Brian Regan finds the funny

Along with eschewing profanity, Brian Regan assiduously avoids politics in his act. He does, however, have a one woke joke. Growing up, his parents would make Regan and his siblings vote on playtime activities. The family had four boys and two girls, so it was an inherently undemocratic exercise.

“I didn’t like that, so I voted for dolls,” Regan quipped.

He hasn’t checked on whether this bit set the social media world atwitter. “I’m just gonna keep trying to do what I think is funny,” Regan said in a recent phone interview. “If it bumps somebody, I apologize. Well, I take that back. Maybe I don’t apologize.”

His latest Netflix special On the Rocks finds Regan’s broad appeal on display. He addresses being diagnosed with OCD (“How come when you want things in order, they call it a disorder?”), the absurdity of bagpipes, and his newly gray hair, leading off with the latter. “Let’s get [it] out of the way, ’cause if I don’t you won’t listen to a word I say for an hour.”

Regan went prematurely gray in his thirties, so he started coloring his hair. “I’m like, hey, I’m trying to get booked as a twentysomething, I can’t have gray hair,” he said. He stopped during lockdown and didn’t start again. “When the world opened up a crack and people were like, hey, we’ll do a show with eight audience members, I said, ‘Alright, I’ll perform,’ but I decided … I’m just gonna go out, and this is what I look like now. It’s kind of freeing.”

On the Rocks was filmed at the Tuacahn Amphitheater in Utah, but Regan was quick to point out that the open-air venue was chosen before the pandemic. “It was just a fluke, I wanted to do an outdoor show,” he explained. “I might have been one of the only people to be able to do a special with an audience during Covid, but it worked out OK.”

The special was the final one of a Netflix deal that included 2017’s Nunchucks and Flamethrowers and the two-part series Standup and Away! a year later. He’s talking with “various platforms” about a follow-up. “I’m anticipating being able to do something soon,” he said, adding, “I never know how to talk about what I do because the topics themselves always sound incredibly boring.”
To illustrate, he recalled an article from a few years back. “It said, ‘Brian … talks about food, traveling and shopping.’ I wondered if couples or families were sitting around reading the paper going, ‘Oh, my God, we have to go check this guy out — he’s exploring our favorite topics for humor!’”

Regan worked against type in Loudermilk, a Peter Farrelly-created series that ran for three seasons. “That opportunity was tremendous, because audiences know me for a certain kind of comedy … and Loudermilk is far from clean,” he said. “It’s on the rough side of the tracks … gritty and dirty, but I still loved doing it because it was real. There’s a lot of love in it.”

The comedy drama starring Ron Livingston as a recovering alcoholic faced a few challenges. The network it ran on ceased operations just as Season 3 was about to air; the show was later rescued by Amazon Prime. That said, more episodes could happen. “It’s not a definite that it’s over,” Regan said. “Peter Farrelly has said that he hasn’t given up on it; I mean, the last season was shot before the world shut down.”

For now, Regan is glad to be working again in relative normalcy.

“I don’t want to say it’s completely gone; there might still be people out there who have health concerns and don’t want to get out,” he said. “But for the most part it feels like crowds are back and it’s a lot of fun performing in front of places that are full.”

He’s also looking forward to his upcoming show at Manchester’s Palace Theatre.

“I love the whole New England area,” he said. “I mean, every part of the country is different, but New Hampshire is wonderful, it has its own personality, and I love performing for the people there.”

Brian Regan
When: Thursday, June 22, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester
Tickets: $39 to $59 at

Featured photo: Brian Regan. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 23/06/22

Local music news & events

Idol music: Since winning American Idol and hitting with his song “Home” 11 years ago, Phillip Phillips has risen steadily in the pop music world. He recently released Drift Back, his first new LP in five years. Thursday, June 22, 8 p.m., Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry, $40 to $45 at

Rusted dude: Closing out Market Days Concord on Friday is Michael Glabicki’s band Uprooted performing songs from his old group Rusted Root. The band rose to prominence with H.O.R.D.E, a 1994 caravan with a who’s who of the jam band scene. Set highlights include “Ecstasy” and “Send Me on My Way,” a mid-’90s hit that became ubiquitous in later years, from TV ads to kids’ movies. Friday, June 23, 8 p.m., Market Days Main Stage, near 24 S. Main St., Concord,

Rolling party: Best known for hosting the inebriated pub crawl Three Sheets, Zane Lamprey brings his standup act to town. When the network it was on folded, Mark Cuban re-launched the show as Drinking Made Easy. “Comedy is just showing your vulnerability,” Lamprey said recently of how he approaches his craft. “I don’t like to make fun of other people.” Saturday, June 24, 2:30 p.m., Backyard Brewery and Kitchen, 1211 S. Mammoth Road, Manchester, $25 to $40 and up at

