Middle School Bands Shine At Claremont Opera House

donlaplanteAn enthusiastic crowd of parents and music lovers gathered at the Claremont Opera House Saturday night to hear performances from four area middle school bands. Keene’s St. Joseph Regional School and Kurn Hattin (Westminster, VT) joined jazz bands from the Charlestown and Claremont Middle Schools to showcase their advanced student music programs.

The night also provided an opportunity for many of the young musicians to play in a theatre setting for the first time.

St. Joseph brought the evening’s largest ensemble – nearly 40 musicians, with percussion, bells, electric guitar and drums complementing the ample brass and wind contingency. Director Vicki Moore led them through the Bossa Nova flavored “Mucho Gusto”  and a smooth take of John Edmonson’s arrangement of “Jazz Cat.”

An energized version of “Jump, Jive and Wail,” made popular by former Stray Cat Brian Setzer, closed out St. Joseph’s set.

Kurn Hattin added inventive touches to their three numbers, which included the rousing opener, “Old Time Rock and Roll.”  Vocalist Shania Caswell soloed ably on “New York, New York,” even if she might be a bit young to ‘wake up in the city that never sleeps’.

The KH Jazz Ensemble’s final number brought smiles to the baby boomers in the house, as they rollicked through the theme song of “Scooby Do,” complete with cool shades and a dancing dog.

The Charlestown Middle School band conducted a mini-symposium on the history of music, from 1918 – Bob Carleton’s Dixieland chestnut “Jada” – to 1970, with Chicago’s jazz rock thunderbolt “25 or 6 to 4.”  Their five-song set included Fifties rock from both the East and West Coasts – the Drifters’ “On Broadway” and Richie Valens’ “La Bamba,” respectively.

Led by Julie Armstrong, Charlestown ended their set with a buoyant version of Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

Closing out the night was the host Claremont Middle School band, which stuck to a cool cat groove for their four-song set.  They led off with “Soul Bossa Nova,” the Quincy Jones number most people know from the ‘Austin Powers’ movies.  It was a night for saxophones to show off, with a solo each from tenors Kai Kelyensteuber (on the opening number) and  Sarah Porter (Mike Story’s homage, “Basie-Cally the Blues”) and alto Dylan Metcalf, who had fun with another spy movie theme – James Bond.

But it was drummer Dan Seaman who grabbed the spotlight during the final number, with a drum solo at the end of “Go Daddy-O” whose deft ferocity appeared to surprise even CMS band director Seth Moore.

Between sets, the young at heart Firehouse Six Dixieland Band won over the crowd with ageless standards like “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey,” You Are My Sunshine” and “Hello Dolly.”  They nearly stole the show, with Ed Evensen on clarinet, Gerry Grimo on vocals and squeezebox, along with a spirited tuba solo from Don LaPlante.  Vaughan Hadwen (trombone) and Rich Brown (trumpet) rounded out the brass, with Andy Buchan on the marching drum.

The event was a benefit for Keene-based Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Western New Hampshire,  Kurn Hattin music director Lisa Bianconi commented that their student population “is very involved in the program, so it was an extra special night for them.”

The even both raised awareness and money.  In addition to tickets, a fudge sale in the lobby did brisk business after the show.

Information on Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Western New Hampshire can be found online at www.bbbswnh.org or by calling 603-352-9535

Chuck Wicks @ Claremont Opera House 19 March 2009

wicksCountry is music’s last meritocracy, a genre where, as John Mellencamp wrote recently in Huffington Post, “stars [come] from seemingly nowhere to grow to tremendous popularity; think Garth Brooks.”

Or think Chuck Wicks, who thrilled a sold-out Claremont Opera House last Thursday with a blend of heart-tugging ballads and straight up rockers.  The lanky singer-songwriter rose through the ranks on Nashville’s Music Row, parking cars while he honed his skills next to some of country’s best writer, all the while awaiting his chance to make his first record.

Thursday night, Wicks played most of that debut disc (“Starting Now”), a few well-chosen (and crowd pleasing) covers, and some promising new songs.

At the outset, however, the challenge of shifting gears from “Dancing With the Stars” to music showed.  While he got reacquainted with band mates he hadn’t seen in a few weeks, the show’s opening song, “All I Ever Wanted,” didn’t hit on all cylinders.

But it was smooth sailing from there, as Wicks found his groove on a churning breakup song (“The Easy Part”) and the uplifting “If We Loved.”

By the night’s first ballad – “Man of the House,” dancing was the last thing on Wicks’ mind.  However, he did oblige the crowd with a with a solo salsa figure eight.  His hip swaying delighted  several screaming fans.

