2020 hindsight

The good parts of a not great year, and what’s (maybe, possibly) ahead

The year 2020 began well enough, as the ball dropped on a retro-themed party at Bank of NH Stage in Concord and a barefoot Adam Ezra once again lit up Tupelo Music Hall, an annual tradition. Headliners Comedy Club offered laughter up and down the state.

The newly opened Rex Theatre in Manchester slated a wide range of shows in its upcoming calendar; the year’s first was E Street Band saxophone player Jake Clemons. Town Meeting, one of the brightest lights in the region’s Americana scene, debuted a new album at The Rex in early February.

March looked to be even better, with St. Patrick’s Day events scheduled at multiple venues throughout the month. Former Celtic Woman fiddler Máiréad Nesbitt’s appearance at Saint Anselm’s Dana Center on March 14 was among the most eagerly anticipated, but she was interrupted by a Friday the 13th that confirmed every horror story concocted about the date — especially for live entertainment.

Tupelo CEO Scott Hayward put it succinctly from the empty stage of his venue that night.

“I boarded a plane to come home from vacation, and arrived to find my industry gone,” he said at the time.

The pandemic has consumed every aspect of life, beginning that weekend.

Through it all, however, there have been more than a few so-called Covid silver linings. Foremost among them was the rise of livestreaming. Concord native Dan Zanes launched a daily Social Isolation Song Series with his wife Claudia, a kid-centric effort. Lucas Gallo’s Local Music Quarantine Video Challenge invited musicians to record themselves at home.

There were many, many more, and the best part was hearing original songs from performers best known for playing covers in restaurants and bars. It was a gift that kept giving. When places began reopening in May, patrons were more receptive to local musicians, who were at that point the only game in town. It became a cultural renaissance, born from crisis.

Venues presenting national acts faced a bigger challenge. They responded ingeniously, with drive-in shows at Tupelo — the effort received national press — and at the Cheshire Fairgrounds in Swanzey, which kicked off its effort with rock tribute act Echoes of Floyd and offered a massive capacity of 750 cars.

Miraculously, the weather was mostly kind at these and other pop-up events throughout the region. Honking horns took the place of applause from early spring to late summer. The Music Hall booked shows into the streets of downtown Portsmouth, while Concord’s Capitol Center for the Arts took over Fletcher-Murphy Park, and Manchester’s Palace Theatre ran a series of summer events at Delta Dental Stadium, including one starring the Beatles-esque Weaklings.

Plenty of restaurants added tents and used live music as a lure for business. Local promoter Paul Costley saw his bookings spike as a result. “In normal times, I usually have 60 to 80 events a week,” Costley said in September. “I was up to 135.”

Indoor venues offered socially distanced shows, with comedians like Juston McKinney leading the charge by playing multiple sets to reduced crowds. Before returning to the stage, McKinney was playing to a crowd of family members and the ether. “I never thought I would look forward to having four people in an audience so much in my life,” McKinney told the Hippo in June for a Comedy After Covid story. “I would kill for four people right now.”

With new movie releases experiencing a drought, Chunky’s Cinema & Pub welcomed Rob Steen’s comedy acts.

Economically, it can’t sustain.

“Being open is one thing and being able to stay open is another thing,” Hayward said in mid-autumn. “If we don’t have the capacity to do the shows we normally do, it doesn’t work. A good show for us is 500 people. … A big show for a small club is 60 people … but I can’t live on 60 people.”

There’s hope on the horizon. Congress included $15 billion in recently passed legislation to help independent venues, theaters and talent agencies weather the crisis, prodded by the live music industry’s Save Our Stages effort. Though most regional venues are currently closed, live shows are scheduled to resume mid-winter at some of them. A few venues are sticking with more vague reopening plans. Tupelo, for example, sent out an update at the end of November saying that challenges with lower capacity shows in 2020 and shows scheduled for 2021 “are causing all sorts of problems for the artists, patrons and venue,” and it is “all but guaranteed that we will be closed through February of 2021 at least.”

Meanwhile, is still scheduled at Portsmouth’s Music Hall on Feb. 13, along with Vapors of Morphine Feb. 19 and Livingston Taylor Feb. 20. The Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, which announced just before Christmas that it was extending its “pause” and canceling all live shows through the end of February, has comic Juston McKinney set for March 28, followed the next night by Celtic Woman Celebration.

Until then, January is Virtual Month at Manchester’s Palace Theatre, with three Thursday shows: a Carole King tribute on the 8th, local rocker Brooks Young on the 15th and Piano Men which offers classic songs from Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Elton John and others, on the 22nd. Actor and musician Jeff Daniels streams an acoustic concert on Jan. 12, with a Q&A following.

Featured photo: A teddy bear audience at Headliner’s Comedy Club helped facilitate social distancing. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 20/12/31

Local music news & events

Junk out: Ever since America’s Got Talent made them a national sensation, Recycled Percussion has returned for a run of shows across their home state; in 2019 they performed for 22,000 people in three weeks, including a sold-out New Year’s Eve at Manchester’s Palace Theatre. The junk rockers will ring out this year virtually from their New Hampshire headquarters. A 12-hour marathon is planned with support from local artists. Thursday, Dec. 31; tickets are $40 at chaosandkindness.store.

Fresh start: Whatever challenges 2021 may bring, it won’t match 2020’s misery index. Tyler Allgood helps kick things off with hope at a rustic restaurant that has supported local musicians throughout the plague year. Allgood released The Weight of Thunder in 2019 and has written some good new songs since, including the mournful “Dirty Red Shoes,” up on his Facebook page. Friday, Jan. 1, 6:30 p.m., Molly’s Tavern, 35 Mont Vernon Road, New Boston, tinyurl.com/ya9uzyd7.

Local hero: Hunkered down area musicians like Lucas Gallo used the quarantine to polish and release original material. A tireless booster of the Concord scene for years as a performer and promoter, Gallo completed From The Attic and debuted it at an outdoor summer show in his Concord hometown. His album contained recently written songs along with some dating back nearly two decades. Saturday, Jan. 2, 4 p.m. Concord Craft Brewing, 117 Storrs St., Concord, facebook.com/NHMusicCollective.

Staged act: Seacoast supergroup Marble Eyes launches a series of livestream shows from the stage of storied club The Press Room. The songwriter collective promises “rock ’n’ roll for the soul” and includes Eric Gould of Pink Talking Fish, Indobox guitarist Mike Carter, Adrian Tramontano of Kung Fu and The Breakfast, along with Max Chase, solo performer and scene staple. Monday, Jan. 3, 8 p.m., airing on nugs.tv, nugs.net, YouTube and Facebook Live, facebook.com/marbleeyesband.

Spiced up: A celebration of Latin culture stars Chimbala, a Dominican singer who had a hit with “Rueda” in 2019, garnering nearly 50 million streams. The indoor fiesta is hosted by Chocolate & Rafide Los Santos and features additional music from DJs Jundaddy, Bently and Coro King. Covid-19 regulations will be strictly enforced at the socially distanced, 21+ event. Thursday, Jan. 7, 8 p.m., Jewel Music Venue, 61 Canal St., Manchester, tickets $40 at boletosexpress.com.

Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman 1984

Diana Prince suits up in her golden armor for an all-too-brief fight sequence in the otherwise extremely long Wonder Woman 1984, a sequel to the 2017 Wonder Woman available until near the end of January on HBO Max and in theaters.