Local loudness: An all-day celebration of heaviness is back for another year with Seacoast Metal Fest 2. Appearing are Wired for Sound, Nova Koi, 25 Cent Habit, Gods Go First, Damaged Goods, Mystik Angel, Lethal Creed, Day to Attend, Wreckless and Daisy Cutter 6. The event also includes comedy from Eric Hurst, Mike Gray and Robbie Partridge. Sunday, June 25, noon, The Governor’s Inn, 78 Wakefield St., Rochester, $10 at the door; for more, see

Country girl: The summer-long Henniker Concert Series continues with the Shana Stack Band, selected based on a recent poll of concertgoers’ preference for country music. The group won back-to-back New England Music Awards Best Country Act followed by Band of the Year in 2014 and 2015. They’ve opened for national acts at Bank of NH Pavilion, along with regularly playing the venue’s side stage. Tuesday, June 27, 6:30 p.m., Community Park, 57 Main St., Henniker,

Elemental (PG)

Beings made of Fire, Water, Earth and Air live and work together, sometimes uncomfortably, in Element City, the New World New York City of Elemental, Pixar’s newest animated movie.

Ember (voiced by Leah Lewis) is the young adult daughter of Cinder (voice of Shila Ommi) and Bernie (voice of Ronnie Del Carmen), immigrants to Element City from Fireland. These flame people (literal burning, flickering flames in a humanoid shape) are part of the most recent of Element City’s many waves of newcomers, which is why their Fire-language names get Ellis Island-ed into Cinder and Bernie and why there is a kind of fear and prejudice against them. None of the Earth or Water residents of Element City wanted to rent an apartment to a pregnant Cinder and Bernie when they first arrived, which is how they ended up in a dilapidated (but not flammable) brick-looking building. Over the years, they fixed it up and opened a market on the bottom floor offering authentic Fireland food. The business thrives, and from a young age Ember is told one day it will be hers. As she has gotten older, Bernie seems eager to hand the market over, if only Ember can prove that she won’t let her flame-y temper get the better of her (and occasionally incinerate some of the stock).

During a big sale, Ember is told to take the lead but finds she has to rush to the basement to do a little private exploding when her frustration with customers gets too much. She inadvertently shakes loose some rickety plumbing, causing a leak of water which includes the Water-person Wade (voice of Mamoudou Athie), a city building inspector. He was sucked into the pipe while inspecting a leak and tearfully tells Ember he will have to write many citations — 30, as it turns out — for all the non-permitted work done to the place, which will result in the business being shut down. After he leaves, Ember chases him down trying to get him to reconsider, a chase that leads her where she never goes — outside her Fire Town neighborhood and into the wider Element City. Ember and Wade spend a day trying to track down supervisors who can possibly override the citations, a day that finds Ember experiencing new things outside of Fire Town and Wade becoming besotted with Ember.

Eventually we learn that while Ember feels her life has been plotted out for her and that to be a good daughter she must take on the store, Wade feels sort of aimless, floating through jobs and regretting all the things he and his father didn’t say to each other before his father died. We also learn that while Ember is a wiz at making market deliveries, her true skills lie in turning sand and glass shards into intricate and artistic new works of tempered glass.

Who is the villain, my kids wanted to know before we saw this movie. As it turns out, xenophobia, the intergenerational pressures of immigrant families and municipal infrastructure neglect are this movie’s “villains.” My elementary schooler’s response? Phrases like “is this movie over yet?” and “can I go to the bathroom again?” At its core, this is a love story between two, like, 20-somethings I guess. It’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding but made in cartoon form (and without Andrea Martin), which makes me question its appeal to any kid audience and not just my kids who want someone being at least naughty as well as a bit of action.

This movie’s intergenerational dynamics also had me thinking about last year’s Pixar movie Turning Red, an infinitely better take on the idea of parental expectations in a family with immigrant roots. In that movie, as with this movie, the central daughter is chafing under the expectations of a parent and trying to balance her own desires with her sense of obligation to her family. In Turning Red, though, the central character is a young teen whose antagonist is frequently her mother in a very relatable way to pretty much any girl and mother. (Sure, they both turned into giant red pandas, but their whole dynamic still felt both very specific to those characters and very familiar to all mothers and daughters.) Here, the character saying “why can’t I just be a good daughter” feels older, more removed from the kids in the audience and less likely to have the adults in the audience saying “yes, that fire-person is me!” the way I felt I’d totally been that giant red panda.

