Holiday magnetism

Christmas at The Rex with Morgan James

From her debut album, a live tribute to Nina Simone, to recreating Joni Mitchell’s iconic Blue track by track a few years back, Morgan James relishes a challenge. Her guiding lights are interpreters like Simone and Aretha Franklin, who “get a hold of a song, and the original goes out the window,” she said in a recent phone interview.

In 2019 James set out to make a throwback soul record with vintage equipment, backing from a rhythm section used by Al Green, and a bevy of veteran session players. Named for the studio where it was recorded, Memphis Magnetic is an R&B celebration. Alas, it came out weeks before the pandemic hit, so a planned supporting tour had to be scrapped.

She responded by returning to Memphis to make the live-in-the-studio A Very Magnetic Christmas. Incredibly, it’s even more soulful than its predecessor, with skillfully curated nuggets like William Bell’s “Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday” and “Backdoor Santa,” the latter unearthed from the 1968 Atco Records holiday compilation Soul Christmas, along with some seasonal standards and a few winning originals.

The Clarence Carter track about a Santa with more on his mind than gift-giving — “I make all the little girls happy while the boys are out to play” goes the chorus — was memorably sampled in 1987 by Run-DMC for its “Christmas in Hollis” and is a standout track on an album already packed with them.

“I do straight-up classics like ‘White Christmas’ and ‘O Holy Night,’ of course,” James said, “but I wanted to do a couple that people might not expect me to sing. I think that song turned out so great. It’s so fun to sing, and it’s so funky; we had the best time making that.”

James and husband guitarist-producer Doug Wamble co-wrote “Long As I Got You,” which she called “a little love song about winter,” adding, “when people are complaining about the weather, we’re not … we love being cozy.” Another delight from the couple is the bouncy “I Wanna Know,” which echoes Natalie Cole’s hit “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love).”

Idaho-born and California-raised, James set her sights on New York City after high school. She applied to Juilliard and was initially declined, but kept at it, eventually persuading the prestigious school to open up an extra vocalist slot for her.

“It tells you all you need to know about my personality,” James said with a laugh. “I’m very stubborn, and if I have a vision for something I don’t really take no for an answer.”

Later she performed on Broadway, notably playing Teena Marie in The Motown Show, where she caught the attention of Berry Gordy Jr. He became her mentor and helped guide her to a major-label deal with Epic Records.

“He really encouraged me to write and have a stake in my own music,” James said. “The best advice he ever gave was he reminded me to always do my best work and always go with my vision, whether or not I’m reaping benefits from it. One day he said to me, ‘You know, Morgan, a star is a star even when it’s light out. When the sun goes down, we can see the stars, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there in the daytime. You are a star all the time, so act like a star.’”

James’s Magnetic Christmas tour stops in Manchester on Dec. 4 for a show at the Rex Theatre. How does she feel about being back on the road after a two-year break?

“We are getting all our ducks in a row, and there’s a lot to think about,” James said. “We’re going to have to get used to the lifestyle again [but] we’re so excited to see everybody, and play music, and be in a different city every day. We start the day after Thanksgiving, and go all the way up until Christmas. It’s going to be so joyful and celebratory; that’s what we want from the shows.”

Morgan James – A Very Magnetic Christmas

When: Saturday, Dec. 4, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester
Tickets: $25 and up at palacetheatre.org

Featured photo: Morgan James. Courtesy photo.

Driven

Yngwie Malmsteen hits Tupelo

When he’s not revving his Fender Stratocaster at impossible speeds, shredding with a fury that other guitarists aspire to, Yngwie Malmsteen likes to drive Ferraris — he owns five, all of them red. During the pandemic Malmsteen had a lot of time for both endeavors. What resulted was a tour de force album, Parabellum.

Like his fiery playing and his fast cars, Malmsteen’s mind moves at a frenetic pace. A year in the studio, something he hadn’t experienced in decades, was a unique challenge.

“I learned a long time ago to be careful with having too much time,” he said from his home in Miami. “I had 80, 90, 100 ideas; I only took the most inspired things and refined them.”

Malmsteen pointed to Van Halen’s early albums as a source of inspiration.

“They were done very spontaneously in the beginning,” he said. “I keep that spontaneity. … Every time I come up with something new I record it right away, and usually I keep that take.”

Malmsteen played every instrument on Parabellum and sang on the non-instrumental tracks. He once hired guest singers but stopped using them a few records ago.

“That’s definitely a thing of the past,” he said.

When Malmsteen’s first tour since early 2020 begins, a band he calls “a good group of guys” is expected to learn the new songs, and expect surprises.

“We go through the songs at soundcheck; that’s all they get,” he said. “Here’s another thing I do — half an hour before show time, I call them in and we put a setlist together. Then we go on stage and I play different songs anyway! They just gotta know it.”

Malmsteen has long sneered at the idea of collaborating with other musicians, and his history helps explain why. Swedish-born, he grew up in a musical family.

“Everybody was very artistic, which was unusual there in the ’70s, because it was a socialist country [that] didn’t allow that. God bless America, man,” he said.

Classically trained from the age of 5, Malmsteen discovered rock music when he saw a clip of Jimi Hendrix smashing his guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival that accompanied a news report of his death in 1970. Later came blues from John Mayall, and hard rock via Deep Purple.

As soon as he could, Malmsteen headed to the United States.

“I took my guitar, my toothbrush, and I got on the plane,” he said. “I had a plan — my plan was to not live in a socialist welfare Marxist bull—- country.”

Soon after arriving in Los Angeles, he joined Steeler, a rising glam rock band. His first gig with them attracted a small crowd, but the following week at L.A.’s Troubadour, Malmsteen looked from his dressing room and saw a line stretched around the block.

“I said to someone working there, ‘Who’s playing tonight?’ He points at me and says, ‘You are.’ It was pretty crazy,” he said. “I was 18 years old, and all of a sudden people were digging it.”

He was in Steeler long enough to appear on their lone album, then joined another metal band, Alcatrazz. His stint there lasted less than a year, an exit hastened by onstage clashes with singer Graham Bonnet after Malmsteen received a solo offer while the group was on tour in Japan.

A reunion is, emphatically, not in the cards.

“When I left, they fell into obscurity, but I kept on going, kind of like rising up, I never stopped,” he said. “These guys … they’re selling car insurance; I don’t know what they’re doing. They asked me so many times to join, and I’m, ‘No, I didn’t sit on my ass for 40 years.’”

Malmsteen insists, “I don’t have a chip on my shoulder; the only person I feel have to prove something to is myself,” and on one of Parabellum’s standout cuts, “Eternal Bliss,” he expresses gratitude for his continued success and life’s blessings.

“I have the most beautiful wife in the world, I have a great son, nice house, I’ve played music I want to play and I never compromise,” he said, citing two reasons for his longevity. “One, I find it exciting and challenging, and only because I improvise all the time. If I were to play the same thing over and over that wouldn’t do it. Also, to quote Paganini … one must feel strongly to make others feel strongly.”

Yngwie Malmsteen w/ Images of Eden and Sunlord

When: Friday, Nov. 26, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry
Tickets: $45 and up at tupelohall.com

Featured photo: Yngwie Malmsteen. Photo by Austin Hargraves.

Re-banding

Jamantics get down again

Being in Jamantics is like riding a bicycle; however long its five members are apart, the moment they plug in and play, their reliable groove reappears. As rehearsals began for a Nov. 19 reunion show at Bank of NH Stage in Concord, the synergy “was immediate,” guitarist Lucas Gallo said. “Beyond Jamantics, we all have experience musically with each other. … Now the whole band’s back together and it’s sounding great, in my opinion.”

