The Hippo


Dec 6, 2019








Kevin Herchen. Courtesy photo.

Kevin Herchen

Where: 603 Bar & Lounge, 368 Central Ave., Dover
When: Wednesday, Jan. 4, 9 p.m.

Country girl
Promoter boosts genre with Wednesday night series

By Michael Witthaus

 At last fall’s Apple Harvest Day, live music poured from outdoor stages across Dover, including  one on Orchard Street that leaned toward country rock. Giving off a vibe befitting Nashville’s Broadway nightclub district, the location stayed crowded all the day. One patron enjoying the day’s sounds was a booker from the nearby 603 Bar & Lounge, who struck up a conversation with promoter Amanda Morneault.

A few months later, plans were set for a January residency by artists from NEON Music Management, where Morneault works as managing partner with founder Matt Casey. The Wednesday night series features original performers playing a mix of country covers along with their own material. 
The residency opens Jan. 4 with Kevin Herchen, a Rhode Island singer-songwriter. Early this year, Herchen won a Big Break competition in his home state, which allowed him to record a music video of his original song “Closer.” On Jan. 11, Jimmy Connor continues the series. 
”He is a young Hunter Hayes,” Morneault said of the 16-year-old Massachusetts performer. “Such a prodigy; he amazes me.” 
Another young rising talent, 18-year-old Caroline Gray, follows Connor on Jan. 18. A multi-instrumentalist (guitar and piano), Gray already has song co-writes in her resume; she collaborated with Music Row’s Marty Dodson, author of Blake Shelton’s Top 10 hit “Doin’ It.” Crossover duo Martin and Kelly — singer-songwriter Jilly Martin and guitar slinger Ryan Brooks Kelly — finish the month on Jan. 25. The pair released a self-titled EP last spring. 
If it catches on, the series will continue in February; given Morneault’s track record, that’s likely. She found her way into the music business through her father’s sound company. Soon after  installing a system at Portsmouth’s Thirsty Moose Taphouse, she was booking music there. A sold-out show by The Cadillac Three at the club connected her with New England Country Music’s Chris Whynock, which planted the seeds for her biggest venture yet.
“A few months later I was on a beach with my kids,” Morneault said. “I got a phone call from Chris saying, ‘I’m thinking that maybe we should put a festival together.’” In June 2015, country star Kellie Pickler headlined the first New England Country Music Festival at Redhook Brewery, and the show went clean. 
A year later, TC3 returned to headline the second annual festival; it also sold out. That she’d  booked the southern rockers in a nightclub two years earlier and now had them filling a venue with thousands of fans was testament to talent-selection savvy. Looking forward, 2017 portends even bigger things. Three acts are already booked for the festival, though Morneault won’t say who just yet. 
“But they all have No. 1 hits,” he said.
The festival always features several NEON performers. The acronym stands for North East Of Nashville, and the agency works tirelessly at artist development, alongside New England To Nashville (NETN), a support and artist exchange that started on Facebook and is now an 800-member-strong organization. 
As the name indicates, NETN helps performers expand their reach, whether they’re local, or southern-based and looking to reach East Coast audiences. NEON manages their tours when they come up to the region, and if they have already established relationships with venues for weekend shows, helps them find midweek gigs. 
“Fill in the gap and expand,” Morneault said. “That’s our goal.” 
Efforts often include multi-act shows at Loretta’s Last Call in Boston.
“These are the artists that are hungry,” Morneault said. “They have quit their part- or full-time jobs. Some are still in school and some folks are older, but everybody is dedicated and hard-working. When they’re not playing or writing, they are traveling back and forth to Nashville.”
Morneault wants the New England Country Music Festival to become a tradition like Hookfest, which recently surpassed two decades.
“That is what we want to grow this to,” she said, brimming with optimism and dreaming out loud about one day hosting a band like Lady Antebellum. “Outside, there’s 10,000 people.” 

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