What’s particularly disappointing about the core “is this movie over yet?”-ness of this movie is that the ideas about the Fire, Water, Air and Earth people are interesting — how they move through the world, how they interact with each other — and well-portrayed visually. There are cute bits (a lot of them in the trailer) about, for example, Wade’s family’s swank apartment being essentially a giant swimming pool or Bernie’s food being temperature-hot (and treated as though it was spicy-hot). But these little moments and visual elements are high-quality garnishes without a substantial main dish. C+

Rated PG for some peril, thematic elements and brief language, according to the MPA at Directed by Peter Sohn with a screenplay by John Hoberg & Kat Likkel and Brenda Hsueh, Elemental is an hour and 49 minutes long and distributed in theaters by Walt Disney Studios.

The Flash (PG-13)

The DC Extended Universe hurls Easter eggs at you for two and a half hours in The Flash, the first stand-alone (-ish) outing by Ezra Miller’s titular superhero.

The pelting with, just, stuff — canon, all the canons, but also facts and names and little callbacks — is relentless. And once again we dive into a multiverse, the mention of which caused me to sigh a weary sigh. I don’t inherently hate the multiverse as a story concept but I just feel like it’s one of those things that has been so much a part of the movie soup lately, particularly in our two competing comic book-based cinematic universes. At one point a character explains the multiverse and the consequences of time travel by essentially referencing (and contradicting) a similar bit of explanation in a Marvel film. I think the moment is meant to be cute but it induces a bit of that soul-crushing feeling you get when you come across a giant pile of unwashed laundry or a sink full of dirty dishes at the end of the day. “Ugh, more of this?”

Barry Allen (Miller), the Justice League superhero known as The Flash, is still out there superheroing, saving babies and a dog from a collapsing hospital with his super speed and the like. He’s also working a job in criminal forensics and trying to help his father, Henry Allen (Ron Livingston), get his conviction for murdering Barry’s mother Nora (Maribel Verdu) overturned. His frustration at the lack of evidence that will exonerate his father sends him running, running so fast that he repeats the Speed Force he used to help save the day at the end of the Snyder Cut of the Justice League. In that movie, the Speed Force helped him go back in time a few seconds; this time he goes back in time a full day. He realizes that he may be able to go back even farther, far enough perhaps to prevent the murder of his mother. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) tells him not to mess with time, but Barry can’t resist.

He tweaks the past just enough that his mom won’t need to send his dad to the store at the moment when someone breaks in and stabs her. And it works — he sees, in a kind of reconstructed flow of time, his mom living to celebrate more birthdays and other key life moments. Before he can make it all the way back to his present day, though, a spikey monster appears and knocks him into a point sometime after when his mother would have been killed but before Barry’s present. He goes into his house to find his mother, alive and well, and his father, not in prison, and enjoys a meal with them before he sees himself, some five or so years younger, walking to the house. He goes outside to waylay Young Barry and the two begin to strategize together about how to get Original Barry home to his time.

An attempt to give Young Barry The Flash powers accidentally strips Original Barry of his — and just as General Zod (Michael Shannon) shows up looking for a citizen of Krypton. Thus does Barry turn where he always turns, to Bruce Wayne. But instead of the Batffleck, Barry goes to Wayne Manor and finds an older Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton), who had long ago put away the Bat suit.

Yada yada butterfly effect yada yada multiverse — some spaghetti is involved in alt-Bruce’s exposition about what has likely happened. And, look, it was cute when Spider-Man: No Way Home or even the recent Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse riffed on all the Spider-Men worlds and characters we’ve seen over the last few decades. This movie essentially does that too, going back even further into DC’s past. There are moments when this works, but never quite so well as that “gathering of Spider-Men” in No Way Home where there were some emotional things happening. Here, it feels more, well, thrown at us — hey, remember this thing? Remember the Tim Burton Batman theme song? Remember Man of Steel?

When the movie isn’t putting all its weight on this load-bearing nostalgia, it’s leaning entirely on Miller, wringing every last comedy drop out of Original Barry being annoyed by Goofy, Happy Younger Barry. And then the movie tries to use the Lessons Learned (sorta) by both as the emotional core of the journey and it didn’t feel entirely earned.

The trailer gives it away so I feel comfortable talking about one of this movie’s bright spots: Kara Zor-El (Sasha Calle), Supergirl who in the Young Barry universe was held prisoner in Russia. As nifty as it is to see the Keaton-era Bat-stuff, I think this new addition to the DC world is my favorite part of this movie. Her terrible treatment means she’s not as hopeful about humanity as Superman(s) but she still has a sense of duty (she was meant to take care of young Kal-El) and a general Super-ness about her. Don’t get me wrong, she gets like an inch of development but for a franchise that generally does not do great by its female characters, the little bit we see of Kara is promising.