“It’s like putting on a well-oiled glove,” fellow guitar player Freeland Hubbard added.

The group officially existed only from 2009 to 2011 but didn’t break up; it disbanded. Drummer Masceo headed west, and the rest — Gallo, Hubbard, bass player Eric Reingold and fiddler Jordan Tirrell-Wysocki — carried on with other projects.

Reingold worked with several bands, including NEMA winners Cold Engines, while Tirrell-Wysocki appeared on recording sessions and played solo, as did Hubbard and Gallo, who also helped promote local shows. Masceo worked for Napa, California-based Enchanted Hills Camp and served as Jamantics’ archivist.

In October 2015, Jamantics “re-banded” for a show at Concord’s Capitol Center.

When Masceo moved back to Concord in 2019, a 10th anniversary reunion show happened at the newly opened Bank of NH Stage. A planned event the following year was scrapped due to pandemic concerns, but they’re back on Nov. 19 at the same venue for what’s hoped to be a yearly JamAnnual GetDown.

In advance of the show, a new single dropped; “Immortal” began in Masceo’s home studio.

“I was bored like everybody else during the pandemic, and what happened was a ball rolling situation,” he said. “Freeland, Reingold and I had been playing together as a trio; [then] I just kind of sprung it on everybody when it was done…. I wanted everybody to be happy; when there’s five people in a band, that can be a little stressful. I guess it was taking it one person at a time.”

Called InstaJam, the trio had a live debut planned in April 2020 that didn’t happen, but later in the year they began playing around the area as The Special Guests. Masceo remembers walking on stage for the first time after months of lockdown as emotional and unexpected.

“It certainly was a reflection of nostalgia about all the times we’d felt that way… in the pocket of the crowd’s energy, feeling good about the music we’re playing,” he said.

Reingold was philosophical about the experience.

“It’s very rare that we basically as a species all experience the same thing as one people,” he said. “We all experienced lockdown, and I think it goes without saying that nobody was unhappy to get back to the world. Not only musicians, but just everybody in general. It was a breath of fresh air … enhanced by the fact that we’re the ones that get to play for the people coming out.”

When Jamantics formed, their two-part mission was making music and fostering the local music scene. Even as they hit milestones like opening for Little Feat at Casino Ballroom in Hampton, they worked to bring regional bands to Concord for shows at Penuche’s, the Barley House and other venues. Ten years on, they’re pleased with the city’s commitment to local arts, particularly the Capitol Center and its satellite 600-seat room that Reingold calls “the perfect venue.”

Beginning with transforming the Spotlight Room lobby space early in the decade, the nonprofit has long boosted area acts, Reingold observed.

“You’d be talking to the same people who just got off the phone with Willie Nelson’s booking agent, and they’re still making time in their schedule,” he said, adding the new space “fills a gap that I think has existed in Concord for quite some time. So we’re pretty excited to be able to be part of it.”

Jamantics Reunion w/ Teeba

When: Friday, Nov. 19, 8 p.m.
Where: Bank of NH Stage, 16 S. Main St., Concord
Tickets: $15 and up at ccanh.com

Featured photo: Jamantics. Courtesy photo

Feat forever

Legendary band returns to New England

Although it took a while for Little Feat to catch on with audiences in the early ’70s, other musicians quickly got their heady gumbo of rock, soul, funk and New Orleans boogie. Its members were frequently booked for session work, none more than keyboard player Bill Payne, whose resume of studio credits runs for multiple pages.

Beginning with Toulouse Street, Payne was a de facto Doobie Brother, and in recent years a part of their touring band, including a just-completed run of shows marking their 50th anniversary. That’s ending soon, however. The band he co-founded in 1969 with Lowell George and Richie Hayward is back on the road, beginning with several dates across the Northeast, including one at Lowell Memorial Auditorium on Nov. 19.

“I’m 100 percent Little Feat from here on,” Payne said by phone from his home in Montana recently, adding, “there’s just not enough hours in the day.”

Payne explained that Feat recently signed with Vector Management, a Nashville agency that also works with Emmylou Harris, John Hiatt, Alison Krauss and Lyle Lovett.

“I want to give them free rein to really promote our band … having a conflict with the Doobie Brothers about when they can tour, that’s not a great way to run a railroad.”

The audience-driven By Request Tour will include new additions Tony Leone on drums and guitar player Scott Sharrard, who joined after Paul Barrere, a member since 1972, lost his battle with cancer. Leone and Sharrard’s quick fit with the band helped convince Payne and his mates Kenny Gradney, Sam Clayton and Fred Tackett that Feat should carry on.

“It’s about music, it’s about legacy, and it’s about musicianship,” Payne said. “Do we harm our legacy by continuing, or do we add to it? If we’re strictly going out and playing ‘Dixie Chicken’ or ‘Oh Atlanta’ or ‘Time Loves a Hero’ — I can do that by going out and joining a Little Feat tribute band.”

Part of moving forward includes making new music.

Released in July, “When All Boats Rise” is a gospel-infused tune that confronts the hope and despair of a fractious nation. Payne came up with the nautical-themed title and handed it to frequent collaborator Tom Garnsey, a songwriter he’s long admired.

“I’ve written songs with [Grateful Dead lyricist] Robert Hunter, for example,” he said. “His lyrics hold up with that caliber of stuff; he’s just excellent.”

The song is a clarion call for harmony in divided times; Payne knows some will greet it cynically.

“There’s a lot of people out there that will go, all boats rise, well, I don’t even have a boat,” he said. “It’s aspirational — liberty and justice for all is what we aspire to, and that’s what we aspire to with ‘All Boats Rise.’”

Fans have submitted a lot of requests for the upcoming tour.

“The Little Feat fan base is obviously a very knowledgeable group,” Payne said. “We’re just going to have to see how many of them we can learn, to be honest with you.”

Some, he added, won’t make the cut, and not for musical reasons, Payne said.

“I think given the state of affairs of the world, ‘The Fan’ is an interesting request, but it’s not exactly a song with a good view of women.” It’s true, the Feats Don’t Fail Me Now track’s misogyny is glaring in hindsight. “Look, we’re not going to sing that, OK? Let’s play some of the music … we’d be in a world of trouble if we actually got up there and sang it.”

Payne is receptive to focusing on Little Feat’s most successful album, the 1978 double live Waiting For Columbus.

“[That’s] been brought up year after year, and I’m like, I don’t know,” he said.

New management, and new blood in the band, however, encourage him.

“The weight of it is you’re going after one of the best albums we ever put out and certainly one of our most well-known. … I think it’s a perfect way to say, ‘Put it right down: the gauntlet has been thrown.’”

Little Feat By Request

When: Friday, Nov. 19, 8 p.m.
Where: Lowell Memorial Auditorium, 50 E. Merrimack St., Lowell
Tickets: $39 to $289 at event.etix.com

Featured photo: Little Feat. Courtesy photo.

Keeping it real

Comedian Carolyn Plummer headlines Rex show

Of all the words Carolyn Plummer might use to describe herself, “lucky” isn’t one. As a teenager Plummer won a pair of Grateful Dead passes, only to see the show canceled when Jerry Garcia died. In early 2020, she had the best spring of her comedy career lined up, and everyone knows how that turned out.

Quarantine led to a lot of soul-searching, Plummer said in a recent phone interview.

