Local Rhythms – Mad Beach Band brings it back home

Picture 1If you were looking for the face of Sunapee/Newport music, it would probably be Pete Merrigan.  As the saying goes, he’s been on the scene for as long as we’ve had one.

When opening a dry cleaner, tacking a dollar bill to the wall makes it official.  If it’s a bar or restaurant, booking Pete Merrigan achieves the same validating effect.  He’s played everywhere.

When I started coming here to do weekend radio in 1980, one of the first things I spotted in the M106 studio was a 45 by the Mad Beach Band.  The Claremont station was officially playing “Champagne Ladies,” but I became partial to the B side, a slice of countrified fun called “Sweet Potato Pie.”

I played it on my shows and didn’t get fired – times were different then.

When the Mad Beach Band performed at the Newport Opera House in 1981, I met my future wife – 28 years later, we’re still together.  I didn’t meet Pete Merrigan until 2004, and one of the things I remember from that night was two patrons thanking him for his song selections, swearing it had gotten them dates.

Maybe he just has that effect on people.

The original Mad Beach Band got together in late 1970’s Florida, a meeting of the musical minds between Jimmy Buffett sideman Harry Dailey, Merrigan and his musical partner Pete Shackett, and harp player T.C. Carr.  When head Parrot Buffett  stopped by some of their shows to jam, they became something of a sensation down south.

Though the band members eventually went their separate ways (sadly, Dailey died in 2003), they’ve stayed friendly, and in 2008 they reunited for a show in Madeira Beach, Florida.  On Saturday, August 1, the reunion heads north to the Newport Opera House.

Tonight (Thursday, July 30) Pete helps open the new backyard “clam shack” addition at Casa del Sol in Ascutney.  Most of the reunion band – Carr, Lenny Austin, Dave Williamson, Vinnie Seplesky and Bryan Austin – are expected to stop by.

Friday is rehearsal night.  Afterward, the band will likely repair to Newport’s Salt hill, run by Joe Tuohy.  Joe’s parents operated the Shanty in Sunapee, where Pete Merrigan played in his early days.  Joe’s brother Josh, who runs the Lebanon Salt hill, recalls falling asleep on a pile of down jackets there once while Pete played “Dust on the Saddle.”

On Sunday, Pete will be back at the original site of the Shanty, which is now Digby’s, performing his regular deck show.

A few things remain constant – one of them is Pete Merrigan.

Another constant is lots of things to do in our lovely little neck of the woods, including:

Thursday: Acoustic Coalition South, Hartness House – Here’s something new. An acoustic open mike series that’s been running for years in Woodstock and Quechee comes to Springfield, Vermont, hosted by Mark Koch.  The Hartness House is a beautiful old mansion with tons of charm, which I’m sure will blend very well with the tune-swapping sure to occur.

Friday: Roadhouse, Imperial Garden – A good-time, fun rock and roll band who does a kick-ass (or should I say KA?) version of Foghat’s “I Just Wanna Make Love to You” which is almost good enough to make me forget Cold Blood’s horn drenched take on the R&B classic.  Mainly because Lisa Miller can belt it out.

Saturday: Adam McMahon, Sophie & Zeke’s – This guy’s got a serious touch on the guitar. whether playing acoustically or on a Stratocaster, which he’ll probably be using tonight.  It’s a dance party, after all.  Adam specializes in blues, but he’s got more tricks than that up his sleeve.

Sunday: Amy Gallatin & Stillwaters, Sunapee Mountain – The annual League of New Hampshire Craftsmen fair begins Saturday, and today’s musical guest, at 1, 3 and 5 PM, is a very talented bluegrass player with an equally enjoyable band.  You’d think in this day and age they’d change the orgnization’s name to “Craftspersons”?  Oh, well.

Monday: Second Wind, Digby’s – Terry Ray Gould is just as ubiquitous as Pete Merrigan these days, playing Farmer’s Markets, cafes (farewell, Green Acres!) and open mikes like this one, which features a prize at the end of the night and a friendly vibe.

Tuesday: Gerry Grimo, Elixir – The leader of the East Bay Jazz Ensemble plays the newly revived small plate club, which features music five nights a week.  White River Junction is quite the destination, with three great music venues, the nutty Main Street Museum, and the renowned Northern Stage theater program.

Wednesday: Arthur James, Salt hill Pub – Blues night on the green, with a guitar man who’s long been a fixture at the Newport ShP location.  Each Wednesday welcomes a different band, check the club’s web site for details.

Pete Merrigan Returns, Maybe For Good

Despite the skittish weather, it was summer in Sunapee last Sunday, as Pete Merrigan made his first public appearance since returning from Florida. He’d played for invited guests at a Friday gathering in New London, and what he jokingly called a “private performance” at the Newport Moose on Saturday, but the afternoon show on Digby’s outdoor deck was the first chance most area fans had to enjoy Merrigan’s easygoing music since last fall.

With his trademark beret and microphone stand cup holder, he ambled through a set of songs that included originals from his Mad Beach Band days, and cover tunes as recent as the Plain White T’s “Hey Delilah.”  Always the crowd pleaser, he did plenty of requests, usually the moment patrons called for them – “sure, I’ll do Margaritaville” – and bantered with the crowd throughout.

Pete Merrigan is the human equivalent of “Cheers” – he knows everybody’s name.  He paused several times mid-song to shout out a greeting, telling one old friend, “I checked the obits and didn’t see your name, so I figured you were still around.”