I feel like to some extent, if this is your thing, you rushed out and saw this movie, maybe the Thursday night it came out, and have read all the discourse and “Easter Eggs you missed” stuff online and you liked it or have beef with it but either way watching it is sort of your fan obligation. It’s the DCEU (or whatever it becomes as these films transform into new people’s vision) and it’s something you’re going to do regardless of how good any one movie is or isn’t. (The way Marvel fans do with Marvel output, the way Sex and the City fans can’t help but watch And Just Like That.) But for the casual superhero fan or someone just looking for a good popcorn movie, The Flash feels like more work than entertainment. C

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some strong language and partial nudity, according to the MPA on Directed by Andy Muschietti with a screenplay by Christina Hodson and Joby Harold, The Flash is two hours and 24 minutes long and is distributed in theaters by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Featured photo: Elemental

Drowning, by T.J. Newman

Drowning, by T.J. Newman (Avid Reader Press, 293 pages)

If you haven’t read T.J. Newman yet, best get started. She is one of the hottest names in publishing right now, having seemingly emerged out of nowhere to sign multi-million deals that will put her two novels on the big screen. The first was 2021’s Falling; her new book is Drowning. Both are fast-paced thrillers set on a plane, drawing from Newman’s experience as a flight attendant, a job she took after failing to capitalize on her musical theater degree on Broadway. Both are best read on terra firma, not in the air.

In Falling, Newman gave us a Coastal Airlines pilot who learns midflight that his family has been kidnapped by terrorists who will kill his family if he doesn’t intentionally crash the plane. Coastal Airlines — the most cursed fictional airline since the TV show Lost gave us Oceanic — is back in Drowning, in which a plane with 99 souls on board has a catastrophic engine failure less than two minutes into a flight out of Honolulu and has to “ditch” — airline lingo for the dreaded “water landing.”

It’s unclear why Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger could land an Airbus A320 on the Hudson River without fatalities in 2009, while Coastal Flight 1421 — an Airbus A321 — could not, but ours is not to wonder why. Ours is to sit nervously in the grips of a book that author Don Winslow described in his jacket blurb as “Apollo 13 underwater.” The squeamish and claustrophobic will never make it through the movie when it comes out, but can probably suffer through the book just fine.


The story revolves around a family of three which used to be a family of four — an engineer named Will, his estranged wife Chris, and their 11-year-old daughter Shannon. The couple had another daughter who died in an accident, and the relationship had broken from the weight of the tragedy.

Shannon is spending two weeks away from home, and Will is accompanying her on the flight because he is so anxious about something happening to his only surviving child. That setup seems unnecessarily campy given that the stakes are already so high, but Newman employs every trick to keep her readers engaged.

The entire family is brainy — Will had designed their Honolulu home so that even the position of the sun works to make it comfortable, and Chris is an industrial diver who — conveniently, as it turns out — owns an underwater salvage company. One criticism of Newman’s first book is that the circumstances so much require the suspension of disbelief, and that is certainly true here. (What are the odds that the mother of one of the children trapped on an underwater plane is an industrial diver? One hundred percent in a T.J. Newman book.)

There is no lengthy build-up to the disaster: Will notices the engine on fire on the first page, and we are rocketed into assorted passengers’ lives as they frantically try to come to grips with what is happening. We meet the flight attendants Molly and Kaholo, the co-captain Kit, the elderly couple who had traveled to Hawaii to celebrate their anniversary, the newlyweds, the newly divorced woman taking her first solo vacation, the unaccompanied minor, the requisite jerk whose death we won’t mind. When the plane goes into the water, some passengers die right away; others make the ill-fated decision to exit and take their chances in the water.

Only 12 stay behind — some following the advice of Will, who realized the risks of exiting the plane as a fire raged and fuel spilled into the sea — others because they just can’t get out in time. Not long afterward, the plane starts to sink and eventually comes to a precarious stop on the point of a cliff. Water is seeping into the cabin, but there is enough air that Will, Shannon and the other passengers can function normally, at least for the time being. Each new section of the book ominously gives an update on how much oxygen they have left: “2:48 p.m. 2 hours and 47 minutes after impact. Approximately 2.5 hours of oxygen inside plane.”

Meanwhile, on land, the military-led rescue operation somewhat improbably grows to involve a certain industrial diver whose estranged spouse and child happen to be on the plane. There is conflict over which of the severely limited rescue options has the least chance of killing the people inside the plane and those who are trying to rescue them.

The language is sparse to the point of comical when viewed with a critical eye: “A baby started to wait. The mother held her tight and sang a soft song into her ear. No one had a clue what was going to happen. Uncertainty brought fear. Fear created anxiety. They prayed. They cried. They texted goodbye to their loved ones.”

So you already know where this is going. And you probably have a decent idea how this will end. But that’s OK, because Newman, who looks to be her generation’s James Patterson, is a master at the carrot-and-stick formula that builds tension into every bite-sized chapter. A lot can go wrong even after a commercial jet lands in the ocean, let’s put it that way. And things are going wrong long past the point at which you’d think things should be starting to resolve.

