Along with enough of the best food and drink to satisfy more than a thousand people, our Best of NH party featured an “American Idol” finalist, an inflatable Adam Sandler and New Hampshire’s answer to The Muppets.
My family ran a traveling puppet theater when I was growing up, so it was this last attraction that I was most looking forward to seeing at the big shebang at Manchester’s Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in June. Sadly, I tend to forget how busy it is behind the scenes at the party, and I never got down to that end of the concourse.
The puppets that were performing and on display were mostly creations of the Fantastical Puppetarium of Weare. They organized the first Granite State Puppet Slam last year at Concord’s Hatbox Theatre, earning them a Best of NH award, so I was already aware of what wonders they were capable of performing with otherwise inanimate objects.
When I finally had a chance to drop by to talk, the Puppetarium folks were packing up to head home. Sensing my disappointment, two members of the troop picked up what looked like a 3-foot-long roll of fabric, then folded the center into the shape of a head and two arms and manipulated it to crawl up a pile of boxes in a
lifelike manner. It scaled to the top where it raised one arm and waved happily at me.
That was my Best of NH moment.
If you were there, I bet you have your own moments to remember. Perhaps it was the
music. Conway’s Cold River Radio Show’s band, led by the ultra-suave Jonathan Sarty (“Half Elvis, half Sinatra,” I heard one fan remark), was peerless except perhaps for the all-star sit-in by members of the Rocking Horse Music Club and the incomparable Evelyn Cormier, who ended on a duet with Sarty performing her breakout “Idol” song, “Wicked Game.”
Did you pose with Adam Sandler? Not, of course, the real Adam Sandler, movie mogul and Red Arrow resident mensch. The inflatable Adam Sandler on hand at the party for selfies was created by balloon artist extraordinaire Dan Staples of Dan’s Balloons. Since the Best of NH has a reputation as a place where you might bump into anyone (Steven Tyler attended a few years back and Taylor Swift sang and played for us in her pre-fame years), there’s always a little pressure to invite our state’s celebrities to attend. With Sandler doing his live standup gig and making a new movie in Massachusetts, we figured our chances were better than the average Megabucks pick, so we asked and then prepared for success.
Dan put his balloon Adam in a bathtub waving a bottle of shampoo in one hand and some conditioner in the other while a golden balloon swan stares at him accusingly (it’s a famous scene from Sandler’s “Billy Madison”), and spectators were invited to pose holding a sign that invites Sandler to next year’s party and then post the shots with appropriate hashtags.
But, whoever shows up at the Best of NH Party, the real stars of the show are the dining scene, hospitality industry, retail sector and the entertainment businesses of the state.
Our annual event has become a barometric read on how these important purveyors are doing and, if this year was any indication, the state is doing better than ever providing a potent blend of old and new establishments and our best turnout to date. But this year you can see signs of cultural progress just about everywhere you look, with exciting projects, art centers and new theaters popping up all over, from the hip and luxe Bank of New Hampshire Stage in Concord to the game-changing revival of the Rex Theatre in Manchester.
It just goes to show that, like a bolt of cloth with the right hands animating it, the cultural fabric of our state is really taking shape and coming to life before our eyes.
And, Adam, if you’re out there, we’d love to see your balloon sculpture come to life next year, so have your people contact ours.