The singer-guitarist has a busy calendar in the months ahead, including Newport’s Salt Hill this Friday, Sophie & Zeke’s June 13, Bistro Nouveau June 20, along with a regular Thursday gig at Shorty’s in Manchester.

He resumes an annual tradition July 4, when the Lake Sunapee All-Stars perform at the harbor fireworks show – something they’ll do again in August.

Merrigan has area shows scheduled all the way to November, which begs the question – what of “Three Season Pete,” who typically arrives in late spring, stays through summer, and leaves in early fall for St, Petersburg?

Not this year.

“We got tired of bouncing back and forth,” he said Sunday.  “We always said if push came to shove we’d pick here over Florida.”

He’ll travel south for the right gig, like the recent Mad Beach Band reunion, part of a five-band outdoor concert that drew, by some estimates, ten thousand fans.

“I have such a good following in St. Pete,” he says, “I’ll still go down there and do the shows I want to do.”

But after four years in Florida (and two before that wintering in the islands), Merrigan is happy to be heading home.  Though he’s added a few new cover songs to his repertoire, he hasn’t written any of his own for a while.

“That’s another reason I want to stop bouncing back and forth,” Merrigan explained.  “I want to have a little more time to stay in one place and maybe set up a studio and do some songwriting.”

Local Rhythms – Alumni Weekend

Since I grew up in a California city with four different high schools, the idea of Alumni Weekend seemed quaint when I came to Claremont in 1980.

I’ve come to realize just how important it is to the local community: a chance to renew old ties and catch up on life’s changes. Every June, regardless of time or distance, Claremont is once again home.

The focal point is, of course, Saturday’s annual Alumni Day parade. Graduates from as far back as 1930 ride in vintage cars and often astounding floats – this year’s theme is “Our Beautiful Parks” – that represent weeks, even months of planning and preparation.

Adding to the pomp and circumstance is a new VIP viewing stand, stationed in front of Hullabaloo, that allows past teachers and honored guests to watch as marching bands and reveler-filled flatbed trucks pass in review.

Rain or shine, it’s an event not to be missed.

One of my favorite moments happens Friday night at the Stevens High School Band’s annual Pops Concert, when past members are invited to join in and jam at the end of the show. This year’s music includes songs from the Beatles and Elton John catalog, a bit of Broadway music, and selections from recent school productions of “Grease” and “Bye Bye Birdie.”

On Saturday, there’s dancing in the streets as well, with local rockers the Rhythm Junkies holding forth downtown from noon until three. Pleasant Street will be bustling with food booths, while Broad Street Park will have plenty of activities for kids, including a clown and a giant slide.

Later that night there’s a banquet at the Stevens gym, and then a Moose Lodge performance by Stan Jr., a Derry, New Hampshire singer with a knack for stringing together several decades’ worth of tunes, punctuated with a Las Vegas showman’s gift for gab.

Stan Jr. charmed the crowd at the Alumni Association’s “Super Legends” benefit last fall. So, says association secretary Pauline Pelletier, “he’s back by popular demand.”
As is Alumni Weekend, without fail; Stevens, it’s been noted many times, has the longest-running, continuously active high school alumni effort in the country. That’s due to hard work and a durable community fabric – and, of course, Cardinal Pride.

Now, on to the rest of the entertainment calendar:

Thursday: Farmer’s Market, Claremont – A TV nutritionist recently explained that French people stay skinny and live longer lives because they eat real food. Whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, not the kind of stuff you pick up at the drive-through window. This weekly merchant gathering provides a bevy of locally grown produce, along with crafts and yes, music. The Sugar River String Band performs, with different talent promised through autumn.

Friday: Oneside, Salt Hill Pub – This Boston-based band makes stops at Charlestown’s Heritage Tavern (the next is July 14), but I caught them first at Lebanon’s pub on the green. They combine elements of Dave Matthews Band with Bela Fleck’s spirited musical flights, along with a few southern accents. Check out “Got To Go” on their MySpace site. Ian Knox redefines that banjo as an electric instrument. Plus, you can dance to it.

Saturday: Shana Morrison, Ascutney Resort – The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as Van’s daughter returns for a brief (two date) Eastern tour. She played the Crow’s Nest last winter to a sold-out crowd. The sight lines left a lot to be desired, so with any luck they’ll relocate the music to a bigger room. Shana mixes her dad’s gems (she sat in during Van the Man’s 2006 tour) with some fine originals. The dreamy, Worcester-based Curtain Society backed her last time out.
Sunday: Pete Merrigan, Murphy’s – Pete’s back and he’s everywhere – Sophie & Zeke’s tomorrow, New London’s Snyder’s College Cafe on Saturday and Sunday at this Sunapee eatery, a favorite Merrigan haunt for years. It’s been gussied up, with a new chef and menu. Bleu cheese crusted filet and a Mont Blanc white chocolate raspberry pyramid are among the new items on the menu. But you can stick with margaritas, chips and salsa – nobody will mind.

Monday: Molly Venter, Canoe Club – After Marko the Magician goes from table to table like most Monday nights, this New Haven-born singer/songwriter debuts at the Canoe. Judging from the songs on her MySpace page, she has the lyrical sensibilities of Ani DiFranco (“I have trouble relating/when I’m self-medicating”) and a soaring voice that reminds me a bit of Jann Arden.
Wednesday: Albert Hammond Jr., Pearl Street – The force behind indie darlings the Strokes made a solo album that shows he learned a thing or two from his father, who wrote “It Never Rains In Southern California.” Junior’s “Yours To Keep” isn’t bubble gum pop, but it’s got more sheen than most post-punk.