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
When:
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
When:
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
When:
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
When:
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

New crew

Revamped, Jason Spooner Band hits Concord

The Music in the Park concert series sponsored by Concord’s Capitol Center for the Arts in nearby Fletcher-Murphy Park continues on June 13 with Jason Spooner Band. The quartet rose to prominence in the mid-2000s and became a fixture on the New England festival circuit with five studio albums, most recently Chemical in 2014 and 2019’s Wide Eyed.

Dan Boyden took over on drums a few years back, but the band’s lineup remained constant otherwise, until original bass player Adam Frederick and keyboardist Warren McPherson left for family reasons in the days just prior to the pandemic. London Souls bassist Stu Mahan and Dawson Hill, a keyboard player with a perfect swampy touch, joined in early 2020.

“We had this tectonic shift … but it’s led to really good things,” Spooner said in a recent phone interview. “It was very, very nerve-wracking when it happened because it was like two pillars of the table coming off.”

The new crew made for “a re-energized band,” Spooner said. “Everyone’s equally fired up [and] rowing in the same direction; it’s amazing how far that goes. You get into a rehearsal and feel like everybody’s pumped to be there, to work on stuff and grow. Coming out of last year, we’re playing a lot more theater shows, bigger venues and cool openers.”

The fresh start included revisiting tracks initially done one to two years ago to give them an extra sheen; Spooner hopes to release them as singles. The process was refreshingly unrushed.

“This latest effort feels like it’s a little more marinated, we had time to make it … the songs feel comfortable in their own skin,” he said. “We did it in such a relaxed, unfettered way, there were just no limitations.”

One standout is the slow burner breakup song “Wanted to Say,” evoking Aja-era Steely Dan with help from horn players Phil Rodriguez and Brian Graham, who’ve toured with Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds.

“They just came in and we all wrote the lines on the spot,” Spooner said. “It was a super collaborative effort; I love the vibe they contributed.”

The new members joined organically. Boyden and Mahan are longtime friends.

“He’s kind of the alpha bass player around Portland,” Spooner said. “Stu also played and toured with Eric Krasnow, who of course is kind of royalty in the jazz, funk and jam scene, so he’s a monster.”

Finding Hill was pure serendipity.

“We were down at Sun Tiki Studios in Portland, a cool little studio with neighboring rooms where bands play simultaneously” — and the walls aren’t super-soundproofed, Spooner recalled. “We were packing up after a three-hour rehearsal, and all of a sudden we heard this other band. Dan looked at me with this stank face he’s pretty famous for and said, ‘Who the hell is that over there?’ We heard this real nice Little Feat, Dr. John playing — just, you know, a guy who had done his homework.”

Along with lineup changes, Spooner is taking a fresh approach to recording. “I’m hopefully getting a little wiser in terms of how records are made, what my best practices are, and how to do things effectively,” he said. “I’ve been known to be OCD from time to time. I’m the eldest child; I’ve always been kind of the point person on things.”

Lately, writing in the studio has replaced Spooner’s old habit of bringing the band well-formed songs, forging a fraternal bond and shared purpose.

“Skin in the game is big with bands,” he said. “A lot of the rifts happen if two guys are on one page and the other two are on another … whatever the dissonance may be, it’s never a good thing. It can lead to like bigger rifts and breakups and things like that. So now it’s feeling really good. Everybody contributes and has a role.”

Jason Spooner Band
When
: Sunday, June 13, 2 p.m.
Where: Fletcher-Murphy Park, 28 Fayette St., Concord
Tickets: $12 at ccanh.com ($8 livestream available)

Featured photo: Jason Spooner Band. Courtesy photo.

Back laughing

Jay Chanoine returns with pair of headlining shows

When Jay Chanoine steps on stage these days, the Manchester comic’s audiences are well-behaved, sometimes eerily so.

“For the last year and a half they’ve been watching livestreams and cat videos, and they don’t remember how to act when a person is 10 feet in front of them,” Chanoine said in a recent phone interview. “Even a crowd doesn’t quite know how to do this anymore … but everyone is just smiling at you.”

Chanoine has another theory about these newly polite audiences too.

“We were all yelling at each other before this, then we got locked in our houses and we all just kept yelling. … It’s like the world put all its misbehaved children in timeout,” he said. “We had tantrums for a year and half, and now it’s like, ‘OK, did you think about how you were behaving? Because now I’m going to let you out.’”

