Riverwalk redux

Honeysuckle brings live music back at beloved Nashua venue

Released in early spring, the latest album from Honeysuckle is called Great Divide. It’s a title with multiple meanings: a reference to today’s fractious national mood, evidenced by cover art of a house cracking to pieces, as well as a nod to the line between normal life and the masked, distanced one people came to live in the past year and a half.

The pandemic shaped the band’s art, Holly McGarry said in a recent phone interview. A planned EP stretched to 10 songs when she and bandmate/boyfriend Chris Boniarz got stranded at his parents’ house when lockdown began and ended their tour.

“That kind of forced indoor reflective time,” she said. “Then it changed a little bit of the tone.”

The title is also a reference to personal — and personnel — changes, McGarry said. In late 2019 Ben Burns left after seven years, changing Honeysuckle from a trio to a duo.

“We’ve had divides in every part of our lives. I mean, I lost jobs, and we lost gigs. We lost a bandmate. … There’s just been a big separation from what was and what is, for better or worse.”

Honeysuckle began at Berklee College of Music, when McGarry and Burns began writing together for school projects, and she started dating Bloniarz; the two men were in a band together. One day Burns played a harmonized line in a song and Bloniarz jumped in with his instrument, and an ‘aha’ moment happened.

“As sad as we are to not be able to play his songs, have him with us live and on records, everybody has to do what’s right for themselves, “ McGarry said of Burns’ departure. “Music is a passion and it’s a multi-layered thing, but it’s also a job. Everyone’s entitled to move on to whatever that next phase of life is that they want. So it was amicable.”

Great Divide is Honeysuckle’s fifth record, following the debut EP Arrows in 2015, an eponymous 2016 disc, Catacombs in 2017 and 2019’s Fire Starter. On the most recent LP, Boniarz and McGarry were co-writing more together, and shifting the band’s sound in the process.

“It’s been really interesting because Chris comes from a little different musical background, a little more rocking, I guess,” she said soon after it was released. “He loves Metallica. … It’s brought a slightly different flavor to things.”

Producer Benny Grotto, who worked with them on previous projects, proved invaluable on the new record, in a difficult time to work.

“If we had to involve more people than just Benny, it probably wouldn’t have been possible to do it over the pandemic,” McGarry said. “Because he was able to engineer, produce, mix and play drums and percussion, we were able to just have that little pod of the three of us.”

Now that they’re a duo, Boniarz is stretching out, McGarry said.

“It’s empowered him to … bring new parts of his multi-instrumental abilities to the group. We have a synthesizer that we’ve been using to fill in those lower frequencies. We’re having fun being a little bit more experimental with what we can do in the studio, and what we can do live,” she said.

This new direction is apparent on Great Divide’s dreamy title track, which McGarry names as one of her favorites on the new release, along with “Cycles,” a rollicking song with Boniarz on lead vocals.

“Chris is doing more looping now, and with the synthesizer we can add percussive beats to certain songs,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to transition into … seeing if we can adapt and layer more things with the mandolin.”

They’re repurposing their studio tricks for live shows like the upcoming one at Nashua’s Riverwalk Café. Sponsored by Symphony New Hampshire, it’s the first in-person show at the venue since it stopped doing regular live music events in 2019. Honeysuckle was a frequent guest in those days.

“We’ve always really loved playing Riverwalk, and we were very sad when they stopped doing music there,” McGarry said. “So it’s going to be nostalgic and special to be back.”

Thursday, Aug. 26, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Riverwalk Café and Music Bar, 35 Railroad Square, Nashua
Tickets: $20 at eventbrite.com

Featured photo: Honeysuckle. Photo credit: Crhis Cruz.

Traveling solo

Sarah Lee Guthrie finds her own voice

Two New Year’s Days ago Sarah Lee Guthrie wrote on Instagram, “Good morning 2020, I love you already.” With a few West Coast shows booked ahead of playing in the band on her dad Arlo’s national tour, the future gleamed. But in early March, right after she got to Solvang, California, the world shut down.

Guthrie holed up there, releasing videos made in a culvert near the Santa Ynez River. Songs came from her life as “a link in a chain of folk singers,” starting with grandpa Woody Guthrie, with selections from Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs.

A pair of originals from the so-called Culvert Sessions — an aching ode to her late mother and the longing “Seven Sisters,” a performance inspired by a full moon — hinted at the core of her hejira.

“I hadn’t really stepped into what could be known as a Sarah Lee Guthrie solo career after breaking up with Johnny [Irion, her husband and musical partner since 2000],” she said in a recent phone interview. “I’ve been kind of dipping my toes in all kinds of different directions to determine how to capture me, my essence. How do I put it down there?”

Beyond that, isolation was a totally new feeling that sparked waves of energy.

“I hadn’t actually lived alone ever in my entire adult life, and it’s the first time I was actually in one place for two whole months,” she said. “Then I found this amazing little portal of creativity. … I loved it.”

After lockdown was lifted, Guthrie found her way to Austin, Texas, where her sister Cathy now lives. The move sparked her latest creative flowering. The Guthrie Girls & the Stage Door Johnnies is a honky tonk band that holds down a weekly residency at Sam’s Town Point, a no-nonsense, music-forward bar located at the city’s southern tip.

The new effort took shape when Guthrie reluctantly agreed to play a folk jam.

“I’ve played listening rooms, theaters and schools, libraries and coffee houses all over the world, but bars … I’m just not good at them,” she said. But her sister wasn’t buying it, telling her, “just get over yourself and play.”

Her first night, “all these guys started to join me on stage, kind of uninvited, but really funny,” she said. “It was like, ‘Hey, I’m going to go grab my guitar, I’m going to grab my bass, let’s jam. I’m going to go find a drummer,’ [and] all of a sudden I have a band. … This place sucked me in and I have not left because it is so fun. My entire view of how to make music, why we make music, my relationship to music, just totally shifted.”

