Looking back

Live entertainment figures share memories

When the Hippo launched 20 years ago, Granite Staters often had to drive to Boston for live music or comedy. There weren’t nearly as many local venues, and a lot of the venues that were around weren’t interested in showcasing musicians who played original music. In the final piece of our month-long series looking back at some of the subjects Hippo has covered over the years, we talked some of the bigger names in New Hampshire’s music and comedy scene.

Scott Hayward

Scott Hayward is the founder of Tupelo Music Hall, which opened in Londonderry in September 2004 and moved to a larger space in Derry in the spring of 2017.

How would you describe the local live entertainment scene 20 years ago? 

New Hampshire didn’t have as many venues as it has today and the music offerings were more specific. Typically, people would go to Boston to see a show 20 years ago. There weren’t many multi-genre venues. There were blues clubs, jazz clubs, rock clubs, etc. Today, venues are providing much more diverse programming aimed at a patron demographic rather than a musical genre.

What do you think the most significant changes have been over the last 20 years, pre-pandemic?

Twenty years ago, artists were able to make a living selling recorded material. Touring was not as important as it is today. Now, as CD and record sales have taken a back seat to Spotify, Pandora, and other streaming services, artists need to tour constantly. Ticket sales and merchandise sales at shows is what artists are living on these days.

How did your efforts impact the local live entertainment scene?

Tupelo Music Hall opened using a multi-genre model focused on a patron demographic. We were one of the first venues to do this in New England. About five years after Tupelo Music Hall opened, other venues started using the same model, booking similar artists.

What has surprised you about the way the state’s live entertainment scene has developed?

New Hampshire has a very vibrant music scene and offers venues from capacities of 50 to 12,000. I believe this is in response to more people moving into southern New Hampshire from Massachusetts as the Route 93 corridor has improved from Concord into Boston. There’s really no need to go into Boston to see a show anymore.

What do you think the live entertainment scene will be like 20 years from now, and what challenges will it face?

The recent Covid crisis that we are in will definitely change the music business. How it will change remains to be seen, but I suspect that cleaning protocols, refund policies, and general health awareness will all be permanently modified. Although streaming shows have definitely improved in quality and viewership during Covid, I believe artists will always be touring and people will always prefer to see a live performance. I suspect there will be more consolidation of venues and less independent venues. I hope I’m wrong about that particular suspicion.

Aside from your own venue, what’s your favorite spot to enjoy live entertainment?

The Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion is a favorite spot for me and my wife when we can get away from our own venue.

Jim Roach

Jim Roach is the President of JJR Productions, and books shows across the region. The Christmas Buzz Ball, Concert for the Cause and Veterans Park Summer Concerts are among the events he’s involved with, as well as music and comedy shows at the Palace and the Rex Theatre in Manchester.

How would you describe the local live entertainment scene 20 years ago

Twenty years ago, the music and entertainment scene in New Hampshire was in rough shape. There were few venues to perform in, and most of those venues wanted cover music or background music. Talented musicians were having to make a living off other musicians’ music.

What do you think the most significant changes have been over the last 20 years, pre-pandemic?

I believe the most important decision came when local officials moved forward with the civic center — formerly the Verizon Wireless Arena, now SNHU Arena. The Palace Theatre was one of the few places to see well-known, live entertainment in Manchester at the time. The clubs catered to cover bands, or the occasional hair band trying to make a comeback. With big acts coming to the civic center, restaurants and bars opened to serve those fans. Some were worried that those big shows would hurt the Palace and others. Just the opposite: Manchester was now a destination for entertainment. Strange Brew brought in blues bands, and other venues started to experiment with live music. I think Hippo was a big factor helping push other print and broadcast media into covering local, regional and national talent.

How did your efforts impact the local live entertainment scene?

My effort to bring more entertainment to the area has always been about building a team. To produce successful shows, you need that team to work together. First you need a venue, a place for people to gather. … Second, you need a performer or performers that have crafted their art onto something they want to share. Third, you need to find a way to market those shows: print, radio, television, social media, word of mouth. Finally, you need people that will buy tickets and come see your event. I truly believe my role is to bring the pieces together. When you have an audience that connects with an artist, it does not matter your race, creed, color or preference; you can be red or blue. In that room, we are humans experiencing art that might make us smile, laugh, sing, dance or even cry. At that moment, we are more human. We need that now more than ever.

What has surprised you about the way the state’s live entertainment scene has developed?

In New Hampshire, I am surprised at how long it has taken for people to embrace live entertainment. I want more people to get off their couches to see, hear and feel something that touches their soul.

What do you think the live entertainment scene will be like 20 years from now, and what challenges will it face?

I’m not sure about the next 20 years. What I know is that the next five years are going to be the most important. Getting through this virus is the biggest concern right now. Keeping venues alive until then is the only way we can secure the future of entertainment. In the next year, we are going to find a way to build on virtual events and socially distanced events … events that allow patrons to feel safe and be safe with mask wearing and being respectful of each other. If we work together with our elected officials and the health community, we can get to a place where a year from now we can gather with friends we know and others we don’t to immerse ourselves in the arts. I am excited to see new rooms opening: The Rex, Bank of NH Stage, Showroom in Keene, The Colonial and C.A.K.E. in Laconia, Jimmy’s on Congress in Portsmouth….

What’s your favorite spot to enjoy live entertainment?

Everywhere! I love a dive bar with a killer blues band, a lounge with jazz performers opening your mind, a theater or club packed for a play or an artist playing their hits we heard on the radio, a field with a stage, good vibes and a beer tent. My favorites include Hampton Beach Casino, Flying Monkey, Tupelo Music Hall, Strange Brew, The Rex, Bank of NH Stage, Meadowbrook, The Palace, Capitol Center for the Arts … and so many more.

Paul Costley

Paul Costley runs NotSoCostley Productions and books the lion’s share of live entertainment in New Hampshire’s night clubs and restaurants. He’s also a musician, a drummer who has co-hosted several open mics and played in a number of groups, including the Josh Logan Band.

How would you describe the local live music scene 20 years ago? 

The music scene back in the 2000 was lots of fun. People tended to pay a little more attention to music back then. Today when you play at a venue it always amazes me how many people are on their cell phones and checking their social media versus really paying attention to the music that is taking place in front of them.

What do you think the most significant changes have been over the last 20 years, pre-pandemic?

There’s a lot more venues that have music than back 20 years ago. I feel there are a lot more options for people to get out and see music. Many small little cozy venues are springing up, with some great live acoustic music, which I think is great.

How did your efforts impact the local live music scene?

I’ve worked hand in hand with many of the venue owners that I book music for to see the best way to keep patrons and my musicians safe during this crazy pandemic, and still have live music take place. Hopefully, with the vaccines now being distributed, things will start opening up again in the spring and fall.

What has surprised you about the way the state’s live music scene has developed? 

I’ve run an open mic with Nate Comp since 2010 and it’s very promising to see all the young talent that we have in this state. We’ve had so many young people attend our open mics as well as our friends’ open mics and they all say the same thing. There’s still a lot of young people trying to make their mark with the local music scene, which I love seeing take place.

What do you think the live music scene will be like 20 years from now, and what challenges will it face?

To be honest with you, I don’t really have a clue, as the technology changes on a daily basis. But it will be fun to just sit back and watch what takes place.

What’s your favorite spot to enjoy live entertainment?

I personally love seeing music in a small intimate setting where you can really get up close and personal with the musician that’s performing. … On the other hand, I think it’s wonderful that we have great live music venues like Tupelo Music Hall and the Bank of NH Pavilion, where you can listen to some of the best music in this country.

Rob Steen

Rob Steen is a standup comic and entrepreneur who runs Headliners Comedy Club and has spent 35 years booking shows throughout New England at venues that include several opera houses, restaurants and night clubs, the Chunky’s Cinema & Pub chain and his own showcase club in Manchester’s DoubleTree Hotel.

How would you describe the local comedy scene 20 years ago? 

Well, back in the late ’80s there were many shows all over the state in small venues and bars. Nearly every venue would have a comedy night. It was great, as you could work literally seven nights a week and make a decent living. Patrons would follow comics from place to place and they really supported the local comedy. Comics would create a following, which really helped. Also, we had such great comics like Bill Burr, Lenny Clarke, Dane Cook, Tony V, Steve Sweeney and other great Boston and New York City comics working up here on a regular basis, especially if they were already in the area doing Boston or a corporate show. Occasionally you would have Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Steven Wright and other national acts popping in to do sets while in the area too, which was super exciting.

