Party the year away

Music, comedy and more for New Year’s Eve

Here are a few of the parties planned for Sunday, Dec. 31. Know of more? Let us know at

3S Artspace (319 Vaughan St., Portsmouth, 766-3330) $24 and up. Harsh Promadillo is a semi-annual prom-themed dance party; dress loud and have fun with it. A prom king/queen will be crowned. Music from Harsh Armadillo with Adra. 8 p.m.

815 Cocktails & Provisions (815 Elm St., Manchester, $120. Music from DJ Shamblez, Siren of the Circle Burlesque, magic by Benjamin, photo booth, best-dressed contest, door prizes, Champagne toast with open bar menu and small bites. 8 p.m.

Alan’s (133 N. Main St., Boscawen, 753-6631) Hell on Heels plays a variety of music from old to new, rock, country, blues and a few surprises. 8 p.m.

American Legion Post 8 (640 Central Ave., Dover, 742-9710) Live music by Dancing Madly Backwards, full bar, food and snacks, dance floor. 8 p.m.

Artisan Hotel at Tuscan Village (17 Via Toscana, Salem, $175. Sky High Soirée with all-you-can-eat bites, a sparkling welcome and farewell prosecco toast, cash bar, and exclusive rooftop access all night. A few floors down there’s a separate bash with Dueling Pianos starting at 6 p.m. with passed appetizers, fresh raw bar, a grand Tuscan-style Salumi board followed by a three-course sitdown dinner, dessert bar and late-night snacks that will keep the party going until 2024. 6 p.m.

Bowl-O-Rama Family Fun Center (599 Lafayette Road, Portsmouth, $99 per lane package includes shoe rental for up to five people, two hours of unlimited bowling, large one-topping pizza, fountain beverage pitcher, five $5 arcade game cards and party favors. Noon.

Bridgewater Inn (367 Mayhew Turnpike, Bridgewater, 744-3518) Classic rock band Horsepower performs downstairs, with DJ upstairs spinning all night long. $50 per person includes buffet (5:30 to 7:30 p.m.) and party; $20 for party only. Hats & tiaras, noisemakers, beads and Champagne toast. 8 p.m.

The Brook Casino (319 New Zealand Road, Seabrook, $30. Diamonds & Dice New Year’s Eve with special guest DJ Ryan Cabrera. 10:30 p.m.

Buckey’s (240 Governor Wentworth Hwy., Moultonborough, 476-5485) Red Hat Band is back, a tradition at this Lakes Region spot. 9 p.m.

Cercle National Club (550 Rockland Ave., Manchester, 623-8243) Potluck dinner and appetizers with Mugshot Monday playing rock covers at this members club, with Champagne at midnight. 7:30 p.m.

Chop Shop (920 Lafayette Road, Seabrook, 760-7706) AC/DC tribute act Who Made Who performs with country rockers Bulletproof, at a party including hors d’oeuvres, party favors, outdoor fun, and awards for best dressed along with Champagne toast at midnight. 6:30 p.m.

Chunky’s Cinema Pub (707 Huse Road, Manchester, 232-4794) $30. Comedy show starring James Dorsey, Matt Barry and Greg Boggis. 7 p.m.

Chunky’s Cinema Pub (151 Coliseum Ave., Nashua, 880-8055) $30. Comedy show starring Phillip Anthony, Joey Carrol & Pat Napoli. 7 p.m.

Chunky’s Cinema Pub (150 Bridge St., Pelham, 635-7499) $30. Comedy show starring Jody Sloane, Mark Scalia & Dave Decker. 7 p.m.

Colonial Theatre (613 Main St., Laconia, $30. A Very Broadway New Year’s Bash with trivia, social bingo, karaoke, costume contest, dancing and games. Ticket includes light appetizers, Champagne/sparkling cider toast. 7:30 p.m.

Copper Door (15 Leavy Dr., Bedford, 488-2677) Clint Lapointe plays from 4 to 7 p.m., and the restaurant stays open until 11 p.m. Starts at 3 p.m.

Copper Door (42 S. Broadway, Salem, 458-2033) Bella Perrotta plays from 4 to 7 p.m., and the restaurant stays open until 11 p.m. Starts at 3 p.m.

Derryfield (625 Mammoth Road, Manchester, 623-2880) $25. Once again, the Chad LaMarsh Band, a high-energy dance combo with male and female lead vocals, entertains with tunes from the ’60s to now, with Champagne toast at midnight and party favors. 9 p.m.

DoubleTree by Hilton Manchester Downtown (700 Elm St., Manchester, $35 and up. Comedy show starring Ken Rogerson, Tim McKeever, Rob Steen and Alex Giampapa, also separate Dueling Pianos show, dinner/hotel packages available at 6 p.m.

Doubletree by Hilton Nashua (2 Somerset Parkway, Nashua, $149. Food, laughs and dancing, as a multi-course dinner is followed by Boston comics Pete Costello and Dave Russo followed by local favorites Joppa Flats; Champagne toast. 6 p.m.

Eagles Club Concord (36 S. Main St., Concord, 228-8922) Dave Graham performs, non-members signed in. 8 p.m.

Eagles Club Salem (8 Eagles Nest, Salem, 337-8053) $30 and up. Ring in 2024 with the Manhattan Band. 8 p.m.

East Side Club (786 Massabesic St, Manchester, 669-1802) NYE party with DJ Keith. 9 p.m.

Flying Monkey (39 Main St., Plymouth, 536-2551) $49 and up. Standup comedy from Season 12 America’s Got Talent finalist Preacher Lawson. 8 p.m.

Fody’s (9 Clinton St., Nashua, 577-9015) Perfect Entertainment and Captain Morgan Promo Girls bring a 2024 celebration party with live DJ and giveaways. 9 p.m.

Fody’s Derry (187 1/2 Rockingham Road, Derry, 404-6946) DJ Jay and Captain Morgan Promo Girls bring a NYE 2024 celebration with prizes and giveaways. 9 p.m.

The Goat (50 Old Granite St., Manchester, 603-4628) NYE party with Seven Day Weekend is reprised. 8 p.m.

The Goat (142 Congress St., Portsmouth, 658-4628) Rob Pagnano performs at 9 p.m.

