Local Rhythms – All Hallows’ Breaks Loose

Just because adults can’t trick or treat doesn’t mean they get over Halloween.  If anything, the costumes get better – and more expensive.

So it’s not surprising that so many area clubs are holding masquerade balls this year.

For starters, the big night’s on a Friday.

Plus, with the news of the world getting worse by the minute, anyone would welcome the chance to pretend they’re someone else?

Like, say, Batman, Madonna or Marx (Groucho, not Karl).

So, while you check the attic for your old axe-in-the-forehead rubber mask, I’ll run down the list of local parties.

The entire building is in costume for the Freakers Ball in Rutland, which brings back the heyday of Winterland and Fillmore East & West. The show features a psychedelic light shows and music from Duane Carleton, Jim Gilmour, the Bonafide Dregs and Crazyhearse.

Salt hill Pub in Lebanon tries a blue Halloween with the All-Star Voodoo Blues Band (a/k/a Blue Monday), while their Newport branch features Dog Dayz.

Two heavy metal galas compete for the painted and pierced crowd.  Hexerei headlines a six-band “Haunted Halloween” at the Claremont Moose Lodge (a busy venue of late).

Electra’s fete features  Anger Rising, Till We Die and three others (the West Lebanon club also hosts a costume ball Saturday, with DJ Eric G).

Country fans can get their fill at Shenanigans, where the New Hampshire Rock Bottom Band will perform.

The Foresters Club in Newport welcomes hard rockers Transcent, Shatter This World and Mother Virus.

There’s a pair of cool shows in Springfield, Vermont.  KJ’s Place has the Vibratones, while the VFW Club presents garage rock survivors the Illusion, in a show sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce.

Springfield favorite Jesse Peters heads over to J.D. Climents in Putney, where he fronts a new band called GMP (for Grieco, Morton, Peters).

Further up the road in Saxtons River, the newly opened Pleasant Valley Brewing joins with Harvest Moon and The Inn at Saxtons River for a pub-crawl, with Matt McGrail performing later.

Finally, for something interesting and new, head over to the Henniker Junction Restaurant, where the Ghost Dinner Band will host a costume party.

This band sounds like Pink Floyd meets Tom Waits on their way to an Electric Prunes concert.

For those with tamer instincts, here’s the rest of the week:

Thursday: The Adam McMahon Trio, Windsor Station – Formerly of the Larry Dougher Band, this blues guitarist has an interesting biography.  While serving in the Middle East, he started an open mike night.  Very cool, I’d like to know more about that.  Windsor Station recently changed owners and menus.  It’s nice that they’ve also added live music to the mix.  Tonight’s a Halloween buffet, with $10 off for costumed patrons, and scary HD movies on a 50 inch TV.

Friday: Who Are The Brain Police, Seven Barrel Brewery – This band has a great name (borrowed from a Frank Zappa song), they cover everyone from Spinal Tap to the Dead Milkmen, and their MySpace features this Hunter S. Thompson quote: “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs… there’s also a negative side.” I love it.

Saturday: Fencing Club Benefit, Claremont JSL – Hexerei headlines this show, which includes Bad Reception, the Undecided and newcomers Dude Stew.  Hexerei leader Travis Pfenning posted a “future of music” item on the band’s MySpace blog recently, and I found the responses to his thoughts more than disturbing.  The local music scene, particularly the hardcore/metal portion, is fragile enough without infighting among area musicians.  That’s my view; I encourage other fans to weigh in.

Sunday: Great Big Sea, Lebanon Opera House – This Newfoundland-based band takes traditional music and reinvents it, with a nod to influences as diverse as Bob Marley, the Clash and Johnny Cash.  They’re positively huge in Canada, where they’ve been nominated for several Juno awards.  They wrote most of their new album, Fortune’s Favor, in the studio.  But it’s GBS’s on stage work drives the band’s popularity and keeps the  on the road much of the year.