What do you think the most significant changes have been over the last 20 years, pre-pandemic?

In the past 20 years comedy has changed in that now every area and market has a handful of local comics who are very funny, so the need to bring in acts from out of New England has shrunk. New England continues to pump out some of the best comics in the country. I think it’s due in part to the fact that there are so many unique venues and opportunities now, as well as a very diverse and talented pool of comics here. Comics in the Northeast are able to work colleges, high schools, cruise ships, corporate shows, fundraisers and clubs. … This all makes for a well-rounded comic who is able to work any situation. Also venues now know what comedy is and are aware of what they are getting on every show due to YouTube, the web and social media. Comics now can create their own brand and market that brand directly to the customers, which really helps agents and promoters when booking the shows.

How did your efforts impact the local comedy scene?

When I began doing shows in New Hampshire in 1986 I was very young, and like most comics I was just trying to find my voice. I was living in the Boston area and booking shows around the North Shore in Massachusetts. I began promoting shows in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, as there were not many agents focusing on northern New England. My goal was always to give everyone I could a stage to perform on. Currently, I’ve had the longest-running weekly shows in New Hampshire. I partner with a few local venues like the DoubleTree in Manchester and Chunky’s Cinemas who share the same goal to create a comedy scene here in New Hampshire. I have seen many young comics grow from open mic to touring with national acts and even go on to do late-night television and sitcoms. … I would never take the credit for their success, but I feel honored to have played a small role. I continue to book and produce over 50 events a week for local and regional acts to cut their teeth on. I welcome the next generation of comics to my stages. From what I’ve been seeing, we have a very talented crew coming up.

What has surprised you about the way the state’s comedy scene has developed?

One of the most surprising things I’ve seen is how supportive the comics are. There is a sense of camaraderie that is so prevalent now. I see comics who are very talented and gifted helping the younger generation. There are some comics that coach, and in some instances mentor, the younger comics and show them the ropes. I also have seen a shift in that we [comedians] … have always offered to give back to the community by doing countless fundraisers for all types of organizations.

What do you think the comedy scene will be like 20 years from now, and what challenges will it face?

I think the scene will continue to grow and evolve. I feel that in recent times we have been forced to explore other areas to express ourselves and perform. Live comedy will always thrive in New Hampshire thanks to the support of local venues, as well as patrons that want to see comedy. Not only will we see live comedy grow, I’m sure we will see growth in the streaming of these shows online so patrons in small areas can join in. We are in the beginning stages of Zoom comedy. It will be great to see what this will be like moving forward. … [And places like] Manchester … [have] been growing so fast and really becoming a hub for smart and energetic people. There are many businesspeople, like Dean Kamen, for example, who are playing a major role here in New Hampshire. What he and others are doing is awesome and helping to make New Hampshire a place to be. This will inevitably help all of us here in the arts.

What’s your favorite spot to enjoy live entertainment?

Whenever I work locally, I like to go out after my shows. I like going to see a blues and jazz band at Strange Brew. I also like Penuche’s on Elm for their bands. Tupelo has really done a great job bringing in so many great acts over the years. Honestly, there are so many places now to enjoy live music or dancing. New Hampshire really has something for everyone now. 

Featured photo: (From, left to right) Scott Hayward, Jim Roach, Paul Costley, Rob Steen.

The Music Roundup 21/01/28

Soulful: Along with winning a NEMA for best male performer a few years back, Munk Duane is skillful at making money in the music business, with thousands of paid downloads and licensing deals. He often fronts powerhouse band Soul Jacker, but the pandemic dictates Duane play solo for now. Check out his latest video, “Fanblade,” a groove-soaked throwback with a serious Prince vibe. Thursday, Jan. 28, 7 p.m., Stumble Inn, 20 Rockingham Road, Londonderry. See munkduane.com.

Stretch: Uniquely combining exercise and music, Disco Funk Yoga with DJ Funky Foley-B adheres to safety protocols with a class size limit of eight participants and a program with a bevy of disco-era booty-shakers, over 90 minutes of high-energy vinyasa yoga flow. Head back to the ’70s as the lights go down and a laser show mixes with a few dance breaks throughout the practice. Friday, Jan. 29, 6:30 p.m., Vibe Yoga, 182 Main St., Nashua, $25 and $30 at vibeyoga603.com.

Relaxing: A microbrewery and restaurant housed in a historic fire station offers Tyler Allgood as part of its regular live music schedule. “Brewery shrinks” Jason Palmer and Stanley Tremblay make beer and food on site. Their latest tap creation is an amber lager dubbed Men Are From Marzen; their Cinnamon Cookie Cream Ale is also tasty. Allgood plays covers and many fine original songs. Saturday, Jan. 30, 8 p.m., Liquid Therapy, 14 Court St., Nashua, 402-9391.

Paternal: Enjoy a hearty meal and music from Pete Peterson at a hub for the local scene. Over the winter the restaurant-bar has weekend entertainment, but as things warm up there’s someone playing every night. One of the more ubiquitous performers in the state, Peterson also performs with his daughter Yamica in the band Family Affair and hosts several open mics. Saturday, Jan. 30, 7:30 p.m., Derryfield Restaurant, 625 Mammoth Road, Manchester, 623-2880.

Regular: A Seacoast eatery does its part to keep musicians working as Alex Anthony holds down multiple dates, Saturday, Monday and Wednesday, playing solo. Anthony is a singer and songwriter who received radio airplay a few years back for “Burning In The Sun,” which he released as Seven Mile Drive. He covers artists like Ray Lamontagne, James Taylor, City and Colour, and Damien Rice. Monday, Feb. 1, 9 p.m., The Goat, 142 Congress St., Portsmouth, 590-4628.

At the Sofaplex 21/01/28

We Can Be Heroes (PG)
Pedro Pascal, Priyanka Chopra. Other adults include Christian Slater and Adriana Barraza. But really, this movie is about the kids.
Missy Moreno (YaYa Gosselin) thought she had a deal with her dad Marcus (Pascal) that he wouldn’t be going on any more superhero missions since her mom passed away. But the day that aliens arrived on Earth, all of the heroes headed skyward to fight them off and all of them got captured. This leaves only their children — most of whom have magic powers, though varying levels of control of their abilities — to save the day.
This is part of writer-director Robert Rodriguez’s Shark Boy and Lava Girl cinematic universe — those kid characters from the 2005 movie are now a grown adult couple with a daughter, the super strong little Guppy (Vivien Blair), who can also manipulate water. Slo-Mo (Dylan Henry Lau) moves super fast but super slowly (it’s a cute visual effect), twins Rewind (Isaiah Russell-Bailey) and Fast Forward (Akira Akbar) can manipulate time, A Capella (Lotus Blossom) can move people and things by emitting different sound waves — and so on. This live action movie has a very Odd Squad energy, if you’ve seen that PBS Kids show, and while there is some cartoony-style violence (little Guppy kicking and punching human-appearing aliens) it’s a fairly peace-loving good-hearted take on little kid X-Men-style superheroes. And, as in the Spy Kids movies, the cast is diverse in an organic way that allows more kids to see themselves in this league of heroes. There’s some good messaging about confidence, teamwork and everybody having their own strengths and abilities as well. B+ Available on Netflix.

Shadow in the Cloud (R)
Chloë Grace Moretz, Beulah Koale. Moretz plays Maud Garrett, a female pilot who was part of the WASP program in World War II (the Wikipedia basics: the Women Airforce Service Pilots were federal civil service employees and they sound like bad-asses and why haven’t there been more WASP movies?). She shows up on a foggy New Zealand military runway with a mysterious bag, orders to get the bag to American Samoa on an airplane with the name “Fool’s Errand” painted on the side of it and a bunch of “it’s classified” responses to the questions of the men on board, none of whom are psyched to have her there. “For her safety” but probably also because it makes her an easier mark for hazing, they put her in the sperry (think a plastic egg stuck to the bottom of the plane with a gun mounted in it) as the plane takes off and begins its travel.
As the movie begins, it’s not clear whether this is a kick-butt lady-at-war movie, an improbable-mission thriller or a supernatural action movie. You’re in luck, it’s all three! The movie gets down to business and comes in at a tidy hour and 23 minutes (of which at least six minutes are credits; the first part of the credits feature images of actual WASPs and their British counterparts and, again, here is your next action movie franchise right here). This might not be the highest-budget movie ever but it makes up for its shortfalls by using Moretz’s spot in the sperry wisely (she’s hanging in the wide-open sky but actually all of the action is taking place in a chair) and keeping some things in shadow for a while. B+ Available for rent or purchase.

