Local Rhythms – Autumn is my favorite color

When I first came here, autumn in New England meant nothing to me. Born and raised in California, I only knew two seasons – raining and not raining.

But after 30-plus years, fall’s crisp dawns, metallic blue skies, wood smoke and turning leaves thrill me as much as any native.

I know, I’m still a flatlander.

Of course, the sheer volume of festivals in late September and early October is another reason I love this change of season. Here are a few I’m looking forward to in the coming weeks.

All of them pretty close to home:

The Sunapee Chowder Challenge, always a tasty battle, will be held this Sunday, September 27 on the harbor. Bubba’s in Newbury won the People’s Choice award last year, while the Anchorage took the judge’s prize. If you’re not a fan of seafood, this year’s competition will also introduce a “soup master” category.

Yum – comfort food.

Speaking of which, the Claremont Fall Festival on Saturday, October 3 includes a chili cook-off and an apple pie contest. It’s being held for the first time in the new Visitors Center Park. Downtown, 18 students and 7 adult actors will present an all-day living history performance called “The Pride of Pleasant Street.”

Windsor’s Moondance is always a lot of fun, with dueling LED hula-hoops, a microbrew beer garden, Celtic music and stories from Jennings and Ponder. Club Soda also performs at the event, which happens from 5-10p.m. on Friday, October 9.

The 62nd Warner Fall Foliage Festival, held October 9 through 11, is in a word, huge. It literally covers the entire town. There’s a midway with carnival rides, a farmer’s market, parades, crafts and an oxen pull. There’s also music from the East Bay Jazz Ensemble, Fountain Square Ramblers and others.

The annual Harpoon Octoberfest, held at the Windsor brewery on October 10 & 11, includes a German oompa band and plenty of Bavarian food like sausage and sauerkraut. Oh, and there’s lots of good beer. What more could you ask for?

The family-friendly Springfield Apple Festival also happens on the 10th and 11th, with cider, fried dough, crafts, pony rides and other distractions – most of them edible.  There’s also music, including local favorite Alli Lubin.

Finally, the Newport Opera House Masquerade Ball with Last Kid Picked on Halloween night typically sells out. With an extra hour due to the end of Daylight Savings Time, it should be a gas.

On to the rest of the week:

Thursday, September 24: Jason Cann, Harpoon Brewery – The expanded brewpub is, it turns out, a great music venue. Jason is the perfect choice for entertainment, which is why he’s a regular Thursday attraction. He covers the Grateful Dead and Dave Matthews, reinvents Michael Jackson songs, and does “Please Come to Boston” better than Dave Loggins, who wrote it. But I like his originals, like “I Want,” a free download on his jasoncann.com website.

Friday, September 25: Community & Youth Connect, Broad Street Park – Chris Kazi Rolle is a playwright, rapper and motivational speaker whose life is the subject of a movie, The Hip Hop Project. That’s also the name of Rolle’s after school music project, which travels the country and stops today in Claremont at 4p.m. Rolle’s performance is followed by a local battle of the bands at 6p.m.

Saturday, September 26: Gatsby Gala, Cornish Colony Museum – Though a bit pricey at $75 a ticket, this re-creation of a night at a Roaring Twenties speakeasy is nonetheless intriguing. The Downtown Windsor location is a secret that’s only revealed (along with a password) after guests RSVP for the event. It’s all for a good cause, with dinner and music by the Gerry Grimo-led East Bay Jazz Ensemble.

Sunday, September 27: Stolen by Gypsies, Parker House (Quechee) –Samantha Moffatt sings and plays accordion, with Mike Gareau on fiddle and mandolin and the ubiquitous Dave Clark on bass. Stolen by Gypsies plays French folk music, the kind that goes well with cheese, a piece of crusty bread and a glass of good red wine. This is an outdoor event, held weather permitting from 6-10p.m., so be sure to call ahead of time.

Tuesday, September 29: Traditional Irish Session, Salt hill Pub – If you live or commute to the Upper Valley, there are few better ways to end the work day than this song circle, which starts at 6p.m. and takes a different form every time it happens. It’s led by Chris Stevens, Roger Burridge and Dave Loney, but things really get fun when guests begin showing up.

Wednesday, September 30: Mark & Deb Bond, Ramunto’s – Yippee, another music venue in Claremont, something I’d always for this riverfront pizza/sub sit-down restaurant.  The bar’s great, the beer selection is first rate, and the calzones are fantastic.  How great that music’s been added to the mix.