Governors Inn Hotel & Restaurant (76 Wakefield Road, Rochester, 332-0107) $85 includes dinner with appetizers and dessert, along with dancing to classic rock and pop cover band Bad Penny. 7:30 p.m.

Grappone Conference Center (70 Constitution Ave., Concord, Disco dinner party with DJ spinning hot tracks all night long. Groove to your favorite tunes and show off your best moves on the dance floor. 7 p.m.

Hermit Woods Winery & Eatery (72 Main St., Meredith, $35 to $45. Begin with a 5:30 p.m. wine tasting, then enjoy jazz singer Ashley Warwick accompanied by Craig Jaster on piano and Brian Warwick on drums. Intermission Champagne toast of Cirque De Strawberry and a special dessert included with ticket. Show ends early, leaving time for another party to ring in 2024. 7 p.m.

Jewel Music Venue (61 Canal St., Manchester, $45. A Big Gay Events production, Studio 24 harkens back to the height of the disco era when Studio 54 was the epicenter of glitz, glam and parties. The soiree is hosted by Pancake and Sasha Stone and Boston DJ Andrea Stamas, with drag from Chi Chi Marvel and CiCi Crystal. 9 p.m.

LaBelle Winery (345 Route 101, Amherst, 672-9898) $145. Three-course plated dinner and music from Freese Brothers Big Band followed by a stroll through the LaBelle Lights. 9 p.m.

Luna Bistro (254 N. Broadway, Salem, $100. Get a head start with an afternoon Dueling Pianos cocktail party that begins with dinner and Rat Pack music from Joey Canzano. Later, it’s passed hors d’oeuvres and a “ball drop” at 4 p.m., followed by more dancing and a raffle drawing. 6 p.m.

Lynn’s 102 Tavern (76 Derry Road, Hudson, 943-7832) Crave rocks out at this annual bash. 8:30 p.m.

Murphy’s Carriage House (393 Route 101, Bedford, 488-5875) $40. Comedy show with Bob Niles, Amy Tee, E.J. Murphy and Eric Hurst. 8 p.m.

Murphy’s Taproom (494 Elm St., Manchester, $30. Comedy show with Chris D., Joe Espinola and host Jack Lombardo. 8 p.m.

Music Hall Loft (131 Congress St., Portsmouth, 433-3100) $35. After outdoor First Night festivities, high-energy string band Rockspring performs, with a midnight Champagne toast. 10 p.m.

Nan King Restaurant (222 Central St., Hudson, 882-1911) Patty’s Energizer Karaoke rings in the new year. Have dinner and sing your favorite song. 7:30 p.m.

Nashua Center for the Arts (201 Main St., Nashua, $39. Juston McKinney’s Year in Review debuts at the region’s newest venue. 8 p.m.

New London Barn Playhouse (88 Main St., New London, 526-6710) $175. Curated dinner menu, Champagne and an assortment of drinks, and entertainment including Alec Michael Ryan, Hannah Hunt and Cara Rose DiPietro from the 2019 Acting Intern Company. 6 p.m.

Palace Theatre (80 Hanover St., Manchester, 668-5588) Recycled Percussion is again home for the holidays. Ring in 2024 with junk rock, two shows, 3 and 4:30 p.m.

Pats Peak Ski Area (686 Flanders Road, Henniker, 728-7732) New Year’s fireworks (slopes close at 8:45 p.m.) and dancing to The McMurphy’s in the Sled Pub. No NYE party. Night lift tickets start at 4 p.m., last call 10:30 p.m.

Pembroke Pines Country Club (42 Whittemore Road, No. 3128, Pembroke, $160. Comedy from Mike Koutrobis with dancing and food. Buffet starts at 6:30 p.m., comedy at 8 p.m., followed by dancing until midnight with a Champagne toast.

Portsmouth Gas Light (64 Market St., Portsmouth, 430-9122) Winter Wonderland party on the third floor, passed hors d’oeuvres, Champagne toast, late-night buffet, giveaways, with VIP packages available. 8 p.m.

Red’s Kitchen & Tavern (530 Lafayette Road, Seabrook, 760-0030) Live music by Redemption Band, cocktails, food and more. 8 p.m.

Rex Theatre (23 Amherst St., Manchester, 668-5588) $30. Two shows from comedian Jimmy Dunn, at 7:30 and 9 p.m.

Riley’s Place (22 Mt. Vernon St., Milford, 325-2177) $10. Soultown Band plays the best of Motown, with soup-to-nuts dinner sold separately (make reservations). 9 p.m.

Rockingham Ballroom (22 Ash Swamp Road, Newmarket, $40. With a theme of Retro Fantasy, it’s dancing all night on the area’s largest dance floor. DJ host Johnny B Groovy and his Soul Sister. Party favors, healthy late-night food and dessert table, midnight glass of Champagne. 8 p.m.

Saddle Up Saloon (92 Route 125, Kingston, 369-6962) $25. Ring in the new year with live music from Bite the Bullet; tickets include a midnight pizza buffet. 8 p.m.

Shaskeen (909 Elm St., Manchester, 625-0246) All-inclusive Epic New Year’s Bash with 200 tickets sold covering a dinner buffet, midnight Champagne toast, live DJ and open bar (no shots). The club will be closed to anyone without tickets (21+ only). 8 p.m.

Skymeadow Country Club (6 Mountain Laurels Dr., Nashua, $110. Dinner and comedy with Mark Scalia and Joey Carroll, along with DJ dancing ($50 without dinner). 6:30 p.m.

Soho Bistro (20 Old Granite St., Manchester, 222-1677) $21. Masquerade gala promises the hottest crowd, dazzling beauties and epic music with entertainment from Medio Pollo. 9 p.m.

Stone Church (5 Granite St., Newmarket, 659-7700) $20. A Very Max Chase New Year’s Eve featuring Superfrog, Amulus, and The Chops. 6 p.m.

Strand Ballroom (20 Third St., Dover, 343-1899) $50 and up. Comedy with Dave Sheehan, followed by ’80s tribute act Neon Wave, with finger foods and midnight toast. 7 p.m.

Sweeney Post No. 2 (251 Maple St., Manchester) Live music from Stray Dogs, with a potluck dinner, so bring an app, favorite dish or dessert to share. 8 p.m.