Introducing a new song, the bawdy “Better on the Floor,” Wicks slyly encouraged the audience to sing along, or “come on down to the front and dance.”  This precipitated a stage rush that had a few Opera House board members covering their eyes.

No one else minded, though, and the mostly female throng at the foot of the stage fed Wicks’ energy on the rocking “Leave Me Alone” and a surprising cover of Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved.”

A solo acoustic mini-set featured the new “You Won’t Let Me,” written with girlfriend and dancing partner Julianne Hough, and the soulful “Mine All Mine.”

Wicks’ five-piece band rejoined him for back-to-back covers of Brad Paisley’s “Wrapped Around” and Joe Diffie’s “Pickup Man.”  The singer took time out to thank Paisley for his support, noting that the singer brought Wicks on his 2008 tour, and wrote early letters on his behalf to country radio stations.

After that tribute, Wicks pleased the crowd by played his biggest hit.   The choice of a Paisley cover fueled speculation about Wicks’ future with his dancer girlfriend, and his introduction to his biggest hit to date added to it.

“I don’t know nothing about stealing Cinderella,” he said, “but I’m trying,” – a subtle reference to the 20-year old Hough.  He followed with a power ballad, “What If You Stay,” and closed the night with back to back rockers – “I Feel a Good Time Comin’ On” and “She’s Gonna Hurt Somebody.”

Wicks’ humility matches his resume.  He was late for a pre-show meet and greet because “my mama taught me to never go out in public without a cleanly pressed shirt.”  It was pretty clear who held the iron.

Flying a redeye out of LA the night before didn’t deter Wicks from wading into a crowd of post-show fans at his merchandise table.  If this kind of fan-centric energy were more common in John Mellencamp’s circle, the business might be in better shape.

The show’s success was a testament to the efforts of local radio station KIXX-FM.  Their morning team of Traci and Paul was instrumental in spotting Wicks’ talent well before his dancing prowess was known,

Manager/promoter Jim Roach booked the rising country star right on the cusp of fame.  As good as the music was Thursday, without such behind the scenes magic, the show never would have happened.

It’ was also clear from the sold-out show that country music is a strong area draw.  More shows like this one are just what the Opera House needs.

Chuck Wicks Keeps Things Cool

picture-16

Chuck Wicks
Claremont Opera House
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Tickets – $20.00

7:30 PM – Order Tickets

Though he’s out straight juggling gigs and learning to dance on national television, Chuck Wicks is in a breezy mood.

“My songwriting buddies are coming out to L.A,” says the rising country star, who has two hit singles, a top 10 album, and a new song heading up the charts.

At the moment, though, his mind is on fancy footwork.

During the first week of “Dancing With The Stars,” he and girlfriend Julianne Hough waltzed their way into the middle of the pack.  The couple is practicing hard for the second round, which starts Monday, with an elimination vote on March 17.

Hough is a two-time DWTS champion, but it’s all pretty new to Wicks.

“I have 5 days to learn how to salsa,” he says, but if Wicks is nervous, you’d never know.

“It always looks better than it feels,” he says with a laugh

“I just want to have a decent show and maybe win the thing.  But it’s only about 3 months, and then I go back to touring.”

“The music never leaves,” he concludes.

That’s where the focus will be Thursday night, when Wicks and his four-piece band perform at the Claremont Opera House.

The singer-songwriter tasted success when his debut single, “Stealing Cinderella,” went to number five in the country charts.

The song also caught the attention of Tennessee Volunteers then-coach Philip Fulmer, who declared – “it hit me like a ton of bricks.”

He asked Chuck to play it at his daughter’s wedding.

Says Wicks, “to have a song you wrote touch someone so deeply that they ask for you to perform on one of the most special days of their lives – that is incredible.”

Learning of Fulmer’s interest pleased Wicks – musicians love attention, after all – but upon reflection he realizes his initial response may have seemed a bit nonchalant.

I said, “cool, dude – OK, let’s do it.”

“Little did I know he was Tennessee royalty,” Chuck says. “You don’t really know unless you’re in the state.”

Wicks was born and raised in Delaware, and went to the University of Florida with dreams of playing professional baseball.

But after arriving, he picked up the guitar.

“Freshman year, you don’t know what your major is gonna be,” he explains.

By the time he was a junior, Wicks had a record deal and was on his way to Nashville..

“The minute I got here, I got dropped by the label,” he recalls.  “But I dug in and got a job parking cars.”

He also worked with some of country music’s best songwriters.  Through the multi-year apprenticeship, says Wicks, “I really found out who I was as an artist.”

