Best of NH 2011 People, Culture, Arts, Music & Odds and Ends

New Hampshire is rife with amazing artists, talented musicians, beloved media personalities and quirky odds and ends that make the Granite State Unique - here are just a few that you should know about!

*Editor's Picks
Readers' Poll Winners

*African Beats: Jazz is the quintessential American music. Mix that with the rhythm and tonal percussion of West Africa, add authentic traditional instruments like the Fula flute, 10-string kamalen'goni and djembe and you get Donkilo Afro Funk Orkestra. The band's name is an African words for "call to dance" and that beat is certainly part of the attraction, but the music's blend of free-form jazz is also reminiscent of a different kind of beat that sent a restless generation On the Road.

*Ambitious Theatre: The Goffstown High School Music Dept. is known for the quality of their productions, but this year they topped even themselves with Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera." The students – actors and musicians alike – carried the intricate plot and difficult score with an artistic maturity far beyond their years. To accomplish that, they rehearsed more than 200 hours, often late into the night. Parents contributed 1,600 hours to the effort and more than $2,000 in donations were received. All of these pieces were expertly woven together by school staff – to amazing effect.

*Americana Band: Sometimes the best music is the hardest to put a label on. New Hampshire's Crunchy Western Boys defy labeling as they pick and strum their way through the DNA of American music in all its purest forms: folk, bluegrass, a touch of gospel, all with an infectious rocking beat.

*Architectural Hidden Treasure: Lots of folks don't even notice it but the Laconia Library (at the corner of Main and Church streets) is one of the finest examples of Romanesque Revival architecture in existence. The old Victorian Railroad Station across the street is a wonder, too.

Art Gallery: Discover the cutting edge of the art scene, nicely curated in and outside of the Portsmouth Museum of Art in Portsmouth.

*Business Card: Art of Nature is a tiny shop in New London that seems to be built by woodland creatures and could be inhabited by those tall Tolkienesque elves, but it's run by Mauli McDonald. She does scavenge the nearby woodlands to make many of the one-of-a-kind treasures she sells, including her business cards that are torn fragments of parchment with her contact information and a real feather on each one. So perhaps she is an elf.

*Chainsaw Artist: Chainsaw artists are a rugged breed but they take as much pride in their standing bears and totem poles as any sculptor of marble. Michael Martineau of Chichester is one of the best in the region and his work graces parks, back yards and ice cream stands all over the place. The bear pictured above is one of 72 he carved for a new area at Canobie Lake Park.

*Cheap Night's Sleep: A cheap motel can sound like a sketchy proposition, but sometimes all you want is a room with a bed, shower and "Law and Order" on the TV. When you are in the White Mountains, Parker's in Lincoln, on Route 3 outside Franconia Notch State Park, is your ticket. Stay after you play. Ski package deals in winter; good value.

*Community Brain Teaser: The Socrates Exchange on N.H. Public Radio engages the entire N.H. community (and region) in a dialogue on issues with no easy answers in a format where the questions are more more important than the answers anyway.

Cooking Classes: Learn from the master chefs at The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in a unique setting in Dixville Notch.

*Dream Cottage: That's its name and it fits. Just across the flower gardens from the main Sugar Hill Inn, this too-good-to-be-true retreat holds a spacious cathedral-ceilinged bed/sitting room with a fieldstone fireplace and comfy suede sofa. As attention-getting as the room with its tasteful rustic/chic décor, it's the bathroom suite that leaves guests in awe – a double whirlpool tub (with heavenly lavender mineral bath salts), twin-sink vanity, slate-lined shower the size of an ordinary bathroom and a full Finnish sauna. Breakfast served in the inn's dining room is included.

*Eight-bit Music: The Attic Bits are an experimental electronic band with a flair for improvisation. Using the "chiptune" tones available as interludes on the 1980s Gameboy system (thus the eight-bit moniker) they take ambient sound and add rattles, hums and loops until the sound mesmerizes and excites the senses. Because of the portability of the Gameboy as a musical "engine" the duo (consisting of The Attic Bat and his partner Arkbit) are even able to take their music on a stroll.

*Exotic Film Fest: There is an irrepressible joy and a timeless and universal romance in the Indian cinema known as Bollywood. The New England Classic Bollywood Film Festival held at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre last April was a remarkable opportunity to be immersed in this world of great film that is rarely seen in the West. Those who attended swear they emerged with hearts beating to the rhythm of the tablas and with the fragrance of sandalwood in the air. More offerings are promised throughout the year.

