for.

I asked Dave about this, and he responded unsurprisingly, “that’s gonna take money.”  His site is a labor of love, and with the advent of streaming radio and the “Homegrown” web/public access TV series, traffic has gone through the roof.

That’s good and bad. Keeping equipment humming along gets expensive, but more visitors means increased advertising revenue.   When that happens, all sorts of things are possible, from adding staff to an online store (though he’s avoided that due to royalty accounting complexities).

In the meantime, Yellow House Media remains the best friend local musicians have, and Dave is quick to urge any and all performers who’d like their music included on the site to be in touch.

Just the other day, he added a few tunes by Pariah Beat and the Conniption Fits, two bands who sit a bit apart from the rock, blues and folk of the Gully Boys, Gypsy Reel and Wagtail (one of my favorites) typical to the site.

You can’t love music without an open mind, Dave says.  Combine that with boundless energy and an unparalleled commitment to the regional arts scene, and you have an absolute go-to resource.  Do yourself a favor – visit it soon.

Here’s the scoop for the next few days:

Thursday: Tom Rush, Sunapee Mountain Lodge – The show and an optional dinner celebrate the 75th annual League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Fair, running through Sunday.  Portsmouth-born Rush helped launch the careers of Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell, penned the folk standard “No Regrets,” and recently achieved YouTube fame with his boomer lament, “The Memory Song.”

Friday:  Five O’clock Belles, Latchis Theatre – Five part harmony in a lovely Brattleboro setting.  This all-female band performs music from all over the world – Québec, New England, Appalachia, the UK, the Republic of Georgia, Corsica, Bulgaria, Hungary, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.   Tonight’s show is a CD release party, which should add some energy to their performance.

Saturday:  Live, Collective Soul & Blues Traveler, Meadowbrook – Mid-90’s modern rock can induce either howls of pain or fits of pleasure, with little middle ground.  I’m a big fan of Collective Soul’s wall of sound angst-rock.  I find Live’s spiritualized shtick less appealing, though “Throwing Copper” is one of the era’s best albums.  I’d see Blues Traveler for John Popper’s ammo belt harmonica holder alone.  Each band plays a full 90-minute set, and the venue is the best in the region.

Sunday: Whole Hog BBQ & Music Festival, North Haverhill Fairgrounds – Three bands and a Memphis-sanctioned grill competition are good reasons to head north for the day.  Dr. Burma plays songs from their funk-busting “One Bite Won’t Kill You.”  Ted Mortimer and Linda Boudreault do double duty with the Stone Cold Roosters, and Vermont blues man Chris Kleeman plays his heart out.  Ribs, chicken and brisket are a nice, tangy bonus.

Tuesday: Bonnie Raitt & The Refugees, Capitol Center for the Arts – Politics aside (this is a benefit for Senate candidate Jeanne Shaneen), this is a great night of music.  Raitt is living proof that second acts are possible in pop music, and the Refugees is a California supergroup featuring Wendy Waldman, Cindy Bullens and Deborah Holand.  It’s Waldman’s second all-star ensemble; along with Kenny Edwards and Karla Bonoff, she’s made some excellent music with Bryndle.

Wednesday: Pete Merrigan’s All-Stars, Ben Mere Bandstand – What a way to spend hump day, as Pete takes a break from playing solo to team up with Sandy Alexander  (vocals, keyboards), Brian Kennell  (bass) and Bobby Gagnier (drums).  Merrigan fans should definitely visit his web site for inside information on a show to be held later this month (no details here, but admission requires a secret handshake).

Newport Festival – Not Folk, But Great Nonetheless

It was left for Steve Earle to distill the musical essence of Newport, Rhode Island last weekend.  He began his set by evoking Woody Guthrie on “Christmas in Washington” and ended with a scratch mixer sampling his voice on “Satellite Radio.”

Never mind that, over 49 years, the Newport Folk Festival welcomed everyone from Janis Joplin to the Pixies. The performers at this year’s gathering shattered every definition of the idiom.

Of course, Newport changed when Bob Dylan plugged in.  But if Pete Seeger wanted an axe to cut the electricity on that day in 1965, he would have taken a chainsaw to this year’s lineup.

That said, it was a powerful weekend of music.  The Minnesota Bard’s spirit was evoked by Jakob Dylan, who joked that his guitar was “acoustic, but plugs in” during an energetic harbor stage set.

While Jakob played with a besuited band (that bore a striking resemblance to the crew his dad brought when he last played the festival in 2002), ’68 Newport alum Richie Havens segued from “Maggie’s Farm” into the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” on the main stage, closing out a well received set.

Both headliners got into the Dylan-channeling act.  The Black Crowes’ played a medley of “Girl From the North Country” and “He Was A Friend of Mine” as a prelude to their typically noisy set.  On Sunday, Jimmy Buffet ended a pedestrian “Parrothead Lite” performance with an encore of “Blowing in the Wind.”