Honest Thief (PG-13)
Liam Neeson, Kate Walsh. Really, there are only six characters of any consequence in this movie. Neeson is a guy named Tom, who is a very tidy bank robber, and Walsh is Annie, the lady whose presence in his life leads him to give up bank robbing more or less the moment he meets her. Everybody else is an FBI agent: Nivens (Jai Courtney) and his partner Hall (Anthony Ramos) and Meyers (Jeffrey Donovan) and his partner Baker (Robert Patrick).
After a year of dating Annie, Tom wants to move in with her and spend the rest of their lives together. But he doesn’t want his bank robberies (all committed after banks were closed, no injuries to people and he even patches up and repaints the drywall he cuts through to get into the banks; his no-nonsense crimes earn him the name “the in-and-out bandit,” which makes it sound like he’s a raccoon stealing cheeseburgers) hanging over their heads and so he tries to turn himself in. This would have been a 10-minute movie if Tom hired a lawyer like a normal person; instead, he randomly calls the FBI and talks to Baker, an agent who’s all, “yeah, sure, buddy, you’re the in-and-out bandit.” He tells Tom they’ll get back to him and gives the “go check on this nutjob and his crazy story” task to Nivens and Hall. It takes them a few days but they do go to see him, no more impressed than Baker was, even when he hands them a key to a storage locker where he says the money is. But then they find the cash, cash that Nivens decides is just free money that they can take with no consequences. There are about a dozen reasons this is a terrible idea, and Hall seems to think of a few of them, but he goes along and the crazy plan to steal stolen money from a naive (but explosives proficient) thief quickly goes awry.
This is another movie of Liam Neeson’s “a Man with a Very Particular Set of Skills” oeuvre. This isn’t a good movie in the way Taken was when it first came out and kicked off the “old guy kicking butt” part of Neeson’s career. This isn’t even quite up to the level of the enjoyable silliness of something like The Grey. But it’s also thoroughly watchable, low-pressure enough that you don’t need to give it your full attention to still get your money’s worth, and has just enough fun to justify spending an hour and 39 minutes with it. C+ Available for rent or purchase.

The War with Grandpa (PG)
Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman. Back in the Before times, when families were spending time together in multi-generational groups, there needed to be movies that everyone could see together and be OK with — not deeply enjoy, just be OK sitting through next to your kid or your grandma or whatever. That’s what The War with Grandpa, a movie which came out in theaters this fall and is now available on VOD, is. De Niro is the titular grandpa, forced to live with his family (daughter played by Uma Thurman, son-in-law played by Rob Riggle, and their three kids) after he gets in assorted old-guy trouble (running over the mailbox, a little civil unrest at the supermarket after a run-in with self checkout). He doesn’t particularly like this new arrangement but his grandson, Peter (Oakes Fegley), likes it even less. Peter had to give up his bedroom for his grandfather and now lives in a bat- and mouse-infested unfinished attic. Rather than embracing this situation (which, like, his teenage older sister and elementary school younger sister have to share a room; life’s not that bad, Peter), Peter declares war on his grandpa, to the victor goes the finished bedroom. And sure, Peter has the advantage of understanding how to use the technology that can give his grandfather annoying midnight wake-up alarms, but grandpa has the benefit of knowing how to use a screwdriver and take apart all of Peter’s furniture.
This isn’t a great example of either the “benign family entertainment” or the “old guy comedy” genres — it’s not even the best of De Niro’s entries in this field — but it’s, you know, fine. There is nothing terribly objectionable about the movie and it features fun small roles with Cheech Marin, Christopher Walken and Jane Seymour. B- Available for rent or purchase.

Wild Mountain Thyme (PG-13)
Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan.
Also Christopher Walken and Jon Hamm — all actors who deserve better than this strange movie that I think is supposed to be a romantic comedy. Whimsy? Is this supposed to be whimsy, I thought as I watched this movie. Rosemary (Blunt) has loved Anthony (Dornan, of Fifty Shades of Grey fame; I didn’t really see it with him in those movies but he’s appealing enough here) since they were kids. They are the sole remaining children living at their parents’ neighboring farms in Ireland and Rosemary is somewhat patiently waiting for the day Anthony will realize he loves her too and their farms can become one or something. Anthony is kind of a twitchy oddball who appears to have spent a significant amount of his life in love (or at least in infatuation) with somebody else. When Anthony’s dad (Walken) starts to prepare Anthony for his impending death, he toys with the idea of giving the farm to his nephew, Adam (Hamm), a handsome American who maybe has a better shot at getting married and continuing the family legacy at the farm. Or maybe Walken-dad is just saying that to get Anthony to propose to poor Rosemary. Or who knows. I think probably this movie thinks that it’s charming — a charming movie about two people who live in their own dream worlds, or something. It’s really more taxing. It’s a lot of accent and wig choices and “quirky” behavior that maybe sounded cute, in a movie pitch meeting, but just comes off as, at best, extremely mannered and movie-like. C- Available for rent.

Outside the Wire (R)
Anthony Mackie, Damson Idris. In 2036, human U.S. Army drone pilot Harp (Idris) is sent to the front lines of an Eastern European conflict to serve under Capt. Leo (Mackie), who is a fancy A.I. robot. Leo is, of course, smart and strong but he’s also sort of moody and maybe a little too certain of his own mental processing abilities — flaws that make you think his makers never saw a single Terminator movie. Harp and Leo are the only ones, for some reason, who can head off on a mission with the goal of keeping old Soviet nukes out of the hands of the region’s warlord (who is played by Pilou Asbæk, former fan favorite-punching-bag Euron Greyjoy of Game of Thrones; poor guy, not really catching any breaks here either).
This movie has A Lot of ideas about war and the morality of war and the morality of drones and the U.S.’s roles in international conflicts and its use of drones in those conflicts. The ideas aren’t terrible as a way to help give heft to an action movie, but this movie doesn’t ever really seem to know what to do with it all. Its characters get some speeches but there is just too much going on for it to ever really build to a coherent point.
I’ll give Mackie, who I like in other stuff, the benefit of the doubt and say the “big tangle of ideas and plots” problem is what hurts his performance. Maybe he didn’t know how he was supposed to play this character, suggested my movie companion. I agree; it’s like Mackie thought “beats me what’s happening here; how about I just riff on Training Day?” Damson Idris might have action movie potential but the movie didn’t give him much to do either; I feel like “stand around and look shocked” was the gist of a lot of his direction. C-

The FBI’s surveillance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quickly moved from investigation of someone they thought had subversive political opinions to what seems like tabloid-y attempts to document King’s alleged extramarital affairs. While documents about the surveillance were recently released, the FBI’s tapes won’t be released until 2027. Should they be released and what should historians do with this information obtained in such a shady, J. Edgar Hoover fashion? Those are some of the questions this documentary addresses as well as an examination of why the government would undertake this surveillance to begin with in interviews from historians, people like Clarence Jones and Andrew Young who knew King and, make of this what you will, former FBI director James Comey. The movie includes a fair amount of footage of King himself, not just the big speeches but interviews and other archival footage that could not feel more modern and relevant. B+
The movie is available for rent and is at some theaters. While it does not appear to have a rating, Amazon gives it “13+” and that feels about right.