The success of “Stealing Cinderella” led to “Starting Now.” his debut on RCA Nashville.  For the album, Wicks selected a diverse mix of songs that reflected his own tastes.

“Growing up, I listened to R&B, pop, jazz and everything in between. I’m a big fan of music,” he says. He recently bragged in his blog about attending an AC/DC concert.

Wicks wrote all but one of the album’s 11 tracks, including arena country-rock (“All I Ever Wanted”), James Taylor-flavored folk pop (“When You’re Single”) and Brian McKnight-like country soul (“Mine All Mine”).

But his knack for tapping into universal emotions on ballads like “Stealing Cinderella” may lift Chuck Wicks to stardom on the order of Keith Urban or Brad Paisley (who he toured with in 2008).

The just-released single “Man of the House” tells the story of a 10-year old boy who wakes up early every morning to make breakfast for his sister and coffee for his mother.  He’s trying his best to stand in for his father, who’s serving overseas.

“It’s hard to be a kid when you’re the man of the house,” sings Wicks.

Co-written with Mike Mobley, Wicks says it “was a tough song to write.  We wanted to make sure to do this song justice because there are so many people who are living it.”

Wicks thinks that the song’s little domestic details – Captain Crunch in cereal bowls, Larry King on television – help people better relate to it.

After playing it in concert, many teary-eyed fans have thanked him for telling their story.

Says a humbled Wicks – “it’s mind blowing.”

Fans at Thursday’s Opera House show can expect  “a good hang.”

“We’re gonna have a good time, and we’ll do a very intimate show, maybe have a little Q&A,” he says.  “Don’t be shy about shouting a song if you want to hear it.”

Lenny Clarke – The Prince of Boston Comedy

When comedy was king, Lenny Clarke held court as the prince of Boston.

“The thing was, I was the man, because I was crazy,” says Clarke. “I was a nut job.  I had no training, no idea what I was doing.  Because of that, I blazed a trail in Boston comedy where the only rule was, there was no rules.”

Clarke hosted an open mike night at Cambridge’s Ding Ho restaurant that launched the careers of many comedians, including Steven Wright and Denis Leary.  “We we’d get as many as 35 comics a night, Paula Poundstone, Steve Sweeney, Bobcat Golthwaite, Janeane Garofalo, Gavin would try out their stuff.”

Week after week, the same crowd came to watch, Clarke says. “It would force me to come up with new material.”

“The Boston crowds are what made it so good, because they wouldn’t settle for mediocrity.   They would boo you off the stage.”

The Cambridge-born comic, who turned 55 Tuesday, has mellowed considerably since his mid-80’s heyday, a time when he and other successful comics were, says Clarke,  “rock stars.  It was unbelievable …the best tables, best champagne, women, drugs, you name it.  It was the greatest years of my life.  It will never be copied.”

“Now I’m clean and sober for a long time, and thank god for that. But I was loony – there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t try.”

These days, he’s busy with movies and television, currently playing Uncle Teddy on “Rescue Me.” When the series began, Denis Leary (who he also worked with on “The Job”) wrote the role of the chief for Clarke, but Lenny had committed to another series (“It’s All Relative”), which ended up only lasting a season.

He was slated to be in the cast of the upcoming ABC series, “Life On Mars,” but after a successful pilot episode, the show was reworked. Clarke, director David Kelley and three other actors were replaced.

“Let me tell you,” says Lenny, “I’ve had more failed pilots then the Iraqi Air Force.”

Clarke brings his stand-up act to the Claremont Opera House this Saturday (September 20).  He’s looking forward to performing for a “theater crowd – I’ve worked in places with a cage, where people are throwing bottles.”

“I’m only hoping that that people want to be entertained,” he says, “where they’ll let me spin my string of pearls.  People heckle me because they think they’re helping.  After 35 years of doing this, I don’t need any help.  Let me entertain you.”

His act covers his life – growing up, his wild ride as a comic and pals like Leary.  He stays away from politics. “I’m not one of those so-called celebrities who want to shove their views down your throat.  That’s why we vote in private,” he says.  But he will talk about his failed run for mayor of Cambridge against Joseph Kennedy, a campaign fueled by a unique (and unprintable) slogan that ended when Clarke headed to California.

“Basically, I’m glad I didn’t win,” Clarke says.  “If I did, god knows what would have happened.”

He’ll probably talk about the Boston Red Sox, and his surreal experience working on “Fever Pitch” in 2004, the year his home team finally won the World Series.   Clarke worked a lot in New York City before the Sox shook off the so-called “Curse of the Bambino”

“It was torture,” he says.  In “Fever Pitch,” Clarke played Uncle Carl, who early in the film warns a young Jimmy Fallon to “be careful – they’ll break your heart.”

