Best of NH 2017 Arts & Culture
View of 2016 performance by Jerry Beck. Photo courtesy of The Revolving Museum
Creative Real Estate Deal: Jerry Beck, the artist behind The Revolving Museum in Fitchburg, Mass., couldn’t believe that an attraction like Ruggles Mine in Grafton was closed, so last year he set out to bring it back to life with a special multimedia installation to demonstrate a whole different way of looking at the space. It was such a creative success, Beck is now rallying his board, enlisting fellow artists and seeking investors to empower him to purchase it and convert it into a theme park. “It’s a phenomenal possibility,” says Beck. “Almost like when Walt Disney first got started.”
Educational Theater: Andy’s Summer Playhouse in Wilton isn’t exactly new. Since 1971 this innovative children’s theater has been creating original plays that are performed by artists ages 8 to 18. The 2017 season, however, merits renewed praise for taking on issues that today’s children face. This year’s plays address autism, how to deal with social media and a young transgender girl’s journey to acceptance. Each play offers valuable lessons and insights for children and adults alike.
North Country Maker Space: A converted church in a White Mountains town of 2,500 is an unlikely spot for one of the state’s hippest arts venues — but that’s exactly what you’ll find at 42 Maple Contemporary Art Center. The Bethlehem space serves a variety of artistic needs, housing studios for five resident artists, hosting an indie concert series, and, most prominently, displaying a dozen innovative and exciting shows per year as a full-fledged gallery. If you haven’t been, go.
New Sound: Gorham-based Epic Season makes music that you could swear you already know, but you can’t place. And while they do wear some influences on their sleeve (Coldplay, The Killers), the sound is all their own. Their recent CD titled “New Lands” is filled with 11 mature and perfectly executed numbers that could each endure the kind of attention that comes from national exposure. All Epic Season needs is a chance to reach the right ears, and they will be going places.
Yankee Soul: Sam Robbins just can’t help but make music. He writes songs that sound like conversations with old friends or new lovers, he wins awards for his original material, and he comfortably performs on stage alongside big name stars like Aaron Carter and Amy Grant. His trajectory seems to be pointing toward Nashville or Hollywood, but while he’s still in the area, you should catch him live on stage (or at least check out his new EP, aptly titled “Up North”).
Americana Idol: Most folks around here know Dusty Gray. He’s played his butt off in virtually every venue in the state, from local Old Home Day stages to opening for Willie Nelson at the Capitol Center for the Arts. He detoured to Nashville a couple of years back and has returned with some lessons learned and a whole new slew of great material, all crafted in his signature powerhouse style of Americana and country music.
Tribute Band: There have been plenty of homages to the Beatles, but there’s something especially pluckish and charming about the members of Studio Two, the pre-Sgt.-Pepper version of the world’s greatest band (their name comes from the famous room in the Abbey Road Recording Studios where most of the Beatles’ records were made). The boys who formed Studio Two band met in a Milford basement. Now they have 117 shows booked for next year. Hear them at the Project Sunapee Fundraiser Concert on July 2, and be prepared to scream.
Art Collective: What started as an after-school art club in 2003 has grown and expanded into a strong collective of more than 40 loyal volunteers and 1,000 artists that provide a venue and outlet for unconventional, underrepresented and emerging artists, writers and musicians on the Seacoast. Wrong Brain regularly hosts multimedia art events, poetry readings, comedy, music, collaborative art activities and speakers. Highlights include their annual Holidaze Bizaare, featuring local emerging and underground artists, crafters and vintage vendors.
Cultural Catalyst: Granite Staters are rightly proud of our clean mountain air and our information-packed airwaves. We’ve always been big consumers of talk radio in all its shades, but you could argue that the true color commentary of the entire state is provided by NH Public Radio. Most folks already enjoy the stimulating conversations hosted by programs like The Exchange and Word of Mouth, but the NHPR website and digital realm is rich with reports from their formidable and award-winning newsroom, offering under-the-dome reports on the NH State House (literally, in one report with 360 degree video and an interactive map) and community engagement journalism like their singular reporting on the opioid crisis. Mixing blogging and broadcasting has created a fertile field for storytelling ranging from the high production values of Outside/In to the timely tutorials of Civics 101. The state just can’t stop listening. No word on the economic effects of lost productivity from the countless “driveway moments” that result.
Comic Book Artwork: You’ve never truly appreciated the famous cover art from classic comic books until you’ve seen them turned into tile mosaics by Matthew DiMasi, owner of Shattered Comics, Concord’s newest comic shop. DiMasi has big plans for his little store too, with thousands of used comics on display, but these loving homages to some of the great works of pop art are his passion.
Jamming Reggae Roots: Members of the Roots of Creation met at Franklin Pierce College, and though they’ve become a famous and sought-after touring band for their hook-filled blend of music styles, they still proudly represent the 603, as indicated by their latest release, a triple CD titled (what else) “Livin Free.” This band is the real deal, able to turn an audience of strangers into a friendly flow of positive vibrations.
A Cappella Group: Dartmouth’s 9-year-old Sing Dynasty has had an impressive year. The 24-member group performed at 75th anniversary commemoration ceremonies at Pearl Harbor in December before being asked just days later to travel to Washington, DC, to sing a private Christmas set at the White House for then-President Barack Obama. In case that wasn’t enough, the ensemble — known as the Sings — is currently at work on their second studio album.
Eclectic Songstress: Her voice and her songs are both earnest and seductive. Alli Beaudry has been building a following and snagging awards for years with her versatility. She’s comfortable on a big stage or in an intimate setting, and always exudes charm and affection to her audiences. She is an original, and her new CD (her second), “The Voice From Within,” suggests that she’s still exploring the emotional terrain of her life and sharing the musical messages she discovers along the way.