The Midnight Sky (PG-13)
George Clooney, Felicity Jones. Clooney also directs this depressing (but pretty!) movie in which a scientist at the North Pole tries to warn a very small crew of astronauts away from returning to a mostly uninhabitable Earth. Whatever disaster has suddenly caused a spread of toxic and radioactive air across the globe is not something anyone seems to believe they’ll survive. Instead, Augustine (Clooney), a scientist who had long advocated for colonizing a life-supporting moon on Jupiter, is desperate to communicate with the crew of the Aether, which is just returning from a trip to that moon. If they head back, they may be able to survive; if they return to Earth, they’re done for, like everybody else. He has stayed behind in the Arctic station where he has been working to try to reach the Aether. He eats alone, sleeps alone and hooks himself up to some medical treatment alone (we learn early on that even without the “event” he didn’t have a long time left to live). At least, he thinks he’s alone. After some mysterious incidents involving food, he discovers that a little girl (Caoilinn Springall) is also at the empty station. Attempts to get someone to come back for this left-behind child fail and so Augustine finds himself caring for her while he also tries to solve the problem of reaching the Aether.
Meanwhile, up in space, the Aether crew thinks a malfunction on their end is keeping them from communicating with Earth — or at least Sully (Jones), the communication technician, seems to believe this. Team leader Adewole (David Oyelowo), Sanchez (Demian Bichir), Maya (Tiffany Boone) and pilot Mitchell (Kyle Chandler), whose wife and sons are back on Earth, seem to be choosing to believe this for now. Though the silence from Earth, even from non-allied countries, is getting to the crew, Sully is pregnant and for her and Adewole thinking about their unborn child seems to help mitigate the tension.
I’ll admit, I’m just not in a place where “world-ending disaster” is fun entertainment and for me this movie doesn’t offer anything artistically intriguing enough to get me over what a bummer it is. Yes, it’s lovely — from its space scenes to its trek by Augustine into the Arctic. And I did on a few occasions think, “huh, Clooney is turning into a more interesting actor as he ages.” But neither one of those elements was enough to get me excited about what I was watching. Though the movie’s trailer blathers about “hope,” this is a pretty hope-free movie (the ending is actually quite dark if you play it out based only on the information we have). And all this woe unfolds pretty slowly; it was hard not to fast-forward (and I will totally admit to both checking my place in the runtime and doing a little desk clearing while the movie was on). Is this fair? Would I have felt differently if I saw this movie in Alternate Timeline Winter 2020-2021, sitting maskless in a theater less than six feet from other patrons? (It was always a Netflix release so there’s a good chance I would have seen this at home in any timeline.) I can’t answer that but I can’t recommend that you spend what precious escape-from-reality time you have with it either. B- Available on Netflix.

Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy (TV-MA)
This new Netflix documentary follows the development and spread of crack cocaine and the government’s response to it from the beginning of the 1980s into the late 1990s — and it does this in about 89 minutes. This is an introductory survey to all of the wider cultural and political issues related to crack, without time to spend too much on any one facet. The documentary does have some good details when it focuses in tightly to look at the human cost, with help from interviews with dealers and those who suffered from addiction, and when it addresses the mid-1990 legislation meant to take on drug-related violence. Former Rep. Charles Rangel discusses the way the legislation was developed and the unintended consequences of some elements of it (such as the penalties for crack possession that were far greater than the penalties for possession of powdered cocaine). This part was interesting, particularly for how many familiar-to-modern-audiences faces (President Biden, Chuck Schumer) show up in archival clips, and I wished we could have seen a deeper dive on just those Clinton-era crime bills. The subject feels like it could sustain an enlightening six-part series. This movie, which speeds away just as a subject starts to get interesting, feels a bit like the Cliffs Notes on that. B —Available on Netflix.

The Fundamentals of Caring (TV-MA)
Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez. The Netflix algorithm decided I had to watch this 2016 movie, so I did and, hey, it isn’t half bad. My two thoughts while watching it were: one, Paul Rudd is good at making a nice guy interesting enough to hang out with for a whole movie, and two, have I seen this movie before? It is the kind of bland pleasantness you could easily see and forget but that doesn’t make it less worthy of a watch, especially if it’s of the “on in the background while you pair socks” variety. Ben (Rudd) is a newly minted professional caregiver but, we learn, an old hand at being stuck in quiet despair. His reasons for this are valid, which is perhaps why he clicks so well with new client Trevor (Craig Roberts), an 18-ish-year-old transplant from England who uses a wheelchair and has a degenerative disease that will likely give him only another decade or so of life. Trevor, who is rigid in his routine and reluctant to leave the house he shares with mom Elsa (Jennifer Ehle), usually takes his frustrations out on the caregivers, shocking or dismaying them. But Ben is beyond shock and dismay, so they begin to get along, well enough that Trevor decides to throw routine to the wind and take a little road trip.
Buddy road movies tend to need a girl, which is where Gomez comes in and she is perfectly fine as Dot, a girl with her own reasons to set out into the world. The Fundamentals of Caring has a few rough moments for those of us who have gone soft and can’t take kid-in-peril situations but it is otherwise sweet, lightly humorous and generally goodhearted, for all that I can totally see myself forgetting I ever saw it. B- Available on Netflix.


Movie screenings, movie-themed happenings & virtual events

Bank of NH Stage in Concord
16 S. Main St., Concord

225-1111, banknhstage.com

Chunky’s Cinema Pub

707 Huse Road, Manchester; 151 Coliseum Ave., Nashua; 150 Bridge St., Pelham, chunkys.com

Red River Theatres

11 S. Main St., Concord

224-4600, redrivertheatres.org

Wilton Town Hall Theatre

40 Main St., Wilton

wiltontownhalltheatre.com, 654-3456

Red River Virtual Cinema Red River Theatres is currently offering indie, foreign language and documentary films via a virtual cinema experience. Recent additions include City Hall, a documentary about Boston city government. See the lineup on the website.

Star Wars Trivia Night Thursday, Jan. 28, at 7:30 p.m. at Chunky’s Manchester, 21+. Reserve a spot by purchasing a $5 food voucher per person.

Dirty Dancing (PG-13, 1987) a 21+ screening of the 1980s film will take place Thursday, Feb. 4, at 8 p.m. at Chunky’s in Nashua, Manchester and Pelham. Tickets $4.99

The Freshman (1925) silent Harold Lloyd film accompanied by live music performed by Jeff Rapsis screens on Sunday, Feb. 7, at 2 p.m. at Wilton Town Hall Theatre. Admission is free but a $10 donation is suggested.

7th Heaven (1927) silent romance film accompanied by live music performed by Jeff Rapsis screens on Sunday, Feb. 14, at 2 p.m. at Wilton Town Hall Theatre. Admission is free but a $10 donation is suggested.

The Bride’s Play (1922) silent film featuring Marion Davies accompanied by live music performed by Jeff Rapsis screens on Sunday, March 14, at 2 p.m. at Wilton Town Hall Theatre. Admission is free but a $10 donation is suggested.

War Horse (National Theatre Live) rebroadcast of the London production at Bank of New Hampshire Stage in Concord, Sunday, March 21, 1 p.m. Tickets $15 for adults, $12 for students.

The White Tiger (R) – Some Kind of Heaven (NR)

The White Tiger (R)

A young man from an impoverished town in India tries to grab his piece of his country’s bright economic future in The White Tiger, a new movie on Netflix.

Balram (Adarsh Gourav) has seen his ambitions crushed all his life. As a child, he loses a chance to go to a good school on scholarship when his grandmother (Kamlesh Gill) forces him to go to work. Later, the social caste system keeps him literally on his knees when dealing with his new employer (Mahesh Manjrekar), who is treated as something of a feudal lord of Balram’s village. Balram heads to the city to serve as a driver not for the man or his horrible oldest son, the Mongoose (Vijay Maurya), but for his more Western-cultured second son, Ashok (Rajkummar Rao). Ashok went to school in America and seems queasy about issues surrounding the way wealthy people treat the people who work for them. Pinky (Priyanka Chopra), his Indian-born but American-ized wife, seems even more uncomfortable with it. Their discomfort does not, however, always translate into being better employers. Nor does Balram always know what to do with himself in their monied urban environment, where he constantly feels his lack of worldliness and simmers with anger even as he is also hungry to find a way into this life. Add this to the fact that his family back home still gets most of his paycheck — their very survival even becomes his responsibility once his employers use them to coerce him into a ruinous decision — and it seems that no amount of eager hard work will allow Balram to get ahead.

Which is, of course, the point. This movie has a lot of the same elements about the grind of poverty as Parasite, but presents them bleaker, if that’s possible. Balram comes to the decision that he basically has no choice but to do things he finds unethical or even immoral; the system doesn’t allow him to be a good person and survive. There is also a fair amount about the idea of being a servant versus an employee; what is the difference between an economic system that allows someone to be employed and one that requires servitude in what again reads as a more feudal sense? All this is presented with humor, bleak humor, but humor and an engaging storytelling style (this movie makes a narration frame and some time jumps work) and a strong performance from Gourav that pulls you in. B+

Rated R for language, violence and sexual material, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Ramin Bahrani with a screenplay by Bahrani (from the novel by Aravind Adiga), The White Tiger is two hours and five minutes and is available via Netflix.

Some Kind of Heaven (NR)

Retirees enjoy a new carefree chapter of their lives — maybe — in Some Kind of Heaven, a documentary about four people living at The Villages in Florida.

“An endless cruise with everybody from high school” — what is your response to that statement? If you think “woo-hoo sign me up for the Jimmy Buffett margarita parties,” The Villages, the pre-planned retirement community that seemingly features every kind of amusement in a sort of large outdoor mall/golf course-like setting, might be for you. If it sounds like the kind of “heaven” that you and your philosophy professor buddy figure out is actually The Bad Place, then this movie will reinforce that reaction.