The nature of her employment also changed. The two sisters work behind the bar at Sam’s when they’re not performing, a situation necessitated by her father’s retirement from touring and live shows.

“I’m laid off and she’s laid off in a sense. She was working for my dad, and also making music with Amy Nelson in Folk Uke,” she said.

Cathy’s ex, Ramsey Millwood — the two share a child — is a singer-songwriter who owns and runs the bar.

Guthrie rapidly assimilated into Austin life.

“It’s really its own country,” she said, “and the coolest thing is that there’s so many great musicians, living a very unpretentious lifestyle going around from club to club. Our favorite people are always there, Charlie Sexton or Charley Crockett or Paul Cousin….”

Her uncle, folk legend Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, stopped by recently.

“This is a haven for people like Jack. There’s old cars in the back. We have one of my dad’s buses there that we’ve been fixing up and the guys all love to sit around and talk about what needs to be done to it. And a bunch of singing cowboys; I was like, ‘Jack, you gotta come hang out with us.’”

Leading a band is exhilarating, liberating, she said.

“Playing with Arlo and my brother, I’m just a little sister, a daughter,” she said. “Coming into a territory where I’m actually driving is feeling really good; I’m empowered. These guys have great taste, there’s great music. I’m inspired, and I love singing with Cathy. Having a band that loves coming to play your songs! It’s just like, oh man, feeling that for my own self. … It’s been life-changing.”

Looking back at her long-ago ’gram post now fills Guthrie with regret’s opposite.

“I did love it,” she said. “I know that it’s been a hard year, but … we spend so much time trying to decide whether it’s good or bad; I’m just over it. I just want to experience. I’m an optimist, so I saw the good in 2020 like you wouldn’t believe. … I’m so much happier.”

Sarah Lee Guthrie w/ Tristan Omand
Saturday, Aug. 14, 2 p.m.
Where: Stone Church, 5 Granite St., Newmarket
Tickets: $25 at stonechurchrocks.com ($30 at the door)

Also Friday, Aug. 13, 7:30 p.m. at Brewbakers, 48 Emerald St., Keene ($25 at novarts.org) with Charlie Chronopoulos.

Featured photo: Sarah Lee Guthrie. Courtesy photo.

Ready to laugh

Ace Aceto brings the funny to Chunky’s

Ace Aceto thinks that right now is a great time to be a comedian —‌ even hecklers are deferential.

“At one show, someone was yelling stuff out, just excited to be there,” he said by phone recently. “I shut him down [by] making light of it. He came up to me after, saying, ‘Man, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to mess with you. I was having a good time.’ I’m like, ‘I get it; you weren’t yelling ‘Boo,’ or ‘This guy sucks,’ or anything like that.’”

Aceto’s standup career started in another golden age. In the 1980s, the Boston comedy scene, led by standups like Steven Wright, Lenny Clarke and Barry Crimmins, haloed its way through New England and to his home state of Rhode Island. Mixing a catalog of impressions with stories of his Catholic upbringing, he found his footing at Periwinkles comedy club in Providence.

In 1991 the Comedy Channel, later to merge with Ha! and become Comedy Central, held a contest at Periwinkles, with a dozen winners getting time on the network, including Aceto. Seeing himself on television made him euphoric.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is a real thing,’” he said.

He hasn’t looked back; in 2015, Aceto was inducted into the Rhode Island Comedy Hall of Fame.

The past year presented many challenges for Aceto and his brethren, and he adapted even when it seemed a bit crazy.

“If someone two or three years ago said, ‘I’ve got this great show —‌ you’re going to be up on a platform in a parking lot and people are going to be in their cars,’ you’d be like, there is no freaking way I’m doing that,” he said. “Or ‘Hey, we’re going to be outside at a vineyard with Christmas lights up all over the place.’ I’ve done a couple of vineyards with maybe 80 people in a little courtyard, and everyone is just there to have fun.”

While agreeing that the pent-up need to laugh is causing a spike in its appeal, “comedy constantly ebbs and flows,” Aceto said. “I don’t know if anything will come close to that Big Eighties boom, because there’s also a million people calling themselves comics these days, and none of the late night shows have comics on anymore.”

Back in the day, “that was your goal, to get on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson or Leno or Letterman; you used to chase that TV credit,” he said. “Now it matters how many followers you have on YouTube or TikTok or social media. Because from a club owner’s point of view, they’re trying to put [butts] in the seats.”

This mindset can backfire, Aceto said.

“There’s a guy on TikTok guy who always does Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Mark Wahlberg, the same three guys, in different scenarios. ‘Here’s Mark Wahlberg and Vince Vaughn fighting over who’s going to pay the bill at the restaurant.’ He does an amazing job, but could that carry a 45-minute standup set?”

Even though the clock can’t be totally turned back, “I think we’re going to see another boom in live comedy,” Aceto said. “People have been sick of watching it on Netflix and Zoom. They want to see that live aspect to it. I’ve got a lot of friends in bands who have seen more fans come out than ever, as people are starting to appreciate what they took for granted.”

With fellow standup Scott Higgins, Aceto hosts Behind The Funny, a podcast focused on the craft now in its fifth year.

Aceto appears Aug. 7 at Chunky’s Pub and Cinema in Manchester, a show booked by comedy impresario Rob Steen.

“I’ve known Ace since we were 19 or so doing comedy,” Steen said. “He has worked hard and is super funny and mostly he is squeaky clean, which is rare in comedy. I’m excited to have him on my shows; he is a consummate professional.”

Ace Aceto
Saturday, Aug. 7, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Chunky’s Pub & Cinema, 707 Huse Road, Manchester
Tickets: $20 at chunkys.com

Featured photo: Ace Aceto. Courtesy photo.