Family Friendly Resort: From mountain biking to swimming to shooting pool, there are many ways to keep the family entertained at The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel with an Adventure Package.

*Family Resort with an Edge: The NASWA Resort in Laconia prides itself as a place where families return year after year. Generations of families have known the pleasure of relaxing on the lake in pastel-colored cottages. More hormone-charged events (like their bikini competition) – all for good causes – and their ads during Motorcycle Week in June proudly declare "Biker owned and operated for over 75 years!"

*Family Radio Show: Uncle Phil's Music Show for Families airs on Portsmouth's Community Radio WSCA 106.1, Fridays from 10 a.m.-noon. DJ Phil Kliger offers great music for all generations along with games and contests. He's also a member of the adult-friendly kiddie rock act Tunebuggy.

*Free Range Farm: Miles Smith Farm in Loudon was first farmed in the 1850s, and is now home to free-range Scottish Highlander cattle that live stress-free lives on the farm's beautiful 36 acres. All the cattle are raised on pasture and receive only non-medicated vegetable grains. You can visit these shaggy-coated cows, but as it's a working farm, call ahead for an appointment.

*Golden Experience: In the 30 years since a first-time play by an obscure writer was turned into an Oscar-winning film, On Golden Pond has gone on to become one of the most often produced stage dramas of all time, translated into 28 languages. But never has it been directed by the man who wrote it, immortalizing the Lakes Region of the state where he lives: Ernest Thompson. Until now, that is. This summer Thompson and his creative coterie at Whitebridge Farm Productions will produce 32 performances of "On Golden Pond" at the Little Church Theatre in Holderness. And to lend still more magic to the occasion, Thompson, songwriter Joe Deleault and musical legend Carly Simon have co-created a song for the play titled "The Father Daughter Dance."

Grand Hotel: Grand in so many ways, the restored Wentworth by the Sea Marriott Hotel and Spa combines century-old elegance with 21st-century convenience.

*Historic Community on the Rise: With the Franklin Pierce Homestead and five classic stone arch bridges, Hillsborough has always had plenty of historical bragging rights, but they are really rising to the occasion with their Living History Event in August. Reenactors virtually take over the town and everyone is invited to dress up. Cannons are fired, Mark Twain drops in and the state's only town crier contest decides who has the best "oyez."

Independent Movie Theater: Red River Theatres in Concord offers the best cinema experience north of Boston and much more, serving as a community center and a salon for discussion of issues of the day.

*Indoor Firing Range: Manchester Firing Line Range is one of the largest indoor shooting ranges open to the public in the region and also one of the best equipped. No shotguns or black powder though. If you want to try out your replica Civil War squirrel gun, you might want to ask for a dispensation at the Belmont Firearms and Range.

*Interactive Music/Drinking Event: The Dueling Pianos show at Boynton's Taproom in Manchester is a combination of high-energy, multi-genre music and comedy that runs on the fuel of crowd interaction. Come prepared with your favorite songs to drop in the request jar and be prepared for an evening you won't want to end. Get tickets early – shows often sell out in advance.

*Jazz Venue: Enjoy Jazz in the foreground and stunning views in the background on the historic grounds of Castle in the Clouds, all under the golden glow of the setting sun. Every Thursday evening through summer this Moultonborough attraction hosts Jazz at Sunset with a variety of musical groups.

Karaoke Spot: Killarney's Irish Pub at the Holiday Inn in Nashua will have you belting out "Love Shack" with your friends in no time during its karaoke nights.

*Luxury in the National Forest: Of course, you can pitch a tent at one of the campgrounds and cook dinner on a campfire, but for the comforts of home – plus a few – relax after a day's hiking in the Notchland Inn's outdoor hot tub, at Hart's Location in Crawford Notch. Then savor a fine dinner before retiring to one of the lushly tailored rooms or cottages. Maybe your eggs in the morning won't have that wood-smoke flavor, but the French toast just doesn't get any better than theirs.

*Mac 'N Cheese Event: If you missed the inaugural Mac 'N Cheese Bake Off, make sure you save the date for next year's competition. The Granite State Dairy Promotion asked professional chefs and home cooks alike to bring their best macaroni and cheese dishes for judgment and a hungry crowd, and there wasn't a spoonful left by the time it was over.