It follows four people living (sort of) at The Villages. The “sort of” is because of Dennis, who is about 80 and lives out of his van. He has come to The Villages with no permanent address and hopes to meet a woman with some money to live with.

Barbara is more organically looking for companionship; she moved to the Villages with her husband, who later died. She seems like she wishes she could return to her home in Massachusetts but as it is she has to work for a Villages medical office to make ends meet. She is just barely starting to get “out there” again, when we first meet her.

Anne and Reggie, a long-married couple, are still together — for better or worse. Anne seems to be left largely alone by Reggie, who throughout the documentary seems to be in the middle of some kind of serious, needs-medical-help episode. (Late in the movie he says an MRI discovered he’s been having small strokes.) He seems to be having delusions (which the movie seems to suggest are either caused by or made worse by recreational drugs he takes) and is making some pretty terrible life decisions, such as choosing to represent himself when he’s facing cocaine possession charges. Reggie rambles on about his spiritual journey and his newfound freedom but Anne goes from looking scared for him to seeming near the point of bubbling over with rage.

Generally, the men depicted here seem to have it better than the women — Dennis is able to float by for a good while and we meet a man whom Barbara likes and who seems to be having a truly great, carefree time. The movie doesn’t get into the gender dynamics of The Villages that much and I wanted to see more. What we’re left with is a “guys get to be 18 again, women have to put up with it” sense of the situation that may or may not reflect any kind of reality. There are a lot of “what about people with some different kind of life experience” or “Villages residents who are 80 versus Villages residents who are 55” questions I had that this movie doesn’t address. It doesn’t have to, necessarily, but since it does seem to want to be making a larger statement about the community, not just the central people, I did want more about the Villages society. There are times when it just feels like you’re watching four people’s misfortunes rather than getting a glimpse at a specific world.

Those stories are very engagingly told. I feel like we get to know Barbara the best and she was the one I found myself cheering on. She seems the least delighted by the Villages as a concept, with its fakey Spanish colonial facades and its million social clubs. Though I could see how this could come off as a purely negative look at the Villages, I feel like this documentary does show people enjoying their lives there and the return-to-college, eternal-tropical-vacation feel of the place. It does seem to be a kind of heaven even if it clearly isn’t everybody’s. B

This movie doesn’t appear to be rated. Directed by Lance Oppenheim, Some Kind of Heaven is an hour and 21 minutes long and is distributed by Magnolia. It is available for rent (including via Red River Theatres virtual theater).

Featured photo: The White Tiger

The Listening Path, by Julia Cameron

The Listening Path, by Julia Cameron (St. Martin’s Essentials, 190 pages)

Julia Cameron is a national treasure. Part creativity coach, part spiritual guide, total inspiration, she’s been a muse to a generation of artists since the publication of The Artist’s Way in 1992.

Cameron deals in blockage: writer’s block, painter’s block, potter’s block, dancer’s block, the thwarting of any creative impulse. She promised in The Artist’s Way that she knew the tools to unblock, to help others overcome resistance born of insecurity, failure and criticism so they can summon their art into existence. She calls it creative recovery.

Elizabeth Gilbert has said Eat, Pray, Love would not have been written without Cameron’s influence. Writers Tim Ferris and Patricia Cornwall and musicians Alicia Keys and Pete Townshend are among celebrities who swear by her exercises, which include freestyle journaling upon awakening (called “morning pages”) and a weekly solo outing she calls an “artist’s date.”

The Artist’s Way is a simple, sensible and comforting guide to breaking through the resistance, both external and internal, that can prevent people from doing their life’s work. If you haven’t already read it, order it right now. It’s the book you didn’t know you needed.

Unfortunately, while many of us need one The Artist’s Way, we don’t need 12. But a dozen other Artist’s Way titles have made their way into the world because of the success of the first. There is an Artist’s Way for parents, for midlife, for work. There is The Complete Artist’s Way, The Artist’s Way Workbook, The Artist’s Way Every Day, among other titles. And now there’s a new title in the series called The Listening Path, the Creative Art of Attention. Though the title is mercifully different, most of the content is not. And what’s new is tragically boring.

Cameron begins by rehashing the steps to creative recovery that she has been teaching for a quarter century. It’s unclear who the audience is. Presumably most people eager to read The Listening Path are already Cameron devotees, so she’s preaching to the choir here. Having convinced us (again) of the value of morning pages, artist’s dates and solo walks, she then addresses the importance of deep and thoughtful listening.

Again, this is not really new ground. The Artist’s Way also talks about attention and listening. Cameron sees artists as conduits; writers do not so much write as they take dictation, she believes. She says in The Artist’s Way, “I learned to just show up at the page and write down what I heard. Writing became more like eavesdropping and less like inventing a nuclear bomb.”

So in encouraging people to undertake a six-week course of active listening (to the environment, to others, to our higher selves, to “beyond the veil,” to our heroes, and to silence), she is elaborating on a well-worn theme. Ponderously.

I wanted to be interested, to be rapt, as she wanders through her days in New Mexico with her lizard-eating dog, Lily, listening to thunderstorms and friends and small, still voices within. But other than occasional horror about the lizard-eating, which Cameron never tries to prevent (the dog only eats tasty gray lizards, not striped ones, so there’s that), the book meanders at the gait of a 71-year-old with nowhere to be and 180 pages to fill. The plot, such as it is, involves Cameron lunching often with friends and discussing listening over steak tacos or sushi. There’s also a storyline, ultimately resolved, about how Cameron can’t get her lizard-eating dog to stop barking. (Cameron’s neighbors are very tired of listening to that.) And there’s way too much dialogue of Cameron speaking soothingly to Lily. (“It’s just hail, sweetheart.”)

Like other books in the series, the margins are filled with pertinent quotes (“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing” — G.K. Chesterton) and suggested exercises, some interesting, some tedious, some simply strange. (“I invite you to try woo-woo,” begins one.) Like the other books, each chapter ends with a series of questions, always asking if we’ve done our morning pages, artist dates and walks. All the accountability gets exhausting.

To be fair, I suffer from chronic tinnitus, so exhortations to listen more deeply to the shrill whine of crickets in my head cause me psychic pain. For those of you capable of experiencing quiet, Cameron’s latest may well be a welcome footnote to her earlier work, a gentle reminder of truths you already know. But for most people, The Listening Path is a duller version of Cameron’s earlier, compelling work. She’s written 40 books, plus plays, poetry and a feature-film script. Read Cameron, by all means, but put this one at the bottom of your list. C

If you’re looking for a book by Amanda Gorman, the Harvard graduate who wowed the world with her poem at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, just wait nine months. Or you can pre-order.
The 23-year-old Gorman has two books coming out in September, which has to be breaking someone at Penguin Random House’s heart, because she could have sold a few million last week alone. The forthcoming Change Sings is a children’s book; The Hill We Climb is a poetry collection.
They’re already bestsellers on Amazon, doing better than Joe Biden’s book Promise Me, Dad (Flatiron, 304 pages) and Jill Biden’s Where the Light Enters (Flatiron again, 224 pages).
Meanwhile, reports of the publishing industry’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, according to Jim Milliot, writing recently in Publisher’s Weekly. Print book sales rose 8.2 percent in 2020, Milliott reported. That translates to nearly 751 million units (we presume that means books) sold, up from nearly 694 million the previous year.
Admittedly, part of the spike was because of parents schooling kids at home. They were buying education and reference titles and also books on games and hobbies to keep kids busy. Juvenile fiction also had a boost from the new releases from Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins: Midnight Sun, which sold 1.3 million copies, and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, 1.2 million.
Adults were reading anti-racism titles and political books, to include the title that sold the most copies: Barack Obama’s A Promised Land (Crown, 768 pages). Despite its daunting length, A Promised Land sold 2.5 million print copies. In comparison, the best-selling fiction title, Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 384 pages), sold 1.1 million copies last year, even though it was released in 2018.
The worst selling genre of 2020? Bueller? Bueller? Travel books, down 40 percent from 2019.

Book Clubs

Author events

REBECCA CARROLL Author presents Surviving the White Gaze. Virtual livestream hosted by The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Tues., Feb. 2, 7 p.m. Tickets cost $5. Call 436-2400 or visit themusichall.org.

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.

DIANE REHM Author presents When My Time Comes. Virtual livestream hosted by The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Tues., Feb. 23, 7 p.m. Tickets cost $5. Call 436-2400 or visit themusichall.org.