In the right place

Jonathan Edwards brings new album to Tupelo

Like many in his profession, Jonathan Edwards spent the past several months working on new music, due the a pandemic-induced break from live performing. The result is the wonderful Right Where I Am. His first studio album since 2015, it’s at turns reflective, introspective and celebratory, the latter best represented by “50 Years,” a thank-you note to fans written for a 2017 anniversary show.

“I figured going in I better write a song for this event,” Edwards said in a recent phone interview, “because it was turning out to be a big one. So I did, and the first time I played it was that night at the party.”

He was joined by Livingston Taylor and Jon Pousette-Dart, two friends from his early days on the New England music scene.

The party-hearty groover “Drop and Roll” is one of two co-writes on the LP with Edwards’ son-in-law Jerome Degey. Its sentiments will be familiar to anyone who sang along to “Shanty” from his debut album, when Edwards exhorted listeners to “put a good buzz on.”

This time, he sings “roll over and burn one down” on a tune written in the middle of the night. “It’s kind of a stream-of-consciousness,” he said. “I’m very proud of that song in that it’s kind of subtle but… ‘roll me up a fatty, Bob Marley be proud.’ You know, come on!”

The title track is a statement of purpose. “I’ve got a lot of songs within me still, stories left to tell,” he sings.

“It’s part of my DNA. I’ve always been a creative sort,” he said, quoting another line from the song. “I’ve always built stuff out of other stuff. I went to art school and four years of college and eventually the guitar and rock ’n’ roll took over. Since then, I have many, many outlets for my creativity, and it’s hard to focus often, but I think the introspection that we had during lockdown was really conducive to more creativity, and appreciation for being able to express oneself.” He also states boldly in the song, “I’m not afraid to take a stand and bleed upon the stage … pay the price to tell the truth.”

“Perhaps [that image is] maybe a little too colorful, but that’s what it feels like,” Edwards said, adding that as he approaches his 75th year, “my challenge now is mostly physical.”

He co-produced the new record with longtime friend and accompanist Don Campbell, with help from Todd Hutchinson at his Acadia Recording studio in Portland, Maine.

“I loved it there. … It looks like a yard sale, with all these vintage amps and guitars everywhere … a very creative place,” Edwards said, and it made the work easier. “It’s a corny thing to say, but we followed the songs where they led us, and I’m really, really happy with that destination.”

He’s also pleased with the positive response Right Where I Am is receiving.

“It’s great, because you never know,” he said. “You put [these songs] out there as children, and you never know how they’re going to be accepted by society,” he said.

Edwards was scheduled to return to the stage on his birthday, July 28, at Jonathan’s in Ogunquit, Maine. Two nights later, he’ll play one of the final shows at Tupelo Drive-In, as the venue prepares to return indoors in mid-August.

“I miss the crowd for sure, and I miss the energy that only they can provide,” he said. “I can sit around and play with my friends, which is also really nice, but boy, getting out in front of a crowd….”

He nods to the al fresco event in Derry.

“In this case, and it’s really apt, that’s where the rubber meets the parking lot,” he said.

Jonathan Edwards
Friday, July 30, 6 p.m.
Where: Tupelo Drive-In, 10 A St., Derry
Tickets: $22 per person, $75 per car at tupelohall.com

Featured photo: Alli Beaudry. Courtesy photo.

Circle of song

Alli Beaudry hosts musical showcase at The Rex

When the Rex Theatre celebrated its grand reopening in late 2019, Alli Beaudry performed. As 2020 dawned, she played and sang for a wine tasting event there, and on March 6 she hosted a trivia night with her husband Bill Seney that would be one of the venue’s final nights before Covid-19 suspended live entertainment.

Being invited to christen The Rex was “the greatest honor in my city,” Beaudry said in a recent phone interview. Born and raised in Manchester, “I have stories of my grandmother and my mom going there when they were kids. It’s such a familial place … for me it is home, and God, it’s a gorgeous home to be dwelling in.”

Beaudry had one event planned that couldn’t happen, however — until now.

In the works since before the pandemic, Alli Beaudry Songfest will finally come to fruition on July 24. It will star Beaudry, fellow singer-songwriters Charlie Chronopoulos and Paul Nelson, and bassist Nick Phaneuf. The idea for the show came to her as she listened to NPR while driving to Berklee College of Music, where she’s an alumna and faculty member.

Live From Here has been a really cool influence,” Beaudry said. She envisioned a hybrid of the Chris Thile hosted show and VHI Storytellers. “Behind the scenes of the songs and them as artists, and where they’ve stemmed from … I’ve always loved the history behind the music; hearing that just lets you connect so much more.”

There’s an element of a classic “song pull” to the evening, Beaudry said.

“We’re each going to individually play, but also come together as artists on each other’s music,” she said. “We’re kind of conspiring to decide what to sing, and it’s just like a kid in a candy shop.”

All of the performers are “more or less bandmates of mine,” said Beaudry, as well as close friends. Chronopoulos is like a brother to her.

“We know each other too well sometimes,” she said. “I don’t even have to speak to him, it just happens with music. I think for an audience to see that symbiotic relationship is so crazy powerful.”

She’s known Phaneuf since her days at Manchester High School Central.

“He went to [Manchester] West; we became friends through mutual musical things, and really just haven’t stopped playing with each other,” she said.

Nelson and Beaudry met at one of the monthly Java Jams she hosts at Café Le Reine in downtown Manchester.

“Another relationship that I’m just super grateful for,” she said. “He’s an incredible writer, really captivating sound and storytelling. Different parts of his life brought him all over the globe, but he’s rooted here.”

One thing all the performers share is parenthood, a theme that’s very much a part of their current music.