“I reassessed my whole life,” she said. “Like, why am I doing comedy? Should I have focused on a career? Should I have been a teacher?” Then, in February of this year, Denis Leary called with an invitation for Plummer to appear at the annual Comics Come Home benefit.

“That re-energized me to feel like I was on the right path,” she said. “Now I have a deeper appreciation for live shows and performing. I look at every performance now as an opportunity to meet more people and network and just enjoy it. … There’s a lot of sacrifice, but that kind of just brought everything full circle, that all the sacrifices made sense.”

Of course, the Nov. 13 Boston Garden show has been postponed for another year, but Plummer knows she’ll be on the next one. That’s a more tangible thing to hold on to than that Dead contest back when.

“They were will-call,” she said of the Boston Garden concert. “So I didn’t even have the tickets.”

A few comics mined the pandemic for new jokes, but not Plummer.

“I wasn’t very creative at the beginning. … My whole life just changed; it took a while to work through. I did a few things about contactless delivery; I don’t know why we didn’t have that in the past. I don’t need to have a relationship with the guy bringing the pizza to my house.”

A New Hampshire native — she grew up in Wolfeboro, a minister’s daughter — Plummer got into comedy after responding to an ad.

“This guy was teaching a class out of his mom’s condo in Manchester,” she said, adding with a chuckle, “That seemed safe to me at the time.”

It turned out well, and after a summer of learning, she began hitting open mic nights, eventually spending a lot of time in Portland, Maine.

“I met all the Boston guys; they would come up and do comedy,” she said. “I would watch them and go, ‘Wow, these guys are awesome’ — you know what I mean? Like Don Gavin, and all the greats: Lenny Clarke, Tony V….”

A big early break was the result of misfortune for Plummer.

“True story: On my 30th birthday, I got laid off,” she said. “Kelly MacFarland is one of my best friends, and she’s also a comic. She said, ‘I just met these guys, and they need another roommate, why don’t you go talk to them, and if it works out, move in there?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know, I don’t have a job.’ She said, ‘That’s the best time to go.’ I ended up moving back to Belmont, Mass., which I could never afford if I wasn’t in a roommate situation. … It kind of took off from there.”

While she’s performed in New York City, ventured to California for the Burbank Comedy Festival and even thought about moving west once or twice, Plummer is partial to living in and working in New England, particularly her home state.

“What I like about New Hampshire is it surprises you,” she said. “You might go to this tiny town in the middle of nowhere and have all these highly educated people that you’d think wouldn’t be living in the woods, fixing cars, being lumberjacks, and all this other stuff. You can’t make assumptions like that. … All the different towns are different.”

Carolyn Plummer & Friends

When: Friday, Nov. 5, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester
Tickets: $25 at palacetheatre.org

Featured photo: Comedian Carolyn Plummer. Courtesy photo.

Freaky Friday

Halloween themed comedy show in Manchester

Open mic nights are a lifeblood for comedians, a place to hone their craft and work on new material.

For much of the pandemic, Yankee Lanes in Keene was one of the few to remain open, and comics from all across New England flocked to it. Seacoast standup Michael Millett inherited the weekly event when its original host left, and as the nightlife scene began reopening, he moved it to Yankee’s sister location in Manchester.

Millett’s Grey Area Comedy has become a hub for a growing alt comedy scene that includes Gone Rogue Productions’ events at Manchester’s Backyard Brewery, Tragedy Plus Time’s shows in Londonderry, Exeter’s Word Barn and the venerable downtown Shaskeen showcase, now run by Ruby Room Comedy.

The Yankee conclave recalls the now-defunct Monday open mic at Penuche’s Ale House in Concord — in both venues, audiences don’t always arrive expecting comedy, Millett said in a recent phone interview.

“You have to basically fight for the audience’s attention. … The stage is in the same room as the bar,” he said. “We bank off the bowling league that gets out around 8:45; our open mic is at 9. Regular patrons bleed in, sit down, and watch the comedians.”

A dozen or so hopefuls show up every week to face the challenging milieu.

“Every mic has a different energy,” Millett said. “People that work on their comedy come to mine, and I like that.”

Millett also hosts a comedy showcase at Yankee Lanes on the last Friday of every month with a headliner, feature comic and opening act. The next one happens Oct. 29 and stars the comedy team of Jai Demeule and Will Pottorff. The two ran a popular weekly event in Beverly, Mass., until it became a casualty of lockdown. Anthony Massa features, and Troy Burditt opens.

Demeule and Pottorff were known for raucous sets done in costume, as teachers, politicians, camp counselors and other characters. Their upcoming appearance will most likely have a similar approach, but when reached for comment, Demeule demurred on the details — while hinting at a potential exorcism.

“Without giving too much away, Will and I will be doing a Halloween themed set that might have some guests from our time running The Studio of Madness,” she wrote via Facebook Messenger. “Audiences can expect laughs, a healthy dose of insanity, and if all goes well, for the bowling alley to be cleansed of all ghostly presence by the end of the evening.”

Next month, local comic Matt Barry is joined by Tom Spohn and Tristan Hoffler, and in December, Paul Keller headlines.

“He’s a kinetic comedian who does comedy and magic at the same time,” Millett said of Keller. “He’s very good at magic tricks, but he’s also good at being funny about it.”

Millett has hopes for expanding to a more formal setting in the future.

“Yankee Lanes has a rec room that they don’t use for anything [and] I could easily fit 120 people in there,” he said. “I’m working toward getting enough draw with Grey Area Comedy to do that … it’s now been just over a year, between Keene and Manchester.”

His efforts are about more than just promoting shows, Millett stressed.

“I’m trying to build a community with everything I do, trying to get as many comedians involved in it as possible,” he said. “What I want to do is — I don’t want to use the word safe haven — but I want it to be a cornerstone, contributing to the rest of the scene. A place for people to work on their craft.”

Grey Area Comedy Club

When: Friday, Oct. 29, 8 p.m.
Where: Yankee Lanes (formerly Spare Time), 216 Maple St., Manchester
More: Free show starring Jai Demeule and Will Pottorff, Anthony Massa, Troy Burditt, Michael Millett (host)

Featured photo: Will Pottorff and Jai Demeule. Courtesy photo. Courtesy photo.

Industrial night

Triple bill leans to heavy sound

As a genre, mathcore occupies the intersection of punk, metal and jazz. Among its practitioners is Willzyx, a Manchester quartet with influences including industrial rock pioneers Ministry, late-stage John Coltrane, and modern exemplars like Daughters and French avant-prog trio PoiL.

Willzyx’s latest EP, i don’t feel anything, was released in September. With six tracks clocking in under 15 minutes, it’s at times relentless, as on the whisper to a scream “Feed Your Feelings,” and “Flexible Lies,” which echoes Red-era King Crimson. “We Can Live Our Deaths in Peace” closes out the new disc perfectly, with Ian Seacrest’s screamo vocals soaring over a progression always on the verge of exploding.

For the curious, their name is pronounced Will-Zee-Ack and comes from the killer whale character in a 2005 South Park episode that parodied Free Willy. In a recent phone interview, Willzyx guitarist Alex Hunt and drummer John Funk talked of plans to tone down the band’s wildness.

“When the pandemic hit, we decided to record stuff we hadn’t done yet … in between the next stage of where we’re going sound-wise,” he said. “What we’re working on is branching toward a more choreographed and organized effort, instead of trying to be heavy and chaotic for the sake of being heavy and chaotic.”

