Best of NH 2018 Arts & Culture

Listen to music while taking in gorgeous views, see an independent film, take in a public art exhibit or spend an evening at the symphony.

Our editors recommend that you don’t miss out on Music Nights at the lovely and historic Castle in the Clouds. Photo by Jay Philbrick

Band on the Verge: A band that’s as tight as a new drumhead with snappy horns, dreamy melodies and seductive vocals is a band that’s going places. Gretchen & the Pickpockets started as a college band at UNH and have matured into a first-rate touring act, making jazzy, soulful waves wherever they perform. Tune in now and they could become the sound of your summer for 2018. Wait too long and the rest of the country may discover them first.

Beyond Bluegrass: Bluegrass music has influenced so much of our contemporary soundscape that it’s fair play when Rockspring, an energetic bluegrass quintet, weaves in the sounds and attitudes (and songs) of other genres like pop, rock and alternative folk music. Strong songwriting and exemplary vocals and musicianship combine to make Rockspring’s riffs and melodies infectious to bluegrass fans and to make converts of just about anyone who will lend an ear.

Children’s Performer: Catchy kids tunes can be a bit too catchy as many a parent has discovered on a long trip with the young’uns. It helps when the performer is a multi-instrumentalist with the chops to write and play in just about any genre. Mr. Aaron operates his Rattlebox studio out of Concord, but he made his name heading up the Jitterbugs program for kids in Brooklyn. His second album, “Maximum,” gets a big CD release party this month at the Capitol Center for the Arts and his song “All My Friends Are Giants” could become your new favorite earworm.

Classics for the Masses: The 2018-19 Symphony NH season is something to talk about. If you think symphonic music is stuffy and boring, think again. Mark & Maggie O’Connor will be bringing their hot fiddles to the classics, while the Nashua-based Symphony NH will tackle the music of John Williams with “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” themes. Guest musicians, the Classical Mystery Tour, bring a tribute to the Beatles. Yes, “Yesterday” with acoustic guitar and a string quartet, and “Penny Lane” with a live trumpet section. Oh, then there’s “An Irish Christmas” with tenors, uilleann pipes and Irish whistles. Get your tickets now.

Fortnightly Rant: In this age of 24/7/365 ranting on cable TV and social media, it’s amazing how a more measured and timely rant can sound a lot like common sense. That’s not to make a value judgment about the politics of Steven Fowle, editor of the freely distributed New Hampshire Gazette, just about his temperament. Fowle’s front-page editorials may drive conservatives to crank up Fox News, but his words are carefully chosen and arranged with insight and a sense of humor. OK, dark humor — still, the view of the world from the Portsmouth offices of the “Nation’s Oldest Newspaper” is always enlightening and entertaining, even when exasperating.

Funny Guy: When it comes to making people laugh, Jimmy Dunn is a natural. That’s why he’s a regular performer at top comedy festivals and has appeared on the late-night shows of David Letterman and Conan O’Brien. He co-starred on the late and much-lamented CBS sitcom “The McCarthys,” basically playing himself.  He’s technically a Boston comedian (it’s a genre) but he hails from Hampton, New Hampshire. Catch him at this month’s Hampton Beach Comedy Festival that he headlines along with a roster of some of the funniest people in the business.

Generation of Music: They weren’t exactly born on the 4th of July, but close. This month marks the 20th anniversary of the NH Gay Men’s Chorus. It’s been a long, strange trip as they have sung live for thousands and on local TV and for millions on CSPAN, all the while fulfilling their mission of spreading joy and acceptance through music. Since the group’s founding, much has changed for the LBGTQ community — they have a lot to sing about. Catch them August 25 when they perform in Rochester’s Central Square for the Pride festivities.

History Lesson: Perhaps it’s obvious when you think about it, but one of the best places to learn your NH history is to visit New Hampshire’s historic Statehouse in Concord, either for a tour or just as a self-guided experience. It’s the oldest statehouse in which the legislature still sits in its original chambers, and the walls are festooned with fascinating tidbits from past trials (like the Civil War) and triumphs (like the huge portrait of First American in Space Alan Shepard). Start at the friendly and exhibit-packed visitor’s center where you can book a tour (or do it online).

Music Night: Castle in the Clouds in Moultonborough is a grand, historic New Hampshire estate with stunning views, hikes to cascading waterfalls, horseback riding through the mountains and most recently, music nights in the summer. These popular evenings include dinner and music from musicians like Tim & Dave. Watch the sun set over Lake Winnipesaukee as you dance the night away.

North Country Radio: Our North Country is kind of spread out geographically, but it’s united by a rustic pioneer spirit, a love of the outdoors, and by the FM signal of Conway’s WMWV Radio, where the legendary Joe Dodge once read the weather each morning. That duty just changed hands again when local “weather observer” Briggs Bunker passed on to Ed Bergeron the task of rating the day’s weather on a scale of a nickel to 50 cents (they once distributed piggy banks where listeners could deposit the requisite coinage every day). The station has kept abreast of the times with topical interviews and a great and eclectic music mix that includes the deep cuts of their Blues Summit and the good vibes of Scarlet Begonias — a weekly hour dedicated to the Grateful Dead.

Public Art: Nashua’s arts communities have coalesced and the results are sweet music in the air, beauty evolving in reclaimed mill buildings and sculptures throughout the city. The Nashua Art Walk, happening on October 13-14, is a showcase for all the great things happening downtown, including a series of sculptures by international artists, pianos on Main Street for impromptu music, and displays by photographers, painters and other artisans who work in the Picker Building. Other arts groups will also showcase their performing arts talents and availability of classes. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Categories: Best of NH Winners