“Maybe, maybe, maybe, aw sh*t – Bucky f’in Dent,” he says, recalling years of frustration as a Sox fan.  “You know where you were when Kennedy was shot; you know where you were when Bucky Dent hit that homer.”

Clarke was at a friend’s house with two unfortunate Jehovah’s Witnesses. “We told them if they sat and watched the game with us we’d give them 50 bucks,” Clarke remembers.  “When Bucky Dent hit the home run the guy who owned the place said, ‘get the —- out of my house! – and chased the poor bastards out.”

Lenny nearly missed his chance to see the Sox play in the 2004 World Series. He had a gig (booked by his brother Michael, who manages several comics and runs a club in Saugus called Giggles) for game one, and auctioned his game two dugout seats to help a firefighter friend who was battling brain cancer.  Fortunately, a close friend flew him to St. Louis for games three and four.   He calls seeing them win it all “one of the joys of my life.”

The comic devotes much of his time to charitable work, including the annual “Comics Come Home” event in Boston this November, which raises money for the Cam Neely Foundation.  He’s done several benefit shows for Boston-area children’s hospitals, and he helps out with Leary’s New York-based firefighter charity.

“It’s the thing that makes my mother the happiest,” says Clarke.  “She says, ‘it’s really nice to see your name in the papers and on TV, but it really makes me proud when you help other people’.”

Jonathan Edwards’ “Sunshine” Mind

edwards.gifThree words succinctly sum up Jonathan Edwards’ sunny disposition. 

“It’s all good.”

He’s excited about his upcoming Claremont Opera House show.  Edwards performs Saturday, November 10 with his long-time side man, bassist Stuart Schulman.  He also plans to sit in with opening act Northern Lights.   

“We share the same manager; I’m on their new album. We enjoy playing with one another, it’s great,” he said during a recent phone interview.  “It’ll be a jam-nation!”

The singer-songwriter’s ebullient mood is infectious; his conversations are inevitably punctuated with smiles, laughter and those three words.  He’s been making music for over 40 years, and appears to still love every minute. 

After the success of his self-titled first album in 1971, which yielded the international hit “Sunshine,” he harbored a few doubts.

“When Nixon was president, and my second album met with no promotion – it was like I was dropped from the label – I decided to move to Nova Scotia and learn how to do some other stuff that I’d really wanted to do for years, like work with horses, raise a garden, work with friends and family and try to make a little community out of the bare bones essentials of self-sufficient farming,” he says.   

“I was there for about 5 months, and then Emmylou Harris called me up.”

Harris coaxed him to Los Angeles to work on “Elite Hotel.” She helped him land a deal with her label. “I did two albums (“Sailboat” and “Rockin’ Chair”) for Warner Brothers, and before I knew it I was right back in the middle of it,” says Edwards. 

“It was all good.”

Edwards’ latest project is a film score for “The Golden Boys.”  The movie, with a cast including Mariel Hemingway and Charles Durning, is due next spring.    

Working from his new Manhattan home, Edwards recruited several musician friends to work with him, including fellow songwriter Jesse Winchester, guitarist Bob Golub (Rod Stewart, Billy Squier) and Stuart Schulman.

Edwards also has a small acting role in the period film.  When the director, who’s also a friend, offered him the music direction role, he recalls, “I said OK, but only if I can be in it.  I was kidding, but he said OK, done, you’re in it.” 

“I play the Reverend Pearly,” he says.  “It’s pretty ironic, because I preach against the evils of rum in the town.  I tell all my friends, and they go, ‘yeah, right, that’s a hot one.’”

“Golden Boys” isn’t Edwards’ first time in front of the camera.  He hosted the PBS series, “Cruising America’s Waterways,” in 2001.  The travelogue show ventured “all the way from St. Lawrence to Champlain, to the canal system of the Hudson, the Eerie Canal, Key West, the Dry Tortugas and everywhere else in between,” says Edwards.  “It was a blast, and I think a lot of people learned a lot from that series.” 

Though he’s made 12 albums over his long career, Edwards is forever known for the energetic, upbeat “Sunshine” – a song that, interestingly, almost wasn’t recorded. 

“Another song on the record was accidentally erased,” he says. “I’d just written the song, and I put it down and it sounded real good.” 

“I bet a lot of the songs that we know and love were conceived and created through just such an effort of chance,” says Edwards.  “It’s all good.”