“Charlie calls this our Post-Youth Tour. … The things we sing about in our 30s are different than what we did during our coming of age,” she said, naming Brandi Carlile’s song “The Mother” as a good example. “She’s saying, ‘All my rowdy friends are out accomplishing their dreams, but I am the mother,’ of her daughter Evangeline. She just speaks of all the things that make her sure there’s nothing in the world that could compare to having that. It resonates so [strongly] with me.”

The show will be a celebration, Beaudry said brightly.

“The Rex is just such a special place to me now, and I can’t wait to continue our beautiful relationship,” she said. “Seeing live music is a part of our soul that I think was stripped from us, the artist and the listener. There’s such a healing nature to it. As a music therapist, I always respect that, but it’s beyond that at this point.”

Alli Beaudry Songfest
Saturday, July 24, 8 p.m..
Where: The Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester
Tickets: $20 reserved at palacetheatre.org

Featured photo: Alli Beaudry. Courtesy photo.

Suite home

Concord show celebrates new jazz album

Scott Solsky has been a fixture in the Capital City since releasing his eponymous debut album in 2003. He’s taught music at Shaker River School for nearly two decades and played in multiple bands and as a solo performer. His upcoming indoor concert at Concord’s Bank of New Hampshire Stage marks the release of the second record with his name on the cover, Home.

After laying down the basic tracks at Dover’s Noise Floor studio, Solsky finished the all-instrumental, ambient jazz album in his house in Concord. This was primarily due to the pandemic, but the record’s title was chosen pre-Covid, indicative of the many area musicians who played with him on the disc.

In a recent phone interview, Solsky spoke of a “this is your life” aspect to Home.

“That’s intentional,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by really amazing musicians. At the end of the day, they made this album what it is.”

Those include the members of his original soul group Trade drummer George Laliotis, Chris Noyes on bass, Chris Sink behind the keys, and horn players Zack Jones and Jamie Boccia along with Jared Steer and fellow Shaker Road staffer Mike Walsh on drums, and Chris Stambaugh on bass.

“He’s also the person that built my guitars,” Solsky said of the latter. “My son Nathan plays on one of the tracks and he has a Stambaugh guitar as well. So with the exception of one bass, all the stringed instruments were Stambaughs.”

Nick Phaneuf crafted the middle section of “Home Suite,” which opens the album.

“I recorded the first and second parts, and then I gave that to Nick; he took those and made that center section,” Solsky said. “I label the music as jazztronica, neo-soul and certainly some funk, but he definitely made the electronica part of that.”

The tracks alternate between Trade (“anything with horns is them”) and a guest band with Walsh, Sink and Stambaugh. For the Bank of New Hampshire Stage show, the new album will be played from start to finish, using all the musicians. After a break, everyone will return for an eclectic set to close the night.

Two drum kits will be on stage.

“The drummers have very specific sounds,” Solsky said. “At one point I thought they’d share a set, but I don’t think that’s going to do it justice. They should be up there expressing themselves with the sound that they feel comfortable with.”

Solsky channeled his inner Stevie Wonder on the new disc, playing flute, melodica, percussion, bass and keys in addition to guitar. That’s an outgrowth of his solo shows, where he does a lot of looping, including drums when Laliotis isn’t with him.

This also sparked an urge to make Home; at more than one gig, people have approached him asking to buy a CD.

“It happened frequently enough where I realized I really needed to actually have music available,” he said. “But a whole album of me just looping? That’s going to get really old, really fast. And why wouldn’t I include all these great musicians that I play with regularly? That was a catalyst for it.”

Fortunately, the guest players did their parts just in time, working at Noise Floor on a weekend just before lockdown.

“I was going to go back to the studio and do my parts on another weekend. Then the pandemic hit,” Solsky said.

So he bought a basic recording setup.

“I knew I wasn’t going to put it out until I could actually have a concert — that was really important to me,” he said. So, fine tuning went on for months. “I could take my time with it, which was a blessing but also a challenge. I had access to record it here, so I had a hard time stopping.”

Scott Solsky Album Release Party
Friday, July 16, 8 p.m.
Where: Bank of NH Stage, 16 S. Main St., Concord
Tickets: $15 tickets, $10 livestream at ccanh.com

Featured photo: The Weight Band. Courtesy photo.

Take a load off

The Weight Band plays drive-in show

Though named after The Band’s most iconic song, with sets featuring “Up On Cripple Creek” and other gems from their catalog, The Weight Band is a flame keeper, not a tribute act.

Guitarist and singer Jim Weider cofounded the group after Levon Helm died in 2012, but prior to that he’d assumed the role Robbie Robertson famously quit in The Last Waltz, touring with a reunited Band for 15 years, and playing on their final three studio albums, Jericho, High on the Hog and Jubilation.

Weider’s ties go deeper than that, however. In the mid-1960s, he began bumping into Band members while working at a stereo store in his hometown of Woodstock, New York. Owner Kermit Schwartz, an oddball who’d smoke two cigarettes at a time and had a constant Maalox ring around his mouth, endeared himself to musicians with a generous credit policy.

“He would just give everything out; pay later, they loved it. They would bring in their newest record and stuff they were working on and play it on the Macs and Crowns,” Weider said in a recent phone interview — the latter reference not to computers but to high-end receivers made by McIntosh and Crown Audio. “I met Levon very early on back then.”

After the seismic impact of Music From Big Pink, the Woodstock scene dissipated as The Band hit the road and Weider began his professional music career. By the mid-’80s, everyone was back. The Band had reunited in 1983 with The Cate Brothers Band backing them, but by 1985 the four founding members were considering a lineup shuffle.

Weider, who’d been in Helm’s All Star Band post-Waltz, got a call.

“Levon said, ‘Come on down, the four of us are here at The Getaway playing,’” Weider said. “I sat in with them and we did a whole night of music with the original Band. … They realized they wanted to go back to five pieces after playing with me.”