Tower Hill Tavern (264 Lakeside Ave., Laconia, 366-9100) DJ Kadence hosts NYE party. 8 p.m.

Tupelo Music Hall (10 A St., Derry, 437-5100) Adam Ezra Group and opening duo dynamo Sirsy play with a four-course dinner at 5:30 p.m. for $95; 9 p.m. show only is $45, and all tickets include a Champagne toast.

Wally’s Pub (144 Ashworth Ave., Hampton, 926-6954) Scott Brown & the Diplomats with Highway 20 Fried provide the live music at this epic bash. 9 p.m.

Featured photo: Behind the Seams: My Life in Rinestones by Dolly Parton

Stealth band

Beyond a cappella with Naturally 7

Close your eyes is the advice Roger Thomas gives fans seeing his group Naturally 7 for the first time. Because even though there are only seven singers on stage, their sound always causes listeners to wonder: where’s the band? Along with lush harmonies, a guitar, keyboards, bass and drums are in the mix. The trick — the miracle really — is it’s vocal only, group members mimicking instruments while others sing lyrics.

Technically, it’s a cappella — music that’s all voice and no instrumentation — but it’s so different that Thomas, who founded Naturally 7 in 1999, decided a new name was needed.

“We coined the phrase ‘vocal play,’” he said by phone recently. “To let people know it’s something else.”

Called Seven until a Southern act with a copyright forced them to change the name, N7 was an all-singing group at the outset. Fate intervened, however, in the form of a chance meeting with a music superstar.

“We were in a bookstore, and the owner said, ‘Hey, Stevie Wonder’s here, I want you guys to sing for him,” Thomas recalled. Wonder seemed to enjoy their version “Amazing Grace” but at the end “he was like, ‘I know who your favorite group is’ — and that’s how he left.”

Thomas quickly deduced Wonder wasn’t paying them a compliment.

“He was saying that we sound just like Take 6, and he knows they’re our favorite group,” he said. “From that point on — this was just before we formed N7 — I was like, ‘We’ve got to find a way to make it something of our own.’”

Later, on a long car trip, Thomas’s wife and mother-in-law grew tired of his a cappella cassettes, except Swedish quintet The Real Group’s song, which included eerily lifelike vocalized instruments. “They both said, ‘That can stay in … it’s not a cappella.’ I was like, that’s it! We’re going to be the first on the planet to imitate instruments as the mainstay of the group. Not just a little piece of a show like so many people do, but all seven of us have to figure out what instrument best suits us.”

N7’s unique brand of vocal play has carried them across the globe and led to a lot of memorable collaborations. A management connection resulted in a tour with Michael Bublé, who wanted an opener that wouldn’t add any equipment to an already crowded stage. “He was thinking it would probably be good to have an a cappella group,” Thomas said. “We were supposed to do one leg … we ended up doing three world tours and won three Grammys with him. That was eight years of our lives.”

Coldplay’s Chris Martin once watched them in London and invited them to hang out in his London studio. “They were singing one of our songs, ‘Wall of Sound,’” he recalled. To return the compliment, N7 learned “Fix You” a few months later. “It seems like the obvious one to do, but we’ve got to do it, man. It’s just the power in that song has everything to do with what we do.”

Their upcoming show at Tupelo Music Hall will mix Naturally 7 at the Movies, with selections like “Axel’s Theme” from Beverly Hills Cop, “Jailhouse Rock,” “Shaft” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” along with Christmas songs both standard and original — “Satisfaction Guaranteed” shines among the latter. As always, they’ll do “Fix You,” which has become de rigueur.

“People get upset if we don’t do it; it’s part of who we are,” Thomas said. “We want to leave people with something that’s uplifting, even more so than just the circus part of our voices and the vocal play. We love when people give us credit [for doing] this vocally, but there’s nothing like people saying the music touched them for a lifetime…. ‘Fix You’ is that type of song.”

Thomas set out looking for a distinct sound.

“I want someone to know it’s Naturally 7 within the first couple of bars, like it is for Earth Wind and Fire, the Temptations, Bee Gees or Beatles,” he said. “That’s how you know you’ve created something special.

It was a big lift, and at the start success wasn’t certain.

“You don’t know for sure that you can accomplish this, but you’re going to try, and we were able to do it,” Thomas said. “It’s definitely a dream come true to go around the world now. Because the goal was to get out on the stage and have everyone not believe it. That’s the key mark … get to the point where people say, ‘I don’t believe it.’”

Featured photo: Behind the Seams: My Life in Rinestones by Dolly Parton

Make music merry

A fan’s gift guide

It’s the holiday season and once again time to make a music fan’s eyes and ears light up like a Christmas tree. From modest to mammoth, and across a range of ways to access their passion, here are suggestions for your special someone.

If your giftee’s passion extends to creating music, check out Teenage Engineering, a Swedish company that makes the Pocket Operator, a line of mini synthesizers that resemble a calculator and sell for under a hundred bucks. If you’re feeling extravagant, the company has introduced the EP-133 KO II, a larger device with exponentially more groove and sequencing power; it’s $299 at

For the audiophile on your list, there’s the AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt, a device that bypasses the crummy audio delivered on cell phones and laptop computers to truly leverage the enhanced sound offered by streaming services like Qobuz and Tidal, $199 at, and for phones it’s a good idea to include an adapter in the gift box.

Or you can keep it simple while still turning it up to 11 with the Marshall Kilburn II Bluetooth Portable Speaker. Befitting its brand, the “stout-hearted hero” weighs in at five and half pounds and boasts the loudest output of anything in its class, while providing more than 20 hours of portable power with a single charge, $199.99 at

Maybe your music maven is a purist with a throwback bent who loves only vinyl. Help them keep their prized albums clean with a Boundless Audio Record Cleaner Brush, perfect as a stocking stuffer at $15. But don’t give the leash without a puppy — there are many music box sets on offer this year.

