Local Rhythms – Summertime dream

Some cure the winter blues by browsing through seed catalogs; I think about outdoor music.

Things like news of Meadowbrook’s first booking (Reba McEntire, August 21), James Taylor and Carole King together again at Tanglewood in the Berkshires (July 3 & 4), the Mayhem Festival with KORN and Rob Zombie (Comcast Center, Mansfield, July 27) cause me to skip directly past spring, and dream about summer.

As sure as the inveterate gardener places the year’s first bulb order, in mid-January Ray Massucco starts shaking my tree about the annual Roots on the River Festival, known far and wide as Fredfest, for headliner Fred Eaglesmith.

Since Ray took over production and promotion of the June event from Charlie Hunter a couple of years ago, the festival hasn’t lost a step, and last years’ Fred X was one of the best yet.

The eleventh edition of Roots on the River, dubbed Fred Elevensmith and scheduled for June 10-13, is starting to take shape.

That’s exciting news.

Two big names from past festivals are returning. The always crowd-pleasing Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams will play during the all-day Saturday show.

The powerful and soul-stirring Mary Gauthier will close out the weekend solo at the Rockingham Meetinghouse, something she did memorably in 2008.

“Mary’s taking her rightful place,” says Ray

Last year Chris Smither inaugurated the Bellows Falls Opera House as a Fredfest venue, and another big name will kick off the festival in similar fashion for 2010.

Steve Earle was nearly booked to play, but scheduling conflicts got in the way.

DADDY, a duo with award-winning songwriters Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack, also appears Saturday. I always walk away from Roots with one new favorite – this year it could be DADDY.

Between now and June, Ray’s Vermont Festivals promotion company is keeping busy, with three shows set for the Boccelli’s on the Canal performance space (the café remains closed).

Eilen Jewell plays wonderful throwback country swing on Friday, February 26.  Guitar maestro Brooks Williams comes to town a week later on Saturday, March 6.

Local favorite Peter Mulvey returns Saturday, April 10 and songwriter Tom Russell appears Wednesday, June 2 – a rare Charlie Hunter presentation.

Friday’s Andre Watts gala at the BF Opera House, one of Ray’s more genteel projects, is nearly sold out. “Steinway concert grand, tuxedos, furs and champagne will be the order of the night,” he says.

On to the rest of the week:

Thursday, Jan 28: Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Hopkins Center – Now in its fifth decade, this premier jazz ensemble began when Thad Jones and Mel Lewis left jobs with two jazz giants, Count Basie and Stan Kenton. They’ve been touring ever since, and last year won a Grammy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble.  The New York Sun called them “the most influential jazz big band of the contemporary era.” The show includes a post-performance Q&A session with the band.

Friday, Jan. 29: Ron Noyes Band, Salt hill Pub – A gutsy, blues-infused brand of rock has allowed this Concord quartet to succeed where many area bands falter — playing mostly original music for crowds expecting covers. Their material “seems familiar, even on first listen,” said ShP owner Josh Tuohy, who called them “one of the best young groups in New Hampshire.” Noyes and company is hard at work on a new album; early previews indicate it’s a stunner.

Saturday, Jan. 30: Spectris, East Buffet – Recently, someone complained to me about a band – I won’t say which one – that’s covered the same songs for a decade.  No such problems with Spectris, constantly expanding their repertoire with new material.  The power trio’s original music is also first-rate, evidenced by last year’s CD, Industry.

Sunday, Jan. 31: Gully Boys Reunion, Casa del Sol – An Groundhog Day institution moves south to Ascutney.  The Gully Boys grew out of a Quechee Deadhead party a few days after Jerry Garcia’s death.  They’ve had a lot of members come and go.   Every year around this time, anyone who can make it gathers for a jam session that can last hours, which explains why this special Sunday show starts at 1 in the afternoon.

Monday, Feb. 1: Open Mic with Frank Greiner, Bentley’s – Everyone’s hosting open auditions these days, partly due to the economy.  Mainly it’s because the barriers to performing music have been stripped away.  This Woodstock restaurant is the latest in the fray, and Jim Ruffing recently began hosting one at Electra in West Lebanon.

