Here in New Hampshire, 2016 began the way every fourth year commences, with a fleet of media trucks roaming the state. On Primary Eve, they swarmed around the Radisson Hotel in downtown Manchester. Nearby at the Shaskeen Pub, James Adomian and Anthony Atamanuik engaged in what seemed at the time a hilarious flight of fancy, playing a mock debate between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump for a night full of laughs.
Turns out that it was only half a fantasy — in four years, who knows?
News about venues popped up throughout the year, beginning with ambitious plans to transform Manchester’s dilapidated Rex Theatre into Old Sol Music Hall, a multipurpose performance hall with a focus on live music and social activism. Now projected to open in 2018, the effort holds its next fundraiser on Jan. 21 at the Shaskeen Pub, a double bill featuring Pat & the Hats and Sarah & the Wild Versatile.
Finding it had outgrown an intimate space in Londonderry, the venerable Tupelo Music Hall announced it was moving across Interstate 93 and doubling capacity. The first date in its new Derry home is sold out already and features rock legend Peter Frampton. Although it will be easier to score tickets to popular shows, Tupelo owner Scott Hayward decided to retire the venue’s bring-your-own-bottle policy. Don’t fret; an expanded food menu and liquor sales should make the move easier to digest.
Other changes were incremental. Jewel Nightclub in downtown Manchester became Jewel Music Venue, shifting to a wider-ranging entertainment palette. Some great talent has passed through, including Session Americana, Zach Deputy and a local showcase with Mindset X and A Simple Complex.
The state’s biggest venue changed names, officially becoming SNHU Arena in Manchester on Sept. 1 and serving up three big country concerts in a row: Eric Church, Carrie Underwood and Blake Shelton.
Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion in Gilford celebrated its 20th anniversary with a bevy of big-name acts, added an elaborate delay sound system, hired Coachella’s food service company and began offering overnight camping.
Local and regional artists continued to record and release good music. Brooks Young Band made the five-song EP What The Night Knows with producer Brian Coombes at Rocking Horse Studio, and Young had a cameo in the new Ghostbusters movie. Scene fixture Justin Cohn released his first album of originals, and troubadour Tristan Omand put out another solid collection of songs, The Lesser Known Tristan Omand.
Cold Engines’ Better Off Dead was one of the year’s best, as was Sully Erna’s second solo CD, Hometown Life. The Godsmack singer hails from Lawrence, Mass., but with ex-Mama Kicks bandmates Chris Lester, Lisa Guyer and Dave Stefenalli and Seacoast guitarist Tim Theriault in the studio with Erna, it felt like a New Hampshire album.
Memorable shows of 2016 included an incendiary double bill with Jason Isbell and Frank Turner at Bank of NH Pavilion, two-night stands at the same venue from Florida Georgia Line and Dave Matthews Band, and a smoking triple bill with Tedeschi Trucks Band, Los Lobos and the North Mississippi All-Stars. Superstars Don Henley and Rod Stewart played first-ever shows at the Lakes Region shed, and breakout act Twenty One Pilots sold out.
A mild summer was good news for outdoor events like the Prescott Park concerts series, which offered up a smorgasbord of Americana talent including Sara Watkins, Lucinda Williams, James McMurtry and Dawes. The NH Country Music Festival marked its second year with a sold-out sunny day show headlined by The Cadillac Three. In Manchester, Lee Brice inaugurated the first Live Free Country Music Festival at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
Beyond our borders, it was a year of loss; David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Prince, Phife Dawg, Leonard Cohen and too many more left the stage. More than a few fans are happy and relieved to see 2016 end. Happy new year!