Tuesday: Irish Sessions, Salt hill – Thursday night blues went out with a bang last week, so much so that ShP plans to move the party to Newport next month, with Arthur James hosting.  Meanwhile, the weekly Irish sessions are 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.

Wednesday: Amy Ray, Higher Ground – The Indigo Girls are on hiatus until next February, when their new album is due.  Amy Ray did punk with the Butchies a while back, but this time around is heading out solo behind the recently released “Didn’t It Feel Kinder.”

Local Rhythms – Don’t Steal From Musicians

I need to vent this week, mainly because of a recent email. A friend wrote asking me to send  any pictures I might have taken of Eilen Jewell and her band.  She’s my favorite throwback chanteuse, and I’ve had a couple of occasions to photograph her over the years (resisting the urge to shoot in black and white).

The reason for this request is at the source of my crankiness.

After playing a great set in Vermont last weekend, Eilen and the boys drove out to California.  While they were playing a gig in San Francisco, some cretin broke into their van and took drummer/manager Jason Beek’s laptop.

With all the talk about not stealing music, you’d think people would know enough not to actually, you know, steal from musicians.

The laptop had all the band’s photos, and there’s no backup, so the call went out to friends to replenish their history.  If you’re a Eilen fan and have anything, shoot me an email.

I grew up in the Bay Area, so in addition to ticking me off, this makes me ashamed for my former home.

At least these creeps didn’t get Eilen’s autographed guitar, or Jason’s custom tom tom head.  In 1970, Pink Floyd had to cancel their third American tour when all their equipment was stolen in New Orleans.

These days, it happens more frequently than I care to admit.

Matt Costa (“Mr. Pitiful”) lost $25,000 worth of gear during a tour stop in Winnipeg last January, and country rockers the Pullman Strike were shut down earlier this year when some jerk drove away with a trailer containing all of their equipment.

There’s even a web site devoted to ripped-off musicians. Called stolengear.org, it has links to reported thefts from all over the world.  The latest victim reported a lap steel guitar and fiddle taken from a parked car in West Philadelpia.

This is outrageous.

It’s bad enough that most of the profits in the music business go to guys in suits who can’t play a note, and that an entire generation of fans thinks that songs are free because they can find them on the Internet.

But stealing a guitar from a musician is like taking a toolbox from a carpenter.  In these techno-centric times, a laptop isn’t much different.  It’s how a lot of struggling musicians manage their livelihood.

Until some criminal comes along and grabs it.

Oh, there’s some music happening in the next few days:

Thursday: Roxanne and the Voodoo Rockers, Newbury Gazebo – There’s a new drummer, but the focus of this working class band remains the same.  They play the blues, everything from Ruth Brown to Stevie Ray Vaughn, with sass and flair. Outdoor shows around Sunapee Harbor are a summer highlight for me.  I just hope the sun’s out when Roxanne counts the band down.  The Voodoo Rockers will be at indoors next month (Anchorage, July 12).

Friday: Wherehouse, Salt hill Pub – Tonight marks five years in business for one of the local music scene’s best friends.  Helping them celebrate is a band with a good ear for covers, and a healthy collection of tasty originals, the latter courtesy of front man Jason Cann.  Jason, as regular readers of this column know, has a big following as a solo artist.  With a band, he rocks, so it should be a fun night.  Happy Birthday!

Saturday: Vestal, A Taste of Claremont – The annual downtown gathering features many surprises this year – a first look at the Common Man restaurant in the food court, an art show in the old Latchis Theatre lobby (what a great idea!), and a special unplugged performance by Claremont’s own Hexerei, performing as Vestal.  There’s plenty more, including an indoor Harpoon beer garden at Hullabaloo, oldies music from Flashback, and a DJ spinning records.

Sunday: Phil Lesh & Friends w/ Levon Helm, Meadowbrook – In what can be taken either as a nice gesture or the bellwether of a struggling business, the Gilford shed is offering a free gallon of gas with each ticket purchased.  The whole region is holding its collective breath during Motorcycle Week, worried that high fuel costs will keep bikers away.  Here’s an ironic fact – this summer’s Meadowbrook calendar is co-sponsored by a propane company.

