Local Rhythms – All Hallows’ Breaks Loose

Just because adults can’t trick or treat doesn’t mean they get over Halloween.  If anything, the costumes get better – and more expensive.

So it’s not surprising that so many area clubs are holding masquerade balls this year.

For starters, the big night’s on a Friday.

Plus, with the news of the world getting worse by the minute, anyone would welcome the chance to pretend they’re someone else?

Like, say, Batman, Madonna or Marx (Groucho, not Karl).

So, while you check the attic for your old axe-in-the-forehead rubber mask, I’ll run down the list of local parties.

The entire building is in costume for the Freakers Ball in Rutland, which brings back the heyday of Winterland and Fillmore East & West. The show features a psychedelic light shows and music from Duane Carleton, Jim Gilmour, the Bonafide Dregs and Crazyhearse.

Salt hill Pub in Lebanon tries a blue Halloween with the All-Star Voodoo Blues Band (a/k/a Blue Monday), while their Newport branch features Dog Dayz.

Two heavy metal galas compete for the painted and pierced crowd.  Hexerei headlines a six-band “Haunted Halloween” at the Claremont Moose Lodge (a busy venue of late).

Electra’s fete features  Anger Rising, Till We Die and three others (the West Lebanon club also hosts a costume ball Saturday, with DJ Eric G).

Country fans can get their fill at Shenanigans, where the New Hampshire Rock Bottom Band will perform.

The Foresters Club in Newport welcomes hard rockers Transcent, Shatter This World and Mother Virus.

There’s a pair of cool shows in Springfield, Vermont.  KJ’s Place has the Vibratones, while the VFW Club presents garage rock survivors the Illusion, in a show sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce.

Springfield favorite Jesse Peters heads over to J.D. Climents in Putney, where he fronts a new band called GMP (for Grieco, Morton, Peters).

Further up the road in Saxtons River, the newly opened Pleasant Valley Brewing joins with Harvest Moon and The Inn at Saxtons River for a pub-crawl, with Matt McGrail performing later.

Finally, for something interesting and new, head over to the Henniker Junction Restaurant, where the Ghost Dinner Band will host a costume party.

This band sounds like Pink Floyd meets Tom Waits on their way to an Electric Prunes concert.

For those with tamer instincts, here’s the rest of the week:

Thursday: The Adam McMahon Trio, Windsor Station – Formerly of the Larry Dougher Band, this blues guitarist has an interesting biography.  While serving in the Middle East, he started an open mike night.  Very cool, I’d like to know more about that.  Windsor Station recently changed owners and menus.  It’s nice that they’ve also added live music to the mix.  Tonight’s a Halloween buffet, with $10 off for costumed patrons, and scary HD movies on a 50 inch TV.

Friday: Who Are The Brain Police, Seven Barrel Brewery – This band has a great name (borrowed from a Frank Zappa song), they cover everyone from Spinal Tap to the Dead Milkmen, and their MySpace features this Hunter S. Thompson quote: “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs… there’s also a negative side.” I love it.

Saturday: Fencing Club Benefit, Claremont JSL – Hexerei headlines this show, which includes Bad Reception, the Undecided and newcomers Dude Stew.  Hexerei leader Travis Pfenning posted a “future of music” item on the band’s MySpace blog recently, and I found the responses to his thoughts more than disturbing.  The local music scene, particularly the hardcore/metal portion, is fragile enough without infighting among area musicians.  That’s my view; I encourage other fans to weigh in.

Sunday: Great Big Sea, Lebanon Opera House – This Newfoundland-based band takes traditional music and reinvents it, with a nod to influences as diverse as Bob Marley, the Clash and Johnny Cash.  They’re positively huge in Canada, where they’ve been nominated for several Juno awards.  They wrote most of their new album, Fortune’s Favor, in the studio.  But it’s GBS’s on stage work drives the band’s popularity and keeps the  on the road much of the year.

