Local Rhythms – The only thing better than local music is – food

Picture 2Want to do something for the environment that’s fun, easy and delicious?

Go to a local farmer’s market and buy some food that’s so fresh, you’ll have to brush off the soil.

“Dirt is a beautiful thing,” says Rocky Saccento, the point man for the Newport Farmer’s Market, which begins June 12 on the town common. “You can tell where it came from.”

In other words, why buy produce flown in from Chile, when there’s something better tasting available from a town or two away?

Besides, since live entertainment is a mainstay at these events, you can go local with both food and music.

Lebanon opens for the season today (May 28) with fiddler John Specker providing the soundtrack.  Future performers include guitarist David Surette, Sylvia Miskoe (accordion) and Terry Ray Gould.

Terry and his singing partner Suzi Hastings, better known as Second Wind, kick off the Claremont Farmer’s Market next Wednesday.  They’re a ubiquitous duo at these kind of events, appearing later in the summer in Newbury (Fridays, 3-6) and Wilmot (Saturday mornings).

The Hanover market happens Wednesdays; across the river in Norwich (Saturdays), there’s elk meat available along with the more standard fare, plus jams, jellies, cheese and crafts.

Musical guests at the Newport market – “as of last year, the second largest in the state,” according to Rocky – include finger picking guitarist Wayne Duvaul, the Sugar River Band and Mike & Mike.

Ninja Monkey and Spike Dogtooth’s appearance Friday, June 12 at Bellows Falls market is part of the “Fred X” – Roots on the River Festival’s 4-day weekend.

There’s also a pair of one-off events celebrating all things “localvore” deserving special mention.

This Sunday is the second annual Hartland Farm Fest, billed as “a celebration of local food, arts and the economy,” with singer-songwriter Jason Cann topping a talented musical lineup.

Finally, at the Saturday, June 6 edition of Brattleboro’s farmer’s market, the Vermont hamlet becomes a real cow town for the “Strolling of the Heifers.”

The event features 100 or so heifers along with all manner of livestock parading through the streets.

Also marching are the 15-member Leland & Gray High School Samba Band, the Quaboag Highlanders bagpipe unit, plus local elementary, middle school and high school bands.

Later, the Hot Club of Portland, Zydeco stalwarts Three Way Street and a few different fiddlers will hold forth in a music tent.

Oh, and five lucky kids will compete in a “moo-off” for a new bike.

Some fun, huh?  Here’s the rest of the week:

Thursday: Natalie MacMaster, Claremont Opera House – Cape Breton’s most fervent musical ambassador, who also happens to be on the most exciting fiddle players on the planet, performs in Claremont for the first time since 2000. There are just a few tickets left for this show, which is not surprising.  When fans experience MacMaster (who’s also quite a step dancer), they want to see her again – and again.

Friday: Talkin’ Smack/Groove, Colburn Park – A Project Graduation party on the Lebanon Green featuring the stellar R&B band formerly known as Junk in the Trunk, led by nimble guitarist/singer Rich Cortese.  Carey Lee Rush sent me a few enthusiastic e-mails about Groove, his latest project. The band includes some familiar local names playing a style described as “New Orleans-style Funky Rockin’ R&B” – can’t wait to hear ‘em.

Saturday: David Newsam & Emily Musty, Elixir – A wonderful combination of talent, with the scholarly (he created the UNH guitar program), nimble-fingered Newsam accompanying Musty, who evokes Bonnie Raitt or Norah Jones with her smooth and soulful singing.  Emily traveled west to try her luck as an actress in 2006. She’s back now, finishing a degree and doing the occasional show.  Hollywood’s loss is the Upper Valley’s gain.

Sunday: Willie Nelson, Meadowbrook US Cellular Pavilion – I have to give props to the author of Nelson’s Wikipedia entry. The anonymous wag pithily labeled him an “elderly, lifelong marijuana-smoking, tax-evading, biodiesel-burning, old-school cowboy-hippie troubadour.”  Nelson’s latest album is “Naked Willie,” a collection of his early (1966-70) tunes with the ham-handed orchestrations stripped from the recordings.