Tuesday: Orchestra Baobab, Hanover Green – A free show from the Hopkins Center showcases one of the originators of the Afro-pop sound.  Ochestra Baobab, hailing from Senegal, feature “shimmering Ghanaian-style guitar riffs, rich African and Caribbean percussion, and tangy vocals,” says one critic.

Wednesday: Juke Joynt, Canoe Club –
The Hanover restaurant’s schedule lists this as Dave Clark, but Clark’s own web site reports that this band is playing. Juke Joynt, one of Dave’s 10 or so groups, plays original music inspired by blues masters and classic rockers.  That’s pretty lively for a mid-week CC gig.

Local Music Revue – Pulse Prophets, Boomer Sellers, Hexerei

The sound of the scene – Local Music Revue is an occasional look at recorded works by area musicians.  Some are available for sale at shows; others can be bought on the Internet. 

This week, the spotlight’s on a reggae fusion band that’s making a big area splash, demo tracks from a Claremont group’s third album, and a peek into the audio scrapbook of some local rockers who’ve been gigging around town for over 20 years.

Pulse Prophets – Breathe 

Though not exactly a local band – they hail from Burlington, but feature Lebanon drummer/vocalist (and VTISTA teacher) Rory Loughran– the Pulse Prophets are building a steady following on the strength of some dance floor-filling sets at Salt Hill Pub and Clear River Tavern.

Their second studio outing matches a steady groove to a topical backbeat.  “Right Before Our Eyes” hits at voter apathy with a progression straight out of 10cc’s “Dreadlock Holiday,” while  “On and On” laments perpetual war. 

Though they wear their political hearts on their sleeves (“Every Day” and “Don’t Look at Me” are two other examples), the record contains enough tender moments to balance things out.  The lilting “It Would Be So Easy” is a nice alternative to too many songs about caving into temptation (Hinder’s “Lips of an Angel” is probably the most execrable of the bunch).

“Did What I Could” weaves the threads of the band’s many musical influences together – rock steady reggae, New Orleans funk and jam band abandon.  It’s the record’s best song.   

“Remember” has a smooth beat, but it’s a somewhat conventional song about love lost.  The album closes with “Come Your Way,” a soaring, optimistic tune which could fit comfortably in a Phish set.

“Breathe” is a well-rounded, hard-hitting album – a standout effort from a band on the rise (in April, they’re touring Hawaii – nice work if you can get it!).. 

Hexerei – Paid in Full

This long-planned, often delayed heavy metal album was originally titled “Pay Your Dues.”  But after more than a year of personnel changes and management snafus, the band demands a receipt with the release of this three-song EP. 

It’s red meat for the faithful, full of spit, rage and fury.  “Irritate” is the most accessible for the casual metal fan, with a nice melodic bridge punctuating a venomous chorus (“you’ll never break me/don’t f***ing underestimate me”). 

But “Paid in Full” never loses its edge. 

“Supremacy” features the call-and-response pairing of front man Travis Pfenning and backing vocalist Justin Hemingway. In addition to his room-shaking, bullhorn shouting, “Hemi” adds excellent keyboards and sampling at Hexerei’s live shows.

The final track, “Divide,” features staccato guitar from new members Derek Stribling and Ryan Whited, and moves along at a frantic pace.  

“Paid in Full” more than whets the appetite for the band’s next complete album. Through a myriad of changes that make their chosen moniker seem more than fitting, Hexerei hasn’t lost a step.

Boomer Sellers Band – “New Hampshire” 

Until a few years ago, “Tubestock” was an annual Hanover tradition; it’s also the impetus for this band’s move from Richard “Boomer” Ackerboom’s cellar (though tempting to think so, they didn’t get their name from the baby boom) to the bars.  In 1986, at Boomer’s urging, they played the inaugural festival on the Connecticut River. 