If he’s perceived as a one hit wonder, he has no regrets.  “If I never play another note but that song, and left that as a legacy I’d be satisfied,” he says.  “I still hear at the shows how much it meant to someone going through a hard time, or a great time, or people who were in Vietnam when it came out and how it helped them kind of understand that they weren’t in this alone.  So I love the fact that the song chose me to have one hit with.” 

“As I told someone recently, one hit’s better than not having any.”

Besides, he’s had the last laugh, building a solid regional following – not to mention a huge fan base in, of all places, the Netherlands.  

“Surreptitiously, someone bootlegged the two records I did with Emmylou Harris, this was years ago,” says Edwards.  “They became quite popular.”

Edwards enjoys helping performers find their way.  He discovered Lisa McCormick in a Peterborough, New Hampshire club, and produced her first record.  “It’s been real fulfilling and rewarding for me to find young artists who are starting out and to maybe give them some advice, maybe some musical help,” he says.  

“That’s really been fun for me, to work with other artists and try to sort of launch them on to the next level.”

What kind of advice does he give them? 

“Get a good attorney and take it from there,” he says, and guffaws heartily.  “That’s the cynical answer.”

 “I do have some advice for young singer-songwriters starting out, and that is – acquire an audience … three little words, a lot easier said than done.  Do whatever you can to try and attract an audience and they will show you the way.  They will lead you down the path that makes them happy and entertained.” 

It’s certainly worked for Jonathan Edwards.  With a musical career that shows no signs of slowing down, he’s unflappable.  There are those three little words again:

“It’s all good.”

Two Old Friends @ Claremont Opera House 3/16/07

2_old_5.jpgThere will be songs, laughter and stories aplenty when Mac McHale and Emery “Hutch” Hutchins step on to Claremont Opera House stage Friday night. The “Two Old Friends” blend Irish and traditional American sounds to build a musical bridge between the two continents.

“We’re combining Appalachian music with the music of the British Isles, because in truth, one’s tied to the other,” says Mac McHale, a native Mainer who traces his roots to the city of Sligo in the Irish Midlands. “We do a song called ‘Mrs. McCloud’s Reel,’ which is the Irish name of it. In Appalachia, it’s called ‘Did You Ever Go To Meet Uncle Joe,’ but it’s the exact same song. ‘Dooley’ is about a revenuer in Appalachia; in truth he was a guy who made illegal spirits in Ireland.”

The duo has over 80 years of performing time between them. “My first professional gig was in 1952, at the American Legion Hall in Orono, Maine,” says McHale. “Me and two other guys got a buck fifty a piece. I’ve been at it ever since.”

McHale and Hutchins met 30 years ago. “Emery was doing sound for a festival I was putting on,” says Mac. Hutchins suggested they play together, and along with Taylor Whiteside, they performed as Northeast Winds for over 15 years. “Things change, and we sort of disbanded, but four years ago we got back together as ‘Two Old Friends’.”

Their show is filled with many wonderful anecdotes, like the one Mac tells about the origins of “Orange Blossom Special,” a song that’s been called the best-known fiddle tune of the twentieth century. Two cabdrivers living in a Jacksonville rooming house wrote it one night when they had no fares.

“In the morning,” says McHale, “one of those guys sold his half of the song to the other guy for a pint of whisky. That guy copyrighted the song and lived on the royalties for the rest of his life.”

“You know what his friend told me?” Mac excitedly asks. “I worked on festivals in the south with him. He said, ‘Son, that was the most expensive drink I ever had.’”

Mac and Hutch play “Orange Blossom Special” in their set; Mac also plays it with “Old Time Radio Gang,” a bluegrass band that he calls his alter ego. “It’s traditional, old-time music like the Stanley Brothers,” says McHale. “No new grass.” The band’s name is a throwback to McHale’s boyhood experiences listening to the radio in Bangor, Maine.

“We had three stations that programmed live country music every day – bands in the studio,” he says. On “Noontime Jamboree,” he’d hear groups like Ray Little and the Radio Cowboy Show, Cowboy Gene Cooper and Lone Pine Mountaineer.

“At night we’d get Wheeling, West Virginia – WWVA. One of my mentors down there was Doc Williams, of Doc Williams and the Border Riders,” he says. “That’s when I got infected with the whole thing.”

More than half a century later, he shows no signs of slowing down. “I’m 74, and I can still drive all night,” laughs McHale.

Robert Dubac’s “The Male Intellect”

dubacsmall.jpgAccording to Robert Dubac, man’s struggle to understand women – and vice versa – will never end.

“Women are a paradox,” says the comedian, who performs his one-man show, “The Male Intellect,” February 8 at the Claremont Opera House. “They want us to figure things out. But once we do, they want us to stop. Honesty is the most important thing to a woman – unless it’s the truth about her. They want a man to be more intelligent, but get ticked off when he’s right.”

