October 8, 2009


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Music, pumpkins and local talent
Milford Pumpkin Festival fills the air with sound
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

Halloween as we know it originated with Samhain, the Irish festival of the dead. But it took Yankee ingenuity to turn the somber Celtic observance into a real party. The use of costumes, candy and community suppers to mark the day are all American born — as is the holiday’s symbol. Massachusetts-born John Greenleaf Whittier celebrated jack-o-lanterns in his 1850 poem “The Pumpkin”: “when wild, ugly faces carved in its skin/glaring out through the dark with a candle within!”

Wedding a harvest festival to this spook fest came as naturally as the changing weather to one New Hampshire town. This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the Milford Pumpkin Festival. Between edible and eerie staples like church suppers and a “not for the faint of heart” haunted forest, there’s an eclectic blend of music presented on two different stages.

All outdoor music, presented on the town Oval stage and the Community House Lawn, is free. However, the community-wide talent show at the Amato Center on Saturday, Oct. 11, at 8 p.m. is a ticketed event ($8 for adults, $5 for kids). Make a note — it usually sells out.

It’s an eclectic mix. Friday night’s first band is Pumpkin Festival mainstays PB & Jammin Jazz Ensemble, a community band led by local music teacher Cecil Rowlette. Members range from middle-school kids to adults, and the band’s repertoire runs the gamut as well, from big band to rock.

They’re followed by the “tribal American music” of Fred Simmons and the Folksoul Band, which play a provocative blend of Dixieland, Cajun, calypso and reggae, among other musical elements.

Steve Dreher & Friends are the first band of Saturday morning (10 a.m., Community House Lawn), playing to the younger crowd with titles like “Dinosaur in the Grocery Store.” Another tiny tot special, Diane Kordas’s Romper Rhythm and Puppets, follows.

The Slakas, a Manchester five-piece who cover Heart’s “Barracuda” so convincingly it’s hard to tell it from the real thing, get things started for the big kids on the Oval Stage at 10 a.m. There’s more classic rock from the Transistors at noon on the Community House Lawn.

Country fans get their due in the afternoon, with the rootsy Rob Oxford, who mixes “Folsom Prison Blues” and “City of New Orleans” with originals like “Over the Hills to Woodstock,” a New England train song. Singer Shelby Lyn Rogers has wowed audiences since she turned 11; she played her first Milford Pumpkin Festival in 2006. 

The Pop Farmers (4 p.m., Community House Lawn) specialize in garage band Americana, covering Ryan Adams and Tom Petty along with crunchier fare like the Smithereens, Cracker and the Bottle Rockets’ “Thousand Dollar Car.”

A big highlight on Saturday is the Chili Roundup (5:30 p.m., Community House Lawn, $5 per person), a competition with awards for both best and “wimpiest” recipes. While that’s happening, Pennichuck Brewing Company and Martha’s Exchange Restaurant are hosting a “street party” at Union Street and Route 101A, with a beer tasting and music from Boston’s Macrotones, an all-instrumental band given to lively jazz excursions infused with a Latin backbeat — a funkier version of Sun Ra’s Arkestra.

Macrotones percussionist Patrick Hurly called the band’s music 30 percent each of Afro, funk and rock — “The rest is craziness,” he said by telephone from the band’s practice space. “We leave everything on the stage. It’s a sweaty, all-out massacre of music.”

The Ballou Brothers, a band that’s been around in one form or another for over 30 years, take the Oval Stage at 6 p.m. Their originals borrow a lot from the artists they cover — Springsteen, Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers — but they also spice things up with the occasional fiddle, lap steel or mandolin solo.

Saturday’s final band is Russell Hill, a mostly acoustic five-piece who call their music “no pretense, as direct as a stare.”

Sunday’s half day of music is the most wide-ranging. Amy Conley and Friends (11 a.m. Oval Stage) mix folk blues and Celtic traditions, while the Community Fiddle Orchestra (11 a.m., Community House Lawn) gets down-home and old-timey. 

The Sinfonietta (noon, Community House Lawn) plays classical selections, and at 1 p.m. Marlena Phillips cranks out