Though based in Manchester, Willzyx hasn’t done many local shows lately, with Boston, Providence or Portland, Maine, more frequently on their calendar, with an occasional New York City gig.

“I think we just kind of want to branch out, try to space it,” Funk said. “All of our friends are here, so when we play, it’s fun for everyone to come hang out, but we also want to share with people who don’t know who we are, so we try and go outward.”

The band’s formative period happened in its hometown, however. They’ve appeared at Shaskeen, and a key venue was the now-shuttered Bungalow.

“The whole thing started almost as a joke,” Hunt said. “It was … free experimentation and trying not to repeat riffs, things like that. We tested all of that at Bungalow; it was the main place for us at the beginning.”

They’re back home on Oct. 23 for a show at Candia Road Brewing Co., with two other acts joining in.

Tweak also hews toward a heavier, industrial rock sound.

“They’re kind of in a similar vein to us in that I feel like we listen to a lot of the same music and share a lot of similar kinds of ideas of why we make music,” Hunt said.

Rounding out the night is Doth, the latest moniker for an ambient band that’s gone by Cain Sauce and Sugar Potion, among other names.

“It’s all the same people; this is just one formation,” Hunt said. “It’s a more sparse, electronic kind of thing.”

The event is a bit of a departure for the craft brewery, which frequently hosts solo singer-songwriters, and it’s also the final appearance of Tweak’s current configuration, as one of its members will soon relocate to Chicago.

“They’re definitely an experience I think people should come and see,” Hunt said. “It’s part jump-scare, part dissonant ambient, and part you can’t really follow the rhythms, but you know they’re there somewhere.”

Willzyx members Hunt, Funk, Seacrest and bass player Colin Ward are pleased to present a diverse night.

“There aren’t a lot of shows that cross genre boundaries,” Hunt said. “There’s the metal scene, there’s the songwriter scene, and they don’t really interact very much. Doth is totally not in the same sound as us, but they have the same mentality of bridging those gaps, exposing people to different things that they might not have known they were interested in. It’s cool to have those different styles on the same bill.”

Willzyx / Doth / Tweak

When: Saturday, Oct. 23, 8 p.m.
Where: Candia Road Brewing Co., 840 Candia Road, Manchester
Tickets: $5 – see facebook.com/WillzyxBand

Featured photo: Willzyx. Courtesy photo.

Grumpy but grinning

Q & A with Rick Wakeman

Along with his work with Yes and a large catalog of solo albums, Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Rick Wakeman has made music with everyone from David Bowie to Black Sabbath. He even played A&R man when he steered theatrical rockers The Tubes to A&M Records. At his upcoming show in Derry, Wakeman will perform and reminisce about his life, often reprising the standup comedy skills that made him a hit at Yes’s 2017 Hall of Fame induction. Wakeman spoke with the Hippo via Zoom from his home in England.

How did things go for you during the pandemic?

Well, it wasn’t good, but having said that, it wasn’t good for anybody…. I played the piano every day, but there were some days I thought to myself, how long is this going to go on for? I’m just playing the piano and I don’t know why…. The thing that brought everything home to me was … I lost 19 friends from Covid. That hit home very hard.

Will these shows be your first live audience experience since shutdown?

Yeah, they are [except for] a few weeks ago. When restrictions lifted here, I phoned my great friends at the Ronnie Scott club in London and said … I need to play in front of an audience, however small. … I didn’t plan anything to say; I walked on stage, went up to the microphone and without thinking I went, ‘Wow, there’s real people!’ [And] somebody shouted back, ‘Yeah, and there’s somebody on stage — it doesn’t get any better!’

Are you really grumpier this time around?

It’s grumpy but actually funny. … It won’t offend. There are a lot of things to be grumpy about [but] I’m not going to make a meal of the whole Covid thing. I want people to have fun. There will be a moment where I remember a few friends. It’s just going to be so great to walk out and play for my friends — pretty much everywhere I go in America I’ve got friends.

Tell me about working with Black Sabbath.

When they were putting Sabbath Bloody Sabbath together, we were in the same complex of studios. … Ozzy said we’ve got some synthesizer, mini-Moog lines we want, would you come and do it? I said I’d love to. So I went into the studio just after midnight. The entire band and engineers were comatose, they were completely out of it, there were quite a few bottles lying around. The taper was there, and was looking terrified. … He said, ‘I can play you the track; Ozzy said you’d know what to do,’ [and] I recorded it. Then Ozzy opened his eyes and looked at me. I can’t repeat the exact words he said, but he basically went, that’s perfect. He actually went, ‘That’s f-ing great!’

How are you choosing songs for this tour? 

I’m at the stage right now where I’ve got a short list [of 20 songs, and] 10 will have to go. Having said that … sometimes I can throw everything out the window…. It’s happened on a few occasions. I’m certain there will be a few I haven’t played before. It’s a mixture of certain pieces that people in the nicest sense like to hear when I come along, a few they might not expect, and a few total surprises.

What’s the status of Anderson Wakeman Rabin?

I’d like to think something over the next few years will happen for sure, because none of us are getting any younger and we all love what we do … I mean, I love playing Yes music, it’s my life, so obviously if the offers come in and Jon and Trev are up for it, yeah, I’m sure there will be stuff.

How’d you discover The Tubes?

I first saw them in the ’70s. I think it was Halloween and we had a night off in San Francisco. I went out to this club where the Tubes were playing. … There was a lot of drinking and noise. Not a lot of people were taking notice [and] I thought it was a shame that at the time people weren’t really listening to them. Fee Waybill walked off and I thought, is he gone? He came back on completely naked and sang the next song — yeah, that got their attention. He went, now you’re listening. And I thought, I liked you before, I love you guys now. After, I asked, who are you signed to? They said nobody will touch us, they’re all frightened of us. I said, I’ll get you a deal, I promise you. I flew down to L.A. and saw Jerry Moss [and] he said yeah, we know all about The Tubes. Everybody’s a bit frightened of them. I said they are fantastic, so so good. He said, I’ll tell you what, Rick, we’ll sign them, but the deal is you produce them. … Problem was, I’m solidly on tour with Yes [so] someone else came in. Of course, they had a massive album. We remain friends.

Rick Wakeman – The Even Grumpier Old Rock Star Tour

When: Thursday, Oct. 14, 8 p.m.
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry
Tickets: $55 and $60 at tupelohall.com

Featured photo: Rick Wakeman. Courtesy photo.

On the road again

Willy Porter back in NH for two shows

Though he’s a native of Wisconsin, Willy Porter feels a strong connection to the Granite State.

“I think I could easily live in New Hampshire,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I just love the pace of life there.”

Porter returns frequently for shows at The Flying Goose in New London, and this year he’ll be there for two nights to start their live music season.

Porter’s career began around the time Tom Mills opened the restaurant turned brewpub in 1993; his breakthrough LP, Dog Eared Dream, arrived a year later. His ties to the area include a long collaboration with musician and artist Tom Pirozzoli. The two have written together over the years and in 2020 made an album, Reckon by the Light.

“He’s got a great eye as a poet and a painter,” Porter said of Pirozzoli. “He’s one of the guys you want around.”

Porter has made almost a dozen records over his three-decade career. His most recent, mnemonic, arrived just ahead of the pandemic, on Valentine’s Day 2020. With its release, he played a trio show in his home state, then headed to Florida to start a tour in support of the new disc.

When he got there, the world shut down.

