Caring community

Friends and fans gather to help injured Tupelo employee

Just before dawn on April 8, Mark Shamaly was struck by a hit-and-run driver on the Everett Turnpike in Merrimack. He sustained multiple injuries, including head trauma, a fractured pelvis and ribs, and chest cavity damage. He’d stopped to help a motorist who’d been in an accident, something that surprised no one who knew Shamaly.

The director of security at Tupelo Music Hall in Derry, Shamaly is a familiar friendly figure to patrons of the venue. Owner Scott Hayward and his crew, along with Mike Smith, who books comedy there, quickly came up with a plan to help — a benefit show to raise enough money for him to have at least six months without worrying about his bills.

“It’s one of those situations where you could see how an employee has affected everybody around them,” Hayward said by phone on April 20. He noted that most of the $50 tickets have been sold, and a GoFundMe page launched by Shamaly’s wife had raised nearly $30,000. “Everybody was just really struck by this, so there’s been a huge wave of support.”

Smith was hosting a Tupelo show when he got the news, and immediately wanted to do something for him.

“Mark is such a great guy,” he said. “He loves the comedy shows and loves the comedians.”

The comics love him as well; Hayward said Smith placed eight quick phone calls and received affirmative responses from everyone.

The Laugh-A-Palooza benefit will be held on Sunday, May 1. Comics performing include Francis Birch, Jason Merrill, Matt Barry, Kyle Crawford, Kennedy Richard, Joe Yannetty, Chris Pennie and Steve Bjork.

“You’ll never see this many comedians on one show,” Hayward wrote, adding that a few special guests may also stop by.

Many of the comics got on board out of fondness for the Tupelo community, even if they weren’t close with Shamaly. Steven Bjork has worked there since its days in Londonderry.

“I jumped at the chance,” he said by phone. “Though I didn’t necessarily know all the circumstances, I knew somebody at the Tupelo needed some help.”

Matt Barry was effusive in his praise.

“Tupelo is one of my favorite places to perform, [and] in comedy you don’t always know what you’re walking into,” he said in a text exchange. “To be on a stage that’s so high-tech, with all the lights and the curtains, is a real trip. It makes me feel like Axl Rose (in a good way).”

The Manchester comic was also grateful to Tupelo for being one of the first venues in the country to do outdoor shows when the pandemic hit.

“They were looking out for performers in a time when not a lot of places were … when a venue that’s taken such good care of me over the years asked for a favor, ‘Yes’ was the obvious answer,” Barry wrote.

Birch said via text, “It feels good to make people laugh supporting an amazing cause. Tupelo and Mark have always been good to me, set me up for success. This feels like an appropriate way to do my part.”

Photographer Jerry LoFaro said of Shamaly in a post on the Tupelo Music Hall Community Facebook page, “I know when I walk in the door he’ll greet me with a big hug and a smile. We always convene and pal around a few times throughout a show, and he’s usually my photographer when I get the chance to pose with a visiting artist. It’s no surprise that he would put himself in harm’s way to help someone in need, but what a cruel price to pay.”

The Laugh-A-Palooza event will be livestreamed to Shamaly in his hospital room. For those unable to attend, or if tickets sell out, donations can be made via a special $25 ticket link on the Tupelo Music Hall page.

Laugh-A-Palooza – A Benefit for Mark Shamaly
When: Sunday, May 1, 6 p.m.
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry
Tickets: $50 at
Donations can be made at

Featured photo: Mark Shamaly. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 22/04/28

Local music news & events

Tidal dude: A newly opened Italian steakhouse hosts Chris Cyrus playing solo. Best known for leading disciplined jam band Slack Tide, Cyrus is a Berklee trained guitarist influenced by hippie rockers like Jack Johnson and John Craigie, as well as ’60s psychedelic rockers like Jefferson Airplane, The Doors and the Grateful Dead. He’s said that his band’s name reflects “the space between low and high tide [and] finding that balance.” Thursday, April 28, 6:30 p.m., Bellissimo, 194 Main St., Nashua. See

Rockies roll: With their latest release, Singularity, Colorado trio Evanoff ups the ante on their jazz rock sound with a heavier array of songs like “Zizkov” and “Stare Mesto” — with the pivot to arena-grade metal, one wonders if the back room of a downtown bar can contain them. The new disc is a concept album, and their first full-length studio effort, that includes spoken word observations on technological dystopia and future dread. Friday, April 29, 9 p.m., Shaskeen Pub, 909 Elm St., Manchester, 21+. See

Natural woman: With her fifth Grammy win for Best Global Music Album, Angélique Kidjo is now the most awarded African musician of all time and claims the most wins for any artist in the Global Music category, where she also received nominations for “Do Yourself” from her winning album Mother Nature, and for contributing to “Blewu” by Yo-Yo Ma. Kidjo recently appeared at the MusiCares tribute to Joni Mitchell. See her Saturday, April 30, 8 p.m., at The Music Hall, 28 Chestnut St., Portsmouth, tickets $48 and $62 at

Double time: Faithfully reproducing hits from the Billy Joel songbook, David Clark is a convincing doppelgänger at his grand piano. Most nights Clark leads his tribute act Songs In The Attic, but for a local show he’s all alone at the keyboard for an intimate solo performance. For those daunted by paying hundreds of dollars to see the real thing at Madison Square Garden, this is a reasonable substitute that also saves on the cost of gas. Saturday, April 30, 7:30 p.m., Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester, $29 at

Piano man: A singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Ben Folds is a wide-ranging talent who’s made both the pop and classical charts — his most recent album, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra hit No. 1 on Billboard. Folds is also an author and talk show host; he recently spoke with William Shatner — with backing from the National Symphony Orchestra — about the Star Trek star’s trip to space last year. Wednesday, May 4, 7:30 p.m., Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord, $55 and up at

The Northman (R)

The Northman (R)

Alexander Skarsgård is Viking Hamlet (as many a commentator has called him) in The Northman, directed and co-written by Robert Eggers of The Lighthouse and The Witch fame.