His first gig was in front of 25,000 people, opening for Crosby, Stills & Nash.

“Dallas, Texas, no rehearsal, just boom,” he said, recalling an inebriated Richard Manuel being carried onstage by two roadies. “I got to kick off all the tunes. … They all have guitar intros, because the guitar player wrote most of them. It was pretty nerve-wracking.”

When Manuel died a year later, they continued to tour; the reunion ended when Danko succumbed to a heart attack in 1999. Later, Weider was part of Helm’s band The Midnight Ramblers during their legendary run of Rambles in his hand-built Catskills barn.

“Levon was in his glory there,” Weider said. “He loved having Allen Toussaint up with us, or John Hiatt or John Prine. Everybody wanted to come and take part. … It was like a big barn dance.”

The Weight Band now includes keyboard player Brian Mitchell, Albert Rogers and Michael Bram on bass and drums, and newest member Matt Zeiner on keyboards. Along with Weider, each brings a long list of credits to the mix, including Bob Dylan, Dicky Betts, Willie Nelson, B.B. King and Al Green.

The energy that moved The Band’s rebirth — honoring the past, while continuing to create new music — is alive with The Weight Band. In 2018, they released World Gone Mad: eight originals, with covers of Jericho’s “Remedy” and Grateful Dead’s “Deal.” In December they completed a follow-up, due later this year or in early 2022.

Shows still feature lots of Band songs, “but now it’s to pull people in,” Weider said. “I’m just carrying on some of the music, and we’ve got our whole catalog of our own sound.”

The night always ends with the song that gives them a name, one many call the national anthem of Americana. Why does “The Weight” endure?

“People can relate to it, they can sing it, and the melody — it’s just, help your brother, take a load off,” Weider said. “It’s just a good feel song, one that everybody wants to play and sing. Robbie wrote a good one.”

The Weight Band
Sunday, July 11, 3 & 6 p.m.
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry
Tickets: $75 per car, $22 per person at tupelohall.com

Featured photo: The Weight Band. Courtesy photo.

Day on the Green

Regional acts gather for Fourth fest

Necessity breeds solutions, and last summer Justin Uhlig needed one in a big way. The founder of Barnstormers Music and Art, he presented his first show in 2015. It starred the pirate punk Jonee Earthquake Band and a bunch of local acts, including Uhlig’s own Yelloyüth.

He’s been at it ever since, often teaming up with Seacoast arts collective Wrong Brain to throw colorful all-day festivals at venues in New Hampshire and Maine. The semi-constant home is Stone Church in Newmarket, but Barnstormers shows have also happened in Manchester, at the now closed Bungalow Bar, and Penuche’s, when it was located on Hanover Street.

Barnstormers Music and Art was created with a goal of organizing a frequently disparate regional scene into something more distinct, Uhlig explained in a recent phone interview — and giving it a stamp.

“Local bands, a lot of them, come and go, change members and names, and have a hard time establishing a brand,” he said. “I incorporate music and art, and when people see the name Barnstormers, they know it’s going to be a good time.”

When the pandemic threatened to derail an outdoor event on a 70-acre lawn close to his home in Epping, Uhlig devised a clever workaround. He built an FM transmitter, then wired it through the soundboard, and staged a drive-in show. Unlike similar offerings at Tupelo Music Hall and Swanzey’s Drive-In Live, patrons listened to the music in their cars, through the vehicle sound system.

“I wanted to put on a show with a live feel where people felt safe, and if they chose to, they could commingle,” Uhlig said. “It went really well, with about 150 people spread out. Some of them camped, there were a bunch of bands, fireworks and a barbecue. We had a good time celebrating Independence Day.”

Though distancing restrictions are gone this year, the throwback technology remains — along with the name. Live at the Drive-In will feature a number of performers from the Concord/Manchester area, along with some Seacoast bands.

Strange Language is a progressive rock band based in Merrimack.

Saint Mary’s Vandals. Courtesy photo.

“Two guitarists, really fantastic,” Uhlig said, noting that they’re currently recording a new album at Blackheart Sound in Manchester. “Really fun band to watch, this is their first gig since before Covid.”

Odd Fellow’s Way has a new name, Saint Mary’s Vandals, but the same raucous sound.

“They’re a band of street punks,” Uhlig said, “that make you want to drink a beer and dance around, maybe bump into each other a little bit while you’re dancing.”

Sauce on the Side has a throwback punk vibe going.

“They’re young, but with a real Misfits style,” Uhlig said. “Definitely an up and comer, the next generation in my opinion, along with Take One; the guitarist in Sauce on the Side is their bass player. I had the pleasure of singing a cover of Fugazi’s ‘Waiting Room’ with them last year.”

Others on the bill include Felix Holt, Blind Drive, Dead Time, Andrew Polakow, Hansen Barlow Band, Slow Coyote, Brian Munger and ex-Catastrophic OK singer Madison West performing with a yet to be named group.

“Definitely something that people are going to want to check out,” Uhlig said of West’s band. He described their sound as “progressive rock mixed with some classic influences, but really an Alice in Chains kind of vibe. They definitely are some top-notch performers and instrumentalists.”

The event begins at noon and ends when the last note is played.

“We’re going to go till about midnight,” Uhlig said. “There’s a huge field and we’re going to have a big bonfire going all night and we’ll have some food, nice clean porta potties. It should be a really nice night to check out the stars and have a good time.”

Live at the Drive-In – An Independence Day Soiree
Saturday, July 3, 7:30 p.m.
Where: 25 Hedding Road, Epping
Tickets: $20 per carload at eventbrite.com

Featured photo: Sauce on the Side. Courtesy photo.

Well blended

Creamery Station returns to Manchester

The two groups sharing the Jewel Music Venue stage on June 26 go together like Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia and Phish Food Not Fade Away Band celebrates the Grateful Dead’s music, while Creamery Station brings together all the elements loved by fans of the Dead, Allman Brothers and other heroes of the jam scene.

