The Hippo


May 31, 2020








Okkervil River. Courtesy photo.

Sneakers and Speakers

When: Saturday, July 12, at 2:30 p.m.
Where: Redhook Brewery, Pease Tradeport, Portsmouth
Tickets: $15 ($25/day of show) at

Bringing it all back home
Okkervil River headlines Sneakers and Speakers

By Michael Witthaus

 When Matt and Luke Bonner staged their first benefit show in 2007, Okkervil River headlined, the indie band’s first ever New Hampshire appearance. A giddy mood prevailed at the event, held in the brothers’ hometown of Concord. It came in the wake of Matt Bonner winning his first NBA title as a member of the San Antonio Spurs, who defeated LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Fast forward to 2014, and only the venue is different — Portsmouth’s Redhook Brewery. Once again, Okkervil River tops the bill, and it happens barely a month after the Spurs beat another LeBron-led team for the big trophy. Is this the Okkervil River Prophecy? That’s what folks are calling it on the Bonners’ Rock on Foundation Facebook page, and touting this year’s Sneakers and Speakers Benefit as New England’s official NBA Championship celebration.
What began as a one-off concert to raise money for community projects has significantly evolved. In 2013, Luke and Matt launched Rock On Foundation as a full-fledged 501(3)c nonprofit, and held the first all-day festival at Redhook last summer. Headlined by Deer Tick with local favorites Tan Vampires, the show drew a crowd of over 2,000, which buoyed Luke Bonner’s faith that his home state was a good destination for his favorite bands. 
“We try to stay on the forefront of the music scene, even if only for a day,” he said recently. “It’s intended to bring something exciting to town.” 
Rock On also sponsors events across the country, whether it’s a club night at South By Southwest or a music doubleheader with the Spurs. A bash during this year’s NBA All-Star Game week in New Orleans included DJ sets from Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Chris Tomson of Vampire Weekend, along with the Walkmen performing a final show.
Along with raising money for a variety of causes, the events generate plenty of Granite State goodwill, making it easier to recruit talent to play in the brothers’ backyard.  
“We want to show these artists how great a location New Hampshire is, get it on the radar so when they tour they come here,” Luke Bonner said. “You don’t have to go to Coachella or leave the state [and] we are really excited about ramping it up another level this year.”
Good basketball mojo isn’t the only reason Okkervil River is a perfect choice to headline this year’s event. Front man Will Sheff wrote the band’s most recent album, Silver Gymnasium, as a musical memoir and paean to the Upper Valley town he was born and raised in. Recently, Sheff completed a long-form video, Down Down the Deep River, shot in Meriden using local actors, many school-age kids. 
Also performing at the concert is Kevin Devine — “a really great musician, and a basketball fan,” Luke Bonner said — playing with The Goddamn Band. The Georgia-based Whigs have a connection to Matt Bonner.
“I think two of the guys got their masters at the University of Florida around the same time that Matt was playing there … they’ve played festivals, every major show,” Luke Bonner said.
New Hampshire native Jason Anderson and Brooklyn-based Hawk and Dove will open the show, which is a 21 and up affair. 
“That is intentional, too,”  Luke Bonner said. “We want people from all over New England to come for a positive experience, and we need to appeal to the 21- to 45-year-old professional types.”
It all raises money for the Rock on Foundation. Among the charity’s goals is a vision to be a Kickstarter of sorts for young artists who share their love for New Hampshire. 
“If someone wants to make an album here but needs a little help to make that happen, our idea is to give a nudge and allow them to do that,” Luke Bonner said, “to make that passion come to life.” 
As seen in the July 10, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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