Tuesday, Feb. 2: Adam McMahon Trio, Windsor Station – Good blues from a nice guy who’s also an Iraq veteran, while enjoying tasty bar food, a party vibe on Tuesday night and the occasional drone of a train lumbering by.  How many more reasons do you need to head to the Station to see Adam McMahon play?

This week’s Hippo – Without Paris covers the bases

It’s hard to stand out as a cover band, but Manchester-based Without Paris always walks on stage determined to be bigger than the venue they’re playing. The quartet prides itself on special touches, like the woodblocks keyboard player Rich Ashooh taps together for “All Right Now,” the four-part harmonies on Queen’s “Tie Your Mother Down,” or their left field takes of songs by the Four Seasons, Scissor Sisters or Maroon 5.

“Everyone in the band is pretty competitive,” said drummer Carlo Carluccio. “I’m probably the most, of course.”

That’s an understatement. For the 45-yearold Carlucci, music is a hobby, albeit an elaborate and consuming one. How many bar bands have uniformed roadies?

Read more…

This week’s Hippo – Ya gotta laugh

A guy walks into a bar …

At a weekly promotion at Mottley’s Comedy Club in Boston, anyone who shows up on a Wednesday night with a pink slip, unemployment check stub or some other proof of joblessness gets into the club for free. Mottley’s calls it a “Comedy Bailout” — when everything else fails, all that’s left is laughter.

“You can’t be sick, sore or tired if you’re laughing,” said agent and comedian Mike Smith, whose Laugh Riot Productions books shows throughout the region, at venues including Tupelo Music Hall and the recently opened Boynton’s Taproom.

Rob Steen is a stand-up comic and promoter, operating Headliners clubs in Manchester, Gilford and Newington, along with locations in Portland and Auburn, Maine. With 14 or 15 New Hampshire venues, including an annual series at Concord’s Capitol Center for the Arts, Steen said business is booming.

Read more…

This week’s Hippo – Ron Noyes lays low, works on album

The Ron Noyes Band’s gutsy, blues-infused brand of rock has allowed them to succeed where many area bands falter — playing mostly original music for crowds expecting covers.

The Concord quartet’s material “seems familiar, even on first listen,” said Josh Tuohy, who called them “one of the best young groups in New Hampshire.” Tuohy regularly books Noyes and his band mates — Tim Gray, Chuck Tufankjian and Jarrod Taylor — into his Lebanon and Newport bars, including the only appearances scheduled between now and April, as they scale back on performing to focus on finishing their first studio work in four years.

“We’re laying low right now,” Noyes said recently from his Concord home. “We’ll just play enough to knock out the rent, and give our full attention to the album.”

Read more…

This week’s Hippo – Maiden-capable @ Estabrook

Jazz and dinner go together like scotch and soda. In the case of Estabrook Grill, perhaps chicken and pepperoni – key ingredients in the Nashua dining spot’s Tuscan chicken sandwich – is a better analogy.

Estabrook’s culinary pedigree set it apart when the restaurant opened last spring – comfort food with flair, affordable yet upscale home cooking. The restaurant has taken a similarly unique approach to live music.

Maiden-capable, the regular Wednesday night band at Estabrook, favors free form improvisational flights, with Justin Piper stitching ferocious guitar licks over Peter Maclean’s polyrhythmic drumming.

When Kevin O’Brien holds down the rhythm, it’s on electric bass, not upright.

The trio’s roots are in rock music – Piper and O’Brien regularly play classic rock with Mindseye down the street at Peddler’s Daughter, and “Maiden-capable” is a nod to heavy metal band Iron Maiden’s signature way of ending songs.

Read more …

Local Rhythms – Teaching a love of music

Even if you don’t have a child in the school system, I urge anyone who enjoys good music to attend at least one musical performance at Stevens High School.

But Saturday afternoon’s Monadnock Valley Music Festival at Stevens should definitely not to be missed.  It’s a unique gathering of 103 talented musicians, representing 10 New Hampshire schools, conducted by the inspirational guest conductor George Parks.