While plenty of performing units boast about coming together organically, it’s really true of Connecticut-based Creamery Station. Dylan Kader “grew up side stage” watching his father Jim play in The Bernadettes, a regional R&B group. But Kader was more drawn to sports as a youngster.

In his teens, guided by a “big things start small” philosophy, Kader began honing his guitar skills.

“I wanted to get good enough to play around a campfire and have my friends smile,” he said in a recent phone interview, “but as soon as I started, I fell in love with it.”

One night at a house party, Kader, his dad and a drummer friend started jamming. Soon, the living room was packed with dancing revelers.

“It felt really right,” Kader said. “We got excited and started inviting other musicians.”

The first was his dad’s Bernadettes band mate Don DeStafano, a harmonica player who’d appeared on albums by Johnny Cash and B.B. King. Then Kader’s elementary school pal Harry Cooper joined on drums.

Crucially, keyboard player Jon Truelson, a Berklee grad with music theory skills, came on board. “He’s the Garth in our band he really pulls our harmonies together, and has an ear like I’ve never heard,” Kader said. The group later welcomed percussionist Mike Ryan, bass player Alex Wu and Bobby Pickett, who plays lap steel and violin.

“It was almost a natural occurrence how everybody started coming together like that,” Kader said.

After hundreds of shows, some EPs and the 2017 demo collection Pastures of Plenty, Creamery Station put out its first proper studio album, Walk With Me, last year. Though the pandemic forced them to cancel a planned tour, Kader was sanguine.

“We had something to release at a time when so many bands were completely out of work with nothing to do,” he said. “So at least it gave us something.”

The new record’s dozen tracks reflect a collaborative nature. Kader wrote most, with Pickett, Cooper, Ryan and Truelson all contributing Truelson’s harmony-rich “I’d Be Pleased” is a highlight.

“We’re lucky enough we have eight musicians and all of them are phenomenal,” Kader said. “Although not all of us end up starting the songs, we all have a big piece in the writing of them.”

Another standout is Kader’s “Fernwood,” written about a stop in Big Sur while the band was on tour in California. “We go out there a lot and we love it,” he said. “We were all just sitting around the fire and wrote the song about the whole trip it was a fun little jig.”

Producer Vic Steffens (Rory Block, Lita Ford) did a great job of recreating the band’s live sound on Walk With Me, but the group is anxious to get back in front of fans to see how the new material evolves.

“I love bouncing back and forth between musicians, but there’s still a whole element that’s missing,” Kader said. “Things go to really cool and weird places on stage; that’s what makes it so special. A lot of it is driven by the energy of the audience, where the show and the night’s going down. So it’s really cool to get time on the road … playing the songs, and really see what comes of them.”

Not Fade Away Band w/ Creamery Station
Saturday, June 26, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Jewel Music Venue, 61 Canal St., Manchester
Tickets: $20 at jewel.ticketleap.com

Featured photo: Creamery Station. Courtesy photo.

Did you hear the one about…

Jokes from local comedians — and where to see them perform

What’s a good joke?

There are puns like “when chemists die, they barium,” and absurdities along the lines of “I’m reading a book about anti-gravity, and I can’t put it down.” Comedian Amy Tee has an opening line to disarm crowds wondering about her androgynous appearance: “You’re probably wondering what bathroom I’m going to use,” she says. “It’ll be the one with the shortest line, I guarantee you that.”

We asked a gaggle (or is that a giggle?) of regional comics for their favorite jokes. The responses ranged from personal favorites used in their sets to “street jokes” that float in the comedic ether. Some quoted influences like the late Mitch Hedberg, George Carlin or Rodney Dangerfield.

Here’s what happens when you ask someone who makes people laugh professionally for three favorite jokes.

Francis Birch

The family-minded comic offers this from his act:

I coach my son’s little-league baseball team. One of his teammates said to him, ‘My dad can kick your dad’s butt.’ My son said, ‘Well, my dad’s name is Francis, so you’re probably right.’

His all-time favorite joke is one his beloved mother used to tell him:

Rosa and Salvi were an old married couple who had three kids. Salvi was concerned because the youngest of the three did not look like the other two. When he was born, Salvi said, ‘Rosa, this boy is different than the other two; he must not be mine. Tell me the truth. I won’t be mad.’ Rosa said, ‘That baby is yours, Salvi. You’re paranoid.’ As the boy grew he looked different. ‘Rosa, just tell me the truth. I love this boy. But I know he’s not mine.’ Rosa said, ‘Salvi, that boy is yours.’ When he grew into a teenager, Salvi just knew that the boy was different. He said, ‘Rosa. I’m leaving. All these years you have lied to me. I can’t take it anymore.’ Rosa said ‘Salvi, that boy is yours. I swear it. The other two are your brother’s.’

The Granite State native appears June 17 at the Laconia Opera House.

Jimmy Dunn

Dunn said his favorite newspaper-friendly joke is from Don Gavin, The Godfather of Boston Comedy:

I was in a casino and saw a sign that said, ‘If you have a gambling problem, call 1-800-GAMBLER.’ So I called and said, ‘Yes, I have a gambling problem. I have an ace and a six and the dealer is showing a seven.’”

(He said his favorite is a Willie Nelson joke whose punchline is, ‘I’m not Willie Nelson.’)

To hear the rest of this NSFW bit, check him out at Kooks Café and Beach Bar in Rye on June 17, Cellos in Candia on June 19, The Grog in Newburyport, Mass., on June 23 and The Rex in Manchester on July 23. Check Dunn’s website for news about his hometown comedy festival, which usually happens in August (jimmydunn.com).