Monday: Sandy Pinkas, Hopkins Center – The Boston Globe called Pinkas, a Dartmouth Professor of Music “a dauntless pianist.” Tonight, she performs a program of music including Beethoven’s Sonata in G Major, Op. 31, No. 1, a “brilliant, whimsical and graceful work emblematic of the composer’s consummate mastery of rhythmic subtlety,” along with selections by Gabriel Fauré and Sergei Prokofiev.

Wednesday: Open Mic, One Mile West – This Sunapee spot is my kind of roadhouse – steaks, burgers, and chicken dishes aplenty.  Best of all, they have 20 beers on tap, including six rotating seasonals, 99 cent PBR and the “always available” Stone Ruination IPA, perhaps the most seductive 20 ounces of snakebite available in a glass.  One or two of those should steel your courage to step up to the microphone and show your chops (musical, that is).

Natalie MacMaster @ Claremont Opera House 28 May 09

Picture 3When Natalie MacMaster walks on stage, anything can happen.

As she and husband Donnell Leahy neared the end of their TED Conference segment a few years back, the chirpy host announced a delay.

“We have ten more minutes,” he reported, almost giddy with excitement.

MacMaster, momentarily flustered, flashed a nervous smile and responded with a phrase that fans of the Cape Breton fiddle master know well:

“All right, okay!  Let’s get ‘er going!”

Hearing familiar notes from her husband’s fiddle, she flapped her arms in a brief chicken dance.

She then rewarded the audience with a lively, leg-swaying (and barefoot) step dance, followed by a stunning bit of piano improvisation, while Leahy played along.

This spontaneous streak runs through everything Natalie MacMaster does.   Her name is synonymous with her native Cape Breton; she is the Canadian island’s most fervent musical ambassador.

But over a career spanning eight studio albums, with a new one due this fall, she’s crossed styles with happy abandon.

She’s dabbled in rock on “Catharsis” (from 1997’s “No Boundaries), mixed Celtic rhythms with electronica (and rap!) on “In My Hands” (from the 1999 album of the same name), and worked with talented Nashville players on the bluegrass-textured “Blueprint” in 2004.

Last year, she performed on Yo-Yo Ma’s Christmas album, which included a stunning collaboration with the cellist and fellow genre-bender Alison Krauss.

Writing about her most recent release, one critic said it “doesn’t deviate from her usual formula, but considering the fact that her ‘usual formula’ consists of filtering traditional Celtic music through the open-ended sieves of jazz, rock, country and Latin, the results are far from predictable.”

“I am a very musical person,” MacMaster said in a recent interview. “I love music, and I don’t just love Cape Breton fiddling, although it’s my favorite.  I love jazz and pop rock and country. I grew up listening to Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Def Leppard, AC/DC, Anne Murray — if I hear something really great … I want to be a part of it.”

Among the many standouts on her latest album (“Yours Truly”) are the rocking “Matt & Nat’s” and MacMaster’s duet with singer Michael McDonald, the traditional standard “Danny Boy.”

Though MacMaster has made many trips to the area over the years, this is her first Claremont appearance since 2000.

“When you return to the same area a few times, you get that frequent rapport with the public and the fans of the music along with having a certain warmth when you walk onstage,” she said recently.

In 2004, MacMaster had further kind words for Twin State music fans.  “There’s some places where, I don’t know if they’re fiddle fans, or Natalie fans or if they just love Celtic music,” she said, “but there’s some places where there’s just awesome crowds,” noting that she recognized many of the same faces returning to her area shows.

On the current tour, a three-piece band backs MacMaster (“more trad,” she explains), including 15-year old cello prodigy Nathaniel Smith, longtime keyboard player Mac Morin and Matt MacIsaac, a pipe and banjo player whose rich musical lineage – his great grandfather was Pipe Major John A. (Black Jack) MacDonald of the Cape Breton Highlanders – rivals MacMaster’s.

Local Rhythms – What Rock and Roll Lifestyle?

Picture 2Whenever my small contribution to the local scene receives a compliment, I’m quick to defer to a more worthy subject.

Dedicated musicians make this column possible.