Recall those English class fun facts, bookworms: Amleth, the lead of this story, and his tale are the source material on which Shakespeare is said to have based Hamlet. Also, enjoy the passage of time, Gen X-ers, as you recall that Ethan Hawke once played Hamlet (in a 2000 modern-day-set adaptation that I mostly remember for the “to be or not to be” scene set in a Blockbuster). Here, 22 years later, he is grizzled old King Aurvandil, father to young Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak).

When scrappy little tween Amleth sees Aurvandil murdered by his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang), Aurvandil’s half-brother, and is then hunted by Fjölnir’s men, Amleth takes off vowing in Ayra-Stark-style kill-mantra that “I will avenge you father, I will rescue you mother, I will kill you Fjölnir.” In leaving behind his father’s kingdom, Amleth leaves behind his beloved mother Queen Gundrún (Nicole Kidman), whom he sees Fjölnir carry off.

Years later, big Skarsgård Amleth is a berserker Viking warrior, raiding villages in Eastern Europe for assorted plunder, including captives to be sent as slaves all over Europe. When he hears that one group is bound for Iceland, where Fjölnir now lives, he follows the advice of a blind seer (Bjork, of course) to seek Fjölnir out and fulfill his promise of vengeance. He cuts his hair and disguises himself as one of the conquered men being sent to Fjölnir. Along the way, he befriends Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), a fellow captive who is immediately wise to his con and has some unspecified abilities of her own.

The Northman is a very visceral movie, in the sense that everything, from the often beautiful-but-bleak landscapes to the score and the character performances, is rich with vivid rage all the way down. Not just Amleth but everyone here seems to be harboring some deep hurt from some deep loss and is never peacefully existing, just biding their time until they can unleash.

This is also a visceral movie in the sense that there is a whole lot of viscera. Especially once Amleth, with help from Olga, begins his plan to terrorize Fjölnir’s household, we get not just blood but gushing gaping wounds and innards pulled out. As with The Lighthouse, Robert Eggers seems to love scenes set in a moving tableau style, with images that are as lush as they are disturbing and sometimes outright horrifying. It’s a heightened approach to a movie’s visual style that pulls the viewer out of the real world and into the magic-y, evil-everywhere world the story inhabits.

The Northman is every bit the “yanked into a wintery dark fairy tale” that the trailer promised. A

Rated R for strong bloody violence (like so strong and so bloody and so very violent), some sexual content and nudity, according to the MPA on Directed by Robert Eggers with a screenplay by Sjón and Robert Eggers, The Northman is two hours and 16 minutes long and distributed by Focus Features.

Everything Everywhere All At Once (R)

Michelle Yeoh is a woman struggling with her laundromat’s financial issues and her family’s communication issues and she might also be the only person who can save the multiverse from total destruction in Everything Everywhere All At Once, an action-packed, sci-fi-ish comedy-sorta about love, relationships and the nihilism of an everything bagel.

This description is only slightly more than I knew going in to this movie. If you think you’d rather know very little about this movie too and just want know if it’s worth seeing or not let’s just skip to the part where I tell you to go see this movie. Like, definitely go, even if you’re thinking “multiverses? Two-hour-plus runtime? Meh?” because it doesn’t feel like two-plus hours (fittingly, the movie both feels like it’s three hours of story and like it’s 90 minutes of well-paced storytelling) and “multiverses exist” is really all you have to really retain, in terms of universe rules, to go along with the ride.

Michelle Yeoh is excellent as a middle-aged lady who is kind of a mess but also a recognizably grown human and I heartily agree with everybody who is saying crazy things about remembering this performance during award season. Also great is Ke Huy Quan, whom most of us still probably know from his childhood performances in The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. If I say something like “he makes his character a well-rounded person while believably selling the idea that kindness, empathy and patience are the ultimate superpowers” you might think “barf, pass” so forget I mentioned it. Know that I am going to give this movie an A and strongly suggest you find your outside clothes and make a trip to the actual theater to hang out in this world created by writers/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, known as the Daniels (they directed the “Turn Down for What” video and when you watch it after seeing this movie you’ll think “yeah, that tracks”).

But if you do want a little more …

Laundromat co-owner Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is being audited in part for folding a lot of hobby expenses into her business, though she thinks auditor Deidre (Jamie Lee Curtis) is just a mean lady who has it in for her. (Side note: I guess I didn’t catch it during the movie so it’s just now that I learned Deidre’s last name. It’s perfect and makes me love the movie even more.)

Evelyn’s husband Waymond (Quan) is anxious to talk to her about his serious concerns about their relationship but, as he later tells her, they only seem to talk when they are in some kind of emergency, which the day is turning in to, what with the audit, a party they’re holding at the laundromat, the recent arrival of Evelyn’s difficult father, known as Gong Gong (James Hong), and Evelyn’s ongoing prickly relationship with her grown-ish daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). Joy wants to introduce Gong Gong to her girlfriend, Becky (Tallie Medel), but Evelyn is still a nervous girl seeking her father’s approval around Gong Gong. Joy sees this lack of backbone and her mother’s criticism, both direct and implied, as part of their intense, fraught battle of wills but it feels to me like a real “gah mothers-and-daughters” situation.

Suddenly, in the middle of this, Waymond tells Evelyn that he is not her Waymond but Alpha Waymond, a Waymond from the Alphaverse, one of the many universes that is now imperiled because of an all-powerful, universe-hopping entity that Evelyn alone can defeat. An understandable “what?” is Evelyn’s reaction until she, too, starts to move among the universes, experiencing the lives of different Evelyns who made different choices (and, helpfully, bringing back with her their abilities, such as kung fu skills and superior lung capacity).