In October 2019, Chanoine released his first album on Standup Records, The Texas Chanoinesaw Massacre. A week after it came out, he’d already developed nearly enough new material for a follow-up. The new record was rising on iTunes, he had a gig writing for satirical website Hard Times, and “I was like, ‘2020’s going to rule … then Covid hit.”

Though it stopped his momentum, he looks at the lost year as shared misery.

“Everybody else had to step back too. It’s not like the industry kept moving without any of us,” he said.

Festivals in the Midwest, Canada and Texas — the annual Altercation Fest in Austin — all were casualties of 2020. This year, touring is still on hold, as Chanoine isn’t eager to roll the dice in a lot of cities that may or may not be ready for full-scale shows, whatever local politicians say.

That’s less concerning, as he’s enjoying doing shows with other local comics, like Comedy Out Of The Box on June 5 at Hatbox Theatre, and a local showcase at Manchester’s Yankee Lanes, whose recently launched midweek open mic was successful enough to spawn occasional booked events.

“This is my scene and my comedy community, and it’s more important to me to see it get up and running again than to hit the road as soon as possible,” he said, adding that polishing new material for an album that’s now likely delayed to 2022 is also a priority. “It’s smarter to take my time … getting it where I want it to be. They took the last year from us — I’m willing to give one more just to make sure I can put out the best product that I’m able to do.”

He’s excited for the Manchester show in particular, which includes Liz Lora, a relative newcomer to standup who made a splash at an early open mic at the bowling alley bar. Seeing young comics find their feet reminds him of how he first started doing comedy in 2009.

“I was part of the New Hampshire open mic scene, I was trying to get spots on booked shows and everything,” he said. “So it’s not only cool for me to now be the headliner, but it’s cool to see that’s still going in the new crop of comics.”

Asked if he got any good bits out of the pandemic, Chanoine replied, “If you got no material out of Covid you weren’t trying,” but added he wasn’t eager to use any of it, comparing the exercise to telling jokes about the last president.

“Nobody wanted to talk about it; that’s what you were trying to escape,” he said. “But occasionally it got so awful and ridiculous. It would be, ‘I’m sorry, everybody, we need to talk about it.’ That’s kind of how I feel about Covid. I absolutely don’t want to focus on it.”

When he touches on the subject in his act, Chanoine tries not to raise anyone’s hackles.

“I’ve been opening my sets by talking about how the supermarket became an absolute war zone [during the pandemic] because people only had two places to go, their house and the supermarket,” he said. “It’s not making you pick a side, and I think that’s the key; trying to find things everyone can agree with, rather than what made them fight on social media for the last year and a half.”

On the other hand, he questions the efficacy of not talking about it at all.

“It would seem so odd if you just got on stage and started doing a comedy show like it was 2018,” he said. “It would be so dismissive, like you’re trying to give everyone tunnel vision, and deny the existence of everything.”

Jay Chanoine
When
: Saturday, June 5, 7:30 p.m. (18+)
Where: Hatbox Theatre, 270 Loudon Road, Concord
Tickets: $16 to $22 at hatboxnh.com
More: Jaylene Tran, feature comic
Also: Friday, June 11, 8 p.m., Yankee Lanes, 216 Maple St., Manchester, with Dominique Pascoal, Liz Lora & Michael Millett (free)

Featured photo: Jay Chanoine. Courtesy photo.

Second home

Texan guitar ace Chris Duarte returns

Born in San Antonio and a fixture in Austin’s music scene, Chris Duarte is thoroughly Texan — but he’s always called New Hampshire his other home state. In the early 1990s he lived here for a year after moving north at his brother’s behest to battle drug addiction.

Before relocating, Duarte was a rising star with glowing press, the lead guitarist of Junior Medlow & the Bad Boys. He arrived in Plymouth near broke.

“All I had was my guitar, one amp and my briefcase, which had a couple of pedals and stuff,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I lost everything to the pawn shop.”

After stocking shelves at a summer camp for a bit, he edged back into playing, first at the Down Under in Plymouth, then an open mic at Manchester’s now-defunct Boston Trading Co.

“I started to jam there, and they liked me so much they gave me a night; I would host the jam,” he said. “Then … this club out of Concord called Thumbs started booking me [and] it got to the point where I was selling out that place.”

The experience “revitalized my career and got it back moving again,” Duarte said.

Still reeling from native son Stevie Ray Vaughan’s death in 1990, Austin was hungry for guitar heroes when Duarte came back. In short order he signed with Silvertone Records and released Texas Sugar/Strat Magik in 1994. The album earned him Best New Talent honors in the Guitar Player magazine readers poll.

