May 28, 2009

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A jamming space
Studio 99 is an artistic new music venue
By Katie Beth Ryan music@hippopress.com

If you can locate Studio 99 in Nashua’s vast brick-and-smokestack millyard, director Elise MacDonald promises an evening worth your while.

Located up four floors of creaking stairs in the Picker building at 99 Factory St., Studio 99 is a large room overlooking the Nashua River and downtown that’s become a second home of sorts for a small but faithful and growing group of local musicians, looking to hone their skills in music lessons or in one of the weekly open jam sessions the studio sponsors. But in recent months, it’s also begun to book headlining acts like The Wiyos, Miss Tess and the Bon Ton Parade, and Ian Ethan Case, a move that MacDonald, a longtime music teacher and community arts organizer, hadn’t originally planned.

“Nashua has a lot of really beautiful, large venues that are just gorgeous,” MacDonald said. “If you’re a musician who’s just making a name for yourself and starting to tour, it’s very difficult to hire out a hall like that because, (a), you don’t have the fan base yet, and (b), because it’s wildly expensive. I think what Nashua has been missing is a smaller, more accessible venue that’s just more nimble and flexible.”

Studio 99 had its genesis via local photographer Sid Ceaser, who informed MacDonald about the available space on the fourth floor. With the support of Marjorie Hogan and City Arts Nashua, Studio 99 started out in July of last year as an educational organization, holding lessons and jam sessions for blues, jazz, folk and bluegrass musicians.

“Fairly rapidly, I saw that there was a big demand for the jam sessions and for the open mikes,” she said. “That’s definitely educational, there’s no question, but it’s on a much less formal level … I think there’s a huge demand for that right now, for people to get out, have a great evening and spend time with other people socially while they play music.”

Though intended as a music performance space, Studio 99 has come to incorporate spoken word performances. Journalist and poet Ethan Gilsdorf, a lifelong friend of MacDonald’s, read poems “with a love, heartbreak theme to them” at the studio, and walked away with an appreciation for the building’s past.

“There are a lot of places where you read where you don’t get a sense of the history,” Gilsdorf said. “What I like about her studio is that you get a sense of the history there. As a writer and someone who’s interested in history, it’s very hard to not imagine who’s been in there and what’s taken place there.”

Studio 99 is open to all types of performance artists, and will hold a fine arts sale from June 19 through June 21 that will benefit Nashua’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Still, it’s a specific type of artist who thrives in a converted studio in an old mill, one who doesn’t require large crowds — Studio 99 can hold up to 75 patrons — or a large performance space. That’s fine by Miss Tess, who performed with the Bon Ton Parade and was one of the first traveling artists to stop at the burgeoning venue.

 “It was intimate and the acoustics are good. We like that,” she said. “The people in attendance were nice and seem to have a good sense of community…. Honestly, it was better than we expected.”

And best of all, MacDonald said, the studio manages to bring in a different type of crowd than the one you’ll find in your average sports bar.

“Yeah, they might be going out with their friends to socialize, but they’ll have dinner first and then come see a concert, and go out with their friends later. They’re not there to talk, drink and sort of have the music in the background. They’re there for the music.”

Upcoming performances at Studio 99 include an evening with Spider John Koerner at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2; Jesse Peters at 8 p.m. on Sunday, June 7; and Sit Down Baby at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 26. Studio 99 also holds open jams for jazz musicians on the first Wednesday of each month, a bluegrass jam on the third Wednesday, and a blues jam on the fourth Wednesday of each month. For more information about upcoming shows and detailed directions to Studio 99, visit www.studio99nashua.com.