Dubac doesn’t let men off the hook. “We like the Three Stooges,” he says, “while women don’t think even one stooge is funny. Three – that’s redundant.”

In “The Male Intellect,” the comedian morphs into an array of characters, all with worse instincts than his, to try and close the communication gap between the sexes. There’s the Colonel, a stereotypical redneck who insists that honesty is what women want, but has an odd idea of what that is.

Tell her you’re a jerk, he coaches “Bobby,” the perplexed character at the center of the show. Later, when she realizes it’s true, you can remind her that she was warned.

The bon vivant Jean-Michel offers some useless advice – “speak French,” he says, “women love that” – but does provide a telling assessment of the difference between the sexes when the subject is sex. “It is like a little light switch in your room of love,” he says. “It is on – I want it. Oops, I changed my mind – poof, it’s off.”

Man’s switch has only one position, says Jean-Pierre. “Because we never know when yours will be on, we have to keep ours on all the time.”

Throughout the show, Dubac ranges across a two-sided stage that represents his confused mind. The masculine right side, where his chauvinistic alter egos live, is cluttered and chaotic. It’s filled with stuff, like a dented file cabinet where he keeps his beer. “What?” he asks, popping a Corona. “I keep it filed under ‘B’.”

The left side, on the other hand, is a virtual clean slate, waiting to be filled with enough secrets for the just-dumped Bobby to win back his fiancé. Bobby’s feminine voice will only provide hints about how he should do that, leaving him to fill in the gaps.

Before “The Male Intellect” began its’ long run – now over 12 years, and translated into four languages – Dubac did stand-up comedy and worked as an actor. He appeared in the movies “Sketch Artist” and “The Rookie,” and had guest television roles in “Growing Pains,” “Diff’rent Strokes” and a 2-year stint on the soap opera, “Loving.”

As a comedian, Dubac honed his skills on the late 70’s concert circuit, opening for groups like the Allman Brothers and Jimmy Buffett. He also toured with the Police, who are currently readying a reunion performance at the upcoming Grammy broadcast. Back then, they were an unknown band on their first American run. “We rode around in two Econoline vans, trying to shove alternative music and comedy down the mouths of the southern rock and roll circuit,” says Dubac.

“The Male Intellect” isn’t autobiographical, he says. Dubac’s been happily married for 11 years, and his wife, a former actress, provided him with a lot of input. “When I first started doing the show, it was this little group of misogynists who were trying to figure out women,” he says. “With her help, it grew into something – a guy who’s going to flush that out of his system and face life as it really is. That’s more conducive to a relationship than drawing a line in the sand and saying that’s the way I am.

“I tell people I wrote the show, but she explained it to me,” says Dubac. “That’s her joke, actually. I have to give her credit.”

He wrote the show in the early 90s, as he grew tired of a misguided stand-up scene. “The weight of the material you could do on stage got less and less,” he says. “It was all built for that six-minute television spot that everyone wanted to get on the Tonight Show. I think it stifled the creativity.”

Though Dubac plays the subject for laughs, he wants the show to provide “a positive experience.” Couples should think of “The Male Intellect” as a pre-Valentine’s Day gift. “I am kind of sifting through the decades of therapy people go through and giving it to them in 90 minutes.” For men, it’s easier and cheaper than weekly visits to the shrink, he says, “and you get to do it while you watch another guy drink a beer.”

Seriously, says Dubac, “the show celebrates the differences between men and women, and how you can work it out.”

What’s the secret? “ It’s OK to think like a woman – it doesn’t make you gay,” he says. “Well, maybe gay enough to use coasters.”

Bob Marley Can’t Help It – He’s Funny

bobmarley2a.jpgComedian Bob Marley couldn’t stop being funny if he tried. Case in point: Marley begins a phone interview Tuesday with small talk about the unseasonable winter. So far, so good. But if you could look down the line, you’d spot a mischievous gleam in his eye.

“If I see Al Gore,” he says, “I want to tell him hey, New England’s been freezing for the last thousand years. You can globally warm us for as long as you want. Bring it on!”

Marley, who performs Saturday, January 20 at the Claremont Opera House, found his calling early on. He was listening to George Carlin and Richard Pryor albums as a child, and he’s been a pro at cracking wise for 15 years now, claiming he can’t help himself. If he didn’t have an audience, Marley says, “I’d still be in Shaw’s trying to convince the checkout guy that I’m funny.”

