The Hippo


May 31, 2020








Kurt Baker Band.

Look back smiling
2017 a good year for music and comedy

By Michael Witthaus

 Forget all about the craziness roiling in the world — live music had a terrific 2017.  

Regionally, the year began and ended with venue news. Tupelo Music Hall opened ahead of schedule in March, at its new location in Derry. It bade farewell to the venerable Londonderry abode with some great shows, including sold-out nights from hardcore troubadour Steve Earle, Geoff Tate and local light Anna Madsen.
New Tupelo premiered with Puddle of Mudd, Saving Abel and Tantric, then continued to welcome big names throughout the year. The list included Ann Wilson of Heart, Peter Frampton, Melissa Etheridge, Shawn Colvin, Don McLean and Toto. Even Dionne Warwick performed, proving that more seats means bigger acts.
Bank of NH Pavilion had a stellar 22nd year, with double dates from Eric Church, Pretty Lights, Florida Georgia Line, Eric Church and Miranda Lambert, while Luke Bryan played three straight nights and perennial favorite Zac Brown Band sold out a record four shows. But the big news came long after the final notes, when the Gilford shed announced its sale to concert giant Live Nation. 
Marketing Director Marci DeCarli said founder RJ Harding views it as a validation, and stated in a Dec. 19 phone interview that the deal won’t alter fan experience.  
“Their desire is not to change it ... to kind of let us do our thing,” DeCarli said. “This is a great opportunity with a global company.” 
Some of the best shows in New Hampshire were more humble affairs, like the New England Roots Festival, held in late September in Nashua. Three sets in breathtaking succession underscored the musical prodigiousness of the region — Julie Rhodes channeled Janis Joplin, turning a cold day’s temperature up a few degrees. Then Say Darling rocked through tracks from their debut EP, giving way to Twisted Pine announcing themselves as acoustic geniuses, this decade’s Nickel Creek. 
Both Rhodes and Say Darling, featuring Grammy-nominated vocalist Celia Woodsmith, will play year-end shows at Riverwalk Cafe. The Gate City listening room continues to welcome unique talent that deserves to be seen. The room’s acoustics are first rate, with terrific sightlines, cocktails and tasty finger food. 
Perhaps no event summed up the vitality of the local music scene more than All Night Thing, a concert held to remember Chris Cornell at Wally’s Pub in Hampton Beach. The backstage area was a reunion and a celebration, and the chemistry onstage was exhilarating. There was a lot of love for the late Soundgarden and Audioslave singer that night, and even more shared between the performers.
Another memorable show happened in March with the return of Kurt Baker from Spain for a short tour that stopped at Dover Brick House. Baker shared the stage with his pals, Portsmouth band The Connection. Held on a midweek night, it was sweaty, raw and raucous party, even if the decibel level led to many cases of ringing ears.
Some beloved places said goodbye, like Amoskeag Studio in Manchester and Portsmouth’s Red Door. The fate of the Press Room is still unclear; the Portsmouth club, a vital space for live music, closed in April and there’s no official word on its reopening. On the other hand, The Goat in Hampton expanded to Portsmouth, and Bonfire opened in Manchester, offering country music and a Nashville vibe. Penuche’s in Manchester moved from Hanover Street to the corner of Elm and Lowell Streets and became Penuche’s Music Hall. 
Comedy continued to grow in the state, pacing the nation. Wednesday nights at Manchester’s Shaskeen Pub shone with stars like Doug Stanhope, Jenny Zigrino and JT Habersaat. Rob Steen’s Headliners added another Chunky’s Cinema to its stable. Strange Brew Tavern launched comedy open mike on Thursdays to standing room crowds. Redhook Brewery in Portsmouth debuted with some big shows, and Merrimack Biergarten introduced Ha-ha’s and Hops, a weekly event hosted by Alana Foden.
The year ahead looks equally good on that account, with Seth Meyers and Sebastian Maniscalco both due to perform in early 2018. That’s a welcome thing — we all could use a good laugh.

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