Jason Isbell marked a decade since his breakthrough solo release Southeastern with a quadruple-vinyl, triple-CD edition that has the remastered studio LP along with a live version and demos of every song, with special packaging, $79.99 at The seemingly endless flow of Beatles music and the final drop of so-called new songs from the Fab Four continues with a repackaging of their Red 1962-1966 and Blue 1967-1970 albums, with a total of 21 previously unreleased tracks, $69.99 at

Wanna feel old? Green Day’s Dookie is turning 30 and the Berkeley punk stalwarts’ first big release has the deluxe treatment, with a six-LP (brown vinyl, natch) box set that includes a bevy of tchotchkes to go with outtakes, demos and live takes, including four songs from their notoriously mud-splattered Woodstock ’94 set, $121.32 at

Dolly Parton answered her induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by inviting a big chunk of its membership (and Kid Rock) to work on Rockstar, her first rock ’n’ roll record. She even reunited the remaining living Beatles, along with Peter Frampton and Mick Fleetwood, for a version of “Let It Be.” It’s available as a four-vinyl album box set for $59.98 at

There is no shortage of books for the music fan. For superfans of the aforementioned Ms. Parton, give Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones, a fashion-focused autobiography that peeks into the singer’s closet and is packed with more than 450 color photos, $25 at

To (extravagantly) mark the 60th anniversary of Beatlemania for your favorite fan, give 1964: Eyes of the Storm, a collection of photos taken by Paul McCartney with his 35mm camera from the end of 1963 through early 1964, the years when The Beatles blew up into an international phenomenon and altered the course of music history. It’s $77.79 at

For those growing misty-eyed for the early days of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and other flannel-shirted rockers, Mudhoney guitarist Steve Turner’s Mud Ride: A Messy Trip Through the Grunge Explosion covers the evolution and growth of Seattle’s music scene, from DIY club shows to its Big Bang, which removed most hair metal bands from the earth. $28.79 at

One of the latest classic rock memoirs is My Effin’ Life, from Rush bassist, keyboard player and singer Geddy Lee. It’s filled with anecdotes of his time with the prog rock power trio, along with personal stories of growing during World War II, with a grandfather who was murdered during the Holocaust. Novelist Michael Chabon praised the “warmth, care, artfulness, hard-earned wisdom and … gently skewed humor” in his book. $24.99 at

It’s always a good idea to keep things local. Here’s a thought: The next time you attend a show at The Shaskeen, Penuche’s, the Press Room or Strange Brew, pick up a CD and pay it forward by giving it to a loved one who’s unfamiliar with the performer’s music. That’s the most effective way to put cash in an artist’s pocket.

Of course, there’s always merch. Roots of Creation, one of the busiest bands around, offers a huge selection of T-shirts, caps, pins and posters at their website. Sepsiss, the female-fronted heavy metal band that just won another NEMA, has a line of T-shirts calling attention to the insidious practice of pay to play, where clubs force acts to buy tickets to their own shows and re-sell them for payment, along with other forms of financial exploitation. Available at

A few musicians have side hustles as artists making very cool stuff. Singer-songwriter Dan Blakeslee, who played his first main stage set at the Newport Folk Festival this year, sells line drawings (also available as T-shirts) at Nick Lavallee, front man for Manchester power pop band Donaher, runs Wicked Joyful, making bespoke action figures and apparel like the Devil Church Explorer Club hoodie or a Taco Tour at Tender Town T-shirt, at

Featured photo: Behind the Seams: My Life in Rinestones by Dolly Parton

’Tis the season

Holiday pops in Nashua, Concord

This year, Symphony NH will perform its Holiday Pops concert twice, at its home venue, Keefe Center for the Arts in Nashua, and at Concord City Auditorium. The evenings will include festive selections like “You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch,” Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s “Christmas Overture,” music from “The Nutcracker,” a Hanukkah song and a sing-along to close things out.

It’s the sort of program pops orchestras have done for years, but in a recent interview, conductor Roger Kalia, now in his fifth year, spoke of his vision for widening Symphony NH’s reach. This includes taking it to places like Bollywood, inside a game console, and to a galaxy far, far away.

“Keeping things fresh and bringing a fresh view to this art form,” he said, indicating that his eyes are set firmly on shifting the demographic. “Some young people … may call [it] a little stuffy, but there’s really so much great music out there.”

Along with Symphony NH, Kalia conducts the Evansville Philharmonic, near his home in Bloomington, Indiana, and Orchestra Santa Monica in Southern California. He co-founded the Lake George Music Festival and is its Music Director. An existence filled with frequent flier miles “comes with the territory,” he said. “You kind of sign up for it when you’re a conductor.”

Coming to the Granite State was challenging beyond that. “I got the job at a difficult time, right when Covid started; my first season, three concerts in, we had to shut down everything,” he said, adding admiration for Symphony NH’s resilience during the pandemic. “We were one of the few orchestras in the country to actually give concerts, and we did a virtual livestream concert format for the majority of the 2020-21 season.”

2023 marked the 100th anniversary of Symphony NH and offered a landmark season. The Indian American Kalia was especially pleased with Symphony Masala last October. The Bollywood-themed show was “the first collaboration of its kind in history, as far as I know,” he said, noting similar efforts were done with Indian instruments. “This was purely 100 percent Western instruments, with a singer … we made history.”

Another innovative concert offered this season was Wynton Marsalis’s A Fiddler’s Tale at the Rex, which combined jazz and symphonic elements. Upcoming in 2024 is Penelope, a song cycle from Sarah Kirkland Snider inspired by The Odyssey first presented as a livestream during the pandemic. “It involves a lot of pop music influences,” Kalia said. “Think Radiohead meets Bjork meets classical. … That’s what you’re going to get with Penelope.”

Brass to the Max will be the first show of the new year and will feature the Nashua-based Spartans Drum Corps in an all-brass percussion music concert. Kalia considers the answer to the question “What is pops?” to be “music for films,” which makes the final concert of the season in June a natural — The Music of John Williams, with selections from Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park on tap.

Kalia is especially looking forward to another first-of-its-kind effort called Game Over(ture), set for March 23 at the Capitol Center’s Chubb Theatre in Concord. Led by guest conductor Austin Wintory, the first video game composer to be nominated for a Grammy, the program will feature music from Wintory’s Journey, Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Brothers, Final Fantasy, Prince of Persia, Halo and others.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring in new audiences,” enthused Kalia.

While in Los Angeles, Kalia worked with famous performers, including Jack Black and Randy Newman, and organized From Classical to Rock, with Johnny Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls and Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson. He hopes to do something similar in New Hampshire, like a Beatles evening that happened here before he arrived.