This movie is so much more surprising and goofy and heartfelt than that description can convey. I feel like every laugh hit me with unexpected delight (there is an extended bit about Ratatouille that is just … so awesomely weird) and I was equally surprised about what would suddenly catch me by the heart (a rock with googly eyes, for example). Though I tried to avoid a lot of extended coverage of this movie — no easy feat since it’s been pretty universally praised — I feel like a lot of what will hit you and stay with you has at least as much to do with you and your current life situation as the movie itself. “That is so specifically me” is a thing I can imagine lots of different people in different stages of life, thinking about this movie and one (or more) of its characters. I was struck by how the movie talked about relationships, particularly the mother-child relationship, and about how it painted them as being all about holding on and letting go — and doing both at the same time. The movie gives you this in a specific and rightly enormous way, putting the relationships on the same level as an inter-dimensional catastrophe.

And then, as you’re sitting there, awash in the big emotions of all that, maybe crying or laughing or thinking about the people in your life, a raccoon shows up as a completely absurd and not insignificant plot point.

Again, A.

Rated R for some violence, sexual material and language, according to the MPA on Directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who also co-wrote the screenplay, Everything Everywhere All At Once is two hours and 19 minutes long and is distributed in theaters by A24.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (R)

Nicolas Cage is Nicolas Cage in the delightfully Cage-ian blend of action, comedy and absurdity that is The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.

Nicolas Cage, or at least a Nicolas Cage, is an actor, beloved for The Rock and Con Air and what have you, but now looking for his way back to movie stardom, not that he ever went anywhere (as he’s always quick to clarify). His struggles between wanting Serious Actor Roles and wanting to be a Freakin’ Movie Star, as personified by Nicky, a smooth-of-skin, smooth-of-brain younger Cage-ier version of himself that older Nick sometimes talks to, have him all twisted up in existential angst knots. Also, the extremely large hotel bill he’s accumulated since his separation from wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) makes the need to keep working not just an artistic one but a serious financial one.

When he doesn’t get a much-longed-for part, he unravels, embarrassing his teenage daughter Addy (Lily Sheen) at her birthday party and finding himself locked out of his hotel room. Reluctantly, he agrees to do the job brought to him by his agent Richard (Neil Patrick Harris), to be essentially birthday party entertainment for rich Spanish guy Javi (Pedro Pascal) at his mansion in Mallorca.

Javi is a Nick Cage superfan — and, Cage is relieved to learn, Javi’s secret isn’t that he wants Cage to do anything weird but that he wants him to read (and maybe star in?) the screenplay Javi wrote. Cage finds himself having fun hanging out with Javi — but then the visit takes a very Nicholas Cage movie turn.

Javi had been under surveillance by some U.S. government intelligence agents looking to bring down not just Javi but also a secretive high-level mob figure. When it’s Cage and not the mafioso who comes out of Javi’s private plane, CIA agents Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) and Martin (Ike Barinholtz) decide to follow Cage and eventually ask him to help them spy on Javi. They believe that Javi is actually an international criminal himself and is behind the recent kidnapping of a Catalonian politician’s daughter. Thus begins the, like, triple meta swirl of Nicolas Cage’s Nicolas Cage performance performance as the movie’s Cage is trying to figure out his career, his family and what to make of this odd new friendship with Javi while he also engages in spycraft.

I don’t know if Nicolas Cage here is actually the most game actor ever but he is super game in how inside the whole Nicolas Cage late-career icon status thing he is willing to go. It’s delightful to see someone have so much goofy fun with his own persona. At several points, “Nicolas Cage” and Javi are basically playing Nicolas Cage movie, the way kids back in the day might “play Star Wars,” and both actors are able to do this with an earnest wholeheartedness without winking at the screen. It’s giddy without being too silly, it’s fun without making fun.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent both is the unapologetic actor vehicle that it appears to be and is so much more charming and joyful than that. A-

Rated R for language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and violence, according to the MPA on Directed by Tom Gormican and written by Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is an hour and 47 minutes long and distributed in theaters by Lionsgate.

The Bad Guys (PG)

An Ocean’s 11-like team of animals with reputations for trouble consider leaving behind their lives of crime in The Bad Guys, a cute if chatty animated heist movie based on the children’s books.

Wolf (voice of Sam Rockwell) and Snake (voice of Marc Maron) are very much the George Clooney and Brad Pitt of this crew; we first meet them relaxedly exchanging patter in a diner — where scared patrons are plastered against the wall — before heading out to rob a nearby bank. They’re joined by their crew — Shark (voice of Craig Robinson), Tarantula (voice of Awkwafina) and Piranha (voice of Anthony Ramos) — and execute a pretty good getaway. But later, the fox governor Diane Foxington (voice of Zazie Beetz) pooh-poohs the crew’s abilities and hypes the upcoming Good Samaritan Golden Dolphin award.

Wolf takes this as a personal challenge and decides the crew should steal the Golden Dolphin, which they do — almost. They’re caught and on their way to jail when Professor Marmalade (voice of Richard Ayoade), a guinea pig who is the winner of the Good Samaritan award, offers to make it his mission to rehabilitate the animals. Wolf decides that “turning good” makes the perfect cover for a future con, and Snake, who is particularly partial to guinea pig as a cuisine, and the crew go along. But Wolf also finds himself occasionally feeling good when he’s told that he has done good. If he and his crew of scary animals really do walk the straight and narrow, will they be able to get others to see beyond the stereotype?

The movie has a bouncy Ocean’s-for-kids vibe, with jokiness that, at least for kids who can appreciate talkier humor, keeps the story feeling upbeat even when characters are in conflict. Sure, if you’re looking for some “good for you” elements, the movie lightly touches on the idea of caring for others and not judging people by their appearance, but to me these elements all felt thinner than the movie seemed to think they were. B

Rated PG for action and rude humor, according to the MPA on Directed by Pierre Perifel with a screenplay by Etan Cohen (based on the books by Aaron Blabey), The Bad Guys is an hour and 40 minutes long and distributed by Universal Studios.

Featured photo: The Northman.

Riverman: An American Odyssey, by Ben McGrath

Riverman: An American Odyssey, by Ben McGrath (Knopf, 272 pages)

The curious life and mysterious death of Dick Conant makes for a story that is the lovechild of Henry David Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild.