There was a full-scale bidding war over the film rights, even before the book was released May 30. The excessively campy video trailer for Drowning says “the best film of the summer is a book.” It’s not wrong. The book reads like a screenplay, and therefore must be judged like one. No one will swoon over Newman’s prose, but in the summer thriller genre, in which literary standards relax quite a bit (like office dress codes on Casual Friday), she’s at the head of her class. B

Album Reviews 23/06/22

Dan Rosenboom, Polarity (Orenda Records)

L.A.-based trumpeter/composer Rosenboom leads a modern jazz quintet assisted by the production expertise of Justin Staley, who has worked on albums by Prince and Beck in the past. I really like this one. Opening song “The Age Of Snakes” has a slow, city-at-midnight beat that’s pure addictive chill, featuring some truly wonderful (and, appropriately, serpentine) interplay between Rosenboom and progressive-steeped sax guy Gavin Templeton. Those guys are heavyweights in the L.A. jazz scene, which has been trying to find its center-point over the last few years, but they imported both pianist John Escreet and drummer Damion Reed from New York City to liven things up, which they certainly do on “A Paper Tiger,” a hyper-speed post-bop-tinged foray into harmonic dissonance powered by jaw-dropping solo turns from those two. Templeton summons Wayne Shorter in the lonely but happy “On Summoning The Will”; group-syncopation and world-melodic patterning infuses “Ikigai” with a level of gentle forcefulness you rarely find. A great record. A+

Alex Lore & Weirdear, Evening Will Find Itself (Whirlwind Recordings)

Weird, this: Just when I thought the Dan Rosenboom album (reviewed elsewhere on this page) was going to be the most accessible/sturdy/appealing jazz record I’d hear for months, this one came in on the same banana boat sent by one of my favorite PR providers. Lore, whose trip is more Mingus-ish and less prog than Rosenboom’s crew, plays sax in this quartet but it’s similar in its sonically forceful gentleness, which we could all use right now, am I right? In fact, the apocalyptic state of the world (watch any YouTube interview with economist Clara Mattei if you really want to know how America got into this mess) figures heavily into this set of songs, in which Lore, a rising star, attempts to make sense of it all through careful experimentation. One quibble, it would have been nice to have anything — especially a trumpeter or Pro Tools person — aboard to canoodle with him further, but Glenn Zaleski’s piano helps deliver the latte-bar ambiance well enough. A


• June 23 is a wonderful day in the neighborhood, because it is a Friday, which means new albums, new albums everywhere! What’s really great is that this week I get to pick on one of those American Idol people, Kelly Clarkson to be specific, because she has a new LP coming out on the 23rd, Chemistry! I mean, I think she’s a nice lady and a true warrior for whatnot cause and yadda yadda, but those talent shows have bothered me from the beginning, like, they all have a sort of Hunger Games patina to them, don’t they? And most of the big winners end up getting polite-sized record contracts and eventually wind up doing nothing really. Remember Taylor Hicks? I don’t either, like I had to toss “American Idol Taylor” in the internet search-box because I couldn’t remember his full name for the life of me. Lol, what a weird time that was, those early American Idol days, wasn’t it? It seemed as though the world was just careening off a cliff, that corporate garbage-pop had finally won and taken the last bit of fun away from music itself. Hicks looked like George Clooney’s really stupid brother, which appealed to people at some level, and then he put out two “blue-eyed-soul” albums that were too white to be considered cultural appropriation, the last one in 2009, and nobody bought them, and then the Billboard world suddenly woke from their stupor and mumbled something about Kelly Clarkson, and here we are. I’ll bet the new single, “Mine,” is Vegas-ized country-pop, wouldn’t that be extraordinarily bizarre, especially since she’s doing a 10-show stint in Vegas that’ll probably turn into a lifetime residency? Yes it would, and guess what, “Mine” is a diva ballad in which Clarkson tries to sound like every other currently relevant diva within each of the lines alternately; it’s like some sort of TikTok challenge: the first two lines sound like Billie Eilish, then Beyonce, then there’s some loud Adele myna-birding, and so on. The song itself is pretty good for a way-too-serious attempt at bumming out well-off yuppie girls who don’t have boyfriends, but you might like it, I do not know.