It’s a constant source of amazement what they’re forced to endure.  Nonchalant diners talk through sets, soused patrons insist on Skynyrd covers and pay to play schemes turn their rock and roll hopes into the stuff of credit card scams.

Still, they persevere.

Pariah Beat plays a hybrid of folk and rock that I call “Klezmericana.”   Their wildly infectious energy has made them one of my favorite area bands.

Last year at this time, they performed a marathon “Pariah Feat” weekend of shows to fund the release of their debut album.  This weekend’s “Pariah Feat II” aims to raise money for a new tour van.

In another era, the California band CAKE asked, “how do you afford your rock and roll lifestyle?” Back then, it meant more that just getting paid enough to keep on working.

Live to play, earn to tour is today’s mantra.

Or, to quote a Pariah Beat song, “a brand new car and a PBR are the American dream/and if I play my cards right that dream could become reality,”

The four-day fundraiser begins Friday at Thetford’s Eclipse Grange with the musical revue, “A Pig’s Tail ~ The Truth Behind the Curious Case of Mysterious Disappearance of Pig & Wolf and Their Miraculous Homeward Odyssey.”

Caring Babies, Jan Meese and others join in the fun – tickets are $10-$18.

The band will busk for tips Saturday in Hanover (Stinson’s Alley, noon-4).  In the evening they’ll move to their de facto home base, WRJ’s Main Street Museum, for a show that’s preceded by the “Hobo Stew and BYO-BBQ” on the Museum Riverside.

The Jitters provide musical entertainment at Sunday’s Pariah Pancake Brunch in Thetford Center, while the band serves flapjacks and scrambled eggs (noon-2 PM, $8).

Later, PB busks again and passes the hat at Hanover’s Dirt Cowboy (9 PM.

Finally, there’s an all-day cookout ($5 music/$5 food) at the Upper Valley Events Center in Norwich.

Guests include T-Town Blues Band (and surprise collaborations). Donated local goods support a Turkish auction and there will be plenty of burgers, dogs, slaws and salads.

All for the sole purpose of getting a great band back on the road so they can play some more – how can you not love that?

Now, on to the rest of the long weekend:

Thursday:  Aaron Seibert, Casa del Sol – This soulful singer-guitarist, hailing from upstate Vermont, has a bit of a Van Morrison vibe going, along with an impressive catalog of original songs.  He also lists Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews as influences, which gives you an idea of where he’s coming from musically. Seibert possess a special kind of energy that really lights up a crowd – Casa del Sol’s tasty food and margaritas should help, too.

Friday: Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, Lebanon Opera House –The raucous singer/harp player was a frequent guest at Bruce Springsteen’s shows in the 70’s; E Street Band guitarist Little Steven produced a few of his R&B infused albums.  Jon Bon Jovi once said he wished he could be Southside Johnny – if only.  Part of the annual “Concerts for the Cause” series of benefits for NH Child and Family Services.

Saturday: Rock On! Fest, Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion – A couple more local bands – Hexerei and Transcent – have secured spots on the bill for this massive all day show, featuring headliner Korn and 30 or so others,  including Claremont’s Soul Octane Burner.  All the performers have a chance to make money on ticket sales and improve their lineup slot – a big improvement over Locobazooka, where most groups struggled to break even.

Sunday: Pete Merrigan, Digby’s on the Deck – Time was, Merrigan’s first outdoor gig at this restaurant in Sunapee Circle signified the return of “Three Season Pete” to the area.  Since he moved back last year, it simply means summer’s starting, which is no less a reason to party.  May weather can be iffy, so here’s hoping the elements cooperate for an afternoon of good vibes and happy music.

Monday: Day Four, Strange Creek Campout  – This is really the mop-up day for Greenfield’s answer to Gathering of the Vibes, which begins Friday and includes big names like New Riders of the Purple Sage, Assembly of Dust, Strangefolk and Max Creek, along with a multitude of others (Ryan Montbleau, Alchemystics) playing on three outdoor stages and two cabins.