Carolyn Riley

Voted Boston’s Funniest a couple of years back, the rising star comic lives in New York City but returns home for shows every now and then. Here are a couple of her own favorites:

I got a girl so mad at me once she said, ‘OK, New Hampshire’ like it was a slur. I was like, ‘B*tch, don’t make me kayak through this babbling brook and smack you with my paddle!’

I showed up on a date with a guy and noticed he was wearing a ring. I said, ‘Is that a wedding ring?’ He said, ‘No, no, this is my Harvard class ring.’ I said, ‘Oh wow, that is worse.’

Riley also likes this gem from Taylor Tomlinson:

I’ll have you know that in bed I am a wild animal — yeah, way more afraid of you than you are of me.

And from Matt Donaher, a Hudson native now working in Los Angeles whom Riley cites as ‘the first comic that made me want to do stand-up when I saw him in high school,’ there’s this one:

I got run over by a stretch limo … took forever.

Riley opens for Corey Rodrigues at Laugh Boston on June 18 and June 19, and appears at The Grog in Newburyport, Mass., on June 23 with Jimmy Dunn and Dave Rattigan. She’s also at Kooks in Rye Beach with Jimmy Dunn and Friends on June 24.

Dave Rattigan

Known as The Professor by many comics who’ve taken his public speaking class at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Mass., Rattigan naturally cites favorite jokes by other comedians, along with iconic writer Dorothy Parker, who said, “beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”

Rattigan likes this one from novelist and Conan writer Brian Kiley:

There’s always one teacher you had a crush on; for me, it’s my wife’s aerobics instructor.

And here’s a George Carlin favorite:

Think of how stupid the average person is and realize half of them are stupider than that.

He cites this gem from fellow New England comic Paul Gilligan:

Plumbers are expensive. You come home and see a plumber’s van in front of your house and think, ‘I hope he’s [having an affair] with my wife.’

Rattigan is a regular at The Winner’s Circle in Salisbury, Mass., during Tuesday open mic night, frequently hosting. He’ll be at Steve’s Pinehurst in Billerica on Saturday, June 19, and The Grog in Newburyport on Wednesday, June 23, with Jimmy Dunn and Carolyn Riley.

Carolyn Plummer

One of her own:

My Dad was a minister, so we always had to set an example for the other kids at Sunday school. That’s a lot of pressure when you’re 6, and they should have been more specific. 

One of her Mitch Hedberg favorites:

An escalator can never break, it can only become stairs. You should never see an ‘Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order’ sign, just ‘Escalator Temporarily Stairs, sorry for the convenience.’

From Kathleen Madigan, she loves this one:

I bowled for two years in college, because I was drunk and needed shoes.

Plummer performs at The Boat in Dracut, Mass., on June 25, at McCue’s Comedy Club at the Roundabout Diner in Portsmouth on July 9, and at Great Waters in Wolfeboro with Juston McKinney on Aug. 6.

Jay Chanoine

Chanoine likes this one from George Carlin:

I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, ‘Where’s the self-help section?’ She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.

And Chanoine says this one makes him laugh every time:

What do we want? Low-flying plane sounds! When do we want them? Nnnneeeeoooooowwwwwww!”

He calls this one the best dad joke he’s ever heard:

My best friend is a dad, and he built a patio behind his house. He got really into decorating it, like dads do. He sent pictures out to show it off when he was done and one of his buddies asked, ‘What’s that on the crushed stones?’ Kevin replied, ‘A whiskey barrel.’ His buddy was impressed, and said, ‘Oh, neat!’ And my friend goes, ‘Nope — it’s on the rocks.’

Upcoming shows include Chunky’s Pelham on June 26, and Chunky’s Nashua on July 3.

Matt Barry

Barry said he usually opens his sets with this one:

I did a show at a VFW recently. Half the crowd was dudes who looked just like my dad, and the other half of the crowd was women who looked just like my dad.

Barry said, “I draw a ton of inspiration from the late great Mitch Hedberg, which is obvious when you see my act,” and points to these two favorite Hedberg one-liners:

I don’t have a girlfriend, but I do know a woman who would be mad that I said that, and is a hippopotamus a hippopotamus, or just a really cool oppotamus?

But Barry said his “absolute favorite joke of all time” is one called The Dufrenes from Hedberg:

When you’re waiting for a table at a restaurant, the host will call out ‘Dufrene, party of two. Dufrene, party of two….’ And if nobody answers, they just move on to the next one: ‘Bush, party of three….” But like, what happened to the Dufrenes? Nobody seems to care. Who can eat at a time like this? People are missing! The Dufrenes are in somebody’s trunk with duct tape over their mouths. And they’re hungry!

Matt’s upcoming shows include Pine Acres RV Resort in Raymond on July 2, Chunky’s Nashua on July 3, July 9 and July 10, The Word Barn in Exeter on July 30, Chunky’s Manchester on Aug. 6 and Aug. 7, Chunky’s Pelham on Aug. 21 and Chunky’s Nashua on Aug. 28.

Jim Colliton

The Bedford, Mass., native talks a lot about marriage and family in his act:

My wife wanted a new bike. The man at the bike store said, ‘How many miles do you ride a week?’ I said, ‘We have been married 24 years, and we’ve gone on three bike rides. Do you have a bike we can borrow?’

I hate shopping because I’m a dad, and dads always buy the wrong thing. Last week I bought 25 rolls of paper towels because the list only said paper towels. My wife said, ‘Are those the paper towels you bought?’ I said, ‘No, I would never buy these. … I bought them to show you what other men would bring home to their families.’ She said, ‘You’ve lived in this house 20 years and don’t know what kind of paper towels we use?’ I said, ‘I don’t even know where we keep the paper towels. If they’re not by the sink, I use my T-shirt.’

Colliton, a frequent Headliners headliner, will be at Fulchino Vineyards in Hollis on July 9. Further afield, he’s appearing June 25 and June 26 at Giggles in Saugus, Mass.

