More comedy

A big story like this week’s Hippo comedy cover piece inevitably leaves a few things out. I wanted to talk about UNH’s Funniest Person on Campus and the feeder program behind it, and mention the upstart standup shows happening at Manchester’s Double Midnight Comics, but time and space prevented it.

I also reached out to perhaps the biggest comedy dog in the pack – Casino Ballroom in Hampton Beach, a place that books more big name comics than any room north of Boston. The interwebs conspired against the thoughts of the Ballroom’s Andrew Herrick arriving before deadline, but I thought his remarks worthy of a separate post.

How well does comedy do at Casino Ballroom?

I dare say it is our most successful “genre” in the sense that everyone loves to laugh and for comics our size room is like a rock band playing an arena.

How does it compare to a few years ago?

The comedy series has been in full effect for 10+ years and has always attracted the top 10 or 12 touring comics. The big difference now is that comedy has grown so much and there are many more comedians playing arenas, which wasn’t the case in 2005. Comedy in general is way more popular.

Do you have any favorite acts?

All of them, I LOVE the comedy series. Some of the best are Jim Gaffigan, Bill Burr, Brian Regan, Sebastian Maniscalco (I would call him the current reigning champ) and so many more. We have a bunch of first timers this year with Chris D’Elia, Kathleen Madigan and Hannibal Buress. It should be a fantastic series this year.

Are local comics on the bill?

Usually a Boston comic opens the show, usually they have some kind of former connection with the headliner, either opened for them before or know them personally.

If so, how did they work out?

Most of the time they are amazing because they are 45 min set comics being asked to do 15-20 mins of their best material.

Any other observations on the laugh business?

If you want to remember what it looks like to see large groups of people smiling together in 2016, just stand in our parking lot after a show. Pretty inspiring, laughter makes everything better.

Soulful Glory – Danielle Miraglia

DanielleMOriginally appeared in 23 June 2016 Seacoast Scene | Photo Credit: David Dyte

In bygone times, when radio was king and fans paid for music, one imagines Danielle Miraglia’s latest CD Glory Junkies bursting upon the airwaves in her home town of Boston. Carter Allen at WBCN would praise its Exile on Main Street esprit title song, gush over her soulful strut on “Warning Fair Warning,” and note the elegiac beauty of “Carmella,” written for her late grandmother.

That was then, and as the album’s penultimate song points out in its title, most people these days are “Famous for Nothin’.” A People magazine nip slip or YouTub lip sync gets more attention than actual music. “You gotta sink to the occasion,” laments Miraglia.

The cover features the singer-songwriter and guitarist snapping a deliberately ironic duck-lipped selfie. “People were like, why did she do that, it doesn’t look like her,” Miraglia said in recent phone interview, “and I’m like, ‘don’t you get it?”

This theme runs throughout the record, and is captured neatly on “Pigeons,” a spare song recorded near the end of sessions for the album in March 2015. With studio crosstalk between her and producer Tom Bianchi – also her husband – it’s sounds like an outtake, but it cut to the core of what it takes to make a living as an artist.

“All those stories of rock story glory that once felt attainable … hit with a wrecking ball,” she sings, then adds, “but the suntanned child in me still hopes for more.” That’s a good thing. Miraglia made two records before Glory Junkies, the bluesy Nothing Romantic in 2005 and 2011’s stripped down Box of Troubles, but the new disc out-rocks both,, and is her most fully realized effort.

“My influences are rock ‘n’ roll, not folk,” Miraglia said; she grew up in Revere, Mass. listening to Guns n’ Roses and Rolling Stones cassettes on her Walkman. “What made me want to play music was the rock stuff, so it makes sense that I went in that direction. I still like the singer-songwriter stuff, too, but I wanted to make a rock record.”

With a degree in creative writing from Emerson College, Miraglia knows how to turn a phrase, as evidenced on the tender “Heat of the Win,” which uses her father’s Red Sox devotion as a metaphor for love and loss. “Carmella” captures with unflinching honesty her grandparents’ struggles and enduring love. Both recording the song and sharing it with her mother proved challenging.

“I have been so reluctant to record that song because my mother hadn’t heard it, and it’s such a personal story,” Miraglia said. “I actually had a little panic attack while I was doing vocals … I started getting where I couldn’t breathe.”

She sent the finished record to her mom, followed by a warning text. “She sent me this long text saying ‘I love the song – I can’t call you right now because I’m too emotional to actually talk, but I think it honored her and showed her side of the struggle … I think you honored her, and you honored Grandpa.’ It ended up being a really beautiful family moment.”

The best thing about Glory Junkies is its well-roundedness, with guest horn players, rocking viola, smart harmonies and a few licks from accordion player Michael Bergman. “My husband grew up with him,” Miraglia said. “He’s played with Yo-Yo Ma and done work with Francis Ford Coppola. He’s done really well for himself over the years.” Bergman emailed his contribution, and other contributors stopped by the couple’s home studio to do their parts.