An 83-member all-star choir led by Hartford High School’s Rob Gattie will also perform.

My son played trumpet in the Stevens Band before he graduated in 2003. This pastime brought my wife and I much happiness.

I have especially fond memories of October weekends, when the Stevens band would pile into a school bus and head south down 91 to Amherst.

They’d gather for University of Massachusetts Band Day, an event conceived by UMass marching band director Parks.

During halftime of a Minutemen football game, perhaps the world’s largest marching band assembled to play for the crowd.

There were units representing schools from all over New England; they covered virtually every square inch of the field.

It was amazing to watch hundreds of kids who’d never met, let alone played together, hit every note.

They’d spent the morning rehearsing with Parks. By day’s end, his call-and-response mantra – “feet together, stomach in, elbows locked, chin up, eyes with pride” – was locked in their brains.

After the game, the high school kids stayed to watch the award-winning UMass band do their thing.

The experience caused more than a few of them to continue music into college.

This is the first time Parks has led the Monadnock Valley Music Festival gathering, which is being held in Claremont after an 8-year run in Keene.

I have no doubt that he will coax the absolute best out of these fine young players.

He’s put together a program that includes Holst’s “First Suite In E Flat,” considered to be among the most important concert band pieces of all time.

They’ll also perform the Spanish-tinged “Agüero (Paso Doble)” and “Dusk.”

The vocal performance will also be a treat, with the traditional spiritual “Ain’t-A That Good News” combined with James Taylor’s “That Lonesome Road,” which sounds hymn-like when sung by a choir.

Go to this show and see what’s right with education, what’s good about our kids.

Parks will spend Friday night before the festival at the new Common Man Inn.

Hopefully, it will give him a positive impression of Claremont equal to the one he’ll leave us with.

On to the rest of the week:

Thursday, Jan 14: Two-Man Gentleman Band, Main Street Museum – The first time this throwback duo came to town, they appeared at Salt hill Pub.  I think this offbeat museum in downtown White River Junction will suit them even better.  The bric-a-brac on the walls and vintage toys in glass cases are a perfect complement to their Dr. Demento sound.

Friday, Jan. 15: Folk by Association, Moonlight Café – This female duo plays lilting baroque folk reminiscent of Pentangle and Fairport Convention.  One writer called them a “female Simon and Garfunkel.” This little performance space, located in Springfield’s Hartness House Inn, has been booking some very interesting talent lately.  It’s definitely worth a visit.

Saturday, Jan. 16: Comedy with Paul D’Angelo, New London Outing Club – A comedian who began as a lawyer, D’Angelo is part of a new wave of comedians that’s energizing the standup scene from Boston to Portland, Maine.  Joining D’Angelo is funny man Steve Bjork, no relation to the Icelandic singer.  The nonprofit Outing Club is located in Cougar Court in New London – bet one of them riffs on that name.

Sunday, Jan. 17: Harry Manx, Tunbridge Town Hall – The Canadian “East Meets West” bluesman was a hit opening for Richie Havens in Woodstock a few months back.  He’s quite unconventional, melding Indian folk with delta rhythms and playing the sitar-cum-guitar Mohan veena, as well as lap steel, harmonica, guitar and banjo. Manx invites you to visit the musical world he inhabits, a place called “Mysticsippi”.

Tuesday, Jan. 19: Irish Sessions, Salt hill Pub – The Tuohy dynasty is growing, with Hanover set to open in a matter of months if not weeks.  The weekly sessions continue in Lebanon, 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. Chris Stevens, Roger Burridge and Dave Loney are regulars, with interesting guests often stopping by.

Wednesday, Jan. 20: Billy Rosen, Canoe Club – One of my favorite “soft touch” guitarists goes solo in Hanover, playing selections from the Great American Songbook, and channeling players like Wes Montgomery, George Benson and Kenny Burrell.  There’s always great music to accompany a tasty meal at CC – 363 days a year.