“We’ve been looking at the possibility of either bringing [that] show back for a future season, or even doing concerts with blues artists,” he said. “There’s a great singer I know who specializes in the blues and New Orleans Dixieland jazz, that sort of thing.”

Kalia feels like he’s hitting his target.

“The past couple of seasons, I’ve been introducing newer work to our audiences, and they’ve really latched on to them; they expect it, I think,” he said. “The programming we’re doing … is truly innovative and unique compared to a lot of other cities in this country that have small regional orchestras, and I’m proud of that.”

Symphony NH Holiday Pops
When: Saturday, Dec. 9, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Keefe Center for the Arts, 117 Elm St., Nashua
Tickets: $10 to $63 at
Also Sunday, Dec. 10, 3 p.m., Concord City Auditorium, 2 Prince St., Concord

Featured photo: Holiday Pops. Photo by David Weiss.

Hometown son

Drew Dunn headlines Nashua Center

While it was being built, Drew Dunn would drive by the Nashua Center for the Arts and think about performing there one day. On Dec. 2, the 2010 Nashua High School South graduate will headline, the latest milestone in a comedy career that was quick out of the gate when it started 10 years ago and continues to rise.

“Nashua is my hometown,” Dunn said by phone recently. “I’ve lived in a lot of places, but it’s cool to be able to do this.”

Dunn’s easy-going demeanor and razor-sharp instincts combine with innate humor for a comedic style loved by both fans and fellow comics. The latest example of the latter is Dane Cook, who saw Dunn open for him in West Hollywood a few months back and was impressed enough to invite him on tour.

Connecting with the Boston comic was, Dunn said, “kind of super random.” Cook streams video games on Twitch, and Dunn’s dad follows him on the popular website. When Drew posted about the show on his social media, Dad messaged Cook. “He told him we’ve been big fans for a long time, we’re both from the New England area…. That got Dane to watch a few minutes of my set.”

The comic’s career has seen a steady checklist of successes. Playing the Johnny Carson Great American Comedy Festival in Carson’s hometown of Norfolk, Nebraska, was an early triumph, “the first time I got on a plane and did standup.” Dunn won the Boston Comedy Festival in 2017; later he went to the Pacific Northwest, where he lived in grade school, and took top honors at the month-long Seattle International Comedy Competition.

The biggest highlight since then has been hitting the road with Cook, which will continue next year. It included a stop at the Wilbur Theatre, which Dunn called “one of the last major venues in Boston on my checklist.” Overall, the tour is “the first taste of the next level of this business that I’ve had, and it’s inspiring. It makes it feel a little bit more attainable.”

Such glamorous highs are the result of an arduous journey.

“I’ve done everything from campground shows talking to people sitting in their golf carts in the middle of the day, to random breweries and stuff like that,” he said. Throughout, “I’ve learned comedy is a marathon…. Hard work adds up over time to be able to create moments like [the Nashua show], which makes it worthwhile. Building something and then sharing it, continuing to go from there, it’s a never-ending road, this whole standup game. I’m just happy to be on it.”

Dunn acknowledged other comics who helped him along the way, including early mentor Corey Rodrigues. “He always seemed a step or two ahead of me, so any time I’d be running into something new, he’d be a guy I’d hit up.”

Manchester comic Paul Landwehr, who’ll open in Nashua, is another. Dunn recalled working the door with him at Dick Doherty’s Comedy Den in Boston when both were starting out.

Amiability is key to Dunn’s success. “My business model when it comes to this whole thing is to just be funny and nice to everybody, because it’s more fun that way. So many comics get in this competitive mindset of trying to one-up each other — ‘Why is he getting an opportunity and not me?’ or ‘Why is she winning and not me?’ For me it’s always been us comics versus the crowd. If more people are seeing standup comedy, that’s a win for all of us.”

Dunn sees a rising tide in the regional scene.

“I think comedy in general, and particularly in Boston, is probably in a better state than it’s ever been,” he said. “I wasn’t alive in the ’80s and that boom, but comedy in general now, there’s more people watching and listening and going to live shows as far as standup goes than ever before in the history of time. To be a part of that … is just infinitely exciting.”

Drew Dunn w/ Paul Landwehr and Will Mars
When: Saturday, Dec. 2, 8 p.m.
Where: Nashua Center for the Arts, 201 Main St., Nashua
Tickets: $29 at

Featured photo: Drew Dunn. Courtesy photo.

Serving up laughs

Post-Thanksgiving comedy show at Rex

Since all the crack-of-dawn flat-screen TV sales moved online, the day after Thanksgiving has become a time to recover and shake off the tryptophan, along with any memories of oversharing relatives. The way comedian Emily Ruskowski sees it, there are a lot of people among that crowd who could use an escape to some laughs.

“Black Friday is a lull, when people are home and looking for something to sort of decompress from travel or holiday stress,” the Massachusetts native, who started in standup while going to graduate school in Washington, D.C., and has worked in her home region since 2013, said by phone recently. “Comedy is a great thing to do during those times, if only to get away from your family for a few hours.”

To that end, she and three of the region’s top comics will gather at the Rex Theatre in Manchester on Nov. 24. Ruskowski, a finalist in the 2018 Boston Comedy Festival, is a natural storyteller with sharp timing. Her bits include one about “aggressive meat hipsters” working in Portland, Maine, restaurants where the farm is a little too close to the table — who needs to hear every step in the preparation of goat stew?

“They’re not wrong, their food is incredible,” she said. “They’re just very, very passionate about it.”

Sharing the stage are Dan Boulger, who won the BCF in 2006 and is a regular at places like Headliners and Laugh Boston, and Amy Tee, who likes to appear in a suit and tie and poke fun at her androgynous appearance. “You’re probably wondering what bathroom I’m going to use,” she’ll quip. “It’ll be the one with the shortest line, I guarantee you that.” Rounding out the bill is Boston’s Tim Champa.

“I could not be more excited about this lineup, it’s just A+ all-around top tier,” Ruskowski said. “It’s going to be just such an incredible show, I can’t wait.”

Ruskowski got into comedy by acclamation — enough friends told her she was funny that she decided to give it a try.

“I didn’t know what the entry point was,” she said. “Then my friend was like, ‘Oh, you go to open mics, and there’s one near my house; I’ll go with you.’ I was just hooked from that.”