Since then the Boomer Sellers Band, a working class combo with a rock n’ roll heart, has gigged steadily at area clubs. 

This is a preview track from the forthcoming “Listen to the Thunder,” one of several songs front man Donnie Perkins wrote over the years.  He went into the studio with Rick Davis (Davis Brothers Garage Band) to make the record, but says the released version of “New Hampshire” is pretty much the original 1995 demo.

This autobiographical song is J.J. Cale turned up a notch.   It’s the sound Lynyrd Skynrd captured when they covered “Call Me the Breeze” on their second album – a jumping, rousing ride. 

The rest of “Listen to the Thunder” is, according to Perkins, “damn near as catchy”   – and producer Davis agrees.  Most of the original band are still in the Upper Valley – Jim Liss on bass, keyboard player Bart MacNamee and David Greenfield on guitar – and contributed to the record (and a planned end of year follow-up – “fire all our guns at once,” says Perkins).

The title track is a look back at growing up during the Vietnam era – Donny had two brothers serving overseas, and the war was never far from his mind.  “I hid behind my ball and my mitt … getting the blues over the six o’clock news,” he sings.  

“If you ever wondered if I listened to the thunder, you never even need to ask” is a sentiment that, sadly, still resonates today.

With the record nearly done, the Boomer Sellers Band plans to end its performing hiatus, and should soon be turning up in places like Salt Hill Pub and the Middle Earth Music Hall.

Local Rhythms – As 2007 Ends, Music Scene Healthy

transcent2small.jpgOne thing I never tire of hearing is readers telling me “I never knew there was so much going on in the area until I started checking out your column.”

From Bradford down to Brattleboro and all points in between, there’s plenty to do, it’s true. As I look back on 2007, I see a local music scene growing in leaps and bounds.

There’s more to see and more places to see it. Lebanon’s Salt Hill opened a second location in Newport and soon had live bands every Friday and Saturday. Two former Canoe Club stalwarts launched Elixir in White River Junction, with music almost every night of the week.

In Claremont, a door closed with the demise of Coyote Creek, another opened almost immediately when the Imperial Lounge debuted. Charlestown’s Heritage changed hands, but kept its focus, presenting Sun King, Stonewall and others most Saturday nights.

Bistro Nouveau left Claremont, but soon linked up with JOSA in their new Eastman digs, and presented some memorable nights of music at the Springfield Country Club.

Sophie & Zeke’s didn’t break stride, with live music every Thursday and Friday; by year’s end they’d announced plans to move to a larger space in Claremont’s Opera House Square.

Bellows Falls rose from the ashes of the Oona’s fire and the Windham’s shuttering. Boccelli’s on the Canal hosted some great music (don’t forget to pick up a bottle of craft beer on your way in), and the Roots on the River festival didn’t miss a step under new promoter Ray Massucco’s watch.

The folks who play the music were busy too. Syd, the Conniption Fits, Stonewall, the Stone Cold Roosters and Hexerei all released new albums and gigged steadily. Out of town favorites like Sirsy and the Alchemystics also put out new music in 2007.

On any given night music fans could count on good music: Ted Mortimer (who has more musical hats than Bartholomew Cubbins) gently picking his guitar, or Jason Cann playing solo or rocking it up with Wherehouse, or Soul Octane Burner walking a harder edge.

Sadly, a few groups bowed out – the Spiral Farm Band, A City Divide, Sleazy Listening and Transcent (although theirs was more a mutation with prejudice than a breakup). It’s a tough world; life gets in the way of making a joyful noise way too much for my comfort.

Through it all, though, the music scene thrived, with more good times ahead. To wit:

Thursday: A New Kind of Blue, Sophie & Zeke’s – The band who helped establish downtown Claremont as a jazz hot spot now perform as a trio. They mix things up very nicely, trading licks and keeping it smooth. Vocalist Emily Lanier recently left to pursue other projects, and has of late been working with Billy Rosen (another guitarist with a healthy Sophie & Zeke’s following). Here’s wishing her the best.

