Want people to come to your town to eat, drink and buy things? Try the power of music.
Last Saturday, at the 9th annual Keene Music Festival, a city of 22,000 was transformed into Austin, Texas, for a one day South by Southwest New Hampshire.
From noon until near midnight, eighty or so musicians played inside buildings and under tents in the street. While people enjoyed the talent, stores and restaurants stayed pretty crowded too.
You’re probably thinking this sort of thing can only take place in a college town like Keene.
Not so, says the event’s talent coordinator, Kevin Dremel. “We’ve got a template to do this in any town that wants it,” he said from a table in front of the EF Lane Hotel.
As a steady stream of artists, carrying and pushing equipment up Main Street, came by to check in, Dremel explained how it works.
Like the words of the Joni Mitchell song, everyone truly “plays real good for free.”
“The key thing is that no one makes any money,” he said. “But we treat the musicians very well.”
While bands aren’t paid for their work, they do profit in other ways.
There’s a hospitality room, stocked with complimentary food and beverages, where players relax before and after performances. Each set is mixed with professional sound, while a camera crew from the local public access channel films everything.
The local record store sells the artists’ CDs commission-free.
Businesses, merchants, civic & municipal organizations all share the costs; town residents & volunteers serve as staff. This year, Magic Hat Brewing became the first outside corporate participant in the event’s history.
The idea, says Dremel, is to keep growing, but not too much. “Every year we ask ourselves, how can we make it bigger and still keep it intimate?”
Good for them, but what about a downtown in a slow recovery – like Claremont?
Here’s a modest proposal. Lead with some strength by putting performers in picturesque places like the new Sugar River Bridge, the Common Man courtyard or the balcony at the end of Opera House Square, and create a path to downtown.
Put music in a few empty storefronts, sell local artisan work in others, and bring the Farmer’s Market indoors for a day.
Claremont’s fine restaurants and businesses can do the rest.
Call me crazy, but I believe with a little vision, and the help offered by Kevin Dremel’s nonprofit team, it could happen.
It should happen.
On to the rest of the week:
Thursday: Carlos Ocasio, Brown’s Tavern – Ocasio reminds me just how cross-pollinated the local music scene is. He plays in different bands (Frydaddy and occasionally Gusano), and gigs solo all over the Upper Valley, doing Caribbean Quattro, delta slide blues, acoustic gospel and soul. He’s been a part of the local music scene for about as long as there’s been one.
Friday: Pete Merrigan, Casa del Sol – Well, I guess summer’s over, since Pete played his final deck show at Digby’s in Sunapee last Sunday. However, I’m still waiting for owner Bill Henne to let Pete play outdoors. The new Clam Hut behind his Ascutney cantina is perfect for Pete’s brand of island music, which includes a lot of Jimmy Buffett and some great original songs. C’mon, Bill, there’s only a few weeks left – keep the summer alive!
Saturday: Spectris, Shenanigans – The progressive rockers turned power trio have a new album, Industry, on the way. Bassist Josh Mosher anchors a more aggressive, guitar-forward sound that takes its cues from power trios like Tool (and Rush, which means they haven’t completely forsaken their progressive rock roots). Look for several Claremont Spectris shows in the coming months.
Sunday: Open Music Collective – This Brattleboro-based organization is made up of local, regional and national artists who both perform and teach music. Today’s show, held at the Cotton Mill, is a benefit. Performers included Dave “Goody” Goodrich, Kate Parsons, Sunny Lowdown, Phil Bloch and others. The real value provided by this group is their desire to help anyone, regardless of age or ability, develop their musical talent. A $20 donation is suggested. Call 802-275-5054 for details.
Tuesday: Draa Hobbs, Canoe Club – Hobbs gigged with a long list of jazz luminaries, did a stint in Al Alessi’s band, held forth at Oona’s before the fire, and helped singer-songwriter Lisa McCormick with her most recent album. His soft touch reminds me of Wes Montgomery or George Benson. He’s also a member of the Open Music Collective mentioned above and, according to his web site, hates guitar capos.
Wednesday: Loose Few, Curtis’s Barbeque – Are fantastic ribs, pulled pork and chicken worth the out of the way drive to Putney, Vermont? Yes, if you add in a fun jam band with a fondness for inviting anyone with enough gumption to join. Close your eyes and take and bite – you’ll swear you’re in Memphis.