Christine Hurley

Here’s Hurley on parenthood:

Being a mother of five can be overwhelming. This is why you should not have your Slimfast with vodka smoothie while trying to get them off to school; things can go bad pretty quickly. Case in point: a few weeks ago my middle daughter, Ryan, woke up not feeling well. I said, ‘Go back to bed, Ryan, I’ll call the school nurse and let her know you aren’t coming in.’ So I call and leave a message, ‘Ryan won’t be in today.’ Ten minutes later my phone rings. ‘Mrs. Hurley, I’m sorry to hear Ryan doesn’t feel well — but she doesn’t go here.’ I said, ‘Really? Do you know where she does go?’

Hurley headlines The Rex on July 16, with shows later this summer at Suissevale in Moultonborough on July 31, LaBelle Winery in Derry on Aug. 12 and The Word Barn in Exeter on Aug. 13.

Will Noonan

Noonan’s favorite joke of his own is about chicken being underpriced for a living thing:

I’m far from a vegetarian, but 25 cents a chicken wing is just insulting to the animal.

(“It’s my favorite because I came up with the premise in my second year of comedy and the joke never made it into my act until my 13th year,” Noonan said.)

His favorite types of jokes, he said, are the ones you think of every time you do something. “Corey Rodrigues has one I think of every time I brush my teeth. I think of Dave Attel every time I’m on an airplane, or as he calls it, ‘a fly fly.’”

Noonan, named Boston’s Best Comedianby The Improper Bostonianmagazine, appears frequently at Headliners — he’ll be at the Hampton location on Aug. 14 — and has weekly shows at Capo in South Boston. He’s expected to take part in Jimmy Dunn’s annual Hampton Beach Comedy Festival later this summer, which will be announced when a venue is nailed down.

Juston McKinney

Here’s McKinney on some Patriots players:

I did a Showtime comedy special with Rob Gronkowski, who did 10 minutes of stand-up and then introduced me. My opening joke was, ‘How great is Rob Gronkowski? My kids love Gronk. In fact, my 7-year-old for Halloween went trick-or-treating as Gronk. He got to the third house, hurt himself, and was done for the year.’ I thought Gronk, hearing this, he was gonna deck me. Luckily, he didn’t get the joke. After that year my boy wanted to start going as Tom Brady. He wants to be trick-or-treating until he’s 45 years old.

And on camping:

My wife and I usually go camping at least once a year. We don’t mean to, but we live in New Hampshire and the power goes out every year. It’s like going on a last-second camping trip — you don’t know how long it’s going to last, but at least you’ve brought all your stuff. I was born and raised in New Hampshire. It’s a great state. We recently raised the legal age of marriage to 16 — we raised it? It was 13 for girls and 14 for boys. Can you imagine getting married that young? ‘Were you guys high school sweethearts?’ ‘Not yet.’

Here’s a favorite bit from deadpan master Steven Wright:

I got on this chairlift with this guy I didn’t know. We went halfway up the mountain without saying a word. Then he turned to me and said, ‘You know, this is the first time I’ve been skiing in 10 years.’ I said, ‘Why did you take so much time off?’ He said, ‘I was in prison. Want to know why? I said, ‘Not really. … Well, OK, you’d better tell me why.’ He said, ‘I pushed an absolute stranger off a Ferris wheel.’ I said, ‘I remember you.’

McKinney’s next area show is Aug. 6 at Great Waters in Wolfeboro. He’s also at Concord’s Capitol Center for multiple shows Aug. 27 through Aug. 29.

Jody Sloane

Sloane cited one favorite that’s not her own:

My friend told me this joke about a party host who made his guests line up for juice. I can’t seem to remember the entire joke, but all I know is that there was a long punchline.

And one of her own that’s topical:

I am homeschooling my son during the pandemic; he’s 30.

Finally, one that she called “adorable, dumb and also not mine”:

What do you call a pile of kittens? A meowntain.

Jody, a Headliners regular, will be working local cruise ships over the summer, and she’s planning a two-week camping trip to Glacier. “I hope to come back with new material and intel on whether or not bears poop in the woods,” she says.

Rob Steen

Here are three from Headliners owner comedian Rob Steen:

My wife and I were discussing names we would choose for a child if it was a boy.

She said, ‘Alex.’

I said, ‘Who is Alex?’

She said, ‘That’s my first boyfriend’s name.’

Ugh. Then she asked me what name would I choose if we had a girl.

I said, ‘Jen.’

My wife asked me, ‘Who is Jen?’

I said, ‘That’s your sister’s name.’

That’s why I’m no longer married!

My mom is a super clean freak and not great with technology, so I helped her shop online for the first time ever. She spent $875 on a vacuum cleaner with a headlight. When I asked her what the light was for she replied, ‘If we lose power during a storm, I can still see where I’m vacuuming.’

My buddy was driving really fast in northern Maine and blew right through the border patrol crossing at 60 mph.

I said, ‘Are you crazy, impaired or just nuts?’

He replied, ‘No — I have EZ-Pass.’

Driving though we heard a loud cracking sound — he had lost his driver’s side mirror! Lesson:

You know there is a problem when you crash into a country!

Often called the King of New England Comedy, Steen books his Headliners franchise across New England. Venues include a showcase club in downtown Manchester that’s due to reopen soon, Chunky’s Cinema Pubs in Nashua, Manchester and Pelham, and more than a dozen other venues. He’s likely to turn up at any of them, as host or headliner.

Amy Tee

Amy Tee on New England weather:

Everyone is constantly bitching about the weather in New England. I don’t know why. I’ve lived here my entire life and there are two seasons: winter and construction. It’s not the heat, it’s the stupidity.

Tee appears frequently at Headliners Comedy Club.

Featured photo: (Not in order) Courtesy photo

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