Portsmouth's Music and Art Scene
The Local's Guide to Portsmouth
On the Stage
Al Barr, singer for the Dropkick Murphys, could live anywhere. “But why would I?” asks Barr, who has lived in Portsmouth since 1977. “It’s a great place to raise a family. It’s safe. It’s home.” Portsmouth’s homegrown celebrity is usually one of three places: at his home, on the road or talking with Yalcin at Caffe Kilim.
It’s been a couple decades since Barr started his career here, during the days when The Bruisers and Scissorfight regularly played the old Elvis Room, but it’s still a town of live music. “A city or town’s lifeblood is the local music scene,” says Barr, “whether it’s music you like or you don’t; just to have that outlet is really important.”
It’s true that The Music Hall and Prescott Park host world-famous musicians, but what about Portsmouth’s local scene? You won’t necessarily find it under the chandelier of The Music Hall, but you’ll see it at Rí Rá Irish Pub, busking on the corner of Market and Congress, or on the back patio of the Gaslight. Close your eyes for a moment in Market Square and just listen. This small city is thumping with live music. And these are the places to find it that you might not spot on your own.
The Red Door
107 State Street in Portsmouth
Right before Memorial Bridge, buffered by an artisan chocolate shop and a burrito place, you might notice an unremarkable door flaking from exposure to the salty air. The Red Door is one of Portsmouth’s better-kept secrets, an intimate second-story stage where, depending on the night, DJs spin reggae to a club crowd or singer/songwriters croon to a bevy of 20-somethings seated on velvet cushions.
The Blue Mermaid Island Grill
116 High Street in Portsmouth
The Press Room and Book and Bar are great places to see some live tunes for a nominal cover (or sometimes for free), but only locals know that Blue Mermaid has the best open mic night in town. Located at The Hill, they’ve also got some of the only outdoor seating that isn’t completely mobbed during the summer.
Prescott Park and The Music Hall also serve as showcases for some amazing theatre productions, but don’t miss independent theatre companies such as the Players’ Ring and Seacoast Repertory Theatre: Both offer first-rate performances by visiting and local talent within walking distance of downtown.
On the Walls
By Allison May Kiphuth, owner of Nahcotta
Portsmouth is crawling with artists. It’s not unusual to find a restaurant patron sketching stills of a live band, and a jaunt around Prescott Park or Nubble Lighthouse might reveal several oil painters. Even the exterior walls of Portsmouth hint at the town’s artistic spirit: Many buildings in the city still bear the crumbling remains of a 2011 art show by international graffiti artists.
110 Congress Street in Portsmouth
Behind the desk at Nahcotta, Allie Kiphuth is preparing for an upcoming show. “I feel like people actually buy art in Portsmouth,” she says. “I feel like people here value original art, which is really nice.” A professional artist, Kiphuth knows the importance of local support. At her first “Enormous Tiny Art” show in Nahcotta, she sold out.
2 Government Street in Kittery, Maine
Over the bridge in Kittery is Buoy, a small independent gallery and annual host of community-organized projects like ArtPM and Craft Fix. It’s a place where locals can actually trade art, peep nationally renowned artwork or discover their neighbor is an accomplished metalsmith.