Though we last saw Wonder Woman hanging with Batfleck and the other Justice League-ers in roughly the current day, this takes us back to 1984 when Diana (Gal Gadot) is working in antiquities (for the Smithsonian, I think?) in Washington, D.C., and trying to discreetly protect people from baddies and other danger on the side. Despite a full professional life, Diana has a lonely private life, still aching from the death of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) during World War I. Despite Diana’s inner sadness, her outer awesomeness has fellow museum science and antiquities person Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) wishing that she could be like Diana. Barbara makes that wish while holding an artifact that claims to grant wishes, though both Barbara and Diana initially have their doubts about the authenticity of the item. Diana has also made a Steve-based wish while holding the artifact. While they might not believe in the artifact, we see the little wind blow-y effect in their hair and so we are not so surprised to see their wishes come true: The formerly awkward Barbara can suddenly walk with ease in heels projecting sexy confidence and finds she has increasing physical strength. Diana is approached by a man she’s never met before — who then says and does the last things Steve Trevor ever said and did, and suddenly she can see that it’s him, returned.

After initially just giving in to the delight of having Steve back, Diana and Steve decide to go figure out how it is that he has returned. Unfortunately, by the time they start their quest, the artifact has been stolen by Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), who had long been on the hunt for it. A large donation to the Smithsoneon and some flirting with Barbara gets him access to the artifact and he convinces her to let him take it to get it looked at by an expert. What he actually does is, essentially, wish for all the wishes by wishing to become the artifact (which at some point people start calling “the Dreamstone”). People wish on Maxwell to get their heart’s desire and in return he takes something — their company, their wealth, their henchmen, etc. Their wishes seem to take from him too; he gets weaker and sicker-looking with each wish. Diana and Barbara discover that their wishes have a cost for them as well. These individual costs, however, are minor compared to the mounting societal costs as more and more people wish on Maxwell for more — more nukes, more power, more money. Diana discovers that this may be a feature, not a bug, of the Dreamstone, which has a dark history and was forged by a god known as the “god of lies.”

The lies are seductive and the truth is often sad and bittersweet but the world has to acknowledge and live in the truth to save itself — I think this is the working philosophy of this movie, which I feel like would have played a little different in the alternate timeline of June 2020 (the movie’s original release date), where all anybody is thinking about is the election and we’re all seeing movies in the theater, than it does now. There are some choices made with Pascal’s Max (some of the elements of his character read pretty Trump-y) that make me feel like this movie, without being overtly political, is trying to say something about the state of discourse. I feel like that element is maybe one of the many “too many accessories” that this movie should have taken off, Coco Chanel “take one thing off” style. (I always misremember that quote as “before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take three things off” and I feel like three is the minimum number of things this movie needs to take off.) There is a lot to do with Max that takes away from the development of Diana, Diana and Steve, Diana and Barbara, and Barbara and her own sense of self. Somehow, this two-and-a-half-hour movie feels like it doesn’t have time to give us any relationship or theme in depth — and yet the movie does not fly by. More editing? Less story? More editing of fewer plotlines and a more consistent tone — this movie just felt all over the place and needed streamlining in all things.

That said, there are nice elements. Because we can, I went back to watch some of the highlights of this movie before I wrote this review. The scenes between Diana and Steve do a good job of capturing the sparkle of that pairing, even if somehow the sparkle isn’t sustained. There is a nice start to a friendship between Diana and Barbara but then there is just so much plot business that it kind of gets lost. And there are some fun action stretches, nothing quite as fun as the No Man’s Land scene from the first movie, but nice work, to include an intro that gives us little-girl-Diana in Themyscira and brings back Robin Wright and Connie Nelson. (Much like Thor and Asgard in the Thor movies, Diana in Themyscira feels like a stretch where the movie really knows itself and what it’s doing.) And we get the golden armor that has been part of this movie’s marketing, though not for nearly as long as you’d hope given the general coolness of it.

Wonder Woman 1984 is a sequel to maybe the best recent vintage DC Comics movie and one that had a lot of Strong Female Lead hopes-and-dreams stuff attached to it. Living up to that is a tall order, and this movie doesn’t quite. But that’s not going to stop me from watching it, or at least parts of it, again. B-

Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Patty Jenkins with a screenplay by Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham, Wonder Woman 1984 is two hours and 31 minutes long and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

2020 ‘at’ the movies

It was a horrible and great year for movies

What even is a 2020 movie?

This year’s Oscar race will include films that at least dip a toe in theaters by Feb. 28. I spent at least the first month of this year watching 2019 movies as they trickled into local theaters. And then there’s that long stretch, between March 13 and right this moment, when I have seen exactly three movies on a big screen. Do all those small-screen movies — some great, some blech, some perfectly shrug whatever — count as part of 2020 cinema?

Yes. Like Stephen King used to say when he’d do his annual favorite film list in Entertainment Weekly, whatever we see this year is on this list for a great movie of this year. And, as much as I love the hot popcorn and cool air conditioning of a movie theater, it hasn’t been all bad for movies in 2020. After an Oscar season that was excitingly accessible, it was a silver lining to the terrible 2020 cloud to have movies like First Cow, Never Rarely Sometimes Always and Hamilton available to view as they were having their moment, instead of waiting for films to filter out of the big cities. And those movies are on a pretty long list of good and great films that came out this year. Finding a way to balance the fact that Ammonite is available to every interested Kate Winslet fan (I haven’t had a chance to rent that VOD release yet) and that most movie-lovers are also movie-theater-lovers and want them to survive will be the challenge of 2021 and beyond. (Some new movies are still hitting area theaters before they get to small screens, including Christmas Day releases News of the World and Promising Young Woman, but, of course, big budget theater-only releases are still far fewer than normal.)

But first, we have to get through winter.

What follows are my picks, not just for the best films of 2020 (endless movies also means there are endless movies to catch up on and plenty of 2020 greats that are still on my to-watch list) but for the films that might offer you some fun, escape, artistry and entertainment as we wait out the socially distanced season and hope for a return to more robust movie theater offerings sometime soon. (The streaming locations listed here are based on December offerings, which may change in January.)

Excellent movies I saw this year that are technically 2019 movies: Portrait of a Lady on Fire was totally robbed during last year’s award season; it is beautiful, swoony, bittersweet and at times haunting (currently on Hulu). I didn’t get to review Little Women, the adaptation of the classic novel by director Greta Gerwig, before I did my 2019-in-review roundup; this is a perfect movie (currently on Starz but I may have to spring for the two-movie bundle that also comes with the 1994 Little Women and sells for $16.98 on iTunes).1917(currently on Showtime and available for rent or purchase) was also a basically perfect movie that dazzles with the visual feat of a “one-shot” movie that takes soldiers through battlefields on a mission during World War I. If you want to make an argument for the supremacy of seeing a movie in theaters, 1917 does a good job of selling that point.

2020 movies that literally saved my life: I mean “literally” in the figurative sense though an argument for “literal” could be made as the precious moments of peace and quiet these movies brought to homebound children in the spring and summer of 2020 meant a calm cup of coffee or some other sustenance-providing thing for me. Trolls World Tour(available on Hulu and Peacock if you didn’t buy it the second it appeared on iTunes) may not be the best movie of 2020 but who cares, all of my children were happy to watch it the first time it came out and continue to watch it now. It is a bright and fun animated movie with cute music and, if you need to feel like your kids’ media has merit, it has some decent stuff about celebrating differences.