When guest tracks were done, they spent the early months of 2015 fleshing out the record – and battling the worst winter in Boston’s history. “It was dreadful … making a record with my husband in between going out and shoveling out cars and trying to find parking spots in the city,” Miraglia said. “When I talk about the record I keep saying that it was a test of all relationships. If you could get through last winter with your spouse or your loved one, then it’s real.”

Danielle Miraglia
When: Saturday, June 25, 9 p.m.
Where: Portsmouth Book & Bar, 40 Pleasant St., Portsmouth
Tickets: $5 – see daniellem.com

3 Days of Fun & Market Music

ChelseaPThere’s a squabble on Facebook regarding a newspaper story (not one of mine) that compares the LaconiaFest debacle to the demise of Granite State Music Fest, which didn’t happen this year – it would have been number four. There’s a world of difference between the two events, but that’s not what prompts me to blog tonight. A subset of the discussion asked what effect the failure of GSMF or LaconiaFest has on the local music scene.

The answer: none. Concord is a creative hub that’s giving the Seacoast a run for its money in the arts leader department. This weekend’s Market Days Festival, the subject of my current Hippo feature, offers ample proof. Music all day in Bicentennial Square adjourns to Penuche’s Ale House at 10 p.m. and goes until closing time. All original, all awesome. Bands like The Grebes, People Skills and Pat & the Hats can be found every weekend downtown (and at the Camp n Jam festival in early July), not just the ones promoted by merchant associations. This is a scene that’s in it for the long haul.

New Ha-Hampshire

LavalleyShaskeenI wrote a cover story for this week’s Hippo that is a deep dive into New Hampshire’s comedy scene. There’s a lot of movement, particularly at Shaskeen Pub in downtown Manchester, where the backroom Wednesday night shows frequently attract big names from Comedy Central, SNL, Comedy Bang Bang another cutting edge places.

There are more rooms offering bigger acts more frequently. I love writing about comedy; it may be my favorite art form, because it can’t be faked. You’re either funny or you aren’t – there’s no auto-tune for humor. A long list of comics and promoters talked for the story. If you like my writing on this subject, here are few more stories I’ve done over the years:

Lisa Lampanelli

Gilbert Gottfried

W. Kamau Bell

Bob Marley

Jay Chanoine

 

Concert Review – Jason Isbell & Frank Turner

JasonIsbellBank of NH Pavilion, Gilford, New Hampshire on 19 June 2016

An honest moment in reality television is usually accidental, but on some rare occasions the private plays out in public, and art springs forth. That’s the case when Jason Isbell performs “Cover Me Up” with his band The 400 Unit. He introduces it as the most difficult song he’s ever written.

I sobered up and swore off that stuff, forever this time,” Isbell sings, and every time the crowd roars in acknowledgement and approval. The Alabama native glances lovingly across the stage at his fiddle player and wife, Amanda Shires, who is the inspiration for the song. She’s also the reason he’s still up there at all, after partying his way out of a band and nearly to death just a few years ago.

That, the opening track of Isbell’s stellar 2013 album Southeastern, was one among many high points during his headlining set at Bank of NH Pavilion at Meadowbrook. He dedicated “Outfit,” a song from his Drive-By Trucker days, to his dad; but set closer “Children of Children” – an ode to his mother, who gave birth to him at age 15 – was the more potent take on parenthood. Coincidentally, it was also Isbell’s first Father’s Day with kids of his own.

Isbell neatly summed up his naked fearlessness as a songwriter in a 2015 interview with Grantland. “I think your job is to try to be as honest as you possibly can and write about those things that make you uncomfortable sometimes,” he said.

His set kicked off with the South Carolina inspired “Palmetto Rose,” and highlights included several songs from his most recent album, Something More Than Free: “24 Frames,” “Speed Trap Town,” “If It Takes a Lifetime” and the title cut, each rendered like Flannery O’Connor with a guitar.

He encored with the spare “Flagship” – dedicated to Shires and only performed when she’s in the band, it featured a gorgeous fiddle solo – and ended the balmy night with “Never Gonna Change,” another burn down the house rocker from his old band.

Set List – Palmetto Rose/Stockholm/24 Frames/Tour of Duty/Outfit/How to Forget/Traveling Alone/Decoration Day/Speed Trap Town/Alabama Pines/Codeine/Cover Me Up/If It Takes a Lifetime/Super 8/Something More Than Free/Flying Over Water/Children of Children Encore – Flagship/Never Gonna Change

The stage backdrop was church styled stained glass, an ironic motif for opener Frank Turner. He’s an avowed atheist, but at his best his performances feel like a tent revival, with call and response songs and the lanky dervish racing across the stage, climbing the drum kit and speaking in tongues.