After being stranded for a bit, Porter flew back to Wisconsin. He didn’t perform again until June of this year, other than playing for a handpicked crowd last fall to help an Omaha, Nebraska performing arts center stay open.

“It was a strange sort of mummified show … everybody fully wrapped,” he said of the event, which was livestreamed. “I did get to play this extraordinary room; it was like going from my basement to Carnegie Hall.”

Now, beginning with a festival in Oregon and continuing in New England, Porter is finally back on the road.

“I was looking at my luggage and I saw the baggage tag was from the return from Florida on March 12 of 2020,” he said, and offered a baseball metaphor for emphasis. “It’s a gift to come off the Covid bench, get back in it and see some old friends.”

Porter drew from the pandemic and America’s pastime for a single he put out in early summer. “Baseball On The Radio” recalls a trip to Sears with his dad that’s more about time away from his mom than shopping, as the two bond over their beloved Brewers and announcer Bob Uecker calls the game.

“I asked him, ‘Why are we here?’ He said, ‘Because your mother’s not,’ … I just looked at him and then he kind of just smiled, and we moved on. I think that was a time when the garage was just not far enough away,” he said. “I’m lucky that I grew up in a house where my parents always worked it out.”

The hopeful, nostalgic song was also aimed at a reeling country.

“We’re coming out of Covid, and the one thing I’ve always loved is baseball, we can all rally around it. It’s an American thing, it’s not partisan, it’s just fantastic. It’s right up the middle, it’s where we’re from. I just wanted something that was uniquely positive … plus, it’s a lot of fun to sing about the Brewers.”

The song will appear on a new album Porter is working on with Dog Eared Dream producer Mike Hoffman.

“It only took us 27 years to do the follow-up together,” he said with a laugh. The forthcoming disc draws inspiration from his experience revisiting the 1994 record on its 25th anniversary in 2019.

“It was a very hopeful time,” he said. “Going back, you can pull some of that energy out of that music again and reapply it. Not that I’m trying to replicate it, but there’s a mindset, a psychology of hope in both of those records. I’m definitely trying to tap into [that] with this new project.”

Willy Porter

When: Wednesday, Oct. 6, and Thursday, Oct. 7, 8 p.m.
Where: Flying Goose Pub, 40 Andover Road, New London
Tickets: $25 at flyinggoose.com

Featured photo: Willy Porter. Courtesy photo.

The NH Mixtape

27 PERFORMERS AND BANDS TALK ABOUT THE LOCAL SCENE, FELLOW MUSICIANS AND THE UPCOMING NEW ENGLAND MUSIC AWARDS

When the annual New England Music Awards ceremony takes place on Sunday, Oct. 17, New Hampshire will be well-represented, with a slate of dozens of nominees. The Hippo reached out to many of them, and 27 responded, sharing their thoughts on their nominations and what it’s like to be part of the local music scene.

New Hampshire’s Soundtrack

Michael Witthaus built a Spotify playlist highlighting the artists here. Find it by searching for him or “New England Music Awards 2021 — Representing New Hampshire” on Spotify. As Dead Harrison put it when asked about favorites among this year’s nominees: “There are so many excellent people here. Carissa Johnson, Liz Bills, Hunter, Jennifer Tefft, Major Moment, Mindset X, SixteenX20, Sepsiss, Walter Sickert … all of them are great…. Even still, there are so many nominees that I haven’t even discovered yet. You all need to go get some wholesome music into your earholes.”

Amanda McCarthy

Female Performer of the Year

On being nominated: Grateful … but also a little surprised, since I now reside primarily in Nashville. However, I do strive to remain active in New England and perform regularly when I visit home, so I was really happy to see that be recognized. The first time I was nominated, in 2019, I’d had zero expectations and I was truly shocked.

On NEMA’s importance: Awards are a funny thing in music. I don’t think they are or should be the end-all-be-all of what any musician does. That being said, it always feels good to be recognized and these nominations/wins definitely make a resume look better, which helps with bookings and getting bigger opportunities.

On her category: I haven’t really released new music since the last awards cycle, but I have continued to perform music for a living despite the Covid challenges, so I think it was actually the perfect category this time around.

On being a New England musician: It’s very easy to travel to different areas and make the rounds… There’s opportunity [to play] original music, but also work the covers scene for money. While I do feel Nashville is the place for me to be at this time as a songwriter, I fully credit New England for allowing the chances to develop my career … and I always look forward to coming back.

Upcoming shows: In New England on Saturday, Oct. 16, and Monday, Oct. 18, locations TBA

Bitter Pill

Live Act of the Year, Best in State

On being nominated: [The band, led by father-daughter duo Billy and Emily Butler, answered together via email] Billy said, H, look at that,’ sipped his coffee and pulled on a spliff, while Emily said, “Weeeeee!”

On NEMA’s importance: Awards are not important to us but we do love the community aspect of it. Celebrating original music from our region is something we feel is very important.

On their category: We were nominated for Best Live Act and Best of New Hampshire. That’s pretty cool. We love playing live and our audiences eat up our silliness, fun and love.

On being New England musicians: New England audiences love live original music. Also there is something in the air here in the North Country, especially the original music. Maybe it’s the four seasons or the deeply rooted working-class journeyman history. It’s one of the reasons we call ourselves Bitter Pill. It is hard living in the winter but when spring comes, that pill isn’t so hard to swallow.

Upcoming shows: Claremont Opera House, Saturday, Oct. 23

Charlie Chronopoulos

Album of the Year – Chesty Rollins’ Dead End

On being nominated: I’m honored. There are a lot of really awesome people making albums around here, so to be included in that conversation is a wonderful thing.

On NEMA’s importance:I’ve followed the awards over the years often voting for friends. I’ve found some really great music after looking into some of the other nominees I didn’t know. It’s a really great thing they’re doing in the community even just helping artists find one another.

On his category: Album of the year is my favorite category. It’s what I’m most interested in, so I’m glad to be there.

On being a New England musician: It has many upsides. You can afford studio space if you’re willing to look around off the beaten path. You can make friends for life in sleepy towns who don’t move away like friends in the city tend to. You can find a swimming hole on the way to a gig. Stuff like that makes it worth leaning into this community for sure.

Upcoming shows: Currier Museum of Art, Thursday, Oct. 28

“He’s the real deal. Definitely lived and done the thing and his writing really reflects that.”

Charlie Chronopoulos on Tyler Allgood

Dakota Smart

New Act of the Year and Best in State

On being nominated: When I found out, I felt humbled and in disbelief. I realize there’s a lot of talented artists in New England, and it’s an honor to be on a list with them. My first response was to thank the New England Music Awards, and to congratulate fellow musicians and producers who were also nominated. Then I encouraged my family, friends and fans to vote.

On NEMA’s importance: They are a huge deal to me. I live and breathe to write music and perform. I’ve been writing songs since I was 10 years old. My life’s passion is to produce music that has a positive impact and is enjoyed by people of all ages … to win would really help to spotlight my work, and provide an outlet for my music to be heard.

On his category: The two categories fit my level of work to date. Although I’ve been performing for years, this year I launched. My newest 12-song professional album is the best I’ve ever written, and I’m the most confident on stage I’ve ever been. … I feel this is the year that my career really has a chance to take off.

On being a New England musician: The music scene in New England is very supportive. It’s a small community that’s very inclusive of artists from various backgrounds and styles. Also, the venues are very open to live music, and that keeps us working.

“I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with him in the past. He’s extremely talented, has a unique style, and is a pleasure to work with.”