PAUL KRUGMAN Author presents Arguing with Zombies. Virtual livestream hosted by The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Tues., March 2, 7 p.m. Tickets cost $5. Call 436-2400 or visit themusichall.org.

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.



Offered remotely by the Franco-American Centre. Six-week session with classes held Thursdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. $225. Visit facnh.com/education or call 623-1093.

Special events

EXETER LITFEST Literary festival will feature local authors, keynote speaker Victoria Arlen, book launches, a Saturday morning story hour for kids, and programs on various topics including publishing tips, mystery writing and homeschooling. Hosted virtually via Zoom by Exeter TV. Thurs., April 1, through Sat., April 3. Free and open to the public. Visit exeterlitfest.com.

Featured photo: The Listening Path by Julia Cameron

Album Reviews 21/01/28

Cyrrca, Cyrrca (self-released)

By now, you’re probably in the habit of heading for the hills whenever I start talking up an ambient album, but in this case I’d encourage you to stick around, as this isn’t just composed of a bunch of accidental “hey, that sounds kind of neat” finds. I mean, yeah, it’s that too, but what electronic record isn’t these days, and besides, this is actually based on the mononymed artist’s world travels over the last several years, to Turkey, Ireland and other places, toward the goal of “spiritual enlightenment.” Wait, don’t laugh at that bit, we could all use it, for sure, after a year like the last one, and it doesn’t hurt that he threw together a few one-off collaborations while journeying, guest feats that included rappers, weird instrumentalists and all that stuff. No, it’s not some soundtrack to a movie that’ll never be made (all of the songs have videos, while we’re here), more of a high-end sonic affair in the vein of Aphex Twin, Moby, Massive Attack, that sort, but at a more un-funked, chill level. There’s an art book that goes with it, by the way. A+

Everdawn, Cleopatra (Sensory Records)

Every time a new girl-fronted symphonic-metal album comes barreling in here, I get to wondering if the tunes might actually possess the power to inspire their listeners to buy actual opera CDs, like “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci,” the two most-often-paired-up operas when you go to, you know, the opera. I know that might sound a little crazy, but if you’d buy this album more for Alina Gavrilenko’s soaring soprano than the polite Wayne’s World-style power-metal on board, face it, bub, you might want to go all the way and drop a few hundred to take your date to see good ole “Cav and Pag” at the Boston Opera House, if the current horror ever ends, of course. Aside from that, there’s really very little to add here in the way of music reviewin’ per se. If you’ve heard Trans Siberian Orchestra or Visions Of Atlantis, you’ve already been here, and, fact is, Alina’s capable but not remarkable. But don’t let that stop you; all I’m trying to accomplish is to get you to think for just five seconds about how cool it would be to brag to your gamer friends about going to an actual opera. Try it, man! (Ha ha, their Facebook has one of the guys getting his picture taken with the actually-named Nicko McBrain from Iron Maiden. Hee HEE, he’s giving a thumbs up, an expression of approval commonly exhibited by humans!) B

Retro Playlist

Two up from the Way-Back Machine, this time from 2015, which seems like a million years ago, doesn’t it? That was the same year as Bob Dylan’s Shadows In The Night and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. Now do you remember? Ha ha, I don’t.

This week in 2015, I covered two albums, the first of which was Black Coffee Sigh, the second album from Boston-based bar band Sunshine Riot. It’s hard-ish rock, not all that well-produced, but, as I alluded to back then, they are/were something of an area band, and “I only write about albums like this when they’re from decent local artists, not because I expect big-production guitar-rock to overthrow trap-snap diva-bling anytime soon, even if the fantasy is comforting to some.”

Anyhow, the band’s was taking on “the doomed mission of bringing back rootsy bar-band rock, specifically southern-rock, more or less,” and I was pretty nice to them overall. There was opening tune “Black Coffee Sigh Side A,” “a doomy/crunchy thing that makes like a Ministry warmup,” but from there the record becomes an amalgam of Hank Williams Jr. quasi-cowboy-punk (“This Is a Raid”), sweetly rendered Allmans nicking (“Better Days”), Doobie Brothers head-drug-pop (“Liz Stone”) and blissy but faceless ’70s filler (“Dead Baby Cocaine Blues”). A band you might like to see live, I suppose.

The other one that week was The Mindsweep, the then-new LP from U.K.-hard-rawk outfit Enter Shikari, a record I did actually like, more or less. That album was their fourth and found the crew “comfortably at ease with their ingredients, a unique mishmash of grime-rap, bass-driven Meshuggah-style death-metal and, well, screamo, if you must know.”

But don’t let the screamo bit scare you away, I tried to say. The album is “a vision of early-aughts Linkin Park reborn as a po-faced limeys, with a tightness that would give Pendulum night sweats if they ever had to face them at a metal-palooza.”

The fact that Enter Shikari is awesome is probably old news to you, if you’re into neo-metal-ish rock, but, anyway, that


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• The next catchall date for CD releases is Friday, Jan. 29, a day that will live in infamy, because oh noes, I have to deal with Revolutionary Love, the newest LP from rabies-frothing grunge-folk howler-gibbon Ani DiFranco! You all know this Buffalo, N.Y.-born busker’s story, like, she became emancipated at age 15, leaving her mom’s to strike out into the great Unknown, which is super-hard when you’re the child of MIT grads who were actually happy to just be able to watch The Price Is Right in peace without having to deal with Ani’s constant barking at postmen and meter-readers and whatnot. I haven’t had the pleasure of dealing with her last few albums, all of which, like the ones before them, were released on Ani’s own record label, with crayon album-cover art or whatever, but don’t knock it, because it’s not everyone who can just simply produce and release and market their own albums, especially with only the support of MIT-grad parents to count on, so you shut up right this minute while I go and damage my brain to the strains of the album’s title track. It is a slow song, like a warped outtake from a 1980s Dionne Warwick album, and the lyrics are about dealing with anger and empowering oneself. Good heavens, this dumb song is over seven minutes long, and I must shut it off right now.

• Speaking of the ’90s, Goat Girl is a new-ish all-girl post-punk band from England that sounds like Hole, but with less throwing stuff, not that their 2018 semi-hit “The Man” wasn’t somewhat edgy. On All Fours, their newest, streets on the 29th, led by the single “Sad Cowboy,” an eclectic little ’90s-chill song that has elements of Natalie Merchant, Calexico and, for no reason whatsoever, an occasional break interpolating 1970s disco drums. It’s not as annoying as I just made it sound, so go listen for yourself if you’re even slightly curious.

• Dum de dum, boom boom kapoosh. Huh, what’s this, it’s Americana singing person Langhorne Slim, who literally named himself after the town he was born in. Now there’s an idea, I’m changing my name to Westford Saeger. Slim was in the band Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players. Any of you guys remember when I was twisting myself into funny Rold Gold pretzel shapes trying to review one of that band’s albums, and you could just tell I was bored out of my skull? Doesn’t matter, because Slim’s new full-length, Strawberry Mansion, is here, with a decent-enough song, called “Mighty Soul.” His yodel-y voice is perfect for this kind of chill but grungy folkie-pop. He’s like a cross between Conor Oberst and Cat Stevens. Some readers will salivate uncontrollably over that description, and others will simply continue coughing up pesky hairballs.

• Finally we have Chicago-born gloom-indie songstress Lia Ices, who’s been compared to Feist, Bat for Lashes, etc. Her fourth LP, Family Album, is out imminently and features the tune “Young on the Mountain.” Her voice sucks but the ’60s-radio-pop vibe is OK.

Super Bowl and beer

Five beers to enjoy during the big game

I know you’re sullen because the Patriots aren’t in the Super Bowl. Hey, I am too, but there is still technically a game and it might be worthwhile to watch, even if you can’t get together with a bunch of friends and family like you might in normal times.

It’s still the Super Bowl and if times were less defined by Covid-19, you’d probably be drinking beer during the game. You still can! And I have some suggestions that might just make the game and the overall experience a little more palatable.

With the Patriots not participating, I think that gives you an excellent opportunity to spend a little more time pondering your beer than you would otherwise. If the Pats are in the game, your friends could probably fill your glass with Malibu Rum instead of beer and you wouldn’t notice because every fiber of your being would be tuned in to the game.

So, OK, silver lining, you can chill out a little bit.

Here are five New Hampshire beers you should drink during the Super Bowl (OK, maybe not all of them, but honestly, maybe, because where are you going?):

Alexandr by Schilling Beer Co. (Littleton)

Let’s start with something light, crisp, clean and easy. This Czech-style Pilsner is a perfect brew to sip as you take in a little of the pre-game analysis and theatrics — and with some apps. Pilsners get a bad rap sometimes as a beer that lacks flavor. True, no Pilsner is going to hit you square in the jaw like a big IPA, but they’re not meant to. That doesn’t mean this brew — and other craft-brewed Pilsners — doesn’t have plenty of character.