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmaggedon(available on Netflix) is another movie that kept all the kids entertained, but this one has legitimate claim for a “year’s best animation” prize. From Aardman Animation of Wallace & Gromit fame, this tale of sheep and their fellow farm animals encountering a friendly young alien is sweet, well-crafted and full of funny sci-fi Easter eggs. It’s also basically language-free and very little-kid friendly.

More good kid fare: The Willoughbys (on Netflix) is a beautifully animated story about four siblings trying to dump their neglectful parents and learning to appreciate their kind nanny. It has shades of A Series of Unfortunate Events and just the right amount of Ricky Gervais. Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe(on Disney+) is another great movie about siblings working together that called to mind The Simpsons in its ability to pack every minute and every frame with jokes (though still with the right amount of slapstick for the little viewers). The eight-minute short Once Upon a Snowman (also Disney+) shows us snowman Olaf’s adventures between his “Let It Go” creation and his finding Anna.

Add this to the family holiday rotation: Eleventy bazillion Christmas movies hit screens this year but here are three that are worth holding on to for next year — Jingle Jangle(on Netflix), a fun musical about a toymaker and his plucky granddaughter; Lego Star Wars Holiday Special (Disney+), totally great use of both Lego and fan-service, andMariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special (AppleTV+), which is like the grown-up (but family-friendly) version of Elmo’s Christmas Countdown (and both feature Jennifer Hudson!).

Excellent movies I’ll never watch again: A movie can be great and a stone cold bummer at the same time. Thus, Never Rarely Sometimes Always with its heartbreaking performance by Sidney Flanigan as a young woman who needs abortion services but runs into so many obstacles is definitely on my list for 2020’s best and I don’t think I can put myself through seeing it again. (It’s on HBO Max and available for purchase.) Another movie great at stoking rage is The Assistant, a quiet film about a young woman working her first job for an unseen but monstrous movie producer boss. (It’s currently on Hulu and available for rent or purchase.)

I doubt I’ll bring myself to watch The Invisible Man again. Elisabeth Moss brings genuine terror not to the idea of an invisibility suit in the wrong hands but to the toll of domestic violence and, sure, this is one of those Universal Pictures horror movies but Moss deserves some awards attention for her top-shelf performance. (Available on HBO Max and for purchase.)Blow the Man Down is a smart movie with excellent performances (Sophie Lowe, Morgan Saylor and, as always, Margo Martindale) and a Coen Brothers-y feel (it’s available on Amazon Prime) that feels like an atmospheric mystery novel read in one sitting.

Pretty good middle-of-the-road movies: We need not just great movies but pretty good movies that might be able to stand up to casual rewatching.

Netflix has a fair amount of these offerings. I have already rewatched parts of Will Ferrell’s wacky comedy Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. I liked the Charlize Theron superhero movie (based on a Greg Rucka comic) The Old Guard and truly hope there will be a sequel. And I wouldn’t mind a next chapter of the kinda stupid Mark Wahlberg-fronted Spenser Confidential, an upbeat procedural that shares some DNA with the TV show Spenser for Hire.

The “Tom Hanks on a Navy boat in World War II” movie Greyhound (Apple TV+) delivers exactly on that premise. I liked Melissa McCarthy in Superintelligence (HBO Max); it might not rival Spy or The Heat but it’s an enjoyable comedy. Love and Monsters(available for rent or purchase) is an optimistic movie about the end of the world. I’d even put Birds of Prey (now on HBO Max) in that category, especially if you can fast-forward to the last half-hour.

Pretty-good good movies: A rung up, you’ll find movies like Valley Girl (available on Hulu), a jukebox musical update of the 1983 film. An American Pickle (HBO Max), the “two Seth Rogens” movie was funny, sure, but also sweet and contemplative. The Sunlit Night (now on Hulu) has some of those qualities as well, and a solid Jenny Slate performance. I liked the indie Buffaloed (also on Hulu and available for rent or purchase) for its spunkiness. Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks (Apple TV+) was a crisp gin and tonic of a dramady. Unpregnant (HBO Max) is the comedy, Booksmart-ish version of Never Rarely Sometimes Always, based around a sweet friendship. Vampires vs. The Bronx (Netflix) offers fun horror and something to say.

Great docs: This was a great year for documentaries and at the front of the pack is Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution (on Netflix) that is about a camp for kids and teens with disabilities in upstate New York in the mid-20th century but sprawls to cover the political movement for legal protections for the rights of people with disabilities (and introduced me to American hero Judith Heumann). Another solid Netflix offering is Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado, which brings us the life of a hugely popular TV personality. In Netflix’s Dick Johnson Is Dead, a filmmaker deals with the dementia and mortality of her beloved father with grace and humor.

On AppleTV+, Boys State gives us the best and worst of present-day American politics as filtered through a high school government program in Texas.

And speaking of young nerds (and I mean that in the very best sense), watch a pre-Hamilton Lin-Manuel Miranda and his crew of improv rappers make theater and song and comedy in We Are Freestyle Love Supreme.

More of the best movies I saw this year:The best movie I saw in theaters this year (at least, of 2020 offerings) wasEmma (currently on HBO Max and also available for rent or purchase), a beautiful and stylish-looking and cleverly cast and acted adaptation of the Jane Austen novel.

The 40-Year-Old Version (Netflix), about a woman reinventing herself, and The Vast of Night (Amazon Prime), a sci-fi suspense film, are two movies with an indie feel that nevertheless earn their place next to any glossy mainstream fare.

Palm Springs (Hulu) was one of those woulda-been theatrical releases that wound up on a streaming site, which means I’ll be able to watch this charming rom-com with Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti again and again.

Remember when everybody was raving about First Cow(currently on Showtime; available for rent or purchase)? They are right! This Western about friendship and baked goods is gentle and charming.

Enola Holmes (Netflix) puts the plucky little sister of Sherlock and Mycroft in the middle of her own mystery to solve (and the women’s suffrage movement). This bubbly action and adventure has a sweet story about mothers and daughters at its heart.

Mank (Netflix) is the most awards-season movie to ever awards-season with its Old Hollywood setting and its behind-the-scenes look at the writing of Citizen Kane using Kane-like visuals but it also would actually deserve those awards for its technical and performance feats.

Speaking of eyeball-grabbing style, Black Is King,Beyonce’s visual album riff on The Lion King, is absolutely beautiful (visually, musically, fashion-ally) and heartfelt (on Disney+).

Make room on the Oscar nominations list for all kinds of entries for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which features what appears to be the last Chadwick Boseman performance we’ll ever get and another knock-out Viola Davis role.

Two more movies with standout storytelling and performances: Shirley(on Hulu and available for rent or purchase) a gothic thriller mixed with a Shirley Jackson biopic starring Elisabeth Moss, and Spike Lee’sDa 5 Bloods(Netflix), another chance to see strong work from Chadwick Boseman.

Absolute best time with a movie in 2020: Hamilton. As I said, what even is a 2020 movie? Can a filmed 2016 theatrical production count as a movie from this year? I say sure. Hamilton was a joy to watch (and rewatch; it’s available on Disney+). The experience of watching a Broadway play with its original cast and shot in a way that made it feel alive and not locked on a stage (even though this was on a stage it felt less boxed in than, say, Netflix’s adaptation of the musical The Prom) is maybe one of the most optimistic parts of whatever happens next in movies. More art to more people — let’s hope we can find a way to have that and our movie theater popcorn too.