The Maine native may joke about the weather, but he’s here to stay. Last year, Marley moved back to Portland from California, where for 11 years, he chased the modern comic’s dream, the network sitcom. That didn’t happen, but he did hit the Hollywood trifecta – appearances on the Leno and Letterman shows, and a movie. Marley’s ‘Detective Greenly’ role in “Boondock Saints” won him good critical notices.

But he soon grew weary of Left Coast life. “After a while, I realized I don’t want to be an actor, I want to be a comedian,” says Marley. “Living in L.A. stalls your act horribly. Every time you’re on stage you’re under the scrutiny of who might be at the back of the room.“

“I feel at home in New England,” he says, where the crowds tend to understand his favorite bits about Poland Spring water (“Protected by nature? Yeah, right next to Mechanics Falls!”), Billy Squier concerts at the Cumberland County Civic Center, and Maine’s preferred security device, “the two-by-four lodged in the bottom of a sliding glass door.”

Since returning to Maine, he’s released a combo CD/DVD of his stand-up act. He’s become a regular guest on radio stations from Washington, D.C. to Barre, Vermont. In December, he completed “Comedy Central Presents: Bob Marley” at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre in New York City; the half-hour special airs February 2.

Marley also welcomed his third child, a son, into the world last November. “It’s crazy,” he says. “Apparently, the other two kids still need stuff! Three days after we got home, the six-year old says, ‘Daddy, can I have a glass of water?’ I said, ‘I just gave you one two days ago. You’re not like a house plant, just gonna pick it up from there?’ Come on, get with it.”

Much of his material comes from his home life, and Marley’s favorite target is often himself. “It’s kind of like at the end of the day, what else can go wrong with Bob? It puts the audience at ease,” he says.

“People are always thinking, ‘don’t make fun of me.’ Don’t worry,” Marley says. “I’ve got enough of my own problems, I’m not coming after you.”

Though he does use his own family as fodder, he sometimes has to be careful. He recently likened marriage to comparison shopping at Best Buy. “When I get home, I don’t remember the other TV on the showroom floor. It’s kind of like when you get married,” he said. You don’t think about the set you didn’t buy. “You just sit there with the same miserable TV night after night. Sometimes the screen sags, the picture gets a little wider, or you try to turn it on and it won’t warm up, and sometimes it gets stuck on the same channel, saying the same thing, over and over.”

His wife took a bit of umbrage to the analogy. So now he’s quick to point out , “I’m very happy with my small, perky television,” adding praise for the fine chassis.

He’s a fan of political humor – “Jon Stewart is hilarious,” he says – but doesn’t work much of it into his act. “I’ll do current events, if it’s funny, but I don’t get involved with who’s who.” A typical topical joke centers on the process of voting, not the candidates. “I don’t like going into the booth,” says Marley, “I would rather fill out the ballot in the lobby. I’ll play around in there; I’ll stick my head outside the curtain and say, ‘can you bring me a pair of 34/32’s? These ones are too tight.”

Marley considers himself lucky for the professional life he leads. If he ever does get a network deal, he’ll try to film it in Maine. Whatever happens, he’ll be a stand-up comic.

“There are lot of guys who aren’t content with just doing this,” says Marley. “They’re missing it. No matter how famous you get, you’ll keep coming back to this. You can’t walk away from it.”

David Mallett – Still In Search of the New

dave-mallett.gifDavid Mallett brings folk music with a northern perspective to the Claremont Opera House this Saturday, but listeners would be surprised at where the Maine native goes for inspiration.

“I don’t have time to listen to anything I’ve already heard, I just want to hear new stuff,” he says.  He’s a big fan of  the Link, a music video outlet that shows  “stuff from Russia, India, Brazil – it’s really cool to watch that stuff.” 

This eclecticism extends to Mallett’s family.  HIs son fronts Lab Seven, a Portland-based hip-hop band that’s built a strong regional fan base.   You’d expect a folkie who cites the Kingston Trio, Johnny Cash and Stephen Foster as influences to run screaming from  the room at this, but not Mallett. 

“I’m very excited by it,” he says.  “In a way, rap is  the folk music of the current generation.  This is where they get their words out, you know what I mean?  When I was a kid folk was for young people,  Nobody understood it.”

Mallett thinks Woody Guthrie would approve of this urban sound, which he terms “a modern take on the Dust Bowl ballads.  The rappers and hip hop guys are simply describing their own experience, their own Dust Bowl.”

David Mallett’s own musical journey began as a teenager, when he and his brother performed as the Mallet Brothers and made music inspired by the family team of Don and Phil Everly.  They recorded a few 45s, and hosted a variety show on a Bangor television station. 