Friday: Pulse Prophets, Salt Hill – One of the many interesting gets for the pub on the green, this Burlington band calls their sound an “organic and celestial fusion of funk, reggae, hip hop, Latin, and Afro-beat, with a touch of electronica. Their musical stew has been known to pack a dance floor, which helps explain why they’ve been asked back again – it’s all groove to me.

Saturday: Hexerei, Claremont Moose – I’m happy to hear that bass guitarist Mike “Frodo” Bergeron has re-joined the band. Frodo really punches up Hex’s big metal sound, so I’m glad they patched things up They have a busy weekend, with an appearance Friday at Shenanigans in White River Junction, as well as this all ages show, which also features Escape to Everything, Blinded by Rage and Half Past Human.

Sunday: Assembly of Dust, Colonial Theatre – When Strangefolk (one of the better jam bands of the late 90’s) disbanded, lead vocalist and songwriter Reid Granauer formed Assembly of Dust and continued his work as a roots/blues disciple. This is a fine double bill, with Ryan Montbleau, who’s been described as “Martin Sexton by way of Van Morrison and Stevie Wonder,” opening the show. AoD and Montbleau will also ring in the New Year at the Colonial on Monday.

Monday: Jazz Masquerade Ball, Elixir – This small plate restaurant opened early in 2007, and almost immediately established itself as a staunch supporter of local music – everything from blues to honky-tonk to the Great American Songbook. Tonight, saxophone player Fred Haas and his singer/wife Sabrina Brown provide costumed revelers with a jazzy mix of enduring favorites from the likes of Gershwin, Porter, Ellington and Armstrong.

Tuesday: Acoustic Coalition, Murphy Farm – This loose affiliation embodies the Upper Valley scene. Most of the players at this weekly Quechee jam session gig with other bands, some with several. Listen to Acoustic Coalition recordings on yellowhousemedia.com, my favorite website of 2007, for a sense of the inspired fun that transpires.

Local Rhythms – Listening to Marc Cohn

cohn.jpgA couple of weeks ago, I wrote that most current music wasn’t worth owning.  That’s not to say it’s not worth listening to, but most of it’s disposable when all is said and done.

I have a handful of artists, though, who are automatics – I’ll buy anything they put out, sight unseen.  It’s a short list – Patty Griffin, Jackson Browne, Marc Cohn and Don Henley (though I prefer to steal his music after what he and the Eagles did to the concert business)..   

I’ve added a couple of new names – the moody, ethereal band Winterpills, and Americana chanteuse Tift Merritt have recently made the cut.

Most people know Marc Cohn for his one big hit, “Walking in Memphis,” and his brush with mortality a few years back, when he was shot in the head during a carjacking.   

If you don’t know any more than that, you’re missing out on one of the most gifted songwriters alive.

He’s not prolific, with a mere four albums spanning an 18-year career. The most recent was 9 years in coming.   

But when Marc Cohn commits music to tape, it’s timeless, perfection.  “Join the Parade,” Cohn’s latest, is essential – a great artist’s greatest work.

One of his new songs in particular evokes what it means to be passionate about music.   

“Listening to Levon,” paints a picture of young lovers, long ago, kissing in a car.  The details – the girl’s features, the weather outside, are all there.  But what Cohn remembers best is a song on the radio that blurred everything else about the moment. 

“I was looking at the girl,” Cohn sings, “but I was listening to Levon” – Levon Helm, the sandy-voiced singer/drummer of the Band (in their heyday, another of my automatics). 

Great music transforms and transcends; it stops time and reveals possible worlds. 

Long after human entanglements end, it remains a constant friend.  To quote Stephen Stills – “I have my ship, and all her flags are flying/she is all that I have left, and music is her name.” 

When art speaks with unmistakable clarity, I need it as a constant companion.  That’s why I love my iPod I’m never without my music collection. 