Unlike Thoreau’s sometimes tedious account, this is a Riverman that sings. It is a story that author Ben McGrath owns, having spent time with Dick Conant and written about him for The New Yorker, both while he was alive and after he went missing.

Conant was 49 years old when he became a nomad of America’s waterways. You could say he started America’s “Great Resignation” two decades early, having quit his job as a hospital janitor and left his rented house with a dramatic flourish. (He left frozen fish hidden in the attic, “a stink bomb on delayed fuse,” McGrath wrote.) Conant bought a canoe at Walmart, stocked it like a prepper and put it in the water pointed south. And he spent much of the remainder of his life either on the water or preparing to go back out there again.

Conant was not an uneducated man — McGrath describes him as “an old art major with Falstaffian appetites” looking like a cross between Santa and a lobster — who, when he won some money gambling, bought a book, Journals of Lewis and Clark, with his winnings.

Nor, for all his eccentricities (like drinking soy sauce from a bottle), was Conant crazy. The copious journals discovered after his disappearance (McGrath draws on thousands of pages of Conant’s musings) revealed a methodical man who employed the scientific method, if a bit crudely, to solving problems that arose on his travels.

For example, searching for solutions to the age-old bane of outdoorsmen — insect bites — Conant studied the ingredients of expensive store-bought products and realized that many products for itch-relief contained ammonia. So he bought a cheap bottle of plain ammonia and tested it on his skin. Having no unpleasant reaction, he began using it daily. (Probably shouldn’t try this at home, kids.) He was practical and industrious, once fashioning a rudimentary temporary bed out of driftwood.

Like Chris McCandless, the subject of Into the Wild who died after becoming ill in the wilderness of Alaska, Conant took chances most of us wouldn’t take; for example, he drank from some of the rivers he paddled. But unlike McCandless, who likely would have returned to civilization eventually, it was unclear that Conant ever would. His journals reveal a man who expected to die on his travels and was comfortable with that.

His journeys weren’t interludes but his life, unlike Cheryl Strayed’s adventure on the Pacific Coast Trail, detailed in Wild, or Sebastian Junger walking East Coast railroad lines in Freedom. Conant wasn’t seeking publicity or attention; in fact, his life and (presumed) passing might have gone unnoticed by the larger world had he not met McGrath by chance in the riverside town in New York where the writer lives.

The next day, unable to stop thinking about the strange traveler, McGrath literally tracked Conant down the river until he found him, in order to write about him.

Conant proved a cooperative subject, and the men became friendly enough that he stayed in touch, writing to McGrath from the road. He kept McGrath’s phone number on a scrap of paper in the canoe, which is why law enforcement contacted the writer when Conant went missing.

In this book, McGrath engages in what is sometimes known as embedded, or immersive, journalism, having become a part of his subject’s life. This is a perspective we don’t have in reading about another famous “riverman” — the New Hampshire hermit called “River Dave.” Of course, Conant wasn’t a hermit; by all accounts, he was gregarious and made friends easily, many of whom McGrath tracks down as he tries to unravel the mystery that is Conant’s life.

Surprisingly, Conant also had a large family with siblings leading conventional lives. At one point McGrath travels with one of Conant’s brothers to explore a storage unit that reveals more about the sojourner’s hidden life. At age 56, for example, he had applied to (and been rejected by) the University of Nevada School of Medicine. It also turned out that Conant was an artist — the storage locker contained more than 300 original paintings and sketches, done over four decades. In short, the deeper McGrath probes into Conant’s life the more fascinating it becomes. At the same time, the more McGrath learns about Conant during his investigation, the more questions arise.

Conant became a folk hero in river culture because of his travels, but even before he set off in his canoe, his was a colorful and robust life, though one that would not have ever made the pages of The New Yorker. As such, Riverman is, in many ways, the world’s longest obituary, and one of the most beautifully crafted, with the occasional aside into the canons of American river life and literature.

Not long after they met, Conant told McGrath that his life was dangerous and free and exciting, but “at this point in my life, I’ve had enough of this excitement. I’d much rather be home with a woman and a family like you have, than out here on the water. But this is the alternative.”

Those words and Conant’s strange disappearance in North Carolina in 2014 — the canoe was found capsized with the paddle attached, no remains were found — suggest that this story is as much a tragedy as a mystery. Whatever the genre, McGrath’s telling is utterly engrossing. A

Book Notes

Those of us fortunate enough to have a mom who is still living have (checks calendar) a little more than a week to come up with a Mother’s Day gift. Speaking as a mother, a 10-day cruise to somewhere sunny is best, but a book and some flowers will do.

Beyond the boring and predictable (cookbooks and chick lit are to Mother’s Day what grilling books are to Father’s Day), there’s an edgy genre that moms with a wicked good sense of humor might like.

For example: There Are Moms Way Worse Than You(Workman, 64 pages) by comedy writer Glenn Boozan is a Seuss-like ode to offbeat parenting in the animal kingdom and promises to offer “irrefutable proof that you are indeed a fantastic parent.” At first glance it looks like the worst children’s book ever, but it’s actually for moms. Illustrations are by Priscilla Witte.

For moms who like dystopian fiction, check out Jessamine Chan’s The School for Good Mothers (Simon & Schuster, 336 pages), given an “A” here recently.

Nonfiction for the working mom: Ambitious Like a Mother (Little, Brown Spark, 272 pages) by Lara Bazelon examines “why prioritizing your career is good for your kids.”

The Three Mothers, How the Mothers of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation explores a topic that is often overlooked: How the hands that rocked the cradle had an often unacknowledged role in history. The book is from Flatiron, 272 pages.

Also Mom Genes (Gallery, 336 pages) by Abigail Tucker is a scientific exploration of the power of maternal instinct that was well-reviewed.

Maybe not: My Evil Mother, a new short story by Margaret Atwood (author of The Handmaid’s Tale) that’s available only on Amazon as a Kindle original. Unless your mother is a witch. Then chances are she will love it. (It’s about a teenager in the 1950s who suspects her mother might be a witch.)