*Mushroom Maestro: David Wichland is infectious in his enthusiasm for the fungus-among-us. He won't rest happy until every back yard is landscaped with mushroom logs, or at least has a log of shiitake growing in its shade. Meet him at the Keene Farmers Market, where he sells these healthy fungi and related items, from truffle honey to Myco-spored bar and chain oil. Or join a day-long workshop with potluck lunch at Wichland Woods in Nelson.

Music Venue – Large: Home to the Manchester Monarchs, the 10-year Best of NH-winning Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester has hosted acts from KISS to Cirque du Soleil.

Music Venue – Small: Londonderry's Tupelo Music Hall is known and respected by patrons and artists alike for its intimate and casual atmosphere, and good acoustics.

*NH's Answer to SXSW: The Thing in Spring is a weekend of art and music that happens annually in downtown Peterborough, attracting respected independent groups and creative types into intimate venues and collaborations. It's proof that you don't have to be in a metro region to find plenty of sophisticated artistic stimulation and inspiration.

NH Celebrity: Manchester's Adam Sandler went from a five-year run on "Saturday Night Live" to become something of a Hollywood mogul with his offbeat comedy films.

NH Sports Team: The New Hampshire Fisher Cats regularly draw thousands of fans to the Manchester Northeast Delta Dental Stadium and have built a serious fan following since their first game in 2003.

*Organic Inn: At the Inn at Valley Farms in Walpole it doesn't matter whether you're inside or outside, you'll find that great care is given to environmental sustainability. Outside, food is grown organically and the animals are grazed rotationally to increase soil productivity without fertilizer. Inside, environmentally friendly cleaning and paper products are used, and appliances and fixtures are energy-efficient. The coffee – organic, fair-traded and roasted locally. Recycling? Of course.

*People's Party Band: Music can provide special private moments but when you want to make a whole crowd feel good, you need a party band that fills a deep rhythmic groove with sweet summer vibes. For New Hampshire and an increasingly regional audience, JamAntics is the perfect party band. That explains why they are popping up at festivals all over and events like the music-filled Rock 'N Race benefit for Concord Hospital.

*Poetry Event: On Thursday nights head to Bo's Room at Milly's Tavern in Manchester for its popular Slam Free or Die poetry events. Produced by Russian Roulette Productions, this hip and energetic poetry slam is an open mic session with only 15 spots. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the events have been drawing standing-room-only crowds.

*Produce: Fiddlehead Farms Marketplace is like a year-round indoor farmer's market with a passionate commitment to having fresh, local,and regional produce on hand provided by area farmers and the Boston Produce Terminal. The rest of the store is packed with upscale and healthy brands. The overall feel is like a European food market where you want to drop in daily and plan out your dinner with the freshest items available.

Romantic Country Inn: An elegant room with a whirlpool bath and intimate tables for two in the dining room – just a few of the elements that make the historic Bedford Village Inn so romantic.

*Spy Who Loved Us: Back in the 1960s, when the Cold War was in full stride and people were fascinated by the tales of Ian Fleming's James Bond, Wolfeboro realtor and former CIA employee Henry S. Maxfield wrote "Legacy of a Spy." Now consider a classic of the genre, Maxfield recently republished the novel that the NY Times called "one of the best espionage novels ever written." Go to the Country Bookseller in Wolfeboro or visit


*Theater Revival: It took a visionary like Alex Ray, originator of The Common Man Family of Restaurants, to properly revive the old Plymouth Theater, located on Main Street of the college town, into the Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center. The new look is spectacular, capturing the original 1920s venue while converting it into a two-screen movie theater and a seating area that include a balcony and a comfy lounge where you can order items from the tasty Common Man menu. Recent stage performers include John Sebastian, Robin Trower and Marvis Staples.

*Three-piece Rock Band: From the Who to Cream, the three-piece formula for a rock band is classic, but it takes special chemistry to create complex songscapes and actually inhabit those bigger than life rock anthems. From their base in the Dartmouth region, The Conniption Fits has carved out a regional reputation as power players who really deliver the goods.