Thanks to Jesse Baker for this week’s headline!

Local Rhythms – A Ride Down Autumn’s Highway

wcleaves.jpgAs I write this, the weatherman is forecasting warm, dry weekend weather.   

The New Hampshire state tourism bureau expects over 600,000 leaf-peepers, up 1 percent from last year.  Whether you’re a transplant like me or a multi-generation native, autumn’s charms are irresistible.

Is there a better time to be in New England? 

So let’s put aside our crankiness at flatlanders, who tend to slow down to 10 miles per hour at the oddest times, and map a local route to the pleasures of the season.

We’ll begin in Springfield, Vermont, a little town that’s the official home of the Simpsons, and for this Saturday and Sunday, the Vermont Apple Festival.   

Stop by and enjoy some warm cider, apple flapjacks and buy a few crafts. 

Be sure to make time for the music, which includes kid’s favorite Alli Lubin, Americana duo Josh Maiocco and Jesse Peters, the folksy Bradford Bog People and Three Way Street, an acoustic trio that travels a musical journey from 30’s swing to modern bluegrass. 

Speaking of travel … get in the car and take a ride across the Cheshire Bridge (I miss the toll booth, but not the toll), head down Lover’s Lane, and pick up Route 12 to Claremont.

The center of Saturday’s Fall Festival is the Chili Cook-Off, which closes off Pleasant Street for the day.  For a small price, any opinionated soul can be a food critic.  Though it’s a good-natured competition, the entrants take their chili very seriously.   

The only appropriate music for this soiree is Claremont’s Flames, for obvious reasons.  John Lovejoy leads the four-piece through classic rock chestnuts like “Hot Blooded.”

Now that our are bellies warm and full, it’s time for a slow drive to Warner.  Few vistas rival the Sunapee region in early October.   

Little Lake Todd, just before Bradford, is particularly beautiful. 

Take your time rolling along Route 103 – the other drivers will think you’re a tourist in a rental car, which is kind of fun. 

Warner hosts the Fall Foliage Festival (Saturday and Sunday), now in its 60th year.  There’s food, crafts and fun, including a pie-eating contest for kids, an oxen pull and a country bazaar.

The music has a decidedly old-time bent, with Dixieland from the Fountain Square Ramblers, the Stuart Highland Pipe Band and the gospel Shape Note Singers. 

All in all, it’s a lovely New England day.

What else is in store this weekend? 

Thursday: Little Feat, Lebanon Opera House – Superlatives don’t do this band justice.  If you love rock and roll and haven’t seen Little Feat, you must – it’s that simple.  I first saw them in the late Seventies, when founder Lowell George was still alive, and I literally could not stay in my seat.  By the third song, I’d moved to the back of the room.  My dancing feet would not stop moving. 

Friday: Ray DeVito, Electra – Lots of comedy in the area – when it rains, it pours.  DeVito riffs on slacker angst – the travails of dating, McJobs, and advertising (“Verizon says they have towers everywhere, which means if my girlfriend doesn’t call, it’s not their fault.  I’m just a loser”).  With the way they mix up their entertainment, this club should change their name to Eclectic. 

Saturday: I Love a Piano, Claremont Opera House – Six actors perform a musical that looks at America through the lens of Irving Berlin’s.  The show includes over 60 timeless songs.  This all singing, all dancing revue traces the journey of a piano from Tin Pan Alley to the present, as it winds its way through the lives of Americans.

Sunday: Woodchuck Hollow Band, East Thetford – An autumn discussion must include pumpkins, right?  East Thetford hosts a festival brimming with pumpkin pie, bread and soup, along with a mid-day performance from this nifty band.  They brand themselves “Organic White Mountain Music.” There are a few nods to the Appalachians and Ozarks, and on “Ruby,” a dash of Cash.  It’s all good-time country. 

Tuesday: ALO, Iron Horse – This band always makes me think of Salt Hill Pub, which booked them a few years back when they were up and comers.  These days, they are playing much bigger stages, opening for people like Jack Johnson – they recently signed with his Brushfire record label – and winning lots of new fans with their loose, rootsy sound.  It begs the question – are there other current Pub performers are due to break big?

Wednesday: Café Americano, Metropolis – Brattleboro’s newest club features some wonderfully varied talent, including this trio, which plays swing and jazz standards.  There’s also a cool open mike/jam session night Tuesday with fiddler Lissa Schneckenburger and Corey DiMario on tenor guitar and bass.  It’s worth a trip south – the leaves on the interstate should be nice for a few weeks.