Book Events

Author events

SY MONTGOMERY Author presents The Hawk’s Way. Gibson’s Bookstore, 45 S. Main St., Concord. Tues., May 3, 6:30 p.m. Visit or call 224-0562.

Book sales

SPRING BOOK SALE Features thousands of hardbacks and paperbacks including fiction, nonfiction, mystery and a variety of children’s books, plus DVDs, CDs and audio books. Brookline Public Library, 4 Main St., Brookline. Sat., May 14, and Sun., May 15, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.


DOWN CELLAR POETRY SALON Poetry event series presented by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. Monthly. First Sunday. Visit

Writers groups

MERRIMACK VALLEY WRITERS’ GROUP All published and unpublished local writers who are interested in sharing their work with other writers and giving and receiving constructive feedback are invited to join. The group meets regularly; the next meeting is scheduled for Tues., April 5, from 5 to 7:15 p.m., and will be held virtually over WebEx Meetings. To reserve your spot, email

Writer submissions

UNDER THE MADNESS Magazine designed and managed by an editorial board of New Hampshire teens under the mentorship of New Hampshire State Poet Laureate Alexandria Peary. features creative writing by teens ages 13 to 19 from all over the world, including poetry and short fiction and creative nonfiction. Published monthly. Submissions must be written in or translated into English and must be previously unpublished. Visit for full submission guidelines.

Book Clubs

BOOKERY Monthly. Third Thursday, 6 p.m. 844 Elm St., Manchester. Visit or call 836-6600.

GIBSON’S BOOKSTORE Online, via Zoom. Monthly. First Monday, 5:30 p.m. Bookstore based in Concord. Visit or call 224-0562.

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

GOFFSTOWN PUBLIC LIBRARY 2 High St., Goffstown. Monthly. Third Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. Call 497-2102, email or visit

BELKNAP MILL Online. Monthly. Last Wednesday, 6 p.m. Based in Laconia. Email

NASHUA PUBLIC LIBRARY Online. Monthly. Second Friday, 3 p.m. Call 589-4611, email or visit



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

Album Reviews 22/04/28

May Erlewine, Tiny Beautiful Things (Warner Records)

Some really gentle, very pretty stuff here engineered for comfortably settled womenfolk who enjoy sipping chai tea while gazing out the window at lazy rains. This Maggie Gyllenhaal lookalike is from Big Rapids, Michigan, and drew her inspiration for this full-length from the similarly titled book by Rumpus advice columnist Cheryl Strayed. Erlewine has the perfect voice for such a thing, wedged somewhere between Natalie Imbruglia and Jewel, and the songs fit like your favorite super-thick socks, laid-back but earning attention as they putter along. The instrumental bits are always pleasurable, with piano, dobro, acoustic guitar working pretty much perfectly together to form pieces that evoke Americana and AOR-pop at the same time. “Your Someone” is outstanding, fluttering along on silken wings and really blooming at the chorus; “He Knows” borders on Taylor Swift’s early days (when she wrote actual songs); “Could Have Been” flirts with Billie Holiday torch. I can’t find anything wrong with this album at all. A+

Meshuggah, Immutable (Atomic Fire Records)

Oh man, are these guys good, and that’s coming from someone who’s basically a newcomer to their greatness, given that I generally avoid thrash metal and missed out on their stuff for seven full albums (I’ve still got a lot of catching up to do). Immutable is their ninth full-length, and the draw is, as always, Tomas Haake, the drummer for this Swedish tech-metal juggernaut. Here it is, if you want some juxtaposition in order to grok the technical abilities at work here: Dillinger Escape Plan is first-grade math, Meshuggah is quantum calculus. If I were stuck on a desert island with only one record, this one would be in the running as my choice, since it would take a lot of listens simply to understand what’s going on here, which is, namely, very advanced syncopated patterns and polyrhythms, a lot like progressive jazz in a way, as others have noted. But the base of the recipe isn’t post-bop, it’s thrash-metal that has to be heard to be believed. If the above is all old news to you, the first Godzilla-playing-with-a-bunch-of-telephone-poles tune is “The Abysmal Eye,” taking the band’s patented approach that just never gets old. Astonishing. A+


• Ay caramba, it’s already the last week of April, and there will be new albums coming your way on the 29th! There’s so many of them for me to pick and choose from this week, so let’s start with 900-year-old bong-collector Willie Nelson, whose 900th album, A Beautiful Time, is winging its way in trucks to the five people who still buy CDs at full retail price! Funny coincidence, I asked a friend whom he thought would make a great president of the United States, and he said Willie Nelson, so maybe that really isn’t just a meme, what do you think? I’ll tell you what I think, I think it’s one of the dumbest ideas I ever heard, having a bong in every room of the White House, and would he offer the Pope cannabis gummies when he came by? I don’t like it, and I probably won’t like this upcoming album’s first single either, it’s called “I’ll Love You Till The Day I Die,” but I’m going to find out right now. So there’s a video for it, and he’s stacking some playing cards on some table in a honky-tonk bar or something, and the song is a typical country-and-western slow-burner, about some girl he once talked to for a few minutes, but that short conversation changed him forever. There is slow piano and thoughtful strumming, in case you couldn’t possibly picture what might be going on here.

• Grammy-winning country songstress Miranda Lambert is known as the other person to marry Blake Shelton, and the first person to place third in the USA Network’s Nashville Star talent show, but that placement was enough to make her into a famous singer, so keep your chins up, people who place third in things. Lambert’s ninth full-length, Palomino, features a tune called “Music City Queen,” and I was actually kind of interested to hear it, because 1980s weirdos The B-52’s are guests on that song, but naturally there’s no advance of that song yet, so it looks like I’m stuck listening to a different single, called “Strange,” which is just a normal tune. She kind of sounds like Dolly Parton when she’s singing on this tune; it’s a pedestrian joint with an unplugged guitar part, then a Reba McEntire part and so on. It’s OK!

