Best of NH 2014 Arts, Culture & People
Discover new local bands, art galleries, music and performing arts venues and much more in this section of Best of NH.
From left: Sculpture at Editor's Pick Bad Art in Littleton, "Colossal Shell Goddess" by Lindley Briggs at Editor's Pick the Mill Brook Gallery & Sculpture Garden, folk musician and Editor's Pick Andrea Szirbik and the map of NH heritage icons from Editor's Pick the NH Humanities Council. Photos by Rick Broussard, courtesy photo, Daniel Aaron Sprague and courtesy photo.
Agent of Change: It turns 60 this year and in those decades, the non-profit, non-partisan World Affairs Council of NH has successfully pursued its goal of “fostering learning, discussion and citizen involvement in world affairs.” The Hooksett-based organization hosts public programs, international visitors and enriches global education in our schools. This anniversary year will feature lots of special programs and new initiatives.
Best Cultural Exchange: Music has been called the universal language, so in a world of discord and misunderstanding, why isn’t it being called into service? That’s what prompted David Roberge of Candia to start the Global Music Initiative, inviting bands from all over the world to facilitate the cross-cultural conversation. The Iranian band, Mavara, is a proof of concept for him. Invited by GMI after being banned from performing their music in their own country, they are now living and playing out of their base in Lee. One band member recently had to return to Iran for mandatory military service, but they roll on by adding local musicians who know how to rock with global harmony.
Busker: Bob Loechler plays the hurdy-gurdy player on Market Street in Portsmouth. He used to play a hammered dulcimer, but city overseers deemed it to be a potential obstruction to pedestrians and made him stop. The hurdy-gurdy is really more appropriate for an old seaside village and fits neatly in Loechler’s lap, so once again he can entertain passersby and collect a few coins while beckoning the musical ghosts of bygone times. Check him out on Facebook.
Classical Encounter: Beethoven said that ideas of mysterious and divine origin come to fruition when given voice in the “electric” language of music. Electric Earth Concerts, which is based in Jaffrey and provides monthly public performances year-round in the Monadnock Region, is unique in offering music that crosses over all genres. Accomplished musicians and collaborative artists share their gifts to inspire, educate and entertain, and free concerts are offered to people with disabilities so they may benefit from the healing and educational power of live music.
Coffee Bar: Where can you get great coffee, tea, beer, good company and great music? Try True Brew Barista in Concord’s Bicentennial Square. They also have a café location with Gibson’s Bookstore on South Main Street. By day enjoy your latte and by night order a draft and stick around for the Barista Music series with local musicians performing both inside and, when the weather is warm, outside on the patio. There is a small fee, but 100 percent of the charge goes to cover the band.
Cultural Catalyst: In 2014 the NH Humanities Council celebrates 30 years of connecting the people of the Granite State with ideas from all over the world, the past and the future. One great idea they just connected us with is a fantastic interactive, illuminated map featuring 260 NH heritage icons revealing that you can’t walk out your back door without tripping over something remarkable (like Ernest Thompson’s Oscar or a Red Spotted Newt). Visit nhhc.org for a link.
Daily Blog: Blogs are usually only as interesting as their subjects. If you aren’t into UFO conspiracies or socialist talking points, you will probably never linger on blogs devoted to those and other arcane subjects. But Dartblog is all about Dartmouth College, NH’s illustrious (and often controversial) Ivy League institution. And a college is like a small world unto itself so the daily updates span the collegiate cosmos from date rape and binge drinking to insights into administration shenanigans.
Eclectic Performing Arts Resource: At the Seacoast Repertory Theatre, Portsmouth’s libertine past is still on display in the wild variety of offerings they host (along with some of the state’s best dramas and musicals). Their Red Light series of “alternative” programming features delightfully deviant diversions, the Let’s “B” Reel film series screens grindhouse and cult films, and there’s truly something for everyone, like their acclaimed youth theatre, Senior Moment performance group and Chef series for 2014 focusing on local, sustainable food culture. June launches “mysterious subtext theatre 2K14,” — a live version of Mystery Science Theatre. More? The geek-centric Dorks and Dungeons is back for another season as will be interactive events like “I Could Just Diary.”
Folk with a Twist: That’s actually Andrea Szirbik’s motto, and she delivers on all fronts. Her songs bend delightful melodies and curious lyrics into memorable musical numbers. She belongs on the radio, but you can check her out at listentoandrea.com.
Immersive Art Experience: Everywhere you look, there is something to feast your eyes on. At Mill Brook Gallery & Sculpture Garden in Concord, you can wander the three indoor galleries or go outside into the sculpture garden — in either setting, you’ll find artwork that wows. There are original paintings, pottery, mobiles, fine art prints, large granite ball fountains, custom furniture and more. Both local and national artists (more than 70 of them!) are represented.