• Yikes, here we go, let’s start some arguments, whattaya say? I used to have a CD from Portugal. The Man in my car, and gang, I tried sooo hard to like them, mostly because I sort of felt sorry for their being a six-piece indie band from Alaska, like, what parent would want that for their children, you know? Whatever, I listened and listened and eventually gave up, because I couldn’t stand them at all. But now I have friends my age (never you mind) who’ve been hypnotized into liking them, and I know I’ll be hearing all about the band’s fast-approaching new album, Chris Black Changed My Life, but this time I’m actually going to listen to it and see if I can keep my lunch down, just so that I can stay relevant in the always evolving world of rock ’n’ roll music, so let’s do this thing, let’s listen to their probably dumb new song, “Champ,” which is the most appealing to me at the moment, because Edgar Winter is playing in it for some ridiculous reason, which means that there will be some minor guitar-god stuff in it. Yup, there is, toward the end, but other than that it’s awkward ironic trash, with Beach Boys vocals and Flaming Lips junk all over the place. I hate it.

• Ack, look fam, it’s Baltimore’s favorite boy-girl indie-folk/dream-pop/noise act, Wye Oak, with their new full-length, Every Day Like The Last! The pair’s newest single, “I Learned it From You,” is in front of my face right now, let’s just get it over with. Yup, sounds kind of Pretenders-ish, mopey, the drum sound is huge, it’s OK.

• And finally, let’s look at Melodies On Hiatus, the new full-length from the second-banana guitarist from The Strokes, Albert Hammond Jr.! “100-99” is an indie-hip-hop crossover tune featuring Goldlink on raps. Hammond’s voice sucks, so it’s relevant.

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).

Strawberry rhubarb collins

You know how you can be in a large crowd, almost overwhelmed by the dozens of conversations going on around you, but if someone 30 feet away says your name, it grabs your attention immediately? I have the same reaction if someone is discussing pizza or tells a knock-knock joke.


Who’s there?


From who?

From “WHOM”! Jeesh, I can’t take you anywhere.

Have you ever wondered why that never happens when you’re watching a crowd scene in a movie? It’s because the background extras have been instructed to say a particular word to each other, over and over — one that is unlikely to grab anyone’s attention. If they just said, “blah, blah,” it wouldn’t sound right, but if they said actual sentences, it would run the risk of distracting from the lead actors’ lines.

The industry term for this is rhubarbing, because the mantra-like word they are instructed to say is often “rhubarb.”

So now you know that.

Strawberry rhubarb collins

  • 2 ounces vodka – I’ve been using Tito’s lately, and I’ve been pretty pleased with it.
  • 2 frozen strawberries (about 1 ounce)
  • ½ ounce orange curaçao
  • ¾ ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • ¾ ounce rhubarb syrup (see below)
  • 4 to 5 ounces tonic water

Blend the frozen strawberries and vodka thoroughly. If you have a miniature blender for making smoothies, this is an ideal use for it. Otherwise, mash the berries up with the vodka in the bottom of a glass with a pestle or a wooden spoon.

Strain the berry vodka through a fine-meshed strainer, into the bottom of an ice-filled Collins glass. Add the curaçao, lemon juice, and rhubarb syrup. Stir thoroughly.

Top with tonic water, then stir again. Add a straw, and drink somewhere relaxing.

Obviously, strawberries and rhubarb are a natural combination; the sweetness of the berries plays off the tartness of the rhubarb. Once in a while you will find a strawberry pie in the wild, or possibly a rhubarb pie, but strawberry-rhubarb is a reliable standby. They work well in this drink but get a little more backbone from the citrusy curaçao. The lemon juice keeps everything from getting too sweet, and the slight bitterness of the tonic levels everything out while bringing fizziness to the table.

Early summer brings a lot of rites of passage — weddings, graduations, anniversaries. This is a good drink to sit and think. Not to brood — this isn’t Irish whiskey — but to take a minute and think about where your life is headed. It is an optimistic drink.

Rhubarb syrup

Clean several stalks of rhubarb, then chop it into smallish pieces, about 1-inch dice.

Freeze the chopped rhubarb for several hours, maybe overnight. This will allow large ice crystals to perforate all the cells and allow a lot of weeping (on the part of the rhubarb, hopefully not yours) when you cook it.

Combine the frozen rhubarb and an equal amount of sugar (by weight) in a small saucepan.

Cook over medium heat. As the rhubarb melts, the sugar will draw out its juice. You will be surprised at how much juice there is. About halfway through the cooking process you might want to help the process along with a potato masher or the bottom of a beer bottle.

When the rhubarb juice comes to a boil, stir it for a few seconds to make sure all the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat, and squeeze a small amount of lemon juice into it. Let it cool, then strain it and store the syrup in a bottle. It will keep for a month or more in your refrigerator.

Save the rhubarb pulp. It looks like it has come out on the losing end of a fight, but it is actually a super-delicious compote that is excellent on toast or ice cream.

Featured photo: Photo by John Fladd.