And I’m here to tell you that “Join the Parade” is that rarest of things, a new record that you must own.  If the Internet ever crashes, you don’t want to be without it.   

Thursday: Conduction No. 167, Spaulding Auditorium – Lawrence “Butch” Morris is a musical renegade, working the confluence of jazz, new music, improvisation and contemporary classical music.  Using the Conduction® language of hand gestures, he improvises musical landscapes with ensembles from around the world.  Tonight, he conducts an expanded edition of Dartmouth’s Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble.

Friday: Al Alessi/Bill Wightman, Sophie & Zeke’s – The next JOSA season is just about set, and brochures should be hitting the streets in a few weeks.  Last year Alessi, who can croon like Sinatra or Van Morrison depending on his mood, opened the series.  This year, he’ll do it again, this time bringing his daughter Elizabeth, who sounds like a young Norah Jones.  Meantime, he and Wightman hold forth every First Friday in downtown Claremont’s hottest nightspot. 

Saturday: Hexerei, Claremont Moose – It’s been awhile since the last heavy metal show at the Moose, and this one’s got a lot going for it.  It’s a reasonably priced post-Halloween show ($10 with a costume, $15 without), with five bands on the bill including the headliner – Soul Octane Burner, Anger Rising, Reflections of Mortality and Escape to Everything.  As a bonus, Hexerei will have demo copies of their long-awaited (and appropriately titled) third CD, “Pay Your Dues.”

Monday: Guy Davis, Capitol Center for the Arts – A bluesman of the first order, Davis mines the roots music of Robert Johnson (whom he portrayed off-Broadway in the early 90’s), Son House and Elmore James.  Davis has worked with some top-notch musicians over the years, but it’s solo, in a straight-backed chair, where he truly shines.  A Davis performance is an elemental experience – he’s as real as it gets.   

Tuesday: John Fogerty, Orpheum Theatre – How far has the music business come since the Sixties?  Well, Fogerty is back with his old label, Fantasy, a company he once swore an eternal enemy, and he’s released “Revival,” his most Creedence-like record in years.  If he hadn’t stayed so angry for so long, I’d venture he’s be filling hockey rinks today.  He’s an American original.

Wednesday: Terry Diers,  Canoe Club – A ubiquitous guitarist who works several.nights a week, playing solo or with a variety of Upper Valley ensembles.  Diers is incredibly diverse.   He plays 6 and 12 string guitar, slide, mandolin and is a talented singer as well.  Canoe Club owner John Chapin calls him “the essence of Northern  New England with a country overlay.”

Local Rhythms – Outdoor Music

summer-sun.jpegOK, say it with me – “summer’s best has yet to come.” I have to believe that this past rain-soaked, windswept month was simply Job-like preparation for splendid days ahead.

Are you ready? I certainly am.

So too are the many are venues presenting my favorite hot weather pastime, outdoor music. Here are but a few regional choices. All the details can be found in my Google calendar, linked at the Local Rhythms website.

Most Thursdays, the Claremont Farmer’s Market has music. Tonight it’s bluegrass, followed by a community band concert at 8.

In Sunapee, you can count on a one show every Wednesday at the Bandstand and Saturday at Flanders Stage (with a bonus day of blues on Sunday as well) through September. On the other side of the lake, Newbury presents live music on their bandstand each Thursday. This week it’s bluegrass from the Mink Hills Band.

New London gets into the act over three mid-August Fridays (the 10th, 17th and 24th) on the town common.

Also, there’s two big all-day rock shows on the way. Whalestock reprises last year’s successful show on August 11 at the Whaleback Ski Area. It features rockers Hexerei, Sarvela and Iron Box, along with alt-rock, reggae and folk pop.

The following Saturday’s “Field of Rock” presents good music for a good cause. Some of the area’s best bands – Stonewall, D’Brotherhood, Spectris and others – gather at Ludlow’s Bixby Field to raise money for the Ludlow Recreational Camp Fund. With 12 hours of music (a 10:30 start) at 10 bucks a ticket, it’s a bargain too.

