The Hippo


Dec 7, 2019








Courtesy photo.

Rock On Fest

When: Saturday, Aug. 15, 1 p.m.
Where: White Park, 1 White St, Concord

Bringing it back home
Rock On Festival helps celebrate Concord’s 250th

By Michael Witthaus

Luke and Matt Bonner are both music mavens and home state boosters. For nearly a decade, the Concord natives have hosted summer concerts to raise money for charities like the Boys & Girls Club, and the shows lure favorite acts to New Hampshire. Okkervil River, Deer Tick and Felice Brothers all played their first Granite State gigs at the Bonners’ behest. 

Dubbed Sneakers and Speakers, the annual event bounced around the state for a while, landing in Concord, Plymouth and a Seacoast nightclub. In 2013, the brothers formed their own nonprofit Rock On Foundation, and the next two shows happened at Portsmouth’s Redhook Brewery. 
This year, it’s heading home, with a new name. On Saturday, Aug. 15, in White Park, the free Rock On Fest will help celebrate Concord’s 250th anniversary. The musical lineup is an even mix of indie cool and local heroes. Headlining are buzzworthy NYC duo Cults, with Recoys and Walkmen frontman Hamilton Leithauser playing a penultimate set. Rounding out the bill are garage rock stalwarts The Tripping Souls and hometown rising stars Them In The Hive.
The day-long event will include a variety of other attractions along with music. A local fiddler will play as he talks about city and state history; Granite State Roller Derby will give an exhibition; at press time, a performance from Concord Community Music School alumni was likely. Matt Bonner’s alter ego DJ Red Mamba will host a family-friendly dance party, and the day will end with fireworks.
A Bonner Brothers event wouldn’t be complete without basketball — Matt plays for two-time NBA champs the San Antonio Spurs, and Luke had a career in pro and semipro ball. Thus, the all-day Midsummer Hoops Classic will happen amidst the rest of Rock On Fest, with local high school athletes playing on a court the Bonners helped restore a few years back.
After four years away, a return to the Merrimack region is fitting, particularly with the ongoing Concord 250 celebration.
 ‘That was kind of the icing on the cake for us,” Luke Bonner said in a recent phone interview. “We felt this was the perfect time to transition this thing back [and] make it a free festival.”
Luke Bonner envisions the event as a sort of alt-rock recruiting poster for his hometown. 
“It’s a community giveback and celebration that hopefully attracts some younger folks back into town who used to live here,” he said. “People who maybe have never even been to Concord will come to see the bands and realize how awesome Concord is and consider moving here — that’s kind of our pipe dream.”
The hope is to scale up efforts to include more than music. 
“We’d love to continue to increase programming in the state in terms of events like this,” Luke Bonner said. “Maybe a film or comedy angle, get into the creative side of things while focusing on athletic opportunities as well.”  
He sees Rock On Fest as a warm-weather version of the winter hockey tournament that happens every year at White Park. 
“It attracts a lot of people into town, so we thought of something similar … separated out from the other cultural stuff going on, rather than piggybacking on another event,” he said.
White Park is practically in Luke and Matt Bonner’s old backyard, a big reason why it was chosen as a venue. 
“There are a lot of festivals that happen nowadays so we are trying to figure out a way to differentiate,” Luke Bonner said. “It’s a historic park, and from a basketball sense, we grew up hearing our parents talk about the games at White Park; there used to be a summer league there but no one plays anymore. A few years ago we paid to help renovate the court, and there are really nice glass backboards now.”
The first Sneakers and Speakers happened at the Capitol Center in 2007, but the Bonners are still pumped to make New Hampshire a tour stop for their indie rock favorites rather than a way station between Boston and Montreal. Luke Bonner is humble about their role as cultural ambassadors, however. 
“It has been interesting to see the bands we have booked have all returned since then — it may be totally unrelated, but it’s awesome to see that happening,” he said. “Hopefully, this will bring more of that stuff. Right now, you can feel there is a movement happening in this state. It’s a great place to live right now and hopefully we can keep building on that.” 
As seen in the August 13, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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