Ragged Mountain Red Ale by The Flying Goose Brew Pub & Grille (New London)

This red ale is smooth, malty and, honestly, kind of dangerous, because it goes down awfully easy. The rich amber pour is intriguing, as the beer’s body is really quite light, but not so light that you can’t appreciate the complexity. A great beer to have in your hand at kickoff and to eat Super Bowl food with.

New England Gangsta by Earth Eagle Brewings (Portsmouth)

We’re going to start to crank things up a little now, because, presumably, the game is starting to get a little more serious now that the players and the fans have gotten over the initial round of butterflies. But this West Coast-style IPA doesn’t crank it up so much that you’re going to knock yourself out. You’ll get some citrus and some pine on this with some pleasing residual bitterness. This is on the lighter side as IPAs these days go, but you’ll have plenty of hop character to consider as you critique the play-calling.

No Other Place Sour by Lithermans Limited Brewery (Concord)

OK, you got through the first half and you got through the halftime show, for better or worse, and now you need to wake up your taste buds. This’ll do the trick nicely. This fruited gose is going to hit you with bright, tart cranberry flavor in a low-alcohol package, which is exactly what you need right now.

Draken Robust Porter by Kelsen Brewing Co. (Derry)

The game isn’t over but it’s time to wind down. I think stouts and porters are great for doing just that. There’s no rush. You can sip them slowly and appreciate their rich, complex flavors. The Draken is full of roasted malt flavor and big on chocolate and caramel, and I think maybe some coffee, too? This is a great choice to enjoy as you watch the final minutes play out and to sip as you take in the trophy presentation ceremony.

What’s in My Fridge
Winter Lager by Samuel Adams Brewing Co. (Boston, Mass.)
When you haven’t had one of these in a long time, this brew is sort of eye-opening. It’s nice and easy to drink with a little sweetness and spice as you’d expect — just a perfectly enjoyable beer. Cheers!

Featured photo: Pick up some beer for the Super Bowl. Courtesy photo.

Jordan Reynolds

Jordan Reynolds of Concord is the owner of Col’s Kitchen (55 S. Main St., Concord, 227-6778, colsplantbased.com), a plant-based restaurant that opened last August. Named after Reynolds’ pit bull, Col’s Kitchen features what he calls an “eclectic, all-American” vegan concept, with a well-rounded plant-based menu of appetizers, sandwiches, entrees, brunch options, and desserts like pies, macarons and “pie shakes.” Especially popular as of late, he said, have been the plant-based burgers and the milkshakes, which include some non-traditional flavors like orange creamsicle, mint chocolate and maple vanilla. Col’s Kitchen also makes its own vegan sauces, which Reynolds said he hopes to begin bottling and selling in the future.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

A silicone baking mat is a must-have for anybody making pie. … I’ve also recently gifted myself a really nice set of Kamikoto knives. They are really high-quality Japanese steel knives that I’m obsessed with right now.

What would you have for your last meal?

There’s a place in Cambridge, [Mass.], called Veggie Galaxy. They have these fried vegan macaroni and cheese balls that have a really good spicy aioli to go with them. I’d probably have those.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

The Green Elephant in Portsmouth has a really good diverse vegetarian menu. Hermanos [Cocina Mexicana in Concord] is also a great place for vegans.

What celebrity would you like to see eating at Col’s Kitchen?

Cam Newton.

What is your favorite thing on your menu?

I’ve been to so many vegan restaurants around the globe, and our nachos are my favorite out of any I’ve ever had. We do them with a house vegan chili that I’ve been making for more than a decade and that I’ve taken pride in. … They also have olives, smashed avocados, a cheesy sauce and a chipotle cashew cream.

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

The vegan trend is obviously big, but more than that, just the farm-to-table concept and the rustic aesthetic to go with that … has been growing for the past 10 years.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

Pasta. It’s just a cheap and easy way to fill yourself up at night.

Carrot ginger soup

Courtesy of Jordan Reynolds of Col’s Kitchen in Concord

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onions
3 garlic cloves, smashed
2 cups chopped carrots
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup full fat coconut milk
1 teaspoon maple syrup
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot. Add onions, garlic, carrots and ginger. Cook until onions are translucent and carrots are soft. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a gentle boil, then return to a simmer for 15 minutes. Mix with an immersion blender, topping with caramelized ginger, and enjoy.

Featured photo: Jordan Reynolds. Photo by Matt Ingersoll.

Bountiful bagels

New Milford business offering NYC-inspired artisan bagels

A new business based in Milford is paying homage to the traditional New York bagel, a style known for its large size, crunchy crust exterior and pillow-like fluffiness on the inside.

Agora Bagels, which launched earlier this month, is the project of Vassilios Palaskas of Milford — he, his wife, Jennifer, and son, Deven, offer a variety of flavors of handcrafted artisan bagels, from plain, everything or cinnamon to specialty bagels of the month like Fruity Pebbles or jalapeno cheddar.

They also make several flavors of their own cream cheese spreads, or “schmears.”

“I like to call our kitchen ‘the lab,’ because we get super creative,” said Palaskas, who grew up in Merrimack and has held various positions in local restaurants, like Buckley’s Great Steaks and the Bedford Village Inn. He said he chose the name “agora,” a word meaning public gathering space or marketplace, to incorporate his Greek roots — his father came to the United States from Greece as a teenager and also owned the former Brother’s Pizza in Manchester.

Prior to the pandemic, Palaskas said, he and his brother travelled to bakeries and bagel shops across the New York City metro area to learn the secrets of making the unique style.

“Their bagels are definitely bigger, are chewy … [and have] a soft inside, but when you bite into it, there’s a crunch,” he said. “We let ours proof overnight to help them get super airy and spongy. With some of the bagels, we’ll put a little honey in with the water when it’s boiling just to give them a little extra flavor boost.”

In addition to plain, Agora Bagels regularly offers bagel flavors like blueberry and cinnamon, plus an onion bagel made with sweet Vidalia onions, a sesame bagel with black and white toasted sesame seeds, and an everything bagel that Palaskas said has by far been his top seller. Each flavor can be mixed and matched in quantities of a dozen or half-dozen, or ordered as a “Titan” bagel, in which Palaskas more than doubles the size to weigh a full pound before boiling.

The current bagel of the month is Fruity Pebbles, and Palaskas has plans to roll out a jalapeno cheddar bagel next. He’s also received requests for flavors like pumpernickel and has experimented with French toast, chocolate and peanut butter, and lemon blueberry bagels.

All orders are vacuum-sealed and shipped out every Monday and Friday. Cream cheese spreads are sold separately in eight- or 16-ounce containers and each comes with ice packs when shipping. Palaskas offers plain, veggie and honey almond flavors.

In the coming months, he hopes to begin offering a gluten-free bagel option, as well as smoked salmon lox, a bagel topping popular in New York.

Agora Bagels
To order, visit agorabagels.com, email palaskas@agorabagels.com or find them on Facebook and Instagram. Orders are vacuum-sealed and shipped out on Mondays and Fridays. Scheduled pickups are also available until 6 p.m. for orders placed the day before.

Featured photo: Titan Bagel. Courtesy photo.

Served with love

Delicious ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and whether you’re looking for a romantic evening out or would prefer to enjoy it in the comfort of your own home, there have perhaps never before been so many different ways to celebrate. Local restaurateurs and candymakers talk about how they’re approaching what’s normally a big day for business as the pandemic continues.

Meals for sweethearts

For co-owner and chef Matt Berry of Dahlia Restaurant, a series of New England-inspired farm-to-table pop-up dinners he presents with his wife Lauren at various local eateries, Valentine’s Day menus are among his favorites of the year to write.

“The vibe of being in a restaurant is already pretty intimate and it’s a special occasion to share with a partner,” Berry said. “I feel like people tend to be more adventurous eaters … so it’s a good time to try out some fun techniques and be creative with what you’re preparing.”

Since they launched the dinner series late last year, Berry said, he and his wife had been thinking about serving some type of Valentine’s Day dinner in collaboration with The Birch on Elm in Manchester. Eventually, he said, plans shifted from preparing for just one night to instead offering two seatings each across several evenings.