This week’s Compass


Worth driving out of town

What: Little Feat

Where: Colonial Theatre, 95 Main Street, Keene

When: Friday, Jan. 15, 8 p.m.

Tickets: $45/$41/$29

More: 357-1233

Distance: 40 Miles

Frank Zappa fired Lowell George from the Mothers of Invention in 1969 and told him to form a band. Well, perhaps “fired” is too strong a word, but the end result was Little Feat, formed with former Mothers Roy Estrada and Richie Hayward, and George’s pal Bill Payne.

Their first album contained “Willin’,” a song Zappa could have probably used if he’d given it a chance. The band made some great records and earned a reputation as one of the most energetic live bands around until George’s untimely death in 1979.

Bill Payne reformed Little Feat nine years later and they haven’t let up since, adding a few more standards like “Let it Roll” to a repertoire that includes “Dixie Chicken,” “Sailin’ Shoes” and many others. One of the most rhythmic live bands around, seats become superfluous by about the fourth of fifth song, as everybody gets up to dance – even in a staid place like the Colonial.

Donna the Buffalo will open the show with a set of their quirky Americana, which gained recognition with 2008’s “Silverlined.”


Mark your calendar

What: Connecticut River Valley Orchestra: Stories in Music

Where: Claremont Opera House, Opera House Square, Claremont

When: Sunday, February 7 at 1 p.m.

Tickets: $35/$25/$20(Seniors)/$10 (Students)

More: 542-4433 or go to www.claremontoperahouse.com

Rescheduled to accommodate the Super Bowl later in the evening, the latest installment of the wonderful community orchestra’s 2009-2010 series is geared to the younger set – both in age and heart. Max Culpepper again conducts, with guest tuba player Harry Critchley assuming the musical role of Tubby the Tuba for one of the pieces.

The orchestra also performs “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” well-known from Disney’s Fantasia, and Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” the latter popular a half-century ago with fans of the Lone Ranger radio program.

Stephen Langley, well known for his work with the Dartmouth Wind Symphony, narrates each piece’s accompanying story – Tubby searching for his own song, William Tell meeting the challenge of shooting an arrow through an apple on his son’s head in order to save them from a wicked emperor, and the sorcerer’s apprentice’s battle with a magic broom.

The final performance of the both educational and entertaining program is the timeless “Peter and the Wolf,” the story of a clever child enlisting the help of an animal friend to overcome a wolf in the forest.


Local Music Spotlight

Who:  Higher Ground Band

What:  Top-notch country band

Sounds Like: Sugarland, Trisha Yearwood, Eagles

More: www.highgroundband.com

Led by former Rattlesnake Ridge singer/guitarist Mike Olivier and NH Country Music Association award winner Corina Ouellette on vocals and keyboards, High Ground emphasizes the harmony in country music.  They’re popular for playing covers in places like Shenanigans and Imperial Lounge, but the five piece band, which also includes Ed Leavitt on guitar and vocals, drummer Rick Leavitt and Ken Mello (Dog Days, NH Rock Bottom Band) on bass, also has an impressive catalog of original songs.

High Ground is working on an album for release later this year, and samples of the songs in progress can be heard on their web site.  The band is also very civic minded, working tirelessly for Dartmouth charity David’s House – they even wrote a song about it, along with the tear-jerker “Praying for an Angel,” penned by Ed Leavitt.

For a taste of High Ground’s energetic side, check out the video of “Another Notch” from a television appearance in Burlington last year.

Upcoming gigs:

Friday, Jan. 22 – Imperial Lounge in Claremont

Friday, Feb. 5 – Shenanigans in White River Junction “KIXX and Chicks Night”

Saturday, Feb. 13 – Lake Morey Inn, Fairlee, Vermont

Local Rhythms – Resolutions

Like any self-respecting citizen, I’ve begun 2010 by making a bunch of promises to myself that may or may not survive the year.

Mine’s a pretty typical list, but I’ve added a twist to heighten the chances of success. Each resolution leverages a habit I already have, which I’m unlikely to break.