In the kitchen with Ben Normandeau

Ben Normandeau of Concord is the owner of 603 Bar-B-Q (, find them on Facebook and Instagram @603bbq), a food trailer specializing in Central Texas-style barbecue that launched Memorial Day weekend. A Concord native and electrician by trade, Normandeau became interested in barbecue while working at Zavala’s, a renowned spot in the Dallas-Fort Worth-area city of Grand Prairie, Texas. Find him next at Lithermans Limited Brewery (126B Hall St., Concord) on Sunday, June 25, from 1 p.m. until he sells out — offerings include brisket, turkey breast, pulled pork sandwiches, St. Louis-cut ribs, potato salad, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese and banana pudding.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

I think, for me, it would definitely be my smoker. It’s a 500-gallon oil tank that a company down in Georgia made for me.

What would you have for your last meal?

A turkey dinner is definitely my favorite meal by far. We don’t eat it often enough at all.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

If it’s southern New Hampshire, it’s The Red Blazer, which is right next to me here in Concord. I go there all the time. … Up north, it’s the Italian Farmhouse.

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

I’m a big Dead Head, so Jerry Garcia would have been awesome.

What is your favorite thing on your menu?

Honestly, it would probably have to be the brisket. … You can get it as a sandwich, but traditionally, with Central Texas-style, it’s a meat marketing ordering system, so you would just get it on a tray. We serve it on a tray with butcher paper and it comes with bread or a sandwich, whatever you’d like, and then pickled onions and pickles on the side.

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

Outdoor dining, I feel like, is a big thing right now, and also [having that] family-friendly atmosphere. … I mean, it was obviously a thing before Covid, but I think a lot more people just want to sit outside more now.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

I like mac and cheese. It’s definitely my favorite dish to make. … Homemade mac and cheese is awesome, but it can be Kraft in a box too.

603 Bar-B-Q basic bird brine
From the kitchen of Ben Normandeau of 603 Bar-B-Q (makes about two quarts)

8 cups water
⅓ cup kosher salt
⅓ cup sugar
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 Tablespoon dried thyme
1 Tablespoon ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons honey

Whisk salt and sugar with water until dissolved. Combine all of the other ingredients. Submerge poultry in brine and cover, refrigerated, for a minimum of four hours and a maximum of 24 hours (overnight is best).

Featured photo: Ben Normandeau, owner of 603 Bar-B-Q. Courtesy photo.

Scrumptious strawberries

Hollis Strawberry Festival returns for 76th year

By Maya Puma

A celebration of strawberry crops and farming in New Hampshire more than 75 years strong, the Hollis Strawberry Festival is back, taking place on Sunday, June 25, on the Hollis Town Common. Traditionally held on the last Sunday in June, the festival attracts hundreds of people who will come together to enjoy homemade strawberry shortcakes featuring local strawberries, with added choices of local ice cream and hand-whipped cream. The event had a successful comeback year in 2022, the first festival to be held since the pandemic hit.

“It is hugely popular and people come from Mass. and southern New Hampshire. Strawberry lovers from all around come,” said Cathy Gast, publicity chairwoman of the Hollis Woman’s Club.

According to Gast, the festival began in 1946 as a fundraiser for the Town Band, which would perform its spring concert. The Woman’s Club, she said, joined in on the festivities in the ’60s to sell strawberries and strawberry desserts. Today the festival is a joint fundraiser for both the band and the Woman’s Club, which gives out three scholarships per year, two of which — each for $1,000 — are awarded to graduating seniors of Hollis-Brookline High School.

“Last year we grossed over $12,000, so that’s a lot of strawberry shortcakes,” Gast said.

The strawberries themselves, she said, come from local farms in town. Two days before the festival, community volunteers will pick up the berries and hull, wash and prepare them by slicing and putting them into bowls to be sugared. In total, there are 250 quarts of strawberries to go through. The ice cream is homemade and is from Dr. Davis Ice Cream in Pepperell, Mass.

On the day of the festival, the Woman’s Club organizes an assembly line to build shortcakes. People have the opportunity to build their shortcake with a combination of any of the ingredients.

“Everything is homemade — the ice cream, the shortcake, the whipping cream — and they give a really generous portion.” Gast said. “We have a row of people whipping through this whole process and our shortcake is a special secret recipe.”

The family-friendly event will also feature local craft vendors, face-painting, a live performance by the Hollis Town Band, and children’s games, including a Midwestern tradition known as “pocket lady,” in which a lady will be wearing an apron of pockets filled with toys and trinkets. In exchange for 25 cents kids can pull a toy out of one of the pockets at random.

Hollis Strawberry Festival
When: Sunday, June 25, 2 to 4 p.m.
Where: Hollis Town Common, Monument Square, Hollis (in the event of rain, the festival will be held inside Hollis-Brookline Middle School, at 25 Main St. in Hollis)
Cost: Free admission and parking; all strawberry treats are priced per item

Featured photo: Courtesy photo.