Wednesday: CAKE, Lowell Memorial Auditorium – I love this band’s dry with and deadpan humor on songs like “Never There” and “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” and especially “Rock and Roll Lifestyle,” mentioned above.  It strikes a perfect balance of Tom Waits and Frank Zappa, intoning,  “excess ain’t rebellion, you’re drinking what they’re selling.” Indeed.

Local Rhythms – Summer festivals closer

Perhaps it’s the long run of warm weather.

May is barely in the double digits, and I’m already thinking about June, and the start of the summer festival season.

This, to my mind, lasts from Memorial Day to Labor Day

That’s not an exact calendar fit, but it matches the Jackson Gore Music Series perfectly.

The run of free Friday night shows begins May 29th with Gypsy Reel; Buzz Universe plays the finale September 4.

In between, there are festivals everywhere.

Discover Jazz (6/5-14) features big names (Branford Marsalis, Diana Krall) at the Flynn Center and up and coming talent in the Burlington clubs and pubs.

Roots on the River, a/k/a “Fred X” (6/11-14) kicks off with a Sonny Landreth/Chris Smither double bill at the Bellows Falls Opera House; the big Saturday tent show has lots of talented women – Red Molly, the Sweetback Sisters, Jenee Halstead – and namesake Fred Eaglesmith.

Jenny Brook Bluegrass (6/18-21) moves to a new location in Tunbridge, Vermont. Dixie Chicks fans will enjoy female trio Next Best Thing; the Gibson Brothers also return.

Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (6/30-7/12) celebrates its 30th anniversary with typical genre-bending glee, welcoming everyone from Al DiMeola to Jackson Browne.

The 15th annual Basin Bluegrass Festival (7/10-12) is a mostly traditional affair, with a Sunday morning gospel sing-along, and lots of small “field picking” workshops for musicians.

Green River Festival (7/17/-18) kicks off with a Friday night Signature Sounds showcase. 15 artists, led by Richard Shindell, Crooked Still and Rani Arbo, help the indie label celebrate 15 years in business.

Saturday’s all-day show in Greenfield (MA) has a New Orleans flavor, with CJ Chenier, Trombone Shorty and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings among the talent.

Performers are still being added to the free Lowell Folk Festival (7/24-25); perhaps some folk music will join the polka, blues and honky-tonk already booked.

That won’t be a problem for “George Wein’s Folk Festival 50” in Newport, Rhode Island (8/1-2). Pete Seeger, who threatened to cut Bob Dylan’s power supply at the 1965 event, headlines both days, with purists like Arlo Guthrie, Judy Collins and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott joining in.

Complete lineups for these and other shows are on the Local Rhythms Google calendar

More listings are sure to come in the weeks ahead (reader input is appreciated).

It’s going to be a great summer. Here’s what’s on the immediate horizon:

Thursday: Peter Mulvey/Jesse Peters, Boccelli’s – Mulvey’s latest, “Notes From Elsewhere,” is a retrospective of a different sort – re-recorded highlights of his near-20 year career. I’m inspired by Peters’ “Hub and Spoke” tour, which kicks off tonight. The Vermont alt-folkie is will play across three states in as many weeks, traveling entirely by bicycle. Good thing he’s acoustic, as hauling an amp would be problematic.

Friday: Antennas Up, Salt hill Pub – Should be a packed dance floor on the green tonight, if this band’s first CD is any indication. The funkiest nerds I’ve ever heard, the Kansas City trio melds George Clinton grooves to Modest Mouse modernism, with a nod to Boyz to Men and Michael Jackson along the way – “Outta Sight” is a play-by-play homage to the “Billie Jean” video.

Saturday: Roxanne & the Voodoo Rockers, Anchorage – A sure sign of summer is the return of live music to Sunapee Harbor, particularly at this waterside bistro. These blues-rockers should keep the energy level dialed up to 11, with a mix of originals and classics. Keyboard player Sandy Alexander left the band in December to move west – a big loss to the local music scene.