2021 ‘at’ the movies
Who the heck knows what 2021 will bring, but here are some early 2021 movies that I’m looking forward to:
One Night in Miami Directed by Regina King, this movie tells the story of a fictional meeting between Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown, according to Amazon, where it will be available on Jan. 15.
The Little Things This Denzel Washington movie is slated to be released by Warner Bros. in theaters and on HBO Max on Jan. 29.
Supernova This movie also sounds like it has awards potential with Stanley Tucci playing a man with early onset dementia and Colin Firth playing his longtime partner. It has a Jan. 29 theatrical release date.
Nomadland Based on the nonfiction book of the same name, this movie is showing up on some top 10 lists and earning Frances McDormand buzz for her performance. The movie currently has a theatrical release date of Feb. 19; no word yet on streaming access.
The Many Saints of Newark This Sopranos prequel movie is another Warner Bros. release and could hit movie theaters (and HBO Max) March 12.
In the Heights This movie was on my list of things I was excited about for 2020 last year and I am hoping it will see the light of screens this year. Currently, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pre-Hamilton musical is slated to hit theater screens (and HBO Max) on June 18.

Featured photo: Trolls World Tour

The Office of Historical Corrections, by Danielle Evans

The Office of Historical Corrections, by Danielle Evans (Riverhead, 288 pages)

The late science fiction writer Harlan Ellison once said that he went to bed angry every night and woke up every morning angrier. Like-minded scribes have said that should be true of all writers, and there has been plenty of anger vented in books this year, particularly on the subject of race and injustice.

So it’s a pleasure to come across a collection that makes its points in a quiet and even understated tone, in language that reads like prose but feels like poetry.

Danielle Evans is that good. Her second book, The Office of Historical Corrections, comprises a titular novella and six short stories that swirl around race, poverty, family and culture. The plots are riveting; the characters, so real they try to escape the page. Within the stories are subtle commentary on issues of the day. The only thing that’s missing is a pandemic, and that’s a good thing.

Evans is a graduate of the storied Iowa Writers Workshop, but hers is the sort of talent that isn’t taught but bestowed. Take, for example, the descriptions in “Boys Go to Jupiter,” a story about a college student, Claire, who becomes embroiled in controversy after a date posts a picture of her wearing a bikini emblazoned with Confederate flags on social media.

The present drama is entwined with a story from the girl’s past, during which she grew up best friends with a Black girl whose family came from South Carolina. “The whole family,” Evans writes, “talks with drowsy vowels and an occasional drag that gives some words— her name, for example— a comforting dip in the middle. In Mrs. Hall’s mouth, Claire’s name is a tunnel from which a person can emerge on the other side.”

At first Claire is bewildered by the reaction to a swimsuit that she didn’t buy, made public by a post she didn’t make, but then increasingly she becomes angry at the dorm mate who brought attention to it. In short order, she is championed by libertarians defending free speech and by supporters of the Confederacy, who urge her to defend her “southern” heritage, even though she was only in the South to visit her father and her relatives had never lived south of northern Virginia.

There are comic undertones to this potent story, even as it becomes more disturbing and complex.

Similarly, in “Alcatraz,” Evans mines family history for poignant exploration of injustice and loss.

The narrator has recently moved near the infamous prison, where her great-grandfather was confined when Alcatraz was a military prison used to house people for crimes such as desertion during the Civil War.

The narrator’s mother has spent much of her life trying to clear the name of her grandfather, who had been ultimately cleared of the accusations against him but was unable to escape the stigma and trauma of having been at Alcatraz.

She invites her mother, and some other family members, to take a tour of the facility, hoping it will provide some sort of closure for the family. When the mother arrived, Evans writes, she “was dressed like an actress auditioning for the part of my mother in a movie.”

“A different daughter might have been reassured, but I looked at my mother and saw a person directing all of her energy toward being outwardly composed because the inside was a lost cause,” Evans writes.

The novella, “The Office of Historical Corrections,” like the short stories, punches above its weight in Orwellian form.

It’s about an America that has put into place a federal agency charged with ferreting out truth, and sending government workers to issue “corrections stickers” when they come across statements or claims that are counter to the official truths.

The narrator, Cassie, was a college history professor before she joined the agency, whose origins are explained this way:

“An ambitious freshman congresswoman demanded funding to put a public historian in every zip code in the country, a correction for what she called the contemporary crisis of truth. It was pitched as a new public works project for the intellectual class, so many of us lately busy driving cars and delivering groceries and completing tasks on demand to make ends meet. Government jobs would put all those degrees to work and be comparatively lucrative.”

Sometimes the corrections are relatively small and easily proven, such as the origin of Juneteenth, which a cake shop has gotten wrong in one of its promotions. But she is ultimately drawn into a more serious case that involves the purported death of a Black man who started a business in an all-white town in Wisconsin. The business had been set on fire one night, and the owner was said to have died in the blaze. But the accuracy of the plaque outside the site came to the attention of another agency official who had issued a correction, beginning a series of events that Cassie is called upon to unravel.

Perhaps the most memorable of the collection is the story that precedes the novella. “Anything Could Disappear” reflects the sub-surburbia desperation that is often evident on a Greyhound bus. The main character, Vera, is traveling from Missouri to New York when another traveler deposits a 2-year-old on the seat next to Vera, saying “Keep an eye on him, will ya, hon?”

The woman then disappears, leaving Vera — who for unrelated reasons has a desire not to be near police — unsure of what to do when the bus reaches its destination. She winds up keeping the child with her for a few days, which turns into a few months, as Vera builds a life much different than she expected. Eventually, however, she learns that the child’s father is looking for him, and has to make an agonizing decision about what to do, not just with the child but with her life.

Mark Twain famously said he could have written a shorter letter to a friend if he’d had more time; it can be difficult for even the most celebrated writers to pack profundities in a small space. Evans does so beautifully here. A

The Great Reset, according to the World Economic Forum, is the opportunity afforded by Covid-19 to recalibrate the world economy. While conservatives aren’t happy with the initiative, “the great reset” is a catchy phrase that holds more appeal than the tired old “new year’s resolution.”
If you’re looking to launch your own great reset in January, the publishing industry is here to help. Here are a couple of recent and forthcoming titles intended to make you be a better version of yourself in 2021:
Badass Habits, by Jen Sincero (Penguin Life, 256 pages): Here in the fourth book in Sincero’s “badass” series, she promises to help you “cultivate the awareness, boundaries, and daily upgrades you need to make [badass habits] stick.”
The Dry Challenge, by Hilary Sheinbaum (Harper Design, 224 pages): For anyone considering Sober January, as is the rage, Sheinbaum makes the case for going alcohol-free for a month and provides tips on how to effectively “lose the booze.”
Clean Mama’s Guide to a Peaceful Home, by Becky Rapinchuk (HarperOne, 240 pages): “How to establish systems and rituals to transform your home into a clean, organized, and comfortable space for you and your family,” the publisher says.
Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age, by Dr. Sanjay Gupta (Simon & Schuster, 336 pages): CNN’s chief medical correspondent, a neurosurgeon, provides a shape-up plan for your brain.
And, for the obligatory “lose weight” resolution, pandemic version: Fast This Way, by Dave Asprey (Harper Wave, 288 pages), notes on losing weight, getting smarter and living “your longest, healthiest life,” from a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and “professional biohacker.