He channels the voices of earthly saints, however – Elvis, Jerry Lee and Johnny – “all the greats,” to quote Turner’s set opener, “I Still Believe.” Faith works in many forms for the British folk rocker. “I still believe in the sound,” he sings, “that has the power to raise a temple and tear it down.”

Turner deserves to be headlining whenever he plays. Though he provided a bracing and electrifying 40 minute show, it was too short and entreaties for an encore were rebuffed. With luck and foresight, he’ll be back soon topping the bill at Concord’s Capitol Center or Manchester’s Palace Theatre – or the Old Sol Music Hall when it opens in a year or two.

It was fun while it lasted, with one roaring tune after another, some from last year’s breakthrough album, Positive Songs for Negative People. “The Next Storm,” “The Opening Act of Spring” and “Silent Key” all came early in Turner’s set. The latter was inspired by New Hampshire hero Christa McAuliffe, a fact Turner noted before playing a first-ever reworking of the song, which had the ragged but right sound of a Led Zeppelin III outtake.

Turnout was shamefully low given the show’s great one-two punch – the holiday and Game 7 of the NBA Finals probably played a role. Turner engaged the crowd like it was the House of Blues in Boston, which he sold out twice last winter, with singalongs, and audience participation which included bringing a fan onstage to play harmonica on song.

Turner added the fan to his band The Sleeping Souls based on enthusiasm. “He’s been singing every word to all the songs, and just having a great time,” he said. That he was sitting in a VIP front row seat wasn’t a factor, and the guy didn’t even know how to play the mouth harp.

He learned quickly, however. It was that kind of night.

Set List

I Still Believe/The Next Storm/Recovery/Long Live the Queen/The Opening Act of Spring/Dan’s Song (solo acoustic)/Silent Key (solo acoustic)/The Way I Tend to Be/Photosynthesis/Get Better

A very Bob year – ’66 in spotlight at Dylan birthday bash

DylanBash

This story also appears in the 19 May 2016 edition of Hippo Press

Bob Dylan turned 25 on May 24, 1966 while sitting atop a creative peak. He’d released rock’s first studio double LP, Blonde On Blonde, the week before, which capped an 18-month fury of output that included Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. “Like A Rolling Stone” was still on the air, AM radio’s longest ever song. Tours across the U.S. and Europe were media events, as seeing the folksinger turned rocker plug in at concerts might produce riots or rapture.

Alongside Dylan’s lightning rod act, a musical revolution was taking place. The Beatles pushed forward with Rubber Soul and Revolver, Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys served up Pet Sounds. The Fillmore opened in San Francisco, and bands like Buffalo Springfield, Love and Jefferson Airplane were introduced to the world.

Since Blonde On Blonde turns 50 this year, it’s fitting that an event to mark the legendary songwriter’s 75th birthday will focus on 1966. On May 24, an array of regional performers will gather at Tupelo Music Hall to play music from Dylan and other artists that made an impact during that seminal year. The show is dubbed Absolutely 1966 Revisited, and it’s New Hampshire’s seventh annual Bob Dylan Birthday Bash.

The concert is the brainchild of Bobby Livingston, who for a long time fronted a band with the Dylan-centric name Napoleon In Rags. Livingston lived in Texas for a decade, where he organized a few Dylan tribute nights. When he later moved north, he found nothing similar in the Granite State, and decided to change that. He had another reason for launching the event here – to raise awareness of his favorite artist among his musician friends.

“I made them all learn Dylan songs, kind of a sneaky way to get them into Bob,” Livingston said in a recent phone interview.  “A lot of the bands here grew up with Aerosmith and Boston; for whatever reason they were never into Dylan … but they are all accomplished musicians and once I turned them on they were like, ‘awesome.’”

After six years of covering the master’s songs at the annual event, he decided to “open up the stream a little bit” – hence the night of ’66.

Livingston will host and perform with his band. The evening’s lineup includes Mike Girard fronting The Burning Sensations, which features members of Danny Klein’s Full House, Girard’s band The Fools, and Beatle Juice.  Woody Giessmann of the Del Fuegos, Boston legend Charlie Farren and rising Americana band Russell Hill also appear, along with Bob Jennings and Julie Foster, The Boneshakerz and Amy Fairchild.

Napoleon in Rags became the Bobby Livingston Band a while back – a change born of frustration. When formed, the band focused on Dylan’s music. The effort evolved into a vehicle for Livingston’s original material; but misperceptions stuck. “Because I used that name, it was very easy for people in the press to say it was a Bob Dylan tribute band, and that’s not the case.”

Livingston recently completed a new EP called Crossroads of the World, with a release show happening June 2 at Milford’s Pasta Loft.