Dakota Smart on Senie Hunt

David Corson

Best in State

On being nominated: My first response was actually shock. … I was scrolling through the nominees trying to see which bands I knew personally had been nominated and randomly saw my name. I was ecstatic, because I have been working really hard at this for a long time.

On NEMA’s importance: The awards are extremely important to every musician in this area because it gives us validation that all of our grinding has amounted to something. It also helps us get more gigs, because it looks great on our resume.

On his category: I have been playing music in New Hampshire and the surrounding area since I was 18, so being nominated for best in the state feels so good; almost 10 years of work is finally paying off.

On being a New England musician: I would say the best thing about being a New England musician is the community that I’m surrounded by. The musicians and the audiences create an atmosphere of acceptance and appreciation of all types of music.

Upcoming shows: Cara Irish Pub in Dover on Friday, Oct. 1; Dwyer’s Pub in Portsmouth on Wednesdays in October; Tailgate Tavern in Stratham on Friday, Oct. 8; Shane’s Backyard in Hampton on Friday, Oct. 15; Sawbelly Brewing in Exeter on Saturday, Oct. 16

Dead Harrison

Best in State

On being nominated: Our first nomination in 2019 … struck us with great hope. Even if we weren’t going to win, it gave us something to strive for. Now we’re on our third year [and] all the love and support from our community is so empowering and makes us push even harder to just do what we love to do, to make more and better music than the year before.

On NEMA’s importance: It sheds light on all those musicians around the New England area. There is so much talent that the majority of the public doesn’t see. It puts a little perspective to how hard people work [at] being a musician. It gives a musician hope. It helps us to never give up, and be better than you were at the gig before.

On their category: I don’t think we have ever felt that we were the best act in New Hampshire, but it is such a high honor to hold close to the heart. The past year and a half has been tough on us all. We all work so hard, and there are so many great bands out there keeping the fires lit. I feel it helps keep people inspired.

On being a New England musician: New England musicians have a strong work ethic and don’t give up easily. Not only that, but the community of other musicians has always been a supportive one. Always be encouraging. Always be truthful and don’t let pride be your downfall. We strive to be helpful, not hurtful. We push each other to be the best we can be, and then push a little further.

Upcoming shows: Octoberfest at Lithermans Limited, Concord, Saturday, Oct. 16, and Sinfest at Jewel, Manchester, Saturday, Nov. 13

DJ Midas

Digital Performer

On being nominated: I got a message from a friend/fan from Nashua who wrote, ‘I voted for you.’ I had no idea if it was a weird joke, a compliment or insult. I asked him what he meant and he sent me the link. I wasn’t familiar with the New England Music Awards, so I was initially skeptical as to what it was.

On NEMA’s importance: As a fairly off the beaten path type of artist, it is really heartwarming to know there are people out there that appreciate and recognize my efforts.

On his category: After spending so many years on vinyl and transitioning into the digital word only in the last decade, it feels pretty damn good.

On being a New England musician: I love [the] sparky New England attitude. I love that there is still breathing room in our area to be yourself.

Upcoming shows: Late Night Delight with Midas on 95.3 WMNH every Saturday and Sunday at midnight; Vice 80’s party at 603 Bar and Lounge in Dover on Saturday, Oct. 16

“I love Roots Of Creation; they end the rules, and sound so juicy.”

DJ Midas on Roots of Creation

Fil Pacino

Male Performer of the Year

On being nominated: Surprised. I’m not normally considered for such things and I found out from a friend a few days after nominees were announced.

On NEMA’s importance: The majority of what I do operates in the covers/GB scene. I do write, record and perform a lot of my own music, which can be found on all the streaming media and my website, but I’ve done OK with having not received any accolades in the past.

On his category: Well, I am a male and I perform pretty much every day of the year, so I think they nailed it.

On being a New England musician: There’s a lot of opportunity. I love that it’s a genre melting pot, and who doesn’t love getting to play music in all four seasons?

Upcoming shows: filpacino.com

Hunter

Best in State

On being nominated: I’m surprised and grateful.

On NEMA’s importance: I’m always going to be doing music and giving it my all, but it’s a really cool thing to have recognition for that work and energy spent.

On their category: There are so many good bands in every category and I’m blessed to know most of them. I love being nominated for best in state because I’ve worked really hard to represent New Hampshire with the band. I hope to be in performer of the year or female performer of the year because I do primarily think of myself as a performer and entertainer more than a musician.

On being a New England musician: I love the community of it in most areas — the support shared between the musicians and bands, sharing each other’s stuff, helping each other get gigs, and how we stay in touch and play shows together.

Upcoming shows: Portsmouth Feed Co., Portsmouth, Saturday, Oct. 9

Justin Cohn

Best in State

On being nominated: I was surprised. I’ve checked the nominations the last few years the day they’ve come out … this year I didn’t, assuming I wouldn’t get a nomination. A friend reached out to me and congratulated me; that’s how I found out. It’s an honor.

On NEMA’s importance: To be included as a nominee with a bunch of incredibly talented New England musicians for whom I have so much respect is very affirming. I play a lot of cover gigs to pay the bills, and while I’m so grateful to the venues that book me, it means a lot to be recognized as a musician in this vibrant creative community.

On his category: It is a meaningful category for me. I was born and raised here, and my roots will always be here. No matter where this career takes me, it would be an honor to win that award. Just to be nominated is an honor.

On being a New England musician: We have a lot of quality, original artists up here, and I love being in that community. That’s not to say other parts of the country don’t, but in my traveling and my conversations with friends, I think we have something special up here. Maybe it’s the four distinct seasons, maybe it’s the history. Whatever it is, I enjoy being a small part of it.

Upcoming shows: Hippy Hollow House Show in Greenville on Saturday, Oct. 2; Milford Pumpkin Festival in Milford on Saturday, Oct. 9; Square Root in Boston (opening for Cat Attic) on Friday, Oct. 15

Katie Dobbins

Best in State

On being nominated: I feel especially stoked … because it has been such a crazy time for musicians; you can start to feel nervous about losing momentum. So it’s nice to see that people are still excited about what I’m doing.

On NEMA’s importance: My success depends on me; that has really helped me deal with the inevitable rejection we all face in this industry. But of course being nominated helps build my musical resume, and I think it helps people take me more seriously. It does boost my confidence as well, which helps me feel like I’m on the right track.

On her category: It feels really great because New Hampshire is where I was born and raised, where I have continued to have an ongoing presence throughout my music career … it’s validation that I’m in the right place and that people are cheering me on. It’s also interesting because there are a lot of amazing New Hampshire artists that I look up to who didn’t make the list.

On being a New England musician: I have found the music community here to be so supportive. I’ve made a lot of very close friends in the industry, and in my experience everyone really wants to help each other out. We celebrate one another’s successes, we help one another get new opportunities. I don’t know that it’s like that everywhere; I’m grateful. … Nashville definitely has a piece of my heart, but there’s nothing like coming back home to New England.

Upcoming shows: Community Fest at The Belknap Mill, Gilford, Saturday, Oct. 16

Liz Bills

Female and Digital Performer, Pop Act, Song and Video of the Year – “WiHi”

On being nominated: I was honestly shocked to be nominated for so many awards.

On NEMA’s importance: The nominations and awards look great on the resume, and it helps with networking and connections.

On her category: I’m grateful to be nominated in five categories. It means the world to me to be nominated for female performer of the year because I feel that performing is one of my strongest abilities. It’s so funny, in a good way, to be nominated for pop act of the year because I won roots act of the year and rock act of the year in the past. It just goes to show you how difficult it is to categorize my genre, and I love that.