Author events

KJ DELL’ANTONIA Author presents The Chicken Sisters. Hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Online, via Zoom. Wed., Jan. 6, 7 p.m. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

K WOODMAN-MAYNARD Author presents graphic novel adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Online, via Zoom. Thurs., Jan. 7, 7 p.m. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

SUSAN CONLEY Author presents Landslide. Hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Online, via Zoom. Thurs., Feb. 11, 7 p.m. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

THERESA CAPUTO the star of TLC’s Long Island Medium will present “Theresa Caputo: The Experience Live” at the Capitol Center for the Arts (44 S. Main St. Concord, ccanh.com) on Wed., April 7, 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $39.75 (with option for a VIP Photo Op for an additional $49.95).

Book Clubs

BOOKERY Online. Monthly. Third Thursday, 6 p.m. Bookstore based in Manchester. Visit bookerymht.com/online-book-club or call 836-6600.

GIBSON’S BOOKSTORE Online, via Zoom. Monthly. First Monday, 5:30 p.m. Bookstore based in Concord. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com/gibsons-book-club-2020-2021 or call 224-0562.

TO SHARE BREWING CO. 720 Union St., Manchester. Monthly. Second Thursday, 6 p.m. RSVP required. Visit tosharebrewing.com or call 836-6947.


POSTCARD POETRY CONTEST Peterborough Poetry Project seeks submissions of original poems written on picture postcards for an upcoming anthology. Deadline is Dec. 31. Visit peterboroughpoetryproject.org/contests for more information.

CALL FOR BLACK WRITERS New Hampshire-based theater company and playwright collective New World Theatre announces an open call to Black writers to submit monologues that reflect their personal experience of living while black, to be published in an anthology titled “08:46.” The deadline for submissions is Jan. 1, 2021. Visit newworldtheatre.org/08m46s.

Album Reviews 20/12/31

Real Numbers, Brighter Then (Slumberland Records)

…Or at least the two advance singles from the third EP from this Minneapolis-based jangle-pop band, as they couldn’t seem to send over the full five tunes (not that I really cared either way, but point of order, the other three include a reprise version of one of the songs we’ll go over here). Anyhoo, the guitar line on the title track is crazy bright and, of course, jangly, with gentle amateurish singing so deeply buried in reverb that half the shoegaze bands of the Aughts are probably lining up to sue them. In other words, yeah, it’s like if Glasvegas covered a Byrds song (and who wouldn’t be into such a novel, experimental thing, in case you’re from Neptune or whatnot and had never heard the 22 billion other bands who tried the same thing). OK, I don’t mean for it to sound like I hate this stuff; I definitely don’t, it just feels like its expiration date has long passed. Meanwhile, “Darling” is super cool if you can handle shoegaze-twee, like if Brian Jonestown Massacre covered a Belle & Sebastian song, or vice versa. B+

All Who Wander, Daylight (self-released)

From the wilds of Amherst comes this four-piece, consisting of Matthew Fiffield and four other guys, two of them having the surname Mavrogeorge, which leads me to assume they’re brothers, unless this super-weird year has recently taken up the hobby of dumping bizarre coincidences in my lap. Anyway, one drop of the cyber-needle on this emo-hard-rock conflagration had me sold: Where I’d basically expected the usual bit involving some gamer kids doofing around with a boombox and a few Minecraft samples just to troll me, the sound is as big as it gets, like latter-day Black Veil Brides, Panic! At The Disco, and so on and so forth, with some technically precise Linkin Park bits and big Minus The Bear-style angles that don’t rely solely on guitars. No, I’m not jerking you around, this one is for real, like these guys need to drop everything and spend a month in New York trying to find the right agent. Seriously, if you’re a forward-thinking power-pop-head, go find this on Spotify, iTunes or whatever, just freaking do it. A+

Retro Playlist

Eleven years ago this week, MySpace was a thing. There was even a “MySpace Records” imprint of sorts, and so without any trace of irony I brought to your attention Qu, an album by the band Sherwood. What was it? It was something that was OK but not wildly brilliant. “Happy-face subtropical surf-indie safely reminiscent of Reliant K and Hansen,” said I. “Not much for herd-thinkers to stress about with regard to where this fits in the grand scheme of ‘alternative’ pop things when one of the tunes here once pattered around helping to background MTV’s College Life.” It was eminently radio-ready, or wanted to be; in many places there’s a hook they just can’t seem to wring out of the correctly chosen bunches of notes gathered at the choruses (that is unless you like a dab of Springsteen B-sides with your boy-band fetishism, in which case you’d probably love this LP from start to what-me-worry finish). The curveball consists of soccer-stadium roars trading blows with Cuban timbales drums in “Not Gonna Love,” but aside from that it’s harmless, finger-snappy all around. Put it this way, their slot at the Warped Tour was probably the point in the festivities when it was time to sit in the grass indulging in ice cream and blank stares.

The same week, I also dissected DYSE’s Lieder Sind Bruder Der Revolution, an album that was, on paper at least, a German response to Cro Mags. The hmm-that’s-somewhat-cool part is that this is/was a two-man operation, a welcome trend that historically took hold not so much out of any blind obeisance to White Stripes but more out of basic necessity, that is to say a dearth of local talent. In practice, DYSE are like an undiscovered entry in the SST catalog or whatnot, something from when post-punk hated radio, i.e. there’s quite a bit of Nick Cave, Redd Kross and Minutemen in the air. Thing is, and this is a problem often heard in European bands, DYSE doesn’t seem fully possessed of that aura of genuine deconstructive craziness common to bands from the States or England, unless of course you’re German, in which case, sure, maybe they sound like they’re ready to smash wedding cakes or copy something they saw in an old Iggy video, whatever denotes crazy underground punk-tude nowadays. Pretty typical underground-record-store vibe, not that I have any problem with that.


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• I know what you’re thinking: Hooray, 2020 is over, no more murder hornets or news stories about Sean Connery passing away and whatever else happened during Literally The Worst Year In History. But it’s only Jan. 1, or at least that’s the next scheduled general album release date, as if any band or artist would put out a new album on New Year’s Day. It’d probably be more interesting if I just filled this space with pictures of clowns throwing cream pies at each other, but for the sake of Odin and Poseidon and whatnot I shall go forth, forthwith, for duty and humanity, in search of crazy people who decided to put out albums while everyone is sleeping off the end of 2020. Toward that, I’ve started at Metacritic, which tells me there is an album coming out from The Dirty Nil, called F— Art. And thus the cosmic jokes continue even into the new year, when I have to censor the title of whatever stupid music thing this is. Wiki says that the band won the Juno Award for Breakthrough Group of the Year at the Juno Awards of 2017, which means they’re from Canada, which means they’ll be annoyingly proper and PC despite the album’s edgelord title. Whatever, here’s the new song, “Doom Boy,” and — guys, this is so cute, it’s like emo (in other words power pop, and yes, it used to be that Google would only find articles by me if you searched for “emo band,” but now everyone calls trashy tuneage like this “emo,” which means I should be monetarily remunerated for inventing a term for something I detest, which is usually how the remunerations process works when you’re a veteran writer, someone please tell me how to use the Patreon)! There’s some metal riffing that goes on, but don’t worry, in this case your little brother won’t go on to buying actual cool music with his allowance, because it’s been washed and scrubbed in soapy suds, with all traces of Ministry and Slayer and Meshuggah completely gone. No worries, mom and dad!