Get in shape –Joining a gym is problematic for any number of reasons, but you can become a no-carb couch potato with Wii Fit. With virtual snowboards, tennis rackets and golf clubs, video game addicts now have a purposeful excuse for never leaving the living room.

Stay in touch – Use the Internet to connect with long-lost friends. 2009 will go down in history as the year of Facebook – everyone has an account. Resolve to update your status every day and friends will follow, guaranteed.

Manage money – Go see a local band playing a no-cover show. Many if not most area venues eschew charging patrons for live music. Grab a beer, and don’t be shy about getting on the dance floor.

Dump credit cards – Boycott Ticketmaster, and pay cash for everything else. Concert tickets cost too much anyway, and whether or not the Live Nation merger happens, the evil empire will always be a closed ecosystem.

Save the planet – Go green with music. Stop buying CDs, and resolve to purchase music online. Buy a Roku or an Xbox 360, sign up for Netflix, and watch high definition movies without leaving the house. Or buy them from iTunes – either way, physical media is irrelevant.

Read more – With an e-reader, you can buy more books for less money. Amazon Kindle owners buy and finish more books than regular readers. Here’s a bonus – it’s also environmentally responsible.

Manage time – Watch television on a Tivo (or any DVR). Turn on the set, hit the pause button and return 30 minutes later to start viewing. Fewer annoying ads means more quality time (I know, leaving it off completely means even more).

Do charitable deeds – How about volunteering to be a street team member for your favorite band? At a minimum, support local independent music by buying a t-shirt at a shows or songs from iTunes, Rhapsody or Amie Street (a little slice of indie heaven). Or buy a CD – there are those for whom the disc is a sort of talisman, proof of studio time. Cut them some slack.

On to the rest of the week:

Thursday, Jan 7: Grupo de Rua, Moore Theatre – This fascinating hip-hop dance troupe is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, with choreography that’s a cross between ballet and bumper cars. Led by Brazilian visionary Bruno Beltrão, they employ tripped-out electronica music and inventive lighting motifs for a groundbreaking, taboo-smashing program. Tonight marks the U.S. premiere of Grupo de Rua’s latest performance piece, H3.

Friday, Jan. 8: Without Paris, Salt hill Pub – A Manchester cover band making its first area appearance, with a decades-spanning set list. They apparently spend a great deal of time making up stories to explain their curious name. The best involves a dog, named Paris, who ate too much cheese at a battle of the bands. The four members met outside as they fled the canine gas attack. Without Paris, there would be no band.

Saturday, Jan. 9: Exit Only, Shenanigans – When he’s not singing and playing lead guitar for ace country band High Ground or helping run SRH Soundworks, the great music gear store on Washington Street in Claremont, Mike Oliver sits in with a few other bands. I don’t know a lot about Exit Only; I’m told they stick mostly to a rock groove. What I do know is Mike’s a good guy who deserves a plug.

Sunday, Jan. 10: Nathan Brady Lane, Canoe Club – This is my hunch pick. Lane’s music is described as a mix of original Americana and covers – acoustic blues, folk, country, bluegrass, and rockabilly. He employs looping stations to live layer percussion, bass, guitar, lead, vocals and harmonies – a true one-man band. Historically, Sunday is the most interesting day of the week at Canoe Club, so this could be good.

Tuesday, Jan. 12: David Cain, Jax (Killington) – Fans of Matt Nathanson and John Mayer will enjoy this Connecticut-based singer-songwriter. Tonight he sits in with Jamie Livesey of Jamie’s Junk Show for the weekly Tuesday Night Music Club. Cain generated a lot of buzz with the Neighborhood Band, and this is his only area appearance before heading out west for a show at Hollywood’s Genghis Cohen club.

Wednesday, Jan. 13: Rare Degree, Dartmouth College – This adventurous performance (free, 12:30 p.m. start) features Michael Straus on saxophones, recyclable objects and electronics, with Dana Jessen playing bassoon, squeaky toys, Tibetan bowls and bamboo. Intrigued? The program features original works by Peter VZ Lane, Alex Kotch, Cory Kasprzyk, Matthew Burtner and Jessen.