On being a New England musician: I love how close we are to neighboring states, making tours pretty sweet and easy. I am a New England girl born and raised, so it feels good to have roots here in music.

Upcoming shows: Pasta Loft in Milford (with April Cushman), Saturday, Nov. 13

“I have so many favorites who are also dear friends of mine. Wyn Doran’s emotionally haunting vocals bring me to tears. I also really love Coral Moons as people and songwriters… Erin Harpe is a freakin’ goddess guitar wizard master, Dwight and Nicole blow my mind, Veronica Lewis is a slayer of the keys, Prateek is an awesome songwriter and storyteller, Josh Knowles stopping hearts with his entrancing violin melodies and emotional vocals.”

Liz Bills on … lots of people

Maddi Ryan

Country Act of the Year

On being nominated: I was extremely humbled by the fact that even though we had one of the toughest years yet, I was still able to make an impact enough to be nominated. Excited, I was also excited!

On NEMA’s importance: I don’t really count my successes in awards or nominations, I just do what I love, but I think the nomination is more of a reminder that I’m on the right path.

On her category: I feel grateful to have been nominated among the talented performers within the country sphere of New England.

On being a New England musician: I love the community that music has in New England; everyone is so friendly and genuine. Also, the fans are some of the best around. If you’ve ever come to a show, the energy is always unreal!

Upcoming shows: The Goat in Manchester on Friday, Oct. 8; Bonfire Country Bar in Manchester on Friday, Oct. 29

Mindset X

Hard Rock/Metal Act of the Year

On being nominated: It felt good to be recognized again. Always nice that people pay attention to what Mindset X is up to and we do truly appreciate that.

On NEMA’s importance: I have never played music to win awards [but] because I have something to say and I adore the beauty that music is. That said, we’ve been doing this a long time [so] it does feel good to be recognized for creating music that reaches people. That is important to us, certainly.

On their category: I think it made perfect sense. We’re a band that likes to explore different styles so who knows? Maybe next it’ll be country. Or country prog metal. Is that a thing? If not it should be.

On being a New England musician: The best thing is probably the musical diversity. For such a relatively small area, we are gifted with so many great musicians and styles of music.

Upcoming shows: See mindsetx.com.

Prospect Hill

Hard Rock/Metal Act of the Year

On being nominated: Singer Adam Fithian said, “I was actually surprised since … we hadn’t been nominated in a few years. All I could say to myself was, ‘Well that’s pretty cool.’”

On NEMA’s importance: We worked hard for years solidifying our New England scene before we started touring around the country. What that did was allow us to come home after being on tour for a two-month run and have an amazing home show. To be nominated, at least for me, is a pat on the back for a lot of effort put forward in building our brand.

On their category: To be nominated in the hard rock/metal category is fitting for our style. We are a balance of both of these genres.

On being a New England musician: There is a very special group of musicians here, different than what I have seen around the country — the bonds that we create, the unique talents that we share together. I feel like I’m one lucky SOB to be a part of such an amazing family.

Upcoming shows: Prospect Hill’s 12th annual Halloween Bash, Wally’s Pub, Hampton Beach, Friday, Oct. 29

Roots of Creation

Live, Roots and World Act

On being nominated: It came as a huge surprise and honor to be nominated alongside a lot of our friends in three categories. We pushed really hard during the pandemic to challenge ourselves with livestreams, grow our connection with our fans. I like that we turned a crap sandwich and almost bankruptcy into a positive movement full of personal and musical growth.

On NEMA’s importance:I discover new artists from the nomination process and live performances at the award show, and our fans get stoked when we are nominated for awards. Winning previous awards has opened many doors for us, on both local and national levels.

On their categories: Winning live act of the year would be most exciting and validating, as it truly is where Roots of Creation shines.

On being a New England musician: It’s a really cool tight-knit scene that transcends genre. There’s a lot of collaboration behind the scenes, on stage, in the studio and at pickup gigs… I like being a big fish in a small pond, and no matter the beauty I encounter on the road, New Hampshire always makes me feel grounded and at home.

Senie Hunt

Male Performer of the Year

On being nominated: I found out through a friend of mine who asked me if I had realized that I was on the list of nominees. I didn’t even think to look for my name as I had just moved to Nashville a few months prior. I was honored and delighted to see my name among some of the amazing musicians that had also been nominated.

On NEMA’s importance: I had been following it even before I took the leap of faith to become a full-time musician. To me it was a reminder of how much music really impacts people and how much appreciation we all have toward the performers who put their hearts and soul into the music. I’m honored to just be nominated.

On his category: I’ve never been one for categorizing, especially when it comes to music. It’s such a widely varying art form that it can be overwhelming to place yourself in any category. To be nominated, however, as male performer of the year with all the talented people on and off the list is inspiring. It’s also a reminder that putting yourself out there and sharing your vulnerability through music can be well worth it.

On being a New England musician: Even after my recent move to Nashville, I always appreciate the love, support and family that comes from being part of the New England music scene. I also can’t say enough how incredibly dedicated, talented, resilient and hardworking all the musicians and venues I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with are in New England.

Upcoming shows: New England tour in November, see seniehunt.com

“The ones that stand out the most are Dakota Smart, who I first heard at an open mic…; Amanda McCarthy is not only an incredible songwriter and singer but also a kind and inspirational person. I like Justin Cohn [and] I was pleased to see my longtime friend and fellow musician Wesley Thurber … watching him and his music grow from when we first had classes together in college to his first single release this past year is an inspiration.”

Senie Hunt on Dakota Smart, Amanda McCarthy, Justin Cohn and Wesley Thurber

Sepsiss

Hard Rock/Metal Act of the Year

On being nominated: Singer Melissa Wolfe: After the challenges of a year quarantined with our shows, for NEMA to nominate us this year was a massive surprise. We are a community band, and our neighbors nominating us means the world to us all.

On NEMA’s importance: Wolfe: Sepsiss isn’t a weekend getaway; we don’t have side jobs or take breaks. Our project is a lifetime commitment, as leaders, creating awareness of the experience and authentic universal love for music, art and healing. It is important that New England celebrates all its talented neighbors.

On their category: Guitarist William Savant: Heavy metal is still traditionally a style where the people and players have to grow an appetite for practice, depth of intellect and discipline. It’s smart, challenging and, additionally, physical and interactive.

On being a New England musician: Savant: The seasons help remind us to grow and reflect, expanding with life and change. It reminds us of a well-balanced world where variety and colors shape our bold planet … and this is where Sepsiss creates. One foot in the unknown and the other right here at home, the birthplace of creativity.

Upcoming shows: Jewel, Manchester, Saturday, Nov. 6

“We all voted for Dead Harrison … because they understand the stamina game, the quality of building healthy relationships in the community, and are competitive while remaining generous [and] making music, in our opinion, for realistic reasons.”

Sepsiss on Dead Harrison

Slack Tide

Live Act of the Year

On being nominated: Guitarist and singer Chris Cyrus: The keyboardist Michael sent the band a group chat. It was surreal seeing us on the same list as some of our favorite bands. Needless to say, I celebrated pretty well.

On NEMA’s importance: As a musician, you really need to be your own biggest fan. Some days you aren’t going to get any support but you push on because you believe in your art. Having some formal recognition goes a long way toward maintaining that perseverance.