Tuesday: Irish Sessions, Salt hill – Thursday night blues went out with a bang last week, so much so that ShP plans to move the party to Newport next month, with Arthur James hosting.  Meanwhile, the weekly Irish sessions are a mainstay, with a changing cast of musicians sharing a circle in the center of the room, playing whatever feels natural.  It’s a perfect after work destination, with an early (6:30) start.

Wednesday: Amy Ray, Higher Ground – The Indigo Girls are on hiatus until next February, when their new album is due.  Amy Ray did punk with the Butchies a while back, but this time around is heading out solo behind the recently released “Didn’t It Feel Kinder.”

Rap the Vote @ Electra 24 October 2008

Despite a few organizational hiccups, Friday’s “Rap the Vote” performance at Electra Nightclub brought out area hip-hop fans in force.  The show featured local rappers Open Case/Breadtruck, along with the Keene-based groups Flatliners and M.A.R., along with two others.

The West Lebanon nightclub was festooned with political signs, though the planned voter registration table was scrapped when the State of New Hampshire pulled out at the last minute, citing manpower concerns.

“They wouldn’t allow overtime, or let us pay them,” said the show’s promoter.  Attempts to make the event a bipartisan affair were greeted with apathy.  “The Vermont Republican party didn’t answer their phones,” he said, adding, “we set out to be equal opportunity.”

Still, there were a few red, white and blue elephants on the wall, and the McCain/Palin logo popped up occasionally on a computer slide show running behind the stage.  But this was a decidedly Blue America crowd, with several styles of Obama t-shirts on display, a table crowded with candidate flyers and stickers (and a stack of Vermont voter registration forms), and Democratic posters dominating the walls.

Senate candidate Jeanne Shaheen’s daughter Molly paid a visit as well.

The evening featured a variety of urban styles.  The headliners delivered the best set by far, combining melody, rhymes from rapper Problematic, and surprisingly good singing from J-Bust and Ill Dephyned.

“That’s the Way It Goes” both celebrates and questions the excesses hip-hop living, while “Soul In My Hands” touches on the subject of early fatherhood.  “The Election 2008” is edgy political theatre, complete with Obama samples and challenging lines like “divided we stand/united we fall/they knock down a couple buildings and we put up a wall.”

They occasionally veered off into misogyny (“Get Lost,” “Bedtime”), but were for the most part quite literate.  Reflection, on songs like “Same Story” and “Only Greed,” won out over bluster and bravado, two traits that weigh down so much of genre.

The same can’t be said, however, of Flatliners, who behaved more like a mob than a band.  There were many problems with their set – it went too long, was drowned in f-bombs and “yo-yo” clichés, and generally lacked focus.  But the worst moment came when a fog machine went into overdrive, forcing the club to turn on the house lights until the thick haze dissipated.

The amateurish move sucked away a lot of the room’s energy, and when the smoke finally did clear and the lights went down again, half the crowd was gone.

The sheer size of the bill also didn’t help, as the logistics of squeezing in five separate sets delayed Open Case/Breadtruck’s appearance until after midnight.

There were other highlights over the course of the evening. DJ Grimee backed M.A.R.’s opening act, then teamed with rapper Bootz for a humorous election send-up, with the two assuming each candidate’s persona (sample rhyme – the faux McCain says “I can pop Viagra and blow like Niagara”).

Each performer took pains to remind the crowd why they were there, sometimes bluntly so.  “Y’all motherf****rs gotta vote,” said one rapper.  He was preaching to the converted, perhaps profanely so.  Yet it was refreshing for a genre that’s not exactly notorious for its civic energy.

Local Rhythms – Youth Cafe Helps WRJ Teens

As the country tacks toward November 4, certain politicians are pushing the idea of a small town “real America”.

There, they say, work is done, values upheld, and patriotism percolates like coffee – in a real pot, not one of those funny cappuccino machines.

But no one is talking about how crushingly dull life can be for the kids who live in these little villages, let alone doing anything about it.