Though Duarte is passionate about the blues — he remembers seeing Vaughan perform at Austin’s storied Continental Club in 1981 as a “hair-raising, jaw-dropping phenomenal” experience — he mixes the tone of that genre with the discipline of jazz. His unique alchemy is bringing a rock edge to those two diverse elements as he races up and down the neck of his Fender Stratocaster.

Early mentor Bobby Mack pointed him toward the “Three Kings” — B.B., Albert and Freddie — to learn the elusive blues sound. When he joined Mack’s Night Train Band, Duarte “knew nothing about tone. I just had these naive notions of what that music shouldn’t sound like. I was so condescending to it at the beginning.”

Duarte soon found his playing lacked “any type of emotion … so I really went to school,” as Mack fed him masters’ licks to learn note for note.

“It took a while, but I finally got in the groove of trying to really be like these guys,” he said. “Bobby made me love the music.”

Though inspired by guitarists like Mahavishnu John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola, Duarte is quick to point out he’s not trying to emulate them.

“I am not like those guys; I’ve got, like, three or four jazz licks, and I play them in the first two songs,” he said, calling his approach more aggressive and emotional, “with dynamics and, I hope, some kind of musical integrity, so somebody would hear me and say, obviously this guy’s studied and knows more than just the old pentatonic box patterns.”

After more than a year of isolation, Duarte is back on the road, and after a spate of Texas dates, he’s more than excited to return to the Granite State, a stop on every East Coast tour since his star rose in the mid-1990s. He first played KC’s Rib Shack in the late ’90s and will return on May 30 for an intimate outdoor show.

“I truly consider New Hampshire my second home,” Duarte said. “I love New Hampshire right now, and I will love New Hampshire till the day I die.”

Chris Duarte Group
When
: Sunday, May 30, 7:30 p.m.
Where: KC’s Rib Shack, 837 Second St., Manchester
Tickets: $20 at eventbrite.com

Featured photo: Chris Duarte. Courtesy photo.

Fiery defender

Shaskeen comedy returns with Shane Torres

Comedian Shane Torres avoids politics in his act, even though the native Texan has strong personal opinions about, say, Ted Cruz (“I think he’s the biggest POS on the face of the planet”).

“I don’t think I’m good enough, and knowledgeable enough, to pull it off,” Torres said in a recent phone interview. “I don’t even care if I upset people that much, but I don’t know if it’ll be that funny.”

Torres is, however, a big advocate for the Mayor of Flavortown, Guy Fieri. He went viral in 2017 defending the shock-haired star against a tide of what he viewed as undeserved derision.

“All he ever did was follow his dreams,” Torres said on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, as he provided a list of the celebrity chef’s good deeds. “But because he has flames on his shirt, everybody s**ts on him like he’s a member of Nickelback.”

His bit became comedy’s version of “Uptown Funk.” Likes, shares and retweets blew up the internet, and Patton Oswalt declared it to be the one joke he wished he’d written.

For Torres, though, being known as the Fieri guy is a double-edged sword.

“I’m worried I might be a one-hit wonder,” he said. “I think I’m good enough not to be, but I’m afraid I’ll end up like … one of those YouTube stars, who does one thing and people freak out, and they never hear from them again.”

That’s unlikely. Torres’s stories about weird baby names, the mystery of why everything bagels cost the same as regular ones, or his clumsiness at sexting are as relatable as the hint of a drawl in the voice he tells them with. His talent landed him on Comedy Central, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Last Comic Standing — the latter “just barely,” he notes with self-deprecation.

“I don’t want that to be the only thing I’m known for,” Torres said finally of his famous Conan set. “But I also did do something that most people haven’t done, which is cool.”

Stellar standup instincts coupled with a rigorous work ethic — one reason he moved to Brooklyn a few years back was to be able to perform at multiple comedy clubs in one night — point to a solid future for Torres. After a pandemic that slowed everything down, he’s back to his old pace, and not a moment too soon.

“I was afraid I was going to have to start bartending again or something,” Torres said. “I think I have three spots tonight and four spots tomorrow, which was about what I was doing before everything shut down, and that feels nice. The only thing I do is work, and drink beer.”

Torres likes to represent the downtrodden; during his Fieri bit, he also wondered about all the Nickelback hate.

“They made 40 million bros happy,” he noted. “You don’t want them pissed off. That’s how we wound up in this mess.”

It’s an instinct he extends to his profession.