• When it comes to stomping industrial-rock madness, I don’t think German band Rammstein is relevant anymore, what with KMFDM still putting out albums and whatnot; I haven’t heard anything from them in years, but supposedly they’re not industrial metal anyway, their style is actually “Neue Deutsche Härte,” which is German for “new German hardness,” a genre that mixes ‘Neue Deutsche Welle’ (whatever that is), alternative metal, groove metal and elements of electro-industrial and techno. Either way, I was never really crazy about them, but here they are, in front of my face, proffering a new album, called Zeit. The title track has a really disgusting video, and the tune is slow and bombastic, and of course they sing in German. It’s about pirates or something with muskets, I can’t understand anything they’re singing, so let’s move on to the next whatsis.

• Lastly we have British indie-rock outfit Bloc Party, with their sixth full-length, Alpha Games! This band is OK, with their jagged Gang Of Four-style guitars and soccer-hooligan vocals, as heard on almost-hit-singles like “Banquet” and “Helicopter”; you’ve probably been exposed to their tunes before at sports bars and beach arcades, but it probably went in one ear and out the other, like, you were like, “Is that The Police? Rancid maybe?” and decided you didn’t care. The new single, “Traps,” is appropriately spazzy; it’s sort of like “Rock Lobster” but more boneheaded. It’s OK.

If you’re in a local band, now’s a great time to let me know about your EP, your single, whatever’s on your mind. Let me know how you’re holding yourself together without being able to play shows or jam with your homies. Send a recipe for keema matar. Message me on Twitter (@esaeger) or Facebook (eric.saeger.9).

From the valley floor

A look at two reds from Napa Valley

This week’s wines are two exceptional reds, created from grapes grown in neighboring towns almost within sight of each other, in the Napa Valley Floor American Viticulture Area (AVA).

Our first wine comes from the Bespoke Collection Portfolio Wines based in Napa Valley, California. Wikipedia describes Bespoke as a “wine producer and lifestyle brand” whose wine labels are Blackbird Vineyards and Recuerdo Wines. Bespoke means custom-made or commissioned and in times past the word was used to describe hand-tailoring, especially in custom-made apparel. Now, it captures the sense that we want things to be made special for us and the label lends a certain cachet to the product.

The 2016 Blackbird Vineyards Arise Proprietary Red Wine (originally priced at $54.99, and reduced to $32.99 at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets) is a blend that emulates the merlot-based wine blends of the Right Bank of the Dordogne River, Bordeaux. The wine is a blend of 55 percent merlot, 25 percent cabernet franc, 17 percent cabernet sauvignon and 3 percent petit verdot. Made from merlot grapes grown on a 10-acre estate in Oakville, on the Napa Valley floor, and enhanced by the other varietals, gathered from 20-plus lots from the Napa Valley Mountain tops, hillsides and bench lands, this limited production of only 236 barrels of equal parts of new and seasoned French oak has an abundance of rich fruit. The color is a deep garnet purple, the nose is rich black cherries and black raspberries, and plums with slight herbal notes. The nose carries through to a full palate and a long, long finish. Robert Parker awarded this bold wine with 92 points.

This is a California red blend, bolder, and thus emulating the Bordeaux blend. The vineyards profit from generations of expert vineyard management and precision agriculture, limiting grape yields for increased quality. Sustainable farming is employed, and indigenous yeasts start the fermentation process. The winemaking team selects two or more parcels of wine after sample trials blended to produce a consistently finished wine that highlights each unique varietal component. This wine becomes a “customized wine,” a “bespoke wine,” according to the winemaker’s website.

The Oakville-Rutherford area is renowned for its cabernet sauvignon and merlot single-varietal wines and blends.

Our next wine comes from Rutherford, also located on the Napa Valley floor, and immediately north of Oakville. The 2011 Sullivan Rutherford Estate Napa Valley Merlot (originally priced at $65 and reduced to $29.99 at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets) consists of 100 percent merlot that also benefits from the gravelly-sandy loam and hot, dry summers of this stretch of wine country. The color is a deep purple that has just begun to go amber as it is 20 years old. To the nose and tongue, the fruit is heavy with plum and blackberry, along with some cocoa. The tannins have receded, owing in part to its age. This is an exquisite wine that is a true reflection of how beautiful a merlot can be, given proper attention to the grapes, the blending, and aging.

Sullivan Winery was established in 1972 when James O’Neil Sullivan, encouraged by his friend the legendary winemaker André Tchelistcheff, planted 22 acres to cabernet sauvignon and merlot. He built his home and winery on the estate and produced and sold wine until his death in 2005, leaving the home and winery to his children. In 2018 entrepreneur Juan Pablo Torres-Padilla saw the potential of Sullivan Rutherford Estate and purchased the property. This wine was produced before the property was sold, and the future of the estate remains bright as Torres-Padilla has assembled a world-class winery team that will continue to make history.

Featured photo. Courtesy.

The not quite authentic mint julep

In my relative youth, I worked in a pizza joint for several older Greek men who taught me two important life lessons:

(1) How to swear in Greek.

I got into a conversation with a Greek couple recently and was able to exchange pleasantries in reasonably passable Greek. The shockingly beautiful lady of the couple complimented me on speaking her language so well. I told her that I knew “Hello,” “Thank you,” “You’re welcome” and how to swear.

“Everyone thinks they know how to swear in Greek,” she told me with a knowing smile, “but most of the time they really don’t.”

I let loose with a torrent of Athens-accented profanity that would get me a black eye from any cabbie in Southern Europe. She blushed and smiled, then her eyes got moist and she blotted away a tear.

“You remind me of my Uncle Costas,” she told me.

(2) How to read a racing form.

One of the owners was an enthusiastic loser of money at the dog track. I remember picking up one of his racing forms one day and asking him to explain it to me. He did, and it made a shocking amount of logical sense. I remember thinking at the time that it would be pretty easy to figure out a system to…

That’s when my brain — in one of its very rare moments of good judgment — reminded me that every guy in a rumpled suit with bloodshot eyes and a cheesed-off wife at home has a system for picking a winner from a racing form. In consequence, I have never set foot onto a racetrack.