For some of them, high school can be an especially cruel time.

That’s what makes the story of Youth Managed Café, a project spearheaded by adults and run by teenagers in White River Junction, so inspiring.

“The teen population, particularly in rural areas, is one that’s sort of undervalued,” says Kim Souza.  She runs Revolution, a clothing store, espresso bar and semi-official headquarters of the project, known to its members simply as “Youth Café.”

“Engaging activities are few and far between, especially for those who are into music and arts and not academics, sports and theatre,” says Souza.

“They just end up being fringe kids, they get swept aside and no one tries to make them a vital part of the community.  I know I felt that growing up.”

Since its inception in 2003, Youth Café has been a “moving party,” holding events wherever they’re welcome – AVA Gallery, Upper Valley Events Center and, this weekend, at Whaleback Ski Area.

Friday, they’ll host a fundraiser costume ball featuring the Jonee Earthquake Band, a punk outfit that’s a long time supporter of the effort.

“They even drove from Manchester in a blizzard once to play for us,” says Rachel Williams, who joined Youth Café in 2004, when she was a sophomore at Hartford High School.

These days, Rachel serves as an adult leader of the group, which fits nicely with her goal of becoming a health teacher.

The local music scene is very intertwined with Youth Café, says Williams.  Bands have formed around friendships struck at their events, like Bleach and Kamikaze Hippies, two groups that joined Upper Valley and Claremont musicians together.

“We’re ready to take it to next level,” says Williams.  To that end, paperwork establishing Youth Managed Café as a 503c nonprofit is in motion.  They hope to find a permanent home in downtown White River Junction.

Friday’s show also features homegrown talents Strike Force, Lilum, Short Term Memory and Grand Marshall – plus a possible mystery guest.

“We make our own fun,” Rachel says.  That’s an admirable goal.

What else is happening?

Thursday: Billy Bragg, Lebanon Opera House – I usually think of Billy Bragg as a topical singer, famously known as a “one man Clash.”  But I was surprised recently to hear his tender version of the Four Tops’ “Walk Away Renee” – a monologue about a failed romance with a girl who shared the song’s name.  It’s a beautiful piece of work, and totally absent of any of the original song’s lyrics.  The Watson Sisters, who added luster to Jenny Lewis’s “Rabbit Fur Coat,” open the show.

Friday: Rap the Vote, Electra – Local hip-hop factory Bread Truck/Open Case tops the bill at this show, which includes voter registration and several other performers.  Until rapper Arthur Rafus set me straight, I wasn’t aware that there are a lot of fans and practitioners of the genre in the Upper Valley.  I’ve heard some of BT/OC’s rhymes; they remind me of Public Enemy – but I’m no authority, there are probably better comparisons.

Saturday: Paingivers Ball, Claremont Moose – A benefit (second annual) for local food pantries, so if you bring a non-perishable item, tickets cost just $7.  The show features hard edged bands like R.A.K., Fall Line and Soul Octane Burner, as well as Roadhouse, a rocking combo that impressed me last week at Imperial (and who share a lead guitarist with S.O.B.).  This is a costume ball, featuring door prizes and raffles, put on by Rick’s Tattoo of Newport.  Good cause, good times!

Sunday: Richard Thompson, Latchis Theatre – Folk music’s gold standard returns to Vermont.  He’s written so many great songs over the years, going back to Fairport Convention.  Many of them have been covered by the likes of Elvis Costello, Graham Nash, X and Bonnie Raitt, whose “Dimming of the Day” is a favorite.  It’s a tossup, though, as to whether Thompson’s more renowned for his songwriting or guitar playing skills.

Tuesday: Spaghetti Western Orchestra, Spaulding Auditorium – A bit of whimsy at the HOP, which has a pretty good lineup this year.  SWO has fun with movie music, specifically the early 60’s films that launched Clint Eastwood’s career (before he became an auteur).  Their version of “Good, Bad and the Ugly” is priceless.