Starting Sunday, Feb. 7, and for select evenings through Thursday, Feb. 18, Dahlia Restaurant will serve a six-course Valentine’s Day menu with seatings at either 5 or 7:30 p.m. and optional wine or Champagne bottle pairings. Courses will include mushroom agnolotti with scallop, carrots and caviar; rib-eye, with cauliflower puree, carrots and potatoes; and a buttermilk panna cotta with strawberry preserves, thyme and an almond crumble. Attendees can inquire about the most up-to-date availability on reservations by emailing reserve@dahlianomadic.com.

“We figured we could still have that intimate restaurant atmosphere of being out for Valentine’s Day but also being as safe and clean as possible,” Berry said.

Other local restaurants, in response both to the pandemic and to Valentine’s Day falling on a Sunday this year, are offering multiple chances to celebrate over the course of several days. The Hills Restaurant at Hampshire Hills Athletic Club in Milford, for instance, will be running a five-course meal during business hours from Thursday, Feb. 11, through Saturday, Feb. 13, when you’ll be able to choose your own appetizer, soup or salad, entree and dessert option, according to executive chef Ben Cass. Similarly, Jamison’s Restaurant in Hampstead is running a specials menu all week leading up to Valentine’s Day, from Wednesday, Feb. 10, through Saturday, Feb. 13, during which a four-course prix fixe menu will be served.

In Hooksett, Roots Cafe & Catering at Robie’s Country Store has been closed since Christmas Eve but is due to reopen soon — just in time for a multi-course Valentine’s Day dinner menu that will be served on Saturday, Feb. 13, co-owner Amber Enright said. In addition to baby spinach salad and seared scallops with a parsnip puree and beet reduction, the meal will include one of two entree options (braised short ribs or citrus-marinated Cornish game hen) and chocolate cherry mousse for dessert. Champagne bottles will also be available.

“It’s going to be one seating at 6 p.m. for dine-in, but we’re going to offer the dinner for takeout as well,” Enright said. “People can pick it up between 4 and 6 p.m.”

Some spots are also going the brunch route for Valentine’s Day this year. The Grazing Room at the Colby Hill Inn in Henniker, chief innovation officer Jeff Brechbühl said, will serve a chocolate lover’s brunch on Sunday, Feb. 14, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., featuring chocolate integrated in different ways among various selections. A three-course prix fixe dinner menu will follow, with seatings between 4 and 8 p.m.

Madear’s Southern Eatery & Bakery in Pembroke, also hosting a Valentine’s Day brunch on Feb. 14, will serve various all-you-can-eat scratch-made Cajun options from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., like chicken and red velvet waffles, banana-stuffed French toast, bourbon bread pudding, shrimp and grits, catfish nuggets and more. Unlimited mimosas and a bloody mary bar are also additional options. Madear’s will then end the day with a five-course plated dinner from 4:30 to 10 p.m.

Together at home

If you’d prefer to skip going out to a sit-down restaurant for Valentine’s Day, there are all kinds of opportunities courtesy of local businesses to help you mark the occasion at home.

The Bedford Village Inn, for example, in addition to serving a four-course prix fixe menu in its dining room on Feb. 14, is also offering a “Valentine’s Day Takeaway” take-home meal kit this year, featuring an appetizer, an entree, various accompaniments, a dessert and optional wine or Champagne pairings, all chosen from a select menu and packaged with cooking instructions, house-made breads and Vermont butter. Highlights of the menu include a local artisan cheese board, filet mignon or grass-fed lamb with a red wine demi-glace, and a “sweetheart chocolate bag,” which features white chocolate and strawberry mousses, strawberries, red velvet cake, strawberry coulis and chocolate sauce. Orders are being accepted through Feb. 7, and pickups will be on Feb. 12 and Feb. 13.

“It’s a beautiful, elegant menu, and really a nice one-stop shop for Valentine’s Day,” Bedford Village Inn sales and marketing director Melissa Samaras said.

Several participating locations of The Common Man Family of Restaurants have also introduced unique takeout menus for Valentine’s Day, dubbed the “Sweetheart Suppers To Go.” Meals are sold per couple and include three courses with heating instructions, as well as half-priced wines and chocolate-covered strawberries as optional add-ons.

Common Man chief executive officer Vincent Vella said the concept continues the success that each of the company’s restaurants have experienced over the last several months, following similar programs that were rolled out for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“You get a crab and spinach artichoke dip as an appetizer, and then petite filet and lobster tail dinner, and a white chocolate mousse dessert,” Vella said.

He said orders are being accepted at each participating restaurant through Feb. 7, with pickups the day before Valentine’s Day.

New England’s Tap House Grille in Hooksett, which in previous years has served a Sunday brunch buffet for Valentine’s Day, is converting its offerings into a “brunch to go” menu this year, according to marketing director Nancy Comai. Options like house frittata, mini pancakes, croissants, and mimosa or bloody mary baskets are available for pre-ordering now through Feb. 10, to be picked up the morning of Feb. 14.

At The Inside Scoop in Bedford, orders for Valentine’s Day ice cream pies are being accepted now through Feb. 10, featuring various flavors of ice cream, all with a homemade Oreo crust.

In Wilton, Copper Kettle To Go is getting creative by offering its own “date boxes” that can be ordered in advance online and picked up at the restaurant. Each box includes either a bottle of Champagne or a four-pack of craft beer, plus heart-shaped ravioli presses, pasta sauce, Italian ricotta and all the other ingredients you need to make the pasta, minus the eggs. To tie it all together, each box holder will also be given access to a pre-recorded video tutorial of Copper Kettle owners and husband-and-wife team Chris and Megan Gordon walking them through the ravioli-making process.

“We figured it would be a fun way to interact with our customers, and for them to see that Chris and I are married and that it’s a family business,” Megan Gordon said. Also included in the boxes are two vanilla cupcakes spiked with strawberries and cream liqueur for dessert.

Sweet indulgences

Local candy and chocolate shops across the Granite State are preparing for Valentine’s Day too, all while promoting early shopping, curbside pickup and online ordering this year.

For Van Otis Chocolates in Manchester, Feb. 14 falls right in the middle of the downtown shop’s busiest time of year, which is typically between Christmas Day and Easter, according to marketing manager Shauna McIntosh. Van Otis is once again offering customizable chocolate gift boxes, multiple flavors of chocolate-dipped strawberries and chocolate-dipped Champagne bottles, in addition to a few new items like Swiss fudge hearts. For a limited time, McIntosh said, the shop is also bringing back its strawberry jam Swiss fudge.

Granite State Candy Shoppe in Manchester and Concord is providing curbside pickup six days a week, with a 24-hour advance notice for items. Assorted chocolate heart boxes are available, including those that are made out of chocolate, as well as chocolate-dipped strawberries and other various Valentine-themed candies and chocolates. Owner Jeff Bart said both locations are expected to be open extended hours all Valentine’s Day weekend.

“We have a much better and more robust online ordering system … and we very much encourage people to shop online,” Bart said.

Nelson’s Candy & Music in Wilton, according to owner Nancy Feraco, is similarly adjusting its normal Sunday hours of noon to 5 p.m. to 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Feb. 14. Its heart-shaped boxes made out of chocolate and filled with various flavors of chocolate-dipped strawberries, were a huge hit last Valentine’s Day and will be making a return this year.

The shop has been experimenting with other kinds of chocolate molds, like solid chocolate dinosaurs holding tiny chocolate hearts, chocolate-covered marshmallow penguins holding hearts, and chocolate mold pianos filled with brandy-soaked cherry cordials.

“We used to do live music but we really haven’t been able to lately,” Feraco said, “so we’ve been doing quite a few musical molds instead.”

The Candy Kingdom on Harvard Street in Manchester is also asking customers to call ahead for either in-store or curbside pickup. Items for sale include assorted heart-shaped chocolate boxes, chocolate heart boxes and the shop’s popular chocolate-dipped strawberries and tuxedo berries.

“We generally dip [the strawberries] one hour before their scheduled pickup time,” Candy Kingdom co-owner Phyllis Capers said in an email. “This year, we will be dipping them throughout both days [Saturday and Sunday] so we don’t have people lingering in the store.”

More ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day
From gifting sweet treats to your significant other to enjoying a romantic night out for two, be sure to check out our annual dine-in and takeout listings for Valentine’s Day at local restaurants, candy shops, bakeries and more. They’ll go live online at hippopress.com beginning Jan. 28, available to everyone, thanks to our members and supporters.

Featured photo: A box of chocolates from Granite State Candy Shoppe. Courtesy photo.

Stay in the loop!

Get FREE weekly briefs on local food, music,

arts, and more across southern New Hampshire!