• Gick, what else do we have, I can barely stand it. Since there’s literally no one else dumb enough to put out an album on National Hangover Day, we’ll fast-forward to Monday, Jan. 4, when we get Querencia, the debut album from Kim Chung-ha, better known mononymously as Chungha, the South Korean singer, dancer, songwriter and choreographer! The first single, “Tell Me That You Will,” was on TikTok; the song is pretty standard house-infused technopop, nice enough, sexytime grinding in the video, blah blah blah. Supposedly the whole album is sung in Korean, but this isn’t. Anyway, that.

• We’ll wrap up this week’s horror with J.T., the new LP from Steve Earle & The Dukes, which also streets on Jan. 4. It’s the 21st album from the Texas-born hayseed-rocker, and the single, “Harlem River Blues,” isn’t bad at all! It’s high-end bluegrassy chill-folk containing elements of zydeco, like, I’d dance to it if I were drunk at a Deerfield Fair pig scramble afterparty, and I wouldn’t even insist on a partner. Maybe I’d dance with one of those black billy goats. Do people do that at Deerfield Fair afterparties or would it just be awkward?

Beef stew with beer

Let’s get cooking

Usually, we make New Year’s resolutions that involve eating less food or at least less of the stuff that tends to add pounds to our waistlines.

Many of you will very likely try to take a similar approach this year, and hey, I don’t blame you. It’s just that I know from personal experience it’s not worthwhile for me, so I’m going to slap on an apron and get cooking because this guy needs to eat.

At this time of year, when the holidays are just about behind us and the weather is cold, I’m craving rich stews and roasted meat — aren’t we all?

Stews are great for a number of reasons but I love that you can take a tough cut of meat, like beef chuck or pork butt, and just simmer it for hours until the meat is tender and delicious. The finished product is nearly always flavorful, warming and satisfying and that’s really what we’re going for.

So let’s make some beef stew — and in case you were wondering when I was going to bring up beer, that moment is now because we’re going to use beer in the beef stew.

Beef stew is so forgiving, especially if you use chuck. Really, the only issue is that you have to be patient and just keep simmering it until the meat is as tender as you want it. I like big chunks of meat and vegetables but chop or dice the ingredients to whatever size you please — just try to be consistent so items cook at the same rate.

Using stout for the broth adds a layer of complexity and richness that, I’m sorry, you can’t get from broth alone. I really like how the flavor of the thyme — and I would emphasize that fresh thyme is critical in this case — pairs with the beef, garlic and the maltiness of the stout.

In choosing a stout, I think Guinness is your baseline but any dry stout or porter will work. Smuttynose Brewing Co.’s Robust Porter or the Workingman’s Porter by Henniker Brewing Co. would be great choices. I think stouts with lots of coffee and chocolate notes are delicious but I’m not sure how well they’d work in this stew. I’m not saying don’t try them; I’m just saying don’t blame me if it doesn’t work out.

Get your apron on.

What’s in My Fridge
Fat Tire Amber Ale by New Belgium Brewing Co. (Fort Collins, Colorado)

This is just an easy-drinking beer that has just enough flavor to make it memorable. I bought a six-pack recently just to make sure I had one beer that would please anyone. Cheers!

Beef and Stout Stew
4 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
2-3 large carrots, chopped
2-3 large celery stalks, chopped
3 large onions, chopped
3-4 large potatoes, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
16 ounces stout
4-6 cups beef broth
Salt & pepper to taste
2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 sprig fresh thyme
Fresh parsley

Heat a large Dutch oven over high heat and when hot, add oil. Season meat with salt and pepper. Brown meat, in batches, until all sides are browned. Remove meat with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Turn the heat to medium and add onions, celery and a big pinch of salt and cook, stirring for 5-10 minutes. Add garlic and stir for a minute or so. Add carrots and cook for 5 minutes so carrots soften up a bit.
Add flour and cook for a couple minutes, stirring. Pour in stout carefully as it will bubble up, and scrape the sides and bottom of the pot. Add meat back in, along with another pinch of salt, pepper, potatoes and thyme.
Pour in 2-4 cups of the beef broth and assess the consistency. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for roughly two hours, adding more broth if needed, until meat reaches desired tenderness and the stew has reduced to your desired consistency.
Serve with fresh parsley and a beer.

Featured Photo: Let’s make stew with some stout. Photo by Jeff Mucciarone.

Hopes for a better vintage

A conversation with winemaker Mark Neal

On several Napa Valley winery tours, my wife and I were asked by the tasting room manager what plans we had for our visit. Our response usually was, “To visit the best wineries in the valley recommended by our friend, Mark Neal.” That was always greeted with a smile; Mark is well-known in the valley, an authority on vineyard farming and experienced in producing some of the best wines from his vineyards in the valley and on the slopes of Howell Mountain. I’ve known Mark for about 15 years. We met at Leary’s Fine Wines & Spirits in Newburyport, Mass., and I was one of the people who convinced him to sell his wines in New Hampshire.

Recently Mark and I had a long phone conversation about his years in the wine business with some follow-up questions by email; here (edited and condensed) are his responses to my questions.

How did you get involved in the production of fine wines?

Upon returning from the Korean War, myfather, Jack Neal, worked for other farmers, managing their ranches and orchards. … In 1968 he formed his own company, Jack Neal & Son, to manage these ranches and orchards, the same year I bought my first tractor.

When did you begin to buy land and grow your own grapes for wine?

At the age of 20 I bought my first property, 1½ miles away from my parents in Rutherford. … In 1990 I bought land on Howell Mountain to develop into a vineyard. … Our first wine from this property was produced in 1998.

The year 2020 has been a challenging year for all of us. Napa Valley was much in the news twice, with fires threatening the valley from different directions. What have been the effects of these fires?

The Aug. 17 LNU fire … was in the eastern part of Napa County and it headed east. The second fire, called the Glass Fire … started Sept. 27 and came down Calistoga to St. Helena … then crossed over the valley…. The fires spread rapidly because of a surplus of deadwood within the forests. These trees typically have a lifespan of 30 to 40 years, and the forests must be managed. This has not happened, and in its path not only did [the fire] devastate the forest but [it] destroyed many wineries, homes and vineyards. Both fires left the smoke and ash to settle on the grapes for weeks. Our grapes were damaged by smoke and ash, so we didn’t make wine this year … You cannot make ultra-premium wine with damaged fruit or with these conditions that were left from the smoke that would have resulted in a smoke-tainted wine.

However, beyond losing one vintage, a greater cost has come as a result of the continuing Covid shutdowns. This not only has sent ripples through the vineyards but through the entire distribution chain with the closing of restaurants, other businesses, and employment.

What is the biggest challenge you and/or the California wine industry faces in 2021? 

I believe that [the impact of] Covid 19 … will continue into the 2021 wine business. …We [have] already seen the destruction of wine sales in the restaurants and wine retail shops in the last nine months. Some have shut the door for good. Some I believe held on for the holiday rush and that of course has been shut down.

What is the biggest opportunity of 2021? 

We will continue to strengthen relationships with our distributors, retail and restaurants … to meet everyone’s needs during these times. … We will also continue to support and grow our direct-to-consumer segment. 