Wednesday: Los Straightjackets, Iron Horse – The hit of last summer’s Green River Festival, three guitarists performing in Mexican wrestling masks, playing surf guitar music a la the Ventures.  Cowabunga!

Trumpet Legend Arturo Sandoval Conducts Seminar at Claremont Middle School

Arturo Sandoval’s simple advice to young musicians is this: “Play with determination; don’t be afraid to make a mistake.”

The Cuban-American trumpet player, who performs tonight at Spaulding Auditorium in Hanover, answered questions and conducted a music clinic for the Claremont Middle School band Monday.  For over an hour, he gave them tips helped them rehearse.  He demonstrated his technique and played with them.

He then worked with each section of the band individually – note by note, bar by bar.

“Pay attention to intonation and pitch,” he instructed the saxophone players.  “Hold your flutes straight,” he insisted, demonstrating by tilting his trumpet sideways.

“See there? The first and the fourth are short notes,” he told bass clarinet player Gabby Cutts.

“You have a lot of homework to do,” he finally said, urging them to “cut 15 minutes of Xbox and practice” every night.

Though the students seemed a bit surprised at the rigorous workout, CMS Band Director Seth Moore insisted that he’s just as much the taskmaster.

“They hear it from me all the time,” said Moore.

“It’s good to get a second opinion, though,” he continued. “Especially when that second opinion gets paid two hundred thousand dollars a year to play the trumpet.”

Teaching comes naturally to Sandoval, who is a tenured, full time professor at Florida International University.  But he usually works with older students.  Dartmouth College’s Joe Clifford, who helped arrange the event, called the CMS clinic “unique.”

When Sandoval was asked why he decided to instruct such a young group of musicians, he joked, “It’s a gig.  I never say no to a gig.”

During the Q&A session, a student asked Sandoval if he’d ever thought about playing other instruments. He listed drums and timbales, and then said, “piano is our best teacher to understand music,” he said.  “To write, arrange, orchestrate – all those things.”

Later, he played so well on the school’s upright piano, it was hard to believe it was his second instrument.

When another student wondered if Sandoval ever expected to become famous, he quickly answered no.  In Cuba, he grew up in a house with dirt floors and had to quit school to work at age 9.  No one in his family was musical, he said.  Just being able to play was satisfaction enough.

“My first instrument was the silverware,” said Sandoval.  “Banging them on the counter, it drove my grandmother crazy.”

The first horn he played was cornet, in a marching band, mainly because there was no trumpet for him to use.  Ignoring a would-be teacher who told him he was wasting his time, “I went and played my cornet all day, and I knew this is what I had to do.”

“Music saved my life,” he said.  “It’s a blessing from God that helped every member of my family.”

After nearly an hour of picking apart “Feliz Navidad,” which they plan to perform later this year at a holiday concert, Sandoval asked the band to choose another song.

They agreed on “Swinging Jingle,” a jazzed-up version of the holiday classic “Jingle Bells.”  Sandoval joined in, occasionally giving words of encouragement.  “Get your groove on!” he shouted to drummer Dan Seaman.  “See that title? Swing it!”

The smile rarely left his face.

“I’m still in love with music after 49 years,” Sandoval said.  “I’ve played with so many others, on so many records I’ve lost count.”

“I don’t need drugs, I have the music.”

Elixir’s Last Night – Maybe

Elixir, an inventive dining destination in White River Junction that featured live music five nights a week, closed its doors Saturday with a final show.

Harmonica player Johnny Bishop and guitarist Ed Eastridge, working as a pared-down version of “Johnny B. and the Goodes,” played an evening of blues.   Billy Rosen joined them midway, adding some jazzy flair to the duo’s material.  Musical highlights included a funky version of “Tequila,” complete with audience participation, and an ethereal cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” featuring Rosen’s inventive guitar improvisations.

