Regular readers of this column are familiar with the travails of Middle Earth Music Hall, the fine little basement club in Bradford, Vermont. Although owner Chris Jones successfully beat back legal attempts to shut him down, his vigorous defense, aided by musicians and fans far and wide, came at a cost. “When something like this happens, it is pretty easy to let your resolve dissolve,” Jones said recently.
Fortunately for those of us who care about music, Middle Earth is both surviving and thriving.
The club just announced expanded hours and, with the hiring of chef Bobbi Alibozek, a new food menu. “As things settle in, we’ll further expand our hours with the eventual goal of being open, once again, 7 days a week.
Best of all is the club’s foray into cyberspace. Along with a MySpace site, Jones has set up a page on YouTube – youtube.com/user/Folkhero01 – and started posting videos from the Middle Earth’s best musical moments.
I spent the better part of a day marveling at their quality of talent. There’s almost 200 videos posted, with performers who make up the heart of the local scene. Local folksinger Josh Brooks duets with Colin McCaffrey on the stunning “Rosetta,” McCaffrey fronts the Stone Cold Roosters with Ted Mortimer and Linda Boudreault. There’s Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem and regional legends Aztec Two-Step.
And so much more.
I’ve heard a lot about Session Americana but never seen them live; now that I’ve witnessed their spontaneous beauty courtesy of Mr. Jones, I can assure you that I won’t miss their next Vermont visit. Six, sometimes seven players crowd around a table (which appears to be covered with glasses of beer) and play the hell of great tunes by Townes Van Zandt and the Band, among others. It’s inspirational – and the camera work is pretty good, too.
If you’ve ever wondered what goes on in the Bradford Shire, their YouTube home should pique your interest enough to make the drive up there. At a minimum, it will provide insight into the quality of our area musicians, many of whom can be heard in watering holes all over the region.
Speaking of which, what’s worth wetting your whistle for in the upcoming days?
Thursday: Lydia Gray, Norwich Gardens Amphitheater – A superb bossa nova singer who dabbles in pop (Beatles, Elton John, Norah) celebrates the release of her new CD. She’s quite the vocal stylist, as anyone who caught her at Bistro Nouveau can verify. The venue is nestled in the woods off Route 5, and the show is part of the Open Air Summer Family Concerts, featuring music, magic, salsa and puppet shows.
Friday: Bill Wightman with Richard Gardzina, Sophie and Zeke’s – The Spiral Farm Band was scheduled to perform this evening, as they have done every third Friday since last summer, but the Vermont bluegrass combo called it quits recently. Too bad, I really enjoyed them. But I enjoy pianist Bill Wightman too, and tonight he’s bringing along his saxophone player from the JOSA band. Should be a real treat.
Saturday: Green River Festival, Greenfield (MA) – One of my favorite days of summer features an exceptional array of talent and a lit balloon launch at sundown, weather permitting. This year bluesman extraordinaire Buddy Guy headlines, but it’s Neko Case who has me most excited. I’ve been waiting years to see this indescribable singer-songwriter. Also on hand are Southern Culture on the Skids, Rani Arbo, James Hunter and the elfin Erin McKeown.
Sunday: Jennings Concert, Saint-Gaudens – I don’t normally tout “serious music” here, but any excuse to wander the grounds of this Cornish treasure is a good one. Award-winning musicians Andrew and Gail Jennings play violin and piano. Sunday’s program is entitled “Circle of Friends,” and includes works by Schumann, Mendelssohn and Brahms. The music starts at 2, and is included with admission to the historical site.
Tuesday: Irish Sessions, Salt Hill Pub – The Celtic version of Session Americana is in its third year, a rousing pick up band featuring some of the area’s best fiddlers, pickers and pennywhistlers. Dave Loney, Chris Stevens and Roger Burridge anchor the circle of chairs at the center of the room. If you’re craving Irish music sooner than Tuesday, you should check out Longford Row at the Pub tomorrow night.
Wednesday: Tammy Jackson Band, Ben Mare Bandstand – Sunapee is the place to be come summer, and this band, led by the husband/wife team of Cliff and Tammy Jackson, are regular harborside guests. They pack a one/two punch of Telecaster and twang, with a familiar song list (Reba, Patsy, Hank and Emmylou) punctuated with some fine originals and a few surprises. Betcha didn’t know Creedence’s “Green River” and the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” were country songs.