Sunday: Henry Rollins, Portsmouth Music Hall – Poet, punk rocker and raconteur Rollins has found his calling as a spoken word performer, which I guess is another way of saying he’s more cerebral than a stand up comedian, right? He was a fan of Black Flag before joining the band, where he built a reputation as one of the most intense front men in punk or any other genre. These days he prowls the stage without musical backup,

Monday: Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Higher Ground – The most prolific of this artist’s many pen names – he’s been known as the Palace Brothers, Palace and Bonny Billy. “The primary purpose of the pseudonym,” says Will Oldham (his real name), “is to allow both the audience and the performer to have a relationship with the performed that is valid and unbreakable.” Maybe that also explains his Charles Manson beard.

Wednesday: World Music Percussion Ensemble w/ Gypsy Reel, Hopkins Center – African and European cultures combine for “Afro-Celtic music” in this unique performance. Hafiz Shabazz directs the acclaimed Vermont band and the Dartmouth group for a program that mixes Irish and Scottish reels and jigs with songs, rhythms and dances from the West African countries of Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal.

Local Rhythms – Twitter for music? I’m in.

picture-18I’ve come around to Twitter.

For the longest time, it just seemed frivolous.  So you’re stuck in the airport, or navigating the Starbucks latte line.  Who cares?

Then I learned how to use blip.fm to Tweet music to my peeps.

For the uninitiated, a tweet is Twitter’s hybrid of a Facebook status update and an instant message; peeps are recipients, your Twitter followers.

One of the big challenges of writing about music is finding ways for people to hear it.

Enter blip.fm, the web site that lets anyone program a radio station and tweet it to the world.

It’s not the first tool to do this.  But I’ve find imeem, i.Like and other music recommendation services a bit cumbersome.

Blip.fm does a good job with the basics.

Their large peer-to-peer database makes picking music a breeze, and “blipping” a song automatically generates a tweet.

My site (http://blip.fm/LocalRhythms) includes music covered in this space, by performers – Stonewall, Conniption Fits, Jenee Halstead, and others – that you likely won’t hear on the radio.

Here’s why.  The Future of Music Coalition recently published a study showing that around 80 percent of all material on radio playlists comes from major labels – worse yet, almost 50 percent was released before 1999.

The numbers haven’t changed in four years.

But while the public apparently recognizes this steady stream of one-hit wonders and golden oldies for the calculated gruel it is, neither a payola scandal nor a slump rivaled only by the auto industry has reversed this self-destructive trend.

Clear Channel, the largest owner of American radio stations, has shed 12 percent of its workforce since the start of this year.  Last week another big player, Cumulus, ordered employees to take 5 days of unpaid leave as a cost-saving measure.

But like Detroit, it’s doubtful they’ve learned any lessons.  Big Radio will probably do the safety dance of homogenization (their own SUV) right into the grave.

I don’t expect my humble Internet outpost to completely replace that, but at least it will offer a way for readers to judge with their ears some of the music I discuss each week.

Follow me on Twitter (account name: mwitthaus), to hear about songs as they’re added.  I’ll also tweet links to interesting articles and blog posts.

But if I ever share my sandwich order, or an opinion about my dentist’s waiting room, please cancel – and get me into treatment.  Meanwhile, here’s what’s happening:

Thursday: Jason Cann, Harpoon Brewery – If you haven’t been to the newly remodeled and expanded tavern at Harpoon’s Windsor location, the addition of the region’s best-kept singer-songwriter secret as a regular Thursday attraction should provide the impetus.  But the multitude of brews on tap should draw you in anyway, not to mention the food.

Friday: Roadhouse, Imperial Lounge – That axiom about a day job being “the gig that pays for the gig”?  This band embodies it and then some.  The members of Roadhouse are working class locals who’ve been playing in the area for years, mostly covering their favorites – Benetar, Seger, AC/DC are right in their wheelhouse – and mainly having a good time.

Saturday: DeVote Dance Party, White River Junction Elks – A techno benefit for Upper Valley Haven features four DJs – Shar4 and 1200 Terrorist of the Tronic Crew (VT and NH chapters respectively), Robot Ears and DJ Alchemic.  The event promises non-stop dance music played through a top-notch sound system, all for $5 and a non-perishable food item, gently used piece of clothing or a book.