Bishop also played every track from his recently released “Have Mercy,” a CD he said was getting major airplay in, of all places, Poland.  It’s also big in Macedonia, he said, proving that music speaks every language.

Tim Utt and Barbara Blaisdell, who’ve performed at the club several times as “Sensible Soul,” a duo version of their band “Sensible Shoes,” sat at a table in the back of the restaurant took it all in.

“We were going to play here on Halloween,” Blaisdell said sadly, lamenting the end of one of the Upper Valley’s most consistent music clubs.  “It’s a real loss.”

Owner Mike Davidson said the difficult decision to close Elixir was a personal one.  “With several other businesses and two young children, it doesn’t work for us as a family to run a restaurant,” Davidson said in an email sent just one day before the restaurant’s final night.

Elixir’s closing leaves a big hole in the local music scene, not to mention the end of a clever food menu that featured the best pomme frites – OK, French Fries – anywhere in the area.  But the mood Saturday, at least around 9-10 o’clock, wasn’t one typically found at the end of an era.

It felt more like an interlude, a transition.  Perhaps it’s because Mike Davidson isn’t closing due to failing business.

“Ironically, the numbers recently have been encouraging,” he said in his email, “but I know the time required to get it over the hump, and we don’t have that time without sacrificing precious family time.”

By 8 o’clock Saturday, several small plates items on the menu were no longer available; a couple of beer kegs were tapped dry, and wine was being delivered in martini glasses.  That was the plan, said Davidson – use up all the supplies, then lock up.

“But I’m not taking anything down,” he said, as he sipped a martini on Elixir’s Freight House porch. “I’m going to leave everything the way it is for awhile.”

He’s holding out hope that a buyer can be found.

Davidson said there were a “few parties” who’d expressed interest in taking over the restaurant, but declined to name them.

“It has been truly enjoyable and I will miss the musicians most,” Davidson said in his parting email.  But with any luck, the parting will be short-lived.

In an email Tuesday, Davidson wrote, “It’s still in play…optimistic!”

Bummer – Elixir to Close October 18

From Elixir owner Mike Davidson comes word that White River Junction’s home for music and awesome fries will be no longer as of this Saturday.  Here’s the text of an email sent to Toni Ballard, Billy Rosen, Fred Haas & Sabrina Brown, and David Westphalen, all fine musicians who played regularly at the club, which featured live talent 5 nights a week, sometimes more:


It is with sadness that I am writing to tell you that we are closing ELIXIR. With several other businesses and two young children, it doesn’t work for us as a family to run a restaurant. Ironically, the numbers recently have been encouraging, but I know the time required to get it over the hump and we don’t have that time without sacrificing precious family time . I am seeking another buyer or lessor and hope to have someone continue what we have started.It can be a successful business for the right individual, but my priority right now is my family.

That said, I want to sincerely thank all of you for the time, energy and heart you put into making ELIXIR more than a business. For me, it has been a great learning experience and a window into a special community of artists who are passionate about their craft. It has been truly enjoyable and I will miss the musicians most.

Thank you again for all the heart and soul you put into this endeavor.


Mike and Rachel

PS Please come down late on Saturday for our farewell night and bring your friends, we intend to celebrate!


Mike created a wonderful blend of New York hip and upcountry casual in his club that will be tough to replace.

Local Rhythms – Salt hill Delivers For MDA

A few expressions come to mind when I think of Salt hill Pub. “If you’re drinking to forget, please pay first” is a favorite. “Work is the curse of the drinking class” is another.  The Oscar Wilde quote is printed on the back of the staff’s t-shirts.

“Next time, bring your wife” is written in a frame at the bar.  That’s now much easier for recently married proprietor Josh Tuohy.

My congratulations go out to Josh and his new bride, Meggin.

But there’s one saying that particularly stands out for an inveterate music fan like me – “never a cover charge” for live bands playing 4 nights a week.