The same people urging her to try standup helped Ruskowski mine the jokes in her story-based act. “My friends would say, ‘There’s a lot of punches in there’… they would help me work it out,” she said. “I’m so grateful to them for encouraging me, because doing comedy is one of the greatest joys of my life. I’m so lucky to get to do it.”

When she moved back to New England, Ruskowski broke into the regional scene in an atypical way. “My biggest comedy contacts were people who had gone to high school and college with my sister,” she said. “People were like, ‘She’s Audrey’s sister, she’s cool because Audrey is very cool.’”

Since then she’s managed to land in a number of comedy circles, appearing at the alt-leaning Shaskeen in Manchester, doing mid-level rooms like The Rex and Portsmouth’s Music Hall Lounge — she’ll be at the latter in mid-December, and opening for Gary Gulman at Boston’s Wilbur Theatre last September.

During the day, Ruskowski works as a mental health professional, helping young people. “Don’t applaud, I’m doing God’s work,” she’ll tell crowds, adding with a smirk, “at least that’s what they say, so they don’t have to pay us.”

She has one hilarious bit about taking a job satisfaction survey during the pandemic, asking for more money and receiving a fleece jacket instead. “That’s what you everyone wants to wear, right, hospital-branded attire? Like you showed up in an ER naked, and that’s what they sent you home in.”

That said, the counseling job does help the comic hone her act.

“Teenagers are a very tough audience,” she said, recalling one young girl complaining that Ruskowski didn’t really care about her — she was only there because it was her job. “I said, ‘You’re right, I am here because I’m paid, and wouldn’t it be weird if I wasn’t? If I was just a random adult who came to your school to ask personal questions, you probably shouldn’t talk to me.’”

Emily Ruskowski’s Thanksgiving Leftover Laughs w/ Dan Boulger, Amy Tee and Tim Champa
Friday, Nov. 24, 8 p.m.
Where: Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester
Tickets: $25 at

Featured photo: Emily Ruskowski. Courtesy photo.

First Wave

Cars tribute act hits Tupelo

The best thing about playing in a Cars tribute act is it never gets boring. The Boston band broke out in the late 1970s with a string of hits that ran the gamut from edgy jangle pop to swirling, ethereal rock, and no song exactly resembled another.

“The Cars had such a diverse palette of musical tastes, you listen to some of their music and sometimes wonder if it’s the same band,” Ken Marchione said recently. Panorama, the band he co-founded, will bring its pristine Cars reproduction to Tupelo Music Hall on Nov. 18, a co-bill with B-52s sound-alike Bikini Whale. “Their music will live on, and even after all these years they still sound fresh.”

That said, anyone looking to tackle The Cars’ catalog, from their eponymous debut to 1984’s Heartbeat City (the last-gasp Door to Door three years later doesn’t really count), should be more than a fan. The variety and complexity of songs like “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Hello Again” can challenge the most talented musician.

The five members of Panorama are up to the task. In fact, their stage act often improves on, or at least cleans up, the original group, as it employs prerecorded multitracking and layered vocals to emulate The Cars’ album sound.

“We want to make it note for note as perfect as we can,” Marchione said. “Because in a lot of ways they really were a studio band.”

Marchione and keyboard player Darren Muise, who are also in the J. Geils Band tribute act Whammer Jammer, came up with the idea for Panorama in 2019. The two were already Cars fans. Muise went to Berklee College of Music, where he latched onto Cars keys man Greg Hawkes, particularly liking his synthesizer work. Marchione picked up the guitar at age 6 and was smitten since “Just What I Needed” hit on WBCN and WRKO.

He marvels at guitarist Elliot Easton. “His solos … are songs within songs that can be hummed; the average listener gravitates to that,” he said. “That’s why I think he’s been so successful as a soloist and a writer because he makes these intricate arrangements for the guitar that everybody can latch on to.”

The first piece in putting the band together was singer-guitarist Darin Ames, who answered Marchione and Muise’s Craigslist ad. Drummer Gary Agresti came next, bringing additional skills as a sound man — he runs the mix at BankNH Pavilion in Gilford during the shed season. Bass player Jeff Ares came in last, replacing one who’d only played one gig.

Ares was a find. “It was fate — he knew about 25 songs when he walked through the door,” Marchione recalled, adding they did a full rehearsal with him the same day. “He just stepped in, he knows every song, he’s a great bass player, he looks the part and he loves The Cars. It was just an absolute perfect fit, and that completed the band.”

The doppelganger band opens its show with a brief Cars history video and uses career-spanning visual imagery throughout the set. They perform a couple of times a month and recently completed a well-received jaunt to Wisconsin. They’ve even received acknowledgement from the objects of their tribute. At a recent benefit concert, Ares and Ames sat in with Eliot Easton for a pair of songs.

At the show, Marchione had a chance to speak with his musical hero Easton.

“I got to ask him a bunch of questions about a lot of the solos that I’ve been playing for years now,” Marchione recalled. “He was fantastic, and a super nice guy. He knew that we had a tribute to The Cars, and he wasn’t in any way upset; he was flattered. That was a bucket list item for me.”

Panorama (The Cars tribute) w/ Bikini Whale (B-52s tribute)
Saturday, Nov. 18, 8 p.m.
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry
Tickets: $30 at

Featured photo: Panorama. Courtesy photo.

Immigrant song

Reunited and revitalized, deSoL hits Concord

Fans of Latin-infused rock and soul music are in for a treat when deSoL performs at Concord’s Bank of NH Stage on Nov. 11, their first area show in over a decade. Though the band officially split in 2010, they stayed friendly, doing a Concerts for the Cause benefit in Manchester in 2013 — but nothing since.

Socially distanced meetups at front man Albie Monterrosa’s New Jersey home in the waning days of pandemic lockdown, however, led to deSoL’s first new songs since their final album, Chango. Monterrosa promised in a recent interview that more are in the works, perhaps a sign that the band’s upcoming live shows won’t be the last.

“It’s more of a commitment, I guess,” he said. deSoL is now a four-piece band; Monterrosa, keyboard player Andy Letke, James Guerrero on percussion and bass player Chris Apple.

“We never lost the love for each other and for what we do and for our audience,” Monterrosa continued, adding that the rigors of touring caused the breakup. “We hit it for a decade strong and we missed birthday parties, funerals, weddings…. We had to reassess where our personal lives were at that moment. It was interesting to really take inventory.”