The Weekly Dish 23/06/22

News from the local food scene

Farm-a-Q to return: A family-friendly event featuring local food, drinks and entertainment, Farm-a-Q returns to Tuckaway Farm (36 Captain Smith Emerson Road, Lee) on Sunday, June 25, from noon to 5 p.m. Tickets are $35 per person, $15 for adult drink bracelets, $25 for students and seniors and free for kids under the age of 5. Proceeds support the Heritage Harvest Project, whose mission is to promote regional heritage foods and agricultural diversity among farmers, chefs and local communities. See “Farm-a-Q” on Eventbrite to purchase tickets.

Brews in Kingston: The Kingston Fire Association’s fourth annual Brewfest takes place on Saturday, June 24, from 2 to 6 p.m. on the Plains in downtown Kingston (148 Main St.). More than 60 different beers, ciders and hard lemonade from at least 30 pourers will be available to sample at the festival, which will also include food trucks and music. Tickets are $40 per person for full access (event is 21+ only) and $10 for designated drivers, and are available online now. Donations are also being accepted to the Kingston Fire Association. See “Kingston Brew Fest” on Facebook.

Coolers: LaBelle Winery will hold a special release party at its Amherst facility (345 Route 101) on Wednesday, June 28, at 6 p.m., for its new limited-edition Mel & Ayme’s Premium Wine Coolers. According to a press release, the low-alcohol coolers are 8 percent ABV and are available in four flavors: chardonnay with blueberry, moscato with raspberry, riesling with pear and seyval blanc with citrus and were ceated by LaBelle winemaker and co-owner Amy LaBelle and assistant winemaker Melaney Shepard Tickets cost $35 per person. The coolers are available for purchase exclusively at LaBelle’s wine and gift shops in Amherst and Derry. Visit

Eat sustainably: A report from the New England State Food System Planners Partnership, a collaboration among the New Hampshire Food Alliance, five other state-level organizations and Food Solutions New England, says that, by the year 2030, 30 percent of the food consumed in New England can be regionally produced. The report, A Regional Approach to Food System Resilience, was released June 5 (see it at, according to a press release, and outlines all the roles New Englanders can play in making the region’s food system stronger and more self-reliant.

On The Job – Carol Ellis


Carol Ellis is an artist, specializing in metalsmithing, and owns Laborata Studio in Penacook, where she teaches a variety of art classes and workshops.

Explain your job and what it entails.

I’m a metalsmith, art instructor and artist creating and instructing workshops and classes in metalsmithing and art. … I spend time in my studio, sketching new designs, creating prototypes, exploring ideas and, when I feel the design is ready, I begin to fabricate … I offer classes and workshops in silversmithing, stone setting, creating spoon rings and silverware bracelets, creating a set of bangles, making a set of stackable rings and making a spinner ring. I also offer a variety of art classes and workshops for stress reduction…

How long have you had this job?

I’ve been metalsmithing and teaching for more than 22 years, and I’ve been an artist all my life.

What led you to this career field and your current job?

After retiring from teaching fine arts … at Kearsarge Regional High School for 21 years, I began to explore this world of opportunities in front of me. I found myself back in the studio painting, drawing and metalsmithing. I began sharing my love of metalsmithing at Exeter Fine Crafts, teaching weekly metalsmithing classes and workshops. I still teach there today. … I longed for a studio of my own … I opened Laborata Studio in February 2023.

What kind of education or training did you need?

I earned a bachelor of arts degree in design, master of arts in integrated arts, and certifications as a registered yoga teacher (RYT) 800 for yoga and meditation instruction, as well as a 300-hour qigong instructor. … My business background knowledge came from being raised in a family with multiple businesses…

What is your typical at-work uniform or attire?

Casual — jeans, T-shirts and my trusty Opti-Visor.

What is the most challenging thing about your work, and how do you deal with it?

Scheduling and keeping up with social media are important aspects of my daily routine. I dedicate time each day to using a variety of apps and social media sites.

What do you wish you’d known at the beginning of your career?

Just how many possibilities there were for an artist to explore.

What do you wish other people knew about your job?

…That I am able to spend my time creating, exploring and sharing my passion for the arts, and just how fun that is.

What was the first job you ever had?

I ran a small produce stand out front of one of my father’s grocery stores.

What’s the best piece of work-related advice you’ve ever received?

Share what you love. Ask questions. Continue to explore. Check in with your students’ level of understanding and support frequently.

Five favorites

Favorite book:
At this moment, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Favorite movie: Avatar
Favorite music: Rock ’n’ roll, alternative and opera
Favorite food: Fine chocolate
Favorite thing about NH: All four seasons and the seasons in between

Featured photo: Carol Ellis. Courtesy photo.

Stay in the loop!

Get FREE weekly briefs on local food, music,

arts, and more across southern New Hampshire!