This includes regular visits from out of town performers like Oneside, Sirsy and the Churchills, not to mention many local talents – like Pete Merrigan and Dr. Burma, who grace the Pub’s stage this Friday and Saturday.

Once or twice a year, however, there’s a cost to get in – for a good cause.

On Sunday, October 19, Salt hill Pub will host a show to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association of New Hampshire.

Wherehouse, a rock trio led by one of my favorite songwriters, Jason Cann, will count off at 6 PM.  All ticket proceeds with go to MDA-NH, as will 20 percent of pub receipts collected after 5 PM.

“We’re always excited to host Wherehouse at Salt hill Pub,” Josh said in a recent press release publicizing the show.  “Jason, Scott and Shane are gracious to donate their talents to support this great cause.”

He also remarked on the band’s “innate ability to keep an entire crowd dancing all night long,” something I can definitely attest to.

The suggested donation for the show is $8.00 – feel free to give more if you like to this worthy charity.

MD affects all ages and all races.  Money raised will help support efforts like the Dartmouth-Hitchcock MDA Clinic, which provides care and treatment for MD patients.

Donations also support research into cures for the degenerative disease.

The MDA relies primarily on private donations, seeking no government funding, United Way money or fees from those it serves.  It’s efforts like this one that keep it going.

The music community is second to none in its’ support of worthy causes.

Salt hill is a great supporter of music, and with this effort, the two camps are teaming up to make a difference.

They deserve your support.

On to the rest of the week:

Thursday: Samirah Evans, Elixir – After Hurricane Katrina, this talented jazz singer moved to Brattleboro with her husband.  Staying in New Orleans became untenable.  The Crescent City’s loss is our gain.  Tonight, former Roomful of Blues piano player Matt McCabe and bassist David Westphalen join Evans.  The evening of song featuring selections from her debut CD, Give Me a Moment, and her soon-to-be released My Little Bodhisattva.

Friday: Roadhouse, Imperial Lounge – A working class band that’s been kicking it for over 15 years – I guess because, like the song, they love rock and roll.  With a Joplin-esque lead singer in front, the band also covers the Joan Jett hit, along with less well known tunes by bands like Drivin’ & Cryin’ (very cool) and Sass Jordan.  They also cover Foghat’s “I Just Wanna Make Love To You,” but I’d like to hear them do Cold Blood’s slow and steamy version sometime.

Saturday: Brand New Sin, Claremont Moose – A band familiar to WWE fans, Brand New Sin recently welcomed Joe Sweet (formerly of Nine Ball) as their lead singer.  They’ve recorded a pair of new songs, which are available on the band’s MySpace page.  The five-band show also features Stonewall, Spectris, Skulltoboggan and Misery.  The all-ages show starts at 5:30, and tickets are 10 dollars.

Sunday: Vermont Fiddle Contests (Lecture), Bethel Middle Grange Hall – Adam Boyce’s presentation, “Old-Time Rules will Prevail: The Fiddle Contest in Vermont,” looks at this homegrown phenomenon.  Fiddle contests have evolved over the years from endurance events to talent contests. According to a press release, the program will include rare recordings of past competitions, as well as some live fiddling by the presenter.

Tuesday: Arturo Sandoval, Spaulding Auditorium – This amazing trumpet player can’t be pinned down to a single genre, playing Afro-Cuban grooves, bebop rhythms and seductive ballads.  One thing is constant, however.  Sandoval does incredible things with his horn, playing impossible to chart runs with staggering speed and precision.  The late Dizzy Gillespie called him “one of the best,” and that’s saying a lot.

Wednesday: Donavon Frankenreiter/Sara Watkins, Higher Ground –
The surfer/songwriter just released “Pass It Around,” which easily moves from coffeehouse folk to SoCal pop.  Fiddler Watkins is on hiatus from Nickel Creek.  The Scrolls, the supergroup that includes Sara’s brother Sean, Glenn Phillips, Benmont Tench and Pete Thomas, have an album due next year.