Sunday: Ameranouche Trio, Grafton Old Tavern – This gypsy jazz trio’s music has been featured in movies, heard at last year’s Newport Jazz Festival and called a state “best of “ by New Hampshire Magazine.  They play intricate, jazzy and mostly instrumental tunes.  Listening to them reminded me of a day I spent in Montmarte, Paris.  The band’s second CD was just released, so the night (at one of the oldest venues in the U.S.) should be a happy one.

Monday: 200 Years of Vermont Popular Music, Woodstock Historical Society – Singer, researcher and recently retired teacher Linda Radtke dressed in period costume, is joined by pianist John Lincoln.  The program brings Vermont history to life with performances of, and commentary about, the songs found in the Vermont Historical Society’s collection of sheet music – mostly community-published songs.  It’s old school local music.

Tuesday: Billy Rosen/David Westphalen, Tip Top Café – Billy’s one of my favorite guitarists, with a soft touch on the fret board. Downtown White River Junction is jumping again, with the newly re-opened Elixir bringing the tunes 4-5 nights a week, but the Tip-Top, with regular live music (and its auxiliary bakery’s Friday night folk series) has kept the beat going. Good food, too.

Visit http://blip.fm/LocalRhythms to hear music mentioned in Local Rhythms

At 90, Pete Seeger isn’t slowing down

Photo Credit: Thom Wolke
Photo Credit: Thom Wolke

As a beaming Pete Seeger bounded across the star-studded Madison Square Garden stage midway through his 90th birthday celebration Sunday night, Thom Wolke looked on in amazement.

“Man,” he thought, “I’d like this much energy when I turn 50!”

Wolke watched from backstage as Guy Davis, the blues man he’s managed for several years, performed at the event.

Davis calls Seeger his “Uncle Pete.”  The two met when Davis was a youngster attending summer camp.   The upstate Vermont camp was run by Pete’s brother John, whom Davis credits with introducing him to the blues – as well as teaching him to play the banjo.

Davis, and his mother, actress and civil rights activist Ruby Dee, who was also on hand, had plenty of company for the evening – a veritable who’s who of the entertainment world.

“It was something out of this world, almost surreal but it seemed to make sense,” says Thom, who runs his Twin Cloud artist management company out of his Plainfield home.

Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie and Ben Harper were just some of the performers who contributed to the near-four hour show.

The assembled multitude, which also included Hollywood power couple Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, crowded the stage at show’s end for a rousing sing-along of “This Land Is Your Land.”

Even Oscar the Grouch made an appearance, asking folksinger Tom Chapin the reason for the large crowd.

“Pete Seeger is turning 90,” explained Chapin.

“Geez, I thought he was 100,” replied the Sesame Street character.  Later, he sang “Garbage” in honor of the occasion.

“Oscar was the most popular celebrity of the whole night,” laughed Wolke.  “I asked for an autograph – he ate my pencil, and told me to have a rotten day.”

Seeger shows no signs of slowing down.  This summer (on August 1st and 2nd), he’ll headline both days of “George Wein’s Folk Festival 50,” formerly known as the Newport Folk Festival.

Many of those who played at Sunday’s show will be on hand for the 50th anniversary of the festival – Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Del McCoury, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Billy Bragg, Tom Morello and the folksinger’s grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger.

Other scheduled Newport performers include Judy Collins (who will share the stage with Seeger), Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, The Decemberists, Fleet Foxes, The Avett Brothers, Iron & Wine, Mavis Staples, Ben Kweller, The Low Anthem, Brett Dennen, Tift Merritt, Langhorne Slim, Neko Case, The Campbell Brothers, Josh Ritter, Elvis Perkins in Dearland, Tim Eriksen & Shape Note Singers, Guy Clark, Deer Tick, Balfa Toujours, Dala Girls and Joe Pug.

After drifting away from the folk music mantle – Jimmy Buffett and the Black Crowes were recent headliners – this year’s festival is moving back to its roots.

Seeger was a mainstay at the earliest gatherings.  Ironically, it’s also the same festival where, in 1965, he famously threatened to cut the power with an axe when Bob Dylan went electric.