Once reunited, the Asbury Park rhythm machine began to get its groove back, while mending fences. “Being with a band for so long, things happen, things are said. When you’re older you have distance from it and there’s healing. I remember sitting around the island in my kitchen with a bottle of tequila in the middle and us just talking… really being honest with one another. It was a couple of those conversations that really started to make way for new music.”

“El Paso” is one gem in a batch of new songs. Monterrosa wrote it for his mother, while he reflected on her challenges immigrating from El Salvador in the 1970s.

“I realized I had it pretty good,” he said. “Her selflessness was a gift. [Her] struggles I really didn’t see until now…. A big part of what ‘El Paso’ is about is giving my mom honor there.”

Though it’s true when Monterrosa sings, “everybody’s got their own story to tell, mine began in El Paso,” he insists the song isn’t autobiographical.

“It’s pretty much the Latin American story, underdogs coming here try to make it,” he said. “Making it for my parents was literally what they did; they purchased a home, got us through school and out of the house. They created people that were productive in society.”

Handing the song to his bandmates provided a reminder of the rhythmic chemistry that drives deSoL. It was an acoustic song when Monterrosa wrote it, “very singer-songwriter,” he recalled. Guerrero was the first band member to feel it. “He has this ear that I really trust…. If he gets excited, I know it’s hitting a chord somewhere. Then Andy got behind the drums and started playing that groove, and it turned into something that we all were liking. When that happens, you go with it.”

Fittingly, the completed track has a groove that recalls “City of Immigrants,” Steve Earle’s ode to NYC. Another finished song, “Sally,” has a Lieber & Stoller, doo-wop feel. “We’ve got a couple more that we’re gonna release in the new year,” Monterrosa said. “It’s interesting to make music a decade or more later than the last time, and in a new way.”

That said, they’re most excited to be returning to the stage.

“That’s where we love to be, in the live realm; we love when people are together,” Monterrosa said. He likened the band at the start of each show to a jet plane sitting on the runway. “When the plane takes off, everybody’s vibing together and everybody is unified. People are dancing, people are singing back, people are with you on the ride.”

Whether they feel a little or a lot of that love isn’t critical. “Even if it’s one person, as long as somebody’s on the ride with us, I feel like we’re doing our job. We’ve been really fortunate to have that one person spark up and then the person next to him, then it becomes a chain reaction. Next thing, the whole place is really a party.”

There’s a reason their only two upcoming shows are in New Hampshire and in Massachusetts, a Nov. 10 co-headlining concert with fellow percussive pals Entrain.

“You guys really know and love your music, and you sniff out something that’s not working,” Monterrosa said. “You respond well when it’s authentic and real. I love that about New England.”

Saturday, Nov. 11, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Bank of NH Stage, 16 S. Main St., Concord
Tickets: $30.75 and $43.75 at

Featured photo: deSoL. Courtesy photo.

Mood music

The honey-limned soundscapes of Cowboy Junkies

Every Cowboy Junkies album delivers a fair share of emotional truths, dark reflections and melancholy, and Such Ferocious Beauty, released last June, is no exception. There are echoes of the Louvin Brothers on the spare “Hell Is Real,” with its refrain “Jesus is coming, ready or not” more a stern warning than a promise of salvation. Another stellar track, “Knives” admonishes that “hope is fear in disguise.”

What’s different about the new record is that Michael Timmins, who writes lyrics for his ethereal-voiced sister Margo to sing, tapped into the mood of his family on many songs. Tragically, it extends the tenor of their previous release Ghosts, an eight-song cycle that processed the death of their mother in 2018. Their father passed in 2020, succumbing first to dementia and finally to old age.

Drummer Peter Timmins is the third sibling in the band, but there are three others who aren’t musicians, and each was included in a decision to reveal why the songs were written. This made it both his and his family’s artistic process, Michael Timmins shared by phone recently.

“It wasn’t just my story; it was all our story,” he said. “With these songs and albums, there was something we’d all gone through together. We felt it was something that made sense for our audience and for us personally. That’s how we came to that decision.”

Timmins’ songwriting approach didn’t change.

“There’s always something personal…. The songs are not only supposed to work if you know what they’re about,” he said. “Hopefully, they evoke something in you that goes near what I’m trying to express.”

Anyone who’s experienced a loved one battling Alzheimer’s will feel the gut punch of “What I Lost,” which leads off the album. It’s written from the point of view of Timmins’ dad, as his memory erodes and he holds on to the shards of his past — piloting a plane over Quebec, listening to jazz in a nightclub, missing his wife.

“I woke up this morning, didn’t know who I was,” he cries, and Margo sings, “You ask me how I am / what am I supposed to say / when this is what I lost.”

It’s often said that when a parent dies, each child loses a different person. Thus, one wonders if Michael’s emotions were re-shaped in any of these songs when Margo sang his words back to him.

“That’s a good question,” he said, and began to describe how a typical song comes together. “It’s the ‘frog in boiling water’ process…. [First] I’m writing and it’s a very personal thing; it’s all about me. The next stage, I’m thinking in terms of structuring it for Margo. Then she begins to get involved with her vocals and the way she’s expressing the words. And the lines are coming back at me differently.”

The musical vibe of Michael and Peter Timmins and bass player Alan Anton is major mojo for every one of the band’s songs. Michael describes this crucible as nearly alchemic.

“That’s a whole other thing … by the time we’re finished, the songs are very much beyond where I may have thought they were going to be,” he said. “Or maybe they’re exactly the same, but I’ve kind of forgotten what my initial thoughts were; it’s become a Junkies song. I pay attention all along the way, but I’m very happy to let things be pushed in a direction that I wasn’t expecting.”

On another standout track, music came before words. “Flood” is an edgy song that scoffs at “all this useless talk of turning tides,” and sounds like drowning might feel.

“Alan sent me a very cool bass and piano line … that’s the core,” Michael said, adding he wrote atop that foundation, crafting lyrics and then fleshing it out with scraping, chaotic electric guitar. “Once I had the words, the themes, the ideas and the desperation of the characters, I realized I needed another element in there to express that musically.”