Down the road at the Jackson Gore resort, the free Friday alfresco shows continue through the end of August.

The Okemo Chamber of Commerce just kicked off their Summer Music Series, which happens Tuesdays in Ludlow, Wednesdays in Proctorsville and Thursdays in Chester. There’s a fine assortment of musical talent, including Chris Kleeman, Gypsy Reel and the Starline Rhythm Boys, through August 23.

There’s also music every Thursday in Lebanon’s Colburn Park, Fridays on the Norwich Town Green, and Pentangle Arts has a few noontime shows lined up Thursdays on the Woodstock Village Green.

Finally, local Americana supergroup the Stone Cold Roosters plays Hanover’s sidewalk sale on Saturday.
So whatever the weather, you can still dance. What else can we look forward to?

Thursday: The Elmores, Salt Hill – The club’s regular blues night features a band which probably got its name after a few shots of rock and rye, led by the ubiquitous Ted Mortimer, he of Dr. Burma, Ted & Linda and the Stone Cold Roosters (is there a genre he hasn’t mastered?), with support from drumming ace Bobby Gagnier and Brian Kennell. BTW, Brian’s band the Squids are at the Newport Salt Hill tomorrow.

Friday: Kid Pinky & His Restless Knights, La Dolce Vita – The New London restaurant’s de facto house band does a pair of shows this weekend. I like the way Kid Pinky describes their music – “pure yet nasty.” That’s something to strive for. With a sultry sound that recalls Charlie Musselwhite, but with a soulful punch – think Billy Vera’s version of “At This Moment.”

Saturday: Championship of New England Barbeque, Harpoon Brewery – A big weekend event featuring seven bands over two days, along with every musician’s favorite combination – barbeque (pork ribs, brisket, chicken wings, sausage, pork chops) and beer. There’s an eclectic blend of music, too. On Saturday, El Gringo plays cactus funk, Otis Grove gets funky, and Distance to Empty (love that name!) specializes in Kansas pop rock & roll. Sunday, Nobby Reed does the blues, and Wherehouse, fronted by Jason Cann, just plain rocks.

Sunday: Day Four, Falcon Ridge Folk Festival – If you live, like I do, to discover new music, the long drive (just over the New York state border on the Pike) is worth it for this lineup. Friday’s probably the best day, with a song swap starring Richard Shindell, Marshall Crenshaw and others, as well as the mid-day New Music Showcase. But most of the musicians are around for at least two or three days. Who, you ask? Well, Arlo Guthrie, Dar Williams, Gandalf Murphy, John Gorka, Eilen Jewell and Mary Gauthier – plus a bunch you don’t know yet.

Tuesday: Rich Meijer, Elixir – White River Junction’s latest nightspot has been likened to Canoe Club for the small plate features and the frequent music. Recent guests include Lisa Rogak, Wise Rokobili and Terry Diers. Upcoming are Matt McCabe. Mark Shilansky and Dave Clark’s Juke Joynt. Sounds like a good vibe, and Gully Boy alum Meijer will certainly add to it.

Wednesday: Songwriter’s Night, Firestones – One of my current favorites, Lori McKenna, got her start this way, at an open microphone for original songwriters. Now, she’s a Nashville darling. OK, Quechee isn’t Cambridge, but who knows what talent lurks in our own backyard? Jason Twigg-Smith leads the festivities.

Local Rhythms – The Fireworks Are Hailing

This is the time of the year I start humming Bruce Springsteen’s “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” and thinking about fireworks. That’s inevitable – I moved East from California in 1976, just in time to join an estimated 2 million people in Boston for the Bicentennial.

There’s nothing like a patriotic sky to bring a country together, and every year it seems the divisions in our nation miraculously heal, if only for 24 hours.

