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!”