Rain interrupted things in a big way Saturday afternoon, sending many fans home early at the end of Trey Anastasio’s lawn stage set, and forcing others to jostle for space under the harbor stage tent during some of the day’s best music.

She & Him, the team of actress Zooey Deschanel (“Elf,” “Live Free Or Die”) and multi-instrumentalist M. Ward, mixes Lulu/Dusty Springfield Brit-pop with Indie-rock sensibilities for a thoroughly original sound.  The two shared keyboard duties on the rollicking “This Is Not A Test” after a stellar co-vocal on Ward’s “Magic Trick” from Deschanel and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James.

Later, Ward played guitar and sang with James during his stripped-down set of aching songs.  James was perhaps the festival’s busiest musician – on Sunday, he joined Calexico on the main stage to cover yet another Dylan tune – “Going To Acapulco,” from the biopic “I’m Not There.”

But the beauty of James’s solo set transcended all his stage hopping; the hypnotic “It Beats 4 U” hushed the crowd, while he and Ward’s harmonies on “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” would have pleased many Simon & Garfunkel fans.  James’ spare version of “Golden,” his voice a dead ringer for the “Nashville Skyline” era Dylan (there’s that name again), gave the crowd everything it came for.

The festival’s overall tone was different by design, thanks to a team led by organizer Jay Sweet, an editor at Paste Magazine.   “We curated the talent with a certain psychographic in mind, as opposed to demographic,” Sweet said backstage while Calexico played.  “I wanted to feed a group of musical omnivores, people who meet their music halfway and don’t want to have it shoved down their throats.”

He said his expectations were “not shattered, but obliterated,” pointing to a set by Young@Heart, a group of Massachusetts senior citizens who cover modern rockers like Radiohead and the Ramones as a highlight which left him “teary eyed.”

But Sweet felt the resilience of the American Babies, a Brooklyn band who won the “OurStage” talent contest, provided the festival’s best moment.  After a raucous set on the smaller water stage (which hosted several spirited performances, including a mesmerizing one by ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro), the band was drafted as an emergency fill in for Damian and Stephen Marley, who were lost in traffic on the way to the show.

The wet weather forced the stage crew to lower the roof before the band went on.  “They had such aplomb, bravado and panache,” says Sweet, “and people didn’t leave – despite the weather, for a band that nobody knew.”

Other highlights included a laconic Saturday morning set from Cowboy Junkies, the musical equivalent of the slow food movement.  On “Never To Grow Old,”  Margo Timmins slouched over the microphone and sang, “I was gonna tell you about my premonition/but I changed my mind and went back to bed,” and no one wondered why.

Richie Havens’ pointedly political set moved the crowd, as he covered Jackson Browne’s “Lives in the Balance,” a song that speaks to today’s anti-war fervor as much as the 1980s Central American conflict that inspired it.  Havens also did a surprising rendition of Gary Wright’s “Love Is Alive.”

Brandi Carlile stole the show Sunday, blending “Gray’s Anatomy” hits like “Turpentine” and “I Was Made for You” with a cello-fueled version of “Folsom Prison Blues.”  She was unprepared when fans demanded an encore – “I didn’t know we were supposed to come back out,” she told them – but pleased the sun-soaked crowd, estimated at 7,500 on both days, with a well-chosen cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings did their time-traveling musical prestidigitation to perfection, but would have been better served by trading places in the more intimate harbor tent with Son Volt, whose big sound belonged on the main stage.

Welch and Rawlings also joined Levon Helm at the end of his performance for “The Weight,” and later sang “Elvis Presley Blues” with Jimmy Buffett, one of the only inspired moments during his tepid, festival closing set.

Buffett had teased that his appearance would vary from his usual shtick.  He told the Boston Globe in April that he might bring along just one musician, in a nod to his folk music roots.

But that was all a memory Sunday.

As the crowd bounced around Land Shark Beer beach balls (a brand he made sure to name-check during “It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere”), Buffett shoehorned local Newport landmarks into the same songs he regionalizes for every Coral Reefer Band show.   The band, nine members strong (only the horn section had the night off), played along dutifully.

Welch and Rawlings, it should be noted, delighted in every second on stage with Buffett.  But when they left, many in the crowd followed, sensing no more surprises.

Earlier in the day, a skywriter spelled out the name of a Connecticut casino where Buffett recently opened a restaurant.  The pilot apparently had two customers – a plug for an insurance company immediately followed.

“HOT SUMMER FUN AT MOHEGAN SUN,” read the words, and as they dissipated, “GEICO GEICO GEICO” – a sad corporate haiku totally at odds with the day’s mood, and Newport’s storied history.

Fortunately, the rest of the weekend was nothing like that one bit of hackery.

Listen to audio streams of Newport sets on, which is also offering most of the performances as free podcasts  for download on iTunes.