Lecture Series: You need not be an expert on the arts to enjoy the experience when extraordinary and internationally renowned painters, photographers, sculptors, designers and writers share the stories of their remarkable works with the public. Presented bi-annually at the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester, this inspiring spring and fall lecture series brings the best of fine art discourse to the community at large.
Local Music Booster: Kate McNally, host of “The Folk Show,” aired weekly on Sunday evenings on New Hampshire Public Radio, is an ardent advocate for regional musicians as well as a font of information about New England’s brand of folk music, which is rich in history and talent. If you’re curious where you can hear songwriters and singers of the genre performing across the state, her extensive calendar on the station’s website is the go-to resource. She’s also an adjunct professor of radio broadcasting at Keene State University and the most sought-after emcee for folk festivals and concerts throughout the Northeast.
Maritime Music: NH has a rich maritime past made richer by the musical recollections of Great Bay Sailor, our eclectic bards of traditional folk. Manly vocal harmonies paired with sprightly and complex musicianship blend with Portsmouth’s salt sea air and transport the listener to the ancient days of the Great Bay or to the Irish coast. See them at the Press Room for full effect.
Movie Popcorn: The mandatory movie treat may look inviting for mindless munching at the local cinema, so face it — it’s addictive, but terrible. At the Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center in Plymouth, they have strived to up the ante on this humble experience. Popcorn is popped fresh, and you get a choice of toppings from cinnamon and sugar to the most interesting maple butter. After the show the staff passes out bags of the stuff to movie and concert-goers. The venue and talent line-up is worth the trip too.
Museum Comeback: For a while, the Portsmouth Museum of Art brought thought-provoking art to the Seacoast city. For instance, you might remember the controversial 2011 exhibit “Street A.K.A. Museum,” which featured large outdoor murals that some residents felt were just outright graffiti vandalism. Sadly, the museum eventually closed its doors. But that’s not the end — plans are in the works to reopen the museum in a new mill building space in Portsmouth’s West End. You can see a time lapse of the renovations on the website.
Music Producer: Producer/engineer/keyboardist Brian Coombes treats the musicians who come to his Pittsfield (i.e. remote) Rocking Horse Studio like stars, because that’s how he sees them. And he connects them to major stars he has met along the way, like Garth Hudson of The Band, Greg Hawkes of The Cars and Chris Difford of Squeeze. He’s helped launch talented local artists like Will Kindler, the Dusty Gray Band and Tristan Ormand. He’s recently been nominated for two Emmy Awards (for WMUR’s “Christmas at Rocking Horse Studio” TV program) and for Producer of the Year at the 2014 New England Music Awards.
New Band: If you haven’t heard of Pat and the Hats, just wait. You will. This Central NH band is dropping its first CD just in time for a showcase performance at the Granite State Music (and an appearance at the Best of NH 2014). Original songs by Patrik Gochez confidently mix rock references from many decades and produce what might just be a new and authentic Granite State sound.
Northern Art Capital: Littleton is NH’s Shangri-La, a little town detached from centers of commerce that somehow thrives commercially and culturally. That must account for the buzzing swarm of artists from the surrounding area who have made it their hive. Check out some amazingly eclectic (and affordable) work at Bad-Art (call first, 854-1498), make your own at the Littleton Studio School or just check out the Littleton-based Arts Alliance of Northern NH.
Outsider Art: Bad-Art in Littleton. The whole gallery is a work of outsider art since it's more of a labor of love (or lunacy) than commercial interest. It's open mostly on the whim of the owner, but it's packed with curiosities and wonder, with prices ranging from next to nothing to around $100.
Power Pop: Portsmouth’s The Connection is a classic example of a band that has outgrown its hometown but still respects its roots. Widely acclaimed for a sound that harks back to the early Beatles and Stones, charged up with a dash of punk rock and a dose of sheer fun, the band has become a European sensation and was recently picked to perform for VIPs for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Spring Benefit (and for the 2014 Best of NH Party).
Sestercentennial: Concord’s 250th anniversary stands out in a flap of sestercentennials because, duh, it’s the capital, but also because they are really pulling out all the stops to make the event a showcase for the new, hip and festive downtown, just as they embark upon a multi-million dollar redevelopment for Main Street. It’s so big, in fact, that celebrations have already begun leading up to the official turning of 250 in 2015.
Swan Song: The Wire, Portsmouth’s weekly art paper finally bit the dust this year, but went out with a stylish and classy farewell message. Check it out at Wire NH.com. Just a little graphic reminder of how much it will be missed.