On their category: Jam bands don’t do studios well; even Deadheads often don’t like the Grateful Dead’s albums. It’s all about the live show for us. Being placed in best live act is hands down the most appropriate category for the type of music that we create.

On being a New England musician: Once you reach a level where only the ones who’ve worked their asses off remain, it really does become a family. The venues, bookers, bands and fans are all one big happy clump, and I never plan on leaving that funky clump.

Upcoming shows: Waterville Valley Resort in Waterville Valley on Saturday, Oct. 9; Woodstock Inn & Brewery in Woodstock on Friday, Nov. 12; Pipe Dream Brewing in Londonderry on Saturday, Nov. 20

Soggy Po’ Boys

Roots Act of the Year

On being nominated: It’s a big honor to be nominated for these awards and to broadly be seen as representatives in some way for New England roots music.

On NEMA’s importance: It is always nice to be appreciated for your craft and while we do not think of our music in terms of awards or accolades and more in terms of our message and audience engagement it still is nice to be acknowledged!

On their category: I think it was appropriate for us to have been nominated in the Roots category as that is the category most representative of our music. It is also somewhat challenging to find a genre home for us so Roots seems like a nice catch-all.

On being a New England musician: The area is brimming with talent so to be nominated here and see our peer list and to be appreciated within the community is a huge honor.

Upcoming shows: soggypoboys.com

Supernothing

Live Act of the Year

On being nominated: Humbled. Supernothing has been a project where we didn’t know where it was going to go. Surely not being mentioned among one of the best acts in New England. This is our second year in a row being nominated, just a different category.

On NEMA’s importance: It’s an accolade, something we can say we are proud of, but as musicians we are not in competition with anyone. It’s all about supporting each other and the NEMAs do just that, win or lose.

On their category: We love being considered among some of the best live bands that headline festivals…. Twiddle, Goose and our great buddies from Boston, The Elovaters, all slay it. We know we are good and tight live, but man, best in New England is an honor… to be noticed for the hard work we are doing live is amazing.

On being a New England musician: We have a small tight group of bands that all support each other’s craft. It’s amazing.

Upcoming shows: supernothing603.com

“The Elovaters are amazing friends and brothers in music and are killing it in our scene.”

Supernothing on The Elovaters

Town Meeting

Americana Act and Album of the Year – Make Things Better

On being nominated: It’s always an honor to be recognized and to know your work is being appreciated somewhere. We work really hard and care deeply about our music. It feels good to know it’s not just getting lost in the ether.

On NEMA’s importance: On the one hand, I always feel uneasy about anything that turns art, which is entirely subjective, into a competition. It’s weird and on some level it’s always bothered me … on the other hand, I also see the importance of things like NEMA because they shine a light on a lot of local music that otherwise might not be seen. It’s a bittersweet thing.

On their category: It feels great to have our album recognized. We worked really hard on it. Dan Cardinal, who mixed and produced it, also deserves a ton of credit. We also love to see our name alongside everyone in the Americana category. Honestly, we’re humbled by it. There’s so much talent there and it feels weird to know a band of goofballs like us are considered peers.

On being a New England musician: New England has the best local music, the best venues, the best musicians, the best scene, the best vibe and community for live music, period. There’s not even a close second.

Upcoming shows:townmeetingmusic.com

Truffle

Best in State

On being nominated: Surprised … not sure if we have been nominated before, didn’t even know until we received a letter. Obviously, we are honored and happy to be a part of it.

On their category: Best in New Hampshire of course makes sense as that’s our home state. We play a lot in Maine and Massachusetts as well, a bit in Vermont, but not as much these days in Connecticut or Rhode Island.

On being a New England musician: It’s an honor; there are so many great talented players, it’s a very vibrant scene. We celebrated our 35th anniversary, and although we did a lot of touring the first 15 years, we always called New England home. It always felt good to tell folks where the band was from.

Upcoming shows: Shooters Beer Garden in Exeter on Friday, Oct. 1; Fury’s Publick House in Dover on Friday, Oct. 15; The Tavern in Exeter (Halloween show) on Saturday, Oct. 30

Tyler Allgood

Album of the Year – Through the Empty

On being nominated: I was confused when I first heard. I thought someone might have been pulling a joke on me. Then, I cried.

On NEMA’s importance: The awards and every local resource, promotion, fan, advertisement [area] extremely important in this work.

On his category: I was ecstatic to be nominated for album of the year. I’ve always wanted to compose albums around my writing. Never expected this, though.

On being a New England musician: It’s wholesome to be a New England musician. There’s a real community and passion around here, and so much love between working musicians.

Upcoming shows: Granite Roots Brewing in Troy on Friday, Oct. 1; Penuche’s Alehouse in Concord on Saturday, Oct. 2; The Alamo in Brookline on Thursday, Oct. 14; Hancock Depot in Hancock on Friday, Oct. 15; Molly’s Tavern in New Boston on Saturday, Oct. 23

Wesley Thurber

Best in State

On being nominated: The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I received a few text messages congratulating me … and I couldn’t help but say to myself, ‘What is happening and why am I being congratulated?’ [Then] I became humbled, honored and beyond excited.

On NEMA’s importance: Before, they weren’t even a thought in my mind, awards and such. However, after being nominated I’ll be sure to keep a closer eye on these sorts of things. Win or lose, I couldn’t care less. I’m simply happy to even be nominated.

On his category: I take pride in my work, and I’m honored it’s able to be broadcasted on another outlet, especially one like the New England Music Awards.

On being a New England musician: New England has an entire feel and vibe of its own that’s incredibly unique. To be a part of that, especially as a musician, is quite wonderful.

Will Hatch

Album of the Year – Downtown

On being nominated: We were surprised when a friend told us. … We weren’t expecting this, but were grateful to be added to the list.

On NEMA’s importance: Our goal is to have fun and to make good music. Personally, I’m driven to create for my own fulfillment, but having a little recognition always feels good.

On his category: It is a great category to be in. There’s a lot of fantastic, hardworking bands out there so I will leave it up to others to decide what categories we belong in.

On being a New England musician: Given that the scene in New Hampshire is smaller, it promotes a camaraderie amongst the local diehards. It’s nice to connect with other musicians year after year and to get the impression that they’re in it for the long haul.

Upcoming shows: Penuche’s Ale House, Concord, Friday, Oct. 30

Wyn Doran

Best in State, Digital Performer of the Year

On being nominated: Gratitude and confusion. I felt a deep shift in how I approached creativity in quarantine. I went from worrying about how I presented myself externally to focusing on projects that I always secretly wanted to do but didn’t think I could pull off. The nominations provided a mirror that I have accomplished more than I thought … and I am unbelievably grateful.

On NEMA’s importance: It’s the icing on the cake. I don’t create with NEMA in mind, but in a world where I feel the arts are overall under-appreciated, I am so excited for an event that highlights artists and the important work they do.

On her categories: I’m really excited about Digital Performer because I realized my favorite projects to date fall under that category. I always wanted to arrange my songs for a choir of voices, and with my husband, Mike, [we created] a handful of videos over quarantine. To be recognized in a category that highlights those works is extremely fulfilling and inspiring.

On being a New England musician: I grew up in Illinois, where you could drive three hours and get nowhere. Every state in New England is gorgeous. … It’s a beautiful thing to have access to perform in so many great communities across a number of states within reasonable driving distance.

Upcoming shows: Stone Church, Newmarket, Wednesday, Nov. 3

Featured photo: Liz Bills. Photo by Isa Rosa Photography.

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