But I would so very much love to.

Anyway, in honor of next Saturday, Kentucky Derby, Run For the Roses, yadda, yadda:

Solid, Not Quite Authentic Mint Julep

There are more people with strong opinions about mint juleps that there are self-absorbed white guys with podcasts, so I decided to look for a recipe in one of my older cocktail books, the 1935 Old Mr. Boston De Luxe Official Bartender’s Guide. Even in this early manual, there are two julep recipes: one simply labeled Mint Julep, and the other labeled Southern Style, implying a choice between good or authentic.

I’ve got no particular stake in either approach, but the standardized, less authentic version sounded better to me. Unfortunately, as is often the case in early cocktail recipes, ingredients and amounts are maddeningly vague. I’ve updated them here.


  • “Four sprigs of fresh mint” — I used 1 gram of fresh mint leaves
  • 2½ ounces bourbon — I went with Wiggly Bridge, which I’ve been enjoying lately.
  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • club soda
  • shaved ice — or ice that you’ve wrapped in a tea towel and taught a lesson to with a mallet

Fill a silver cup with shaved ice. I used one that I think used to be silver-plated.

Muddle the mint in the bottom of a shaker. Add several ice cubes, the bourbon and syrup. Shake enthusiastically.

Strain into your metal cup full of shaved ice. Top with club soda and stir with a silver spoon (or just a spoon) until frost forms on the cup.

Garnish with several more sprigs of mint. Drink while watching coverage of the Kentucky Derby and critiquing Southern women’s hats.

If you’ve never had a mint julep before, it tastes about like you would assume it would, like bourbon and mint. That’s the first sip.

On the second sip you start to appreciate the pulverized ice. There’s something profoundly satisfying about stirring a drink with that much ice with that particular texture. The Very Serious Coldness that it brings to your lips is just as gratifying.

The third sip brings an appreciation of this whole mint julep thing. You start to see the appeal.

Every subsequent sip brings less and less responsible thoughts to mind. Do not read a racing form while drinking this.

Featured photo. A fresh, totally solid mint julep. Photo by John Fladd.

Apple and sage bruschetta

Apples aren’t just for fall cooking! This recipe makes a great appetizer all year long.

When you think of bruschetta, you probably think about a combination of tomatoes and basil. However, there are so many more combinations that are perfect for topping some nicely crisped bread. This recipe uses apples to produce a ridiculously simple and utterly delicious appetizer.

As apples are the focus of this snack, you want to pick a variety that you like. If you prefer foods that are less sweet, a tart apple, such as Granny Smith, will work well. If you like a bit more sweetness, Red Delicious could be your choice. The one thing you don’t have to consider is which apples cook better. These diced apples spend a total of two and a half minutes in a hot pan, so any apple truly can work.

Also key to this recipe is the addition of goat cheese. You may be adding only a smear to each crostini, but the tartness in the cheese really helps to balance the sweetness of the fruit. Plus, it adds a creamy dimension to the crunchy bottom and tender topping.

Yes, this is a recipe that has it all, with only about 10 minutes of cooking time. That’s a great deal, if you ask me.

Apple and sage bruschetta
Serves 4

Small baguette, cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 medium-sized apples, peeled and cored
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
4 ounces goat cheese, room temperature

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Place baguette slices directly on oven racks, and bake for 4 minutes or until golden brown.
Dice apples into 1-inch cubes.
Heat a large frying pan over medium high heat.
Add olive oil to the frying pan.
When oil shimmers, add apple cubes.
Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Pour honey over apples; toss to coat.
Cook for another minute, again stirring constantly.
Sprinkle with sage and a pinch of salt.
Toss, cooking for another 30 seconds.
Transfer to a serving bowl.

To serve, spread a tablespoon of goat cheese on toasted baguette slice. Top with a heaping spoonful of apple and sage mixture.

Featured Photo: Apple and sage bruschetta. Photo by Michele Pesula Kuegler.

In the kitchen with Keith Wilson

Keith Wilson of Brentwood is the production chef of Dunk’s Mushrooms (313 Route 125, Brentwood,, which grows several varieties of gourmet mushrooms and makes weekly deliveries to multiple New England communities. In addition to making all kinds of specialty mushroom-based products like jerky, pot pies and coffee, the business offers other non-mushroom prepared items under the name Dunk’s Kitchen. Wilson and Dunk’s owner William “Dunk” Dunkerley regularly hold multi-course mushroom-focused dinners — a nine-dinner vegan series wrapped up late last year, and an omnivore series is currently underway. Dunk’s Mushrooms can also be found on dozens of restaurant menus across the Granite State. Wilson has been in the restaurant industry for nearly two decades — outside of Dunk’s, he and his wife Amber, of Stout Oak Farm in Brentwood, own The Seed Chef, an in-home catering and private event service.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

A tasting spoon, because you’ve got to be tasting your own food to know what you’re doing.

What would you have for your last meal?

I’m a sucker for really good sushi. I like the simple stuff, like a regular tuna nigiri.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

There are so many good restaurants. It’s impossible to choose.

What celebrity would you like to see trying something that you’ve made?

I’m going to go with Christopher Walken, just because, if he liked it, I’d want to hear his voice saying ‘Oh my God, this is so good!’

What is your favorite product to make for Dunk’s Mushrooms?

There’s one thing that we made a lot of last year that I really love. It’s a black trumpet maple syrup. … We had a good amount of black trumpet mushrooms from the woods around here [and] I took like four gallons of Grade A dark amber maple syrup and simmered it with all of the mushrooms in a big cauldron that we have. It has this great smoky, savory flavor that I can’t even really describe. I used it a lot to sweeten vegan cheesecakes and stuff.

