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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.