The Bob Dylan Birthday Bash is a fundraiser for the Brad Delp Foundation, named after the Boston lead singer who committed suicide in 2007. The charity is focused on music education, awarding grants and funding for school programs and children’s music therapy efforts. Though Livingston didn’t know Delp while he was alive, tying the show to his legacy made sense.

“So many of these guys I knew had worked with Brad, and were deeply affected by his music and the loss of his friendship – a terrible tragedy,” he said. “It just kind of fit, and I’ve been partnering with them all these seven years.”

The show’s final set list is still being worked out. Livingston said “Visions of Johanna” from Blonde on Blonde “is resonating with me now” and added that one song is a definite – “Ballad of a Thin Man,” from Highway 61 Revisited. “I’m excited to be doing that … it’s haunting, a great song,” he said, quoting the lyrics: “Something is happening here but you don’t know what it is.”

 

Good Good – Michael Bernier stays upbeat, busy

FREEVOLT Band Promo Image MARCH 2016 KM 3

This story appeared in the 19 May 2016 edition of Seacoast Scene

 

The logo for Evolvement Radio is a signal tower equipped with massive wings – an appropriate metaphor for founder Michael Bernier. With dreadlocks, ever present smile and boundless energy, his feet don’t seem to touch the ground. Settling in for a Sunday afternoon phone interview, Bernier recounted the previous 48 hours, which included traveling from his Newburyport home base to Burlington, Vermont to play with his band Freevolt, then racing back to emcee an early morning 5K race in Gloucester – a feat he repeated the next day in Amesbury.

“You’d expect me to be partying and staying at a hotel, but truth is I get back in the van at midnight,” Bernier said. “People are always saying to me, ‘Man, your life is so good; I would love to be you.’ I love it; but I am hustling hard; it’s a heavy grind, not a go to work for 40 hours then not think about gig.”

Along with work as a bandleader, motivational speaker and radio host, Bernier is a seasoned show promoter. This summer he’s behind the original music 5PM Sessions every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at NBPT Brew Co. in Newburyport. He also organizes long form festivals at the brewpub, including a reggae fest in July and the Funk n’ Jam Out in September, with Entrain, Freevolt and Das Pintos, a band fronted by brewery owners Chris Webb and Bill Fisher.

Bernier’s band will also perform ahead of top-billed Soul Monde at the upcoming 252/3 Festival on Saturday, May 21. The headliner features Ray Paczkowski and Russ Lawton of the Trey Anastasio Band. Gretchen & the Pickpockets open the show; Bernier met the New Hampshire band when they were guests on his EvoRad show. “They are wonderful people, working hard and super friendly,” Bernier said.

Though the show is being held at a beer making facility, it’s decidedly family friendly, with a noon start and lots of kids’ activities. “It’s all ages; I expect to see nine months to five years old there.” Bernier said, adding that this spirit is reflected in the music. “The festival crowd is full of upbeat, fun, positive happy people and these bands represent that.”

There’s a reason for him to dwell on youngsters: Bernier is an expectant father. His wife Kristin is due in early August. With uncontained giddiness, the couple went public with the news April 9 at the New England Music Awards, hosted by the EvoRad team. Given his own life choices – Bernier’s been a working musician for close to two decades – does he envision his child traveling the same path?

“I expect to raise a child that knows it can go forth and be fully supported in whatever he or she wants to do and love the fact that you’re alive,” he said. “ But I expect there will be some music going on because there is music at every turn of my life.”

Freevolt trickled out tracks from its most recent recording, Once You Say over the last half of 2015 before releasing the full CD in January. “Stretching it out got a lot of positive feedback,” Bernier said. “It gave people a chance to digest one song at a time but still keep the excitement up for the new album and new music, and lasted a few months instead of one day dropping it.”

The band is back in the studio and expects to put out a new single later this summer.

Along with venue shows, the intimate in-studio concert at Evolvement Radio’s Newburyport facility will continue. With less than two dozen audience members, each show is a special experience. The next one happens June 13, when Americana duo Muddy Ruckus performs “Marina Evans is coming at some point when she’s back from Italy,” Bernier said. “Elijah Ford (son of former Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford) came through – he’s very talented.” Seacoast native, artist and troubadour Dan Blakeslee also played a well-received session.

With a growing list of affiliates – Internet and terrestrial – his broadcast endeavor is thriving. “Evolvement is growing as fast as I can handle it,” Bernier said. “The radio show is getting guests from all over the country now, people on the national touring circuit. There’s new people every week that are like-minded, open minded, unique and super wonderful.”

252/3 Festival featuring Soul Monde, Freevolt and Gretchen & the Pickpockets
When: Saturday, May 21, Noon to 6 p.m.
Where: NBPT Brew Co., 4 New Pasture Road, Newburyport
Tickets: $10 (21+, under 21 free)