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

Mushrooms, obviously. … The food system is damaged in a lot of ways, and meat production can be an issue, [but] mushrooms really help fill that void if people let them and they know how to prepare them properly. That’s part of the reason why our vegan series was so successful, because we were doing essentially what would have been meat-based meals, but with mushrooms in their place.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

I’ve got four kids and a crazy schedule sometimes, so there’s a lot of meals that just kind of get thrown together. … But if it’s a rare night when it’s just me and my wife and I get to cook something for her, it’s always nice to do that. Stuffed chicken breast is what she wants me to make for her right now, because I made it at the last dinner. … It’s a goat cheese stuffed breast wrapped in bacon with asparagus.

Gorgonzola mushroom spread
From the kitchen of Keith Wilson of Dunk’s Mushrooms in Brentwood (yields about six to 10 servings)

¼ pound Dunk’s chestnut mushrooms, chopped
2 Tablespoons butter, unsalted
¼ cup red wine (sherry or port work well)
2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, pulled from stem and chopped
10 ounces Gorgonzola cheese
2 to 4 Tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
¼ Tablespoon black pepper

Gather all ingredients. In a heavy-bottom sauce or saute pan, melt the butter. Add mushrooms and saute over medium-high heat. Cook until mushrooms turn a dark golden brown. Turn down heat and add thyme, salt and wine. Cook until all wine is reduced and the pan is dry. Allow the mixture to cool. In a food processor, combine cheese, cream, salt, pepper and the cooled mushrooms. Blend until smooth, using more or less cream depending on the consistency. Serve as a spread on toast or as a dip.

Featured photo: Keith Wilson. Courtesy photo.

Taco ’bout a comeback

Find tacos savory and sweet in downtown Manchester

After being shelved in both 2020 and 2021, Taco Tour is back — the Greater Manchester Chamber is reviving the event, which will return on Thursday, May 5.

Initial talks to bring Taco Tour back in 2022 took place relatively quickly, according to Cole Riel, member engagement coordinator for the Chamber. Since around early February of this year, the Chamber has been working closely on the logistics of the event with the City of Manchester’s Economic Development Department, as well as with Mayor Joyce Craig’s office.

“Since last year, we’ve been asked about Taco Tour … and I think there’s been a little community murmur happening almost daily,” Riel said. “We actually had some past sponsors of the event reach out early on, and without that, I really don’t think it would’ve been possible, just to have that early support of saying, ‘OK, if it happens, we’ll be in.’ So it’s really exciting to see and to be able to have that, because it’s not an easy or cheap event to pull off.”

Hippo founded the event and ran it for its first eight years before handing over the reins to the now-dissolved Intown Manchester in 2019. Previous turnouts had reported upward of 30,000 attendees, but Taco Tour, like just about every other large-scale event, has fallen victim to pandemic-era cancellations ever since then.

But despite its three-year hiatus, support for and anticipation of the event have not gone away. This year’s Taco Tour has more than 60 participants, among the largest roster of taco vendors yet. They’ll be set up all along Elm Street, which will be closed to vehicular traffic between Bridge and Granite streets likely starting an hour before and for the duration of the event.

No price of admission is required — just come down to Elm Street any time during the event’s four-hour period and get as many tacos as you can eat for $3 apiece. Hanover Street and some other neighboring side streets will also be closed, and a few food trucks join in the fun as well — they’ll be stationed just outside Veterans Memorial Park nearby, Riel said.

Since the event hasn’t taken place in three years, there is a large number of Taco Tour newcomers, and part of the fun is that there are all kinds of non-traditional creations to discover.

Presto Craft Kitchen will be set up in front of Gentle Dental with a meatball Parm taco, featuring a garlic bread tortilla with hand-rolled beef meatballs, a whipped ricotta crema and a pesto Parm crunch. Industry East Bar on Hanover Street is planning to serve a loaded twice-baked potato taco, and Osaka Japanese Restaurant, which just opened its doors in December, will have a spicy crab sushi roll with cucumber and avocado, wrapped in nori seaweed.

“There are some people who haven’t come back downtown since Covid … and they may not even know which restaurants are still here that were here before,” Riel said. “So we’re inviting them back downtown … and they’re going to discover things that are new here too. That’s been really exciting for us, to be able to put the spotlight on some of those businesses.”

There will be a fair share of vegan and vegetarian options, too. The Sleazy Vegan, for instance, is a new plant-based ghost kitchen that’s planning to serve jackfruit tacos with a mango-jalapeño salsa. They’ll be set up at To Share Brewing Co. on Union Street.

The tacos aren’t just savory, either. Much like during previous years, you’ll encounter all kinds of “dessert tacos” and other sweeter items as well. Wild Orchid Bakery will be serving a drunken pineapple upside-down taco, The Smoothie Bus will have fruit tacos on a sugar cookie topped with chocolate sauce and whipped cream, and Granite State Candy Shoppe has a horchata ice cream option, featuring creamy frozen rice pudding with a hint of cinnamon.

A map of all of the participating businesses, which will also include details on their respective tacos, will be available to download at the event’s website. Outside of Elm Street and the surrounding streets, the Currier Museum of Art and the New Hampshire Fisher Cats will have taco celebrations of their own. Taco lovers can also go to the website to vote for their favorite option — the business that receives the most votes will get $1,000 to give to a nonprofit of their choice, as well as a special “taco trophy” designed by Manchester Makerspace.

“It’s going to be something hopefully that folks can put behind a bar and then all year long people can walk into that establishment, see the trophy back there, and be like ‘What the heck is that?’ Riel said. “This is a destination for a lot of people, and we really want [Taco Tour] to serve as that invitation to come back downtown and see what Manchester has going on.”

Taco Tour Manchester
When: Thursday, May 5, 4 to 8 p.m.
Where: Participating businesses stationed on Elm Street, various side streets in downtown Manchester and at the Currier Museum of Art (150 Ash St.) and Northeast Delta Dental Stadium (1 Line Drive)
Cost: $3 per taco (cash only)
Event is rain or shine. Elm Street will be shut down to vehicular traffic from Bridge to Granite streets for the duration of the event, as well as on a few side streets.

Featured photo: Courtesy photo.

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