The Fourth of July is also a great time to be in a small town. The pyrotechnics, while modest when compared to the Washington Monument or the Hatch Shell, still inspire plenty of “oohs and ahhs”. Here’s what’s happening locally next Wednesday.

Springfield’s Wings and Wheels, held at Hartness Airport, claims to be the biggest fireworks display in Vermont. It’s a chance for the kids to get up close and personal with planes and tractors, and music. Local blues man Chris Kleeman and his band performs after the show in the sky.

In Claremont, the rocket’s red glare will emanate from Arrowhead, for citizens to enjoy in Monadnock Park. Destiny and perennial favorites the Flames provide entertainment.

Saxton’s River has an old fashioned parade, as does Plainfield, where there’s also morning gospel music at the community church, a flea market and an art show.

Grantham’s Old Home Days is always fun, with a parade, climbing wall, train rides and country music from Ozzie’s Band.

Of course, if you believe that bigger is better, you can always pack the family up and trek to Boston, where the Pops reign supreme. If you want to get anywhere near the stage, though, plan to show up at dawn.

Your reward is a healthy dose of classical music with an attitude, ending with the “1812 Overture,” and the most over the top fireworks show known to mankind. Celebrity performers are always a part of the show, too, and this year John Mellencamp joins Keith Lockhart’s thoroughly modern orchestra.

The former John Cougar will probably do “Pink Houses” and “Our Country” – which isn’t a bad song in spite of its egregious commercialism.

I think I’ll Tivo the Boston event, and join my family and friends on the big lawn for some local fun. To paraphrase Mr. Mellencamp, I wasn’t born in a small town, but now I live in a small town.

What else is happening?

Thursday: Goog Smith Trio, Elixir – Another new venue, with a martini bar and small plate menu. Built in a renovated freight house right along the railroad tracks in White River Junction, I’m told it has a nice ambience and reasonably good acoustics. The Goog Smith Trio is bursting with youthful energy (again, according to my sources). Nice to see the local milieu growing – WRJ is turning into a real hot spot.

Friday: Yarn, Okemo Mountain – Their “Angel in Woodstock” sounds like an upcountry version of “Poncho and Lefty,” and as someone else wrote, you can almost hear the pops in the vinyl when they play. This four-piece band, led by songwriter/guitarist Blake Christiana, is a treat for anyone who calls themselves a fan of Americana. What a perfect way to start the five-day weekend (you are taking Monday and Tuesday off, right?).

Saturday: Jesse Peters, Heritage – A formal grand opening, courtesy of new owners Richard and Sarah Cahill, includes a free buffet from three to eight, with music later from Jesse Peters and his band. Peters will continue to hold down open mike nights at this Charlestown institution. One more thing – if you see Richard, make sure to congratulate him. On July 4, Cahill officially becomes a U.S. citizen, at a ceremony to be held in Portsmouth. Ain’t that America?

Sunday: Pink Martini, Hopkins Center – An eclectic 12-piece orchestra that blends classical, Latin and jazz into something truly unique. Their music turns up in the strangest places – movie soundtracks, “Sopranos” episodes and during the setup of Windows Server 2003. You heard right, Pink Martini is capable of serenading geeks and gangsters (albeit fictional ones). Their latest, “Hey Eugene!” takes lounge music to a new level.

Monday: A Day In His Life, Pittsfield Colonial – OK, most of you wouldn’t drive this far anyway, so I mention it mainly to fuel debate. If you loved the Beatles as much as I did, you don’t want to see clone imitations like this alleged John Lennon reincarnation. If you’re craving an ersatz Summer of Love redux, go see It’s a Beautiful Day in Northampton on Sunday. Better yet, rent “Monterey Pop” and enjoy the real thing.

Further Out: Last year’s local music extravaganza at Whaleback Mountain was a huge success, and “Whalestock,” set for August 11 at the Enfield ski area, hopes to follow in its footsteps. Hexerei again headlines, this time minus longtime bassist Mike “Frodo” Bergeron.