“It’s  nice to have your own TV show when you’re 16,” laughs Mallett. “It kind of spoils you for the rest of your life.”

Mallett befriended Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary fame in the mid-70’s, and made his mark  with “The Garden  Song,” a tune that’s been covered no less than 150 times, by everyone from Arlo Guthrie to the Muppets. 

“It was amazing,” Mallett says of the song’s success.  “ I wrote it in 1975, mostly just as a way to pass the time.   I was working in the garden with my father, and it came up as sort of a little work song.”

Over the years, it’s been used to sell garden equipment in Spain, fertilizer in Ireland, and it’s also a regular on the Today show, which uses it for a recurring gardening segment.

“It came from this land I live on and from my father teaching me how to plant corn,” he says.  “It came from very little effort, and those are the best kind of songs.  They just sort of say ‘I’m here.’”

Mallett spent 10 years in Nashville among a songwriter’s clique that included  Lyle Lovett and  Nanci Griffith (who recorded some of his songs).  He co-wrote a few successful country tunes with Hal Ketchum, and had a small hit with “This Town” in 1993.  But as soon as his kids reached high school age, he headed back to Maine.

“If you can go to Nashville and adjust your perspective to make it a little more southern, they really like that,” says Mallett, but “country music is addressed to the working class of the south and the west.  I’m such a Yankee I had a hard time adjusting.”

“My turf is New England, it’s my own little backyard,” he says.

His home state acknowledged this in 1999, naming him one of Maine’s key figures of the 20th century. 

“That was pretty mind blowing,” he says.  “Being a musician is a fragile way to lead your life, You don’t know where the next song is coming from or the next gig, but to have something like that in your backpack is pretty nice.”

Mallett’s amassed quite a catalog of songs over the years, but as his personal tastes suggest, he’s always looking forward.  Asked to name his favorite song, he says simply that “it’s always been the next one, the one I haven’t written yet.”

Mallett expects to showcase a few of his new songs Saturday night.  No doubt he’ll also be watching in the wings when Harvard valedictorian and rising country singer/guitarist Liz Carlisle opens the show.  Carlisle made a strong impression opening for Hal Ketchum in October, so fans should welcome her return to the Opera House stage.

Hal Ketchum at Claremont’s Historic Opera House 10/1/2006

hal_ketchum_small.jpgIt’s always a sheer delight to hear this man. Every note he sings is full of warmth and heart.”
Robert K. Oermann, Music Row

 

Nashville legend and Grand Ole Opry member Hal Ketchum returns for what promises to be a rousing evening of music October 1 at the Claremont Opera House. Ketchum’s blend of gritty country and good-hearted soulful rock propelled songs like “Small Town Saturday Night,” “Hearts are Gonna Roll” and this year’s “Just This Side of Heaven” to chart-topping heights.

Ketchum was born and raised in New York, his family steeped in musical traditions. “Everybody played – my brother and I had a bluegrass band when I was 14 or 15, my brother played banjo, my father played slide guitar and my mother played Hawaiian steel, of all things. My grandfather … was a fiddle player.”

He traveled south to Texas early in his career, soon finding himself swapping songs at Austin’s famous Gruene Hall with the likes of Joe Ely, Lyle Lovett and Jimmy Dale Gilmore.

Later he went to Nashville. “It seemed like absolutely the place to be for a songwriter,” he said. “It’s a great town for the written word, they really love songs and songwriters.”

Roy Acuff introduced him at the Grand Ole Opry in 1990; Ketchum became a member in 1994. “I love playing there,” he says. “It’s an institution, the Mother Church. The backstage environment is brilliant, it’s amazing to walk among legends … men and women who’ve been plying their craft for 50-60 years.”

As his star rose at the Opry, Ketchum released a string of hits, beginning with his version of Irish legend Mick Hanly’s “Past the Point of Rescue.” “The root of country music is basically Celtic,” he told Rattlebag Radio in 2002.

His unique mélange of styles produces music that’s appealing to country purists, Americana lovers and fans of hard-driving rock and roll. The rootsy “Awaiting Redemption” became an immediate critic’s favorite upon its release in 1999, with honest, rugged musical textures matched perfectly to Ketchum’s reedy tenor. The Rodney Crowell-produced “Lucky Man” was a back to basics affair that produced the hit “She Is” and featured a duet with Dolly Parton.

His latest record, “Just This Side of Heaven,” is a harmony-rich rocker that sits just as comfortably with Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen as Nashville hitmakers like Keith Urban and Brooks & Dunn. But the sound is all Hal Ketchum – a sound that’s sure to captivate an Opera House crowd eagerly anticipating this encore performance.