*Traveling Music Festival: Monadnock Music brings fabulous classical and chamber music to village greens, churches and town halls as it livens up each summer with an extensive tour of the region. This year the festival is in the process of performing 28 concerts in 18 locations, with many of them offered free of charge. Six of this summer's concerts are odes to poet Emily Dickinson, some offer original compositions or serve as platforms for dance or performances. The spirit of art not only lives in the Monadnock Region, it travels.

*Tribal Rock: Sully Erna is known as the pagan king of American heavy metal for fronting Godsmack, but we always suspected he had a softer side. Turns out, even his softer side has a tribal edge. His new CD project Avalon is mysteriously peaceful in a hauntingly dark way. To help him record and tour the music, Sully hand-picked a roster that includes some of the state's most accomplished behind-the-scenes musicians – like keyboardist Chris Decato – and he shares vocals with local rock queen Lisa Guyer of Mama Kicks.

*Wheelworks: It's a particular need but if you're a true aficionado of heavy metal muscle cars, you've got to get to Camaro Heaven auto service at in Tilton. They'll also sell parts for older Camaros – and service and sell parts for the old Pontiac Firebirds.

*White Mountain Artist: Reviving the tradition of plein air painting in the White Mountains, Craig Pursley captures the soul of New Hampshire's landscapes, as deftly as he captures their appearance. Meet the personable artist, maybe to discuss the infinite varieties of color in New England snow, at his American Heritage Gallery of Art in downtowm Bath. He's an amazing portrait artist as well.

*Wine Festival: Who knew so much wine and mead is made in this state! The 2nd Annual N.H. Wine Festival "Live Free and Wine" will be held at the Rochester Fairgrounds on Saturday, Aug. 6, from noon to 5 p.m. More than 17 local wineries will showcase about 100 wines to sample and purchase. $20 gets you 10 tasting tickets and an engraved festival wine glass. Beatlejuice will provide music. Be there or be sober.

*Writer's Retreat: So, you didn't make it into the MacDowell Colony this year, but if you still long for quiet time to put your thoughts on paper, consider an Artist Residency at the Wild Orchard Guest Farm. Stay in a guest room in a historic 1740 farmhouse located in the wilds of Deerfield. The farm's mini-horses, goats, chickens and peacocks will be your muse.



*Yodeling Waiter: Don't be surprised if Eric Styffe at The 1785 Inn breaks into a rousing yodel-ay-dee-hooo as he lights aflame the inn's signature Bananas Foster or Cherries Jubilee. The moonlighting ski instructor from Cranmore adds his Alpine vocals to complete the show, as though a pan of fruit engulfed in blue flames weren't enough!

*Zen Zone: Like the gateless gate, Exeter-based Wildmind Meditation is a center with no building. An attractive and robust website makes meditation classes available to busy lifestyles and to those with disabilities. Along with courses and products for sale at the site, many offerings are free.





Readers Picks – New Hampshire Media

NH Radio Morning Show: It's the second consecutive Best of NH win for Greg and the Morning Buzz on WHEB 100.3 and WGIR 101.1. Greg Kretschmar and his crew entertain Granite Staters on their morning drives from 5:30 a.m.-10 a.m.

NH Radio Station – AM: Concord-based WKXL 1450 calls itself "your hometown radio" and aims to make its community better informed through coverage of local government, general national news, high school sports and lots of local news.

NH Radio Station – FM: With excellent programing such as "The Exchange," "Word of Mouth," "The Folk Show," "Something Wild" and "Giving Matters" NHPR has won several Best of NH Awards.

NH Radio Talk Show: "The Exchange" with Laura Knoy on NHPR has won multiple Best of NH awards over the years. This popular radio show is New Hampshire's only daily call-in program dedicated to news and public affairs.

TV News Anchor: Erin Fehlau, tops in this category every year since 2006, joined the WMUR news team in 2001 and has won a National Clarion Award and an Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Journalism.

TV News Reporter: By now WMUR's Ray Brewer is a familiar face in New Hampshire homes across the state – Brewer has won as Best TV News Reporter since 2005.

TV Sports Anchor: Jamie Station of WMUR is a 10-year Best of NH winner. In addition to his responsibilities as sports director and sports anchor, Staton is quite involved in local charities and events.

Weatherperson: Three-time Best of NH winner Mike Haddad is chief meteorologist at WMUR, where he's been reporting on weather since 1993. When he's not on TV, Haddad represents WMUR in schools and other organizations.

Categories: Best of NH Winners