Neal Family Vineyards has several wines available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets. The 2018 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, priced at $19.99 andsourced from the Rutherford Vineyards, has tropical notes of pineapple and citric, with a clean finish. The 2017 Rutherford Dust Vineyard Zinfandel, priced at $23.99, has a bit of petite syrah added to it, enhancing the fruit. The 2015 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, priced at $49.99, is superb with great dark cherry notes and a long finish.

Featured Photo: Mark, with sales marketing director and daughter Jessica, and winemaker Jordan Stanley. Courtesy photo.

Jared DeBernardo

Jared DeBernardo’s family has been in the restaurant business for more than three decades, dating back to the mid-1980s, when his grandfather Harry owned a small chain of Italian eateries in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. DeBernardo’s Restaurant (175 Main St., Epping, 734-4520, debernardos.com), which has been at its current location since December 2016, offers a scratch-made menu of Italian items, from fresh pizzas using its own homemade dough to classic dishes like lasagna, chicken piccata and more, all made to order using recipes from his father, Nick. The eatery is currently closed to dine-in customers, but takeout and curbside pickup are available, in addition to delivery to Epping and more than a half dozen other surrounding towns, like Raymond, Fremont, Stratham, Exeter, Brentwood, Kingston and Newmarket. DeBernardo’s also has an extensive offering of family-sized meal pans of items like bruschetta, stuffed shells, chicken, veal or eggplant Parmigiana, baked ziti and pan-fried ravioli.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

I always have a pen in my hand, because I have 9,000 things going on during the day, and if I don’t write it down I won’t remember to do it.

What would you have for your last meal?

I am a sucker for a really good chicken Parm, so that would definitely be something I would go for. That and a super Tuscan wine.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

Goody Cole’s [Smokehouse and Catering Co. in Brentwood]. I am a huge fan of them. All of the sandwiches are amazing. The pulled pork is probably one of my favorites.

What celebrity would you like to see ordering from your restaurant?

I think it would be cool to have another … perspective from someone who’s in the business, like Jon Taffer from Bar Rescue. Same thing with Gordon Ramsay and Hell’s Kitchen.

What is the biggest food trend in New Hampshire right now?

I would say that takeout, and specifically online ordering, has definitely become more of a trend. … Our industry as a whole has to be able to adapt no matter what.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

I like to do a lot of pastas with my own sauces I make in my house.

Homemade “date night” bruschetta
Courtesy of Jared DeBernardo of DeBernardo’s Restaurant in Epping (quantities dependent on preference)

01 sub roll
Freshly chopped garlic
Freshly diced tomatoes
Freshly chopped basil
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Romano cheese

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Open and lightly butter the sub roll, then add the chopped garlic and diced tomatoes. Sprinkle on the shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake in the oven until the sub roll is golden brown and the cheese is melted. Sprinkle freshly chopped basil on top. Garnish with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle Romano cheese to desired level.

Featured photo: Jared DeBernardo

A taste of what’s to come

A look at the food scene in 2020, plus a preview of 2021

In what has been a tough year for the industry, New Hampshire restaurateurs were forced to pivot their operations in all kinds of ways to stay afloat, from increased or extended outdoor dining to a greater emphasis on takeout and prepared meals.

But as we get ready to turn the page on a new year, immediate relief may be in sight. A $900 billion Covid-19 relief package passed by Congress on Dec. 21 has several special provisions for the food service industry, including a second round of Paycheck Protection Program [PPP] funds that would be tax deductible. Restaurants in particular can also seek the funds at 3½ times their monthly payroll, compared to 2½ times that amount for all other types of small businesses.

The bill would be a crucial lifeline in getting restaurants in the Granite State through to the spring, said Mike Somers, president of the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association. Up to October, the industry has been down more than $600 million in combined gross sales for the calendar year, according to Somers, while food service jobs in the state still remain down between roughly 10,000 and 15,000 from where they would normally be.

With 2021 on our doorstep, here’s a look at some of the biggest restaurant trends of the past year in New Hampshire and how they’ll continue in the months ahead.

Moving outdoors

The first significant blow to businesses came in mid-March when, on the day before St. Patrick’s Day, Gov. Chris Sununu issued an emergency order limiting all restaurants and bars in New Hampshire to takeout, delivery and drive-thru only. The original order was only set to last through April 7, but as cases of Covid-19 in the state continued to climb, an extension was soon put in place that ended up lasting an additional month and a half.

On May 18, New Hampshire eateries were given the green light to reopen for outdoor dining only. Even as reopening at a limited capacity indoors became allowed the following month, in mid-June, outdoor dining became a major trend throughout the summer and fall in the Granite State, with restaurants utilizing their space in ways they never had before.

At the Tuscan Kitchen and Market in Salem, outdoor patio seating was extended all along its center piazza under a large open-air tent, complete with a pizza oven and a pop-up container bar. The company’s new “al fresco” dining model was so successful, Joe Faro Jr. of the Tuscan Brands marketing team said, that a winterized version with outdoor heated igloos and even a synthetic ice skating rink was recently unveiled. The Winter Giardino at Tuscan Village officially opened on Dec. 12 and will continue well into the new year, Faro said.

The rink itself is in the parking lot in front of the Tuscan Market building and is open for public skating from Wednesday through Sunday, featuring skate rentals available from TSR Hockey & Lacrosse. Since its launch, Faro said, a few special events have been held, like skating with Santa Claus and an ’80s and ’90s themed skating party. As for the igloos, those are located exactly where the open-air tent had been during the summer months, with two-hour dining times available to parties of between two and six diners who reserved them.

“We’ve obviously done things outdoors, but we’ve never taken it this far before,” Faro said of the igloos and the skating rink. “We’ve consistently been trying to get better at providing our guests with fun and exciting things to do in this new environment, and we’ve had a good time doing just that.”

Also in December, the Bedford Village Inn announced it will be offering outdoor dining in several heated igloos on its patio. According to sales and marketing director Melissa Samaras, the plan to bring an “igloo garden” to the Inn was in the works even before the pandemic hit, as the company was looking for a replacement for its annual Ice Bar event in February. The igloos can be reserved for dinner nightly, or brunch on the weekends, and special Valentine’s Day packages are already being booked now, Samaras said.

In Brookline, Averill House Vineyard went from gearing up at the beginning of 2020 for what would have been the biggest tour season of its history to changing almost everything about its business model by year’s end. Owner Bob Waite said the vineyard recently unveiled the “Vine to Wine” igloo and gazebo experience, which allows guests to safely enjoy private wine tastings with charcuterie boards in small groups inside of heated igloos. Each igloo, Waite said, has a Norwegian theme with soft wood furniture.

Waite added that the vineyard has also introduced several new products over the course of this year that have been a hit, like multiple flavors of single-serve “wine cream,” or wine-mixed ice cream from a partnership with Sub Zero Nitrogen Ice Cream of Nashua, as well as mulled wine. They can also be enjoyed inside the igloos.

“The wine creams have been a real hit, especially for someone who’s not a big wine drinker but they like ice cream,” Waite said.

Larger cities in the state even opened up public sidewalks and parking spaces downtown to accommodate additional outdoor dining space for restaurants, another defining theme for much of 2020. In Concord, new outdoor dining permits for 2021 will become valid on April 1, according to city health and licensing officer Gwen Williams.

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig had issued an announcement back in mid-May allowing restaurants to also expand dining into privately owned parking lots, as long as business owners had written permission to use the space from the property owner. Jersey barriers were in place for much of the summer and fall along Elm Street before they were all removed by the first significant snowstorm of the season earlier this month.