Since forming in the mid-’80s, Cowboy Junkies have recorded and toured constantly, with no hiatuses or lineup changes. When the world paused in early 2020, the group was able to experience down time. “In some ways, it turned out good,” Michael said. “We’re always playing because it’s very important for us to do that, and it’s what we’ve always done. But this was sort of this little forced break to get off the road.”

He spent his time writing and recording, finishing Such Ferocious Beauty, and when live music returned he found himself frequently going to see other artists when he wasn’t performing. “I gotta be more active about this,” he remembers thinking. “I gotta get out there and start going to shows again, because it’s just such a great feeling.”

A few days prior to this interview, he’d seen Nick Cave’s stripped-down solo show at Toronto’s Massey Hall. A fan since Cave’s angsty Birthday Party days, Michael discerns commonality in their career arcs. “He’s had quite a journey,” he said. “We’ve gone through various stages, and as we’ve grown older our outlook on the world is growing different. I hope that we have a similar sort of relationship with our audience.”

Two days later he took his daughter to see Gregory Alan Isakov, after hearing her try to work out the chords to one of Isakov’s songs in her bedroom. “Him and his band opened for us, probably back around 2011 or 2012 in Boulder, when, I think, he was just getting going,” he said. “So it translated down through the ages.

Inspired by the likes of fellow Canadians Neil Young and Leonard Cohen, Michael sees a kinship between himself and Isakov; he begins most of his songs from a singer-songwriter point of view. “Even though that’s not what I am,” he said, “it’s just me and my acoustic guitar. Then I go through the filter of Margo and the band, and they go in different directions, and that’s sort of what makes Cowboy Junkies.”

Cowboy Junkies
: Sunday, Nov. 5, 7 p.m.
Where: Nashua Center for the Arts, 201 Main St., Nashua
Tickets: $49 and up at

Featured photo: Cowboy Junkies. Photo by Heather Pollock.

Staying close to home

Comic Steve Bjork hits Manchester

If not for his tight New England bonds, things might have been different for Steve Bjork. In the late 1990s he was approached for the role of a young Fred Flintstone in the prequel The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas. Problem was he’d have to audition in Los Angeles. Bjork politely declined; he’d left his native Massachusetts to try the West Coast for a while, and decided it wasn’t for him.

“It occurred to me seeing some people that were struggling in L.A. for decades that I could potentially be one of those,” he said in a recent phone interview. “Or I could go home, have comedy and my family and everything I wanted.” He was married, with a stepson and a day job, spending his weekends doing standup. Bjork wasn’t looking to change any of that.

However, the eager casting agent was undeterred and called back two days later.

“She goes, ‘Listen, I keep hearing your name, I’ve seen your headshot, I’ve seen a clip, and we really want to see you. How about we move the audition to New York City?’ I said, ‘No, I appreciate it, but I’m not chasing that anymore.’”

The movie got made, with British actor Mark Addy in the lead. Addy went on to star opposite Jamie Gertz in the sitcom Still Standing, which ran for four seasons, and later played Robert Baratheon on Game of Thrones.

“Hypothetically speaking, I could have been on TV, married to Jamie Gertz and then King Robert Baratheon,” Bjork said with a laugh.

It turned out OK for Bjork, who regularly headlines throughout the region, including an upcoming show at Murphy’s Taproom in Manchester on Oct. 28. His family grew when he and his then wife fostered and later adopted four kids from a troubled background. They’re now in their teens and the source of some great material, including a memorable bit about getting them all off to school on time.

The experience of turning down a role weighed on him, though, to the point where he would leave comedy.

“I was working full-time,” he said, “and Friday afternoon, I’d be like, ‘I don’t feel like doing my show tonight.’ It occurred to me: who the hell am I? People want to pay me to tell jokes and I’m not that interested in it? I should get out of the way for somebody who has more passion.”

He left the business for 10 years, returning, he said, “because I couldn’t stay away anymore. Now, every single time I get on stage I’m thankful. If there’s five people, if there’s 15 hundred, it’s the highlight of my day. My goal is to connect with the audience, not just make them laugh … after the show, I want them to be compelled to come up and talk to me. Hopefully, I brighten their day.”

Inspired to become a comic by listening to Bill Cosby as a kid, Bjork always works clean — comedy parlance for no profanity or adult content in his set. “Unless he’s dating you, there’s nobody cleaner than Cosby,” he said. When Eddie Murphy put out his first record, his mom bought it for their family to hear together, an experience that steeled his resolve.

There were no lovable Saturday Night Live characters on Murphy’s album. “It was standup, and everybody knows at this point, it’s filthy,” Bjork said. “It’s hysterical by the way — but it’s filthy.” He watched his mother squirm for about eight minutes until she ended the ordeal. The aspiring comic then vowed he’d never make anyone feel that uncomfortable if he could.

While studying at Salem State College, he got a kitchen job at a nearby comedy club and studied the craft. “The boom was huge,” he said. “This club in the middle of nowhere was selling out every night. There was this big dirt parking lot, and the line was stretched out to the street.” By the time he started working, things had cooled a bit, and it’s ebbed and flowed since.

These days Bjork likes what he’s seeing in New England comedy.

“Since I started, it’s gone through peaks and valleys as far as interest from the public,” he said. “Right now there’s a lot of shows going on; people are coming out. We’ve got a younger generation that’s working at it, and working hard. It’s a great scene.”

There’s another trend that Bjork finds encouraging: “People are a lot more personal on stage,” he said. “Showing vulnerabilities, talking about their real lives as opposed to, ‘What happened to peanuts on the airplane?’ Gary Gulman a couple of years ago did this entire special about his battles with depression. It was really empowering, and I think so helpful to so many people who struggle with that. It was very brave of him.”

One reason Bjork likes this comes from his other work as a speaker.

“My phrase is ‘mental health is contagious,’” he said of the talks he gives to corporate audiences. “Look, life is crap wall to wall. Moments of laughter … you really need to embrace those, cradle them, and hold on to them as well as you can; even think back to them when you’re struggling again. That’s what gets you through.”

Steve Bjork w/ Mona Forgione, Emily Mame Ford and TBA
When: Saturday, Oct. 28, 8 p.m.
Where: Murphy’s Taproom, 494 Elm St., Manchester
Tickets: $20 at

Featured photo: Steve Bjork. Courtesy photo.

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