“I think people look at comedy and don’t give it the credit it deserves as an art form — it’s really f-ing hard, but for whatever reason, it’s a little dismissed,” he said, agreeing that what starts as funny ultimately should speak to the human condition in some way. “I do want it to be art, I just don’t know if it is. That’s what I want to do; I am still trying. … [It] does seem to be pretentious, but I think it does deserve to be called [art].”

Shane Torres
When
: Wednesday, May 26, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.
Where: Shaskeen Pub, 909 Elm St., Manchester
Tickets: $30/2 seats, $60/4 seats, $90/6 seats at brownpapertickets.com

Featured photo: Shane Torres. Courtesy photo.

College reunion

Blues trio goes way back

When James Montgomery arrived at Boston University in 1967 his mind was on more than the English degree he hoped to earn. Steeped in the music of his native Detroit and keenly aware of his new home’s burgeoning scene, he set out for Kenmore Square with a harmonica tucked in his pocket.

There he found guitarist Bob McCarthy playing 12-bar blues. Montgomery offered to jam; an instant friendship formed.

“Within two or three hours,” Montgomery said in a recent phone interview, “I had already found someone to play music with, and I continue to play with him to this day.”

McCarthy went on to make many Boston “best of” lists while appearing with Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Jonathan Edwards and others.

For his part, Montgomery kicked off a 50-year career by being the first Northern artist signed to Capricorn Records, label of the Allman Brothers and Marshall Tucker Band. The irony of the pairing wasn’t lost on him. “Grew up in Detroit, out of Boston, but somehow we were called Southern rock,” he told one interviewer. “Go figure.”

On May 21, Montgomery and McCarthy continue the bond formed that day at an acoustic show in Laconia, performing as a trio rounded out by bass player Billy Martin — who also shares a connection with Montgomery from those days.

“He was in my first college band,” he said. “We opened up for Paul Butterfield, and Buddy Guy and Junior Wells in upstate New York.”

It will truly be a BU reunion, Montgomery added. “I mean, we all did really go to school together and everything.”

After the pandemic canceled his 2020 shows, Montgomery, whom Peter Wolf once called “the John Mayall of New England,” is eager to get back on stage.

“I’m bringing the whole band, and we’ve all been vaccinated,” he said. “I’ve got a bunch of outdoor shows. … My July and August look like any other year.”

Their first gig back was April 23 in Franklin, Mass.

“We had a ball,” Montgomery said, though “some of the songs we couldn’t remember; it was like, ‘Does the bass solo come before or after that?’ There were some arrangement changes we made spontaneously on stage.”

For anyone on the fence about getting a shot, Montgomery had an answer with “Get Vaccinated,” a redo of “Intoxicated,” which originally appeared on his From Detroit to the Delta album.

“We made it multicultural, people from across the spectrum getting vaccinated,” he said of the video, released in late April. “One of the main reasons for putting it out was to try and encourage people to hasten that process so we can get back to full-capacity live music.”

Montgomery has been involved in several film projects over the past two decades, contributing the title song for Delta Rising: A Blues Documentary in 2007, a project that included narrator Morgan Freeman and musicians Mose Allison, Charlie Musselwhite and Willie Nelson. With partner Judy Laster, who runs the Woods Hole Film Festival, he co-founded the Reel Blues Festival in 2001.

Currently he’s nearing completion of a documentary that’s close to his heart: Bonnie Blue — James Cotton’s Life in the Blues. Cotton, a harmonica legend, shared a familial bond with Montgomery.

“When I’d call his manager, Jack would say, ‘Oh, your father wants to say hello,’” he said. “I met him when I was in my teens, and we were lifelong friends. Of course, we’d done a ton of work together.”

Most of the filming is complete, with post-production and song rights the remaining tasks. The latter is currently the focus of a fundraising effort.

“It’s a music film, so there’s going to be a lot of licensing stuff,” Montgomery said.

The finished product will be a star-studded affair.

“We got Steve Miller, Jimmy Vaughan, Buddy Guy, and I think we’ll get Charlie Musselwhite next,” Montgomery said.

A two-day shoot had harp players from across the country reminiscing, as both Cotton’s and Montgomery’s bands joined in.

“It was completely spontaneous playing, and chatting about him, which I’ve never seen in a documentary before,” he said. “It’s really cool footage.”

Acoustic Trio – Bob McCarthy, Billy Martin and James Montgomery
When: Friday, May 21, 6 p.m.
Where: Belknap Mill, 25 Beacon St. E., Laconia
More: belknapmill.org

Featured photo: Bob McCarthy and James Montgomery. Courtesy photo.

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