According to Lauren Smith, chief of staff for Mayor Craig, a similar program may be returning next spring or summer for downtown business owners who again want to take advantage of additional outdoor seating. In the meantime, the possibility of utilizing certain parking spaces as 15-minute curbside pickup locations during the winter is being considered.

Nashua also had parking restrictions along Main Street for much of the year, and city economic development director Tim Cummings said there is an ongoing discussion to have them return in 2021. Meanwhile, on Dec. 22, the Nashua Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted against implementing a 9:30 p.m. curfew at city bars and restaurants, despite a unanimous recommendation from the Nashua Board of Health to do so.

The year of takeout

Ordering takeout also became an inevitable trend for local eateries in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, even for those that had previously only generated a small percentage of overall revenue from it, or had not been set up for takeout at all.

Restaurants like Greenleaf in Milford, Revival Kitchen & Bar in Concord and the Hanover Street Chophouse in Manchester, all of which had regularly drawn in an in-house dining crowd and had special attention to detail in the presentation of their plates, were among those that especially felt these impacts. They and many others across the state had to change or significantly scale down their menus to provide more takeout-friendly options. To help restaurants bring in a little bit more revenue with just takeout, Sununu would also issue an emergency order on March 18 to temporarily authorize those with a liquor license to sell bottled or canned beer and wine with all food orders.

Early on, Greenleaf introduced a new menu of takeout-friendly options like sandwiches, soups, and small plates, many of which included previews of its sister restaurant, Culture, which would open in August. Though it recently has been open for dine-in eating most days of the week, Greenleaf owner and chef Chris Viaud announced Dec. 28 that the restaurant will suspend dine-in service starting Jan. 3 and will revert back to a takeout-only model.

The Tuscan Kitchen and Market, according to Faro, launched an online grocery service, allowing its products to be shipped all over the country.

“That’s really been our biggest saving grace throughout this whole time period,” he said. “That arm of the company that we started has been doing unbelievable for us.”

Revival, owner and chef Corey Fletcher said, has returned to an emphasis on takeout since the summer ended, featuring options like hand-cut steak and wine pairings for two. The Hanover Street Chophouse also found success with takeout through its weekly “pop-up butcher shop” events, selling a variety of its house-cut meats and fresh sides a la carte.

Keep on brewing

Local breweries have been hit hard this year too, sustaining large losses in sales due to the closures of tasting rooms and the suspensions of growler fills.

As 2020 comes to an end, however, the craft beer community is coming away with a significant win. A permanent extension of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, passed by Congress on Dec. 21 as part of its stimulus package, will provide major tax relief for breweries and thus save the industry millions of dollars.

According to C.J. Haines, executive director of the New Hampshire Brewers Association, the bill makes the federal excise tax rates of $3.50 per barrel permanent. Without the legislation, the rates would have gone back up to $7 after Dec. 31.

At the state level, Haines said the Association was able to secure $3.9 million in aid from Gov. Sununu’s Main Street Relief Fund in the pockets of local brewers, all while holding several virtual events and fundraisers throughout the year. New Hampshire Craft Beer Week, she said, is indeed due to return in 2021 with tentative dates of April 7 to April 17, but details on what it will look like are still being ironed out.

“We’ve also had conversations about potentially doing something at the end of summer or maybe mid-fall, kind of like a seated festival where you purchase a table space, share beer samples and brewers would walk around and talk to you about them,” she said. “Everything’s up in the air.”

More upcoming foodie happenings

Food festivals across New Hampshire were either reimagined virtually or canceled altogether throughout much of the spring and summer, but a few are already eyeing a return in 2021.

At Anheuser-Busch Tour Center and Biergarten in Merrimack, the New Hampshire Bacon & Beer Festival is scheduled for May 22, with tickets due to go on sale in mid-February, while the Great American Ribfest & Food Truck Festival will take place on June 18, June 19 and June 20, Jeremy Garrett of the event management company J2L Events confirmed. Both festivals had been canceled this year due to the pandemic.

To maximize social distancing, Garrett said, all parking and entry tickets will need to be purchased in advance for both events, as there will be no shuttle services. All of the vendors will be spread out, and masks will be required while waiting in lines. The Bacon & Beer Festival typically brings together around 40 craft breweries with 20 locally made bacon dishes, while the Ribfest and Food Truck Festival has between 20 and 24 food vendors.

“Almost all of the [barbecue vendors] and food trucks that had committed to the 2020 Ribfest are returning,” Garrett said in an email, adding that he doesn’t expect to add many more. “More trucks is good for attendees, but not for the trucks themselves, and they need the help next year.”

Held virtually back in late March, the SouperFest, a soup tasting fundraiser for the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, is also scheduled to return live, according to office administrator Teri Gladstone. Eight Concord-area eateries will be offering homemade soups for you to order in advance and pick up at White Park on March 20, from 3 to 5:30 p.m.

Several local eateries are also scheduled to open for business in 2021. In Milford, Taco Time Cocina & Cantina Mexicana, a brick and mortar restaurant from the owners of the Milford-based food truck Taco Time, will be opening soon. Trio’s Cafe & Cantina is also on the way, on North Broadway in Salem, while in Derry, LaBelle Winery is expanding its business to include a new Champagne house, restaurant and retail marketplace by the summer, in the former space of Brookstone Events & Golf on Route 111.

A Year in the Kitchen: 2020 edition
The Hippo’s In the Kitchen Q&A series continued throughout 2020, featuring dozens of diverse voices of the state’s food scene over the course of the year, from restaurant chefs and food truck owners to homestead bakers and other business owners.
One question we always ask our industry experts, “What is the biggest food trend in New Hampshire right now?,” yielded a variety of answers depending on the time of year it was. Plant-based foods, craft breweries and food trucks were all recurring answers throughout the year, but especially as the impacts of the pandemic drew on, the most common trends we heard about had to do with shopping and eating local, takeout and online ordering at restaurants, and returning to the simplicity of home-cooked meals.
“Family meal deals from local restaurants … help alleviate the enormous tasks of working from home while homeschooling children,” Elizabeth Silva of Cafe El Camino in Plaistow told the Hippo in May. The eatery, which specializes in authentic Puerto Rican cuisine, has continued to offer family-sized meals throughout the summer and fall and into the holiday season, featuring meats, rice, vegetables and more that can be ordered online for pickup.
We also had a number of people tell us that artisan doughnuts have been a recent trend. Other answers we received for specific foods included gourmet burgers, street tacos, grain or rice bowls and salads, chicken tenders, chili dogs, and steak and cheese subs.
A fun question we also ask, “What celebrity would you like to see eating at your restaurant?” or “What celebrity would you like to have a meal with?,” always produces a wide array of answers, and this year was no exception, with several musicians, Hollywood actors, athletes and celebrity chefs all receiving mention. The No. 1 answer of 2020 was Gordon Ramsay, of the hit cooking competition television series Hell’s Kitchen, followed closely by actor, comedian and New Hampshire native Adam Sandler. Actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and chef Paul Hollywood of The Great British Bake Off also received multiple answers.
“If I’m going to be criticized by anyone for my cooking, I would want the most critical person, and it’s [Ramsay],” Ken Mosher of The Country Chef in Wilton told the Hippo in April.

Featured photo: An igloo at Averill House Vineyard in Brookline. Courtesy photo.

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