Last Wednesday, I stepped into Canoe Club hoping for the best, and was rewarded with a seat close to the small stage.
That’s essential to hear the music, and sometimes not a guarantee.
Though the Hanover restaurant hosts live performers every night of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas, music is one of many elements, not the center of attention.
But the players that night caused a lot of diners to put down their forks and pick up their ears.
Molly Venter and Cahalen David Morrison had just barely met. Seriously – Molly said she’d asked someone on the street, “are you Cahalen?”
But after a bit of tuning up, they found their chemistry playing de rigueur standards like “Angel From Montgomery” and, in the spirit of the season, Joni Mitchell’s “River.”
Venter gave the latter some edge, singing “I made my baby cry,” and sounding like she might have enjoyed it – just a little.
Her own songs, like “Red Rubber Balls” and “Love Me Like You Mean It,” had a folk-y, Fiona Apple feel to them.
Morrison, a talented picker, switched between lap steel, guitar and mandolin, playing a strong repertoire of originals. I particularly liked “Humble Hands.”
So, apparently, did Canoe Club owner John Chapin, who more than once took a break from his duties to listen in appreciatively.
Friday, it was all about the music, as I watched a double bill with singer-songwriters Meg Hutchinson and Chris Pureka at Boccelli’s.
A line from Pureka’s opening number stuck with me – “it might be an ordinary day/but it feels different to me.”
Music sustains me – the way a note bends, a phrase turns, or more often a combination of the two.
The spark of discovery – Cahalen David Morrison singing of “rain patting the ground like humble hands,” or Chris Pureka telling the musical story of her 95-year old grandmother in “Swann Song” – is a kind of nourishment to me.
I spoke with Cahalen between sets. He’s from New Mexico, he told me, but he hasn’t been in the same place for longer than two weeks since last June.
He probably won’t go home until next summer. Friday, he plays Armadillo’s in Keene.
I asked him why he does it.
“As long as I can eat and play music, I’m fine,” he told me.
It’s funny how this strange, seemingly intangible thing moves us so.
Here’s the rest of the week:
Thursday: Les Miserables, Briggs Opera House – The world’s most popular musical gets a local run, with Tim Shew in the lead role. Shew plays Valjean, a reformed thief who cannot escape his past. “Les Miz” plays through January 4; there’s an Opening Night gala tomorrow, with a cast reception after the show, as well as a “Celebrity Sunday” Q&A December 14. Epic story, great songs, you can’t go wrong with this performance.
Friday: Gandalf Murphy & the Slambovian Circus of Dreams, Bradford Academy – A mainstay of the now-shuttered Middle Earth Music Hall returns to Bradford for a special “Christmas with Gandalf” show. Performing traditional songs “with a Slambovian twist” along with favorites like “Circus of Dreams” and “Alice in Space.” Some of the proceeds will benefit the Oxbow High School music department.
Saturday: The Strangelings, Tunbridge Town Hall – An area folk music supergroup of sorts, with Pete and Maura Kennedy, along with Hungrytown’s Ken Anderson and Rebecca Hall, talented songwriter Christina Thompson Lively, Eric Lee and Cheryl Prashker. They cover some of my favorites, including Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” and “White Bird,” a venerable chestnut from It’s a Beautiful Day.
Sunday: Nutcracker, Claremont Opera House – It can’t be Christmas without a sugar plum fairy, as the New Hampshire School of Ballet performs Tchaikovsky’s holiday masterpiece for the fourth year in a row. The story of toys come to life has surely scared the wits out of a few small children over the years – or at least that’s the excuse my sisters used for not being able to sleep on Christmas Eve.
Tuesday: Irish Sessions, Salt hill Pub – In addition to this weekly traditional song circle, which starts early and never gets old, the Pub is reviving open mike night this Thursday. December is rich with talent on every evening, at both the Lebanon and Newport locations, where Oneside does a twofer next week. The always-stellar Sirsy, the biggest sounding duo on the planet, play this Saturday on the green.
Wednesday: Dave Clark, Parker House – Dave has more hats than Bartholomew Cubbins, if you suss my Seussian drift. The Yellow House web site just received a revamp, making it easier to navigate through all great local music streaming there. A new episode of “Homegrown” featuring a summer performance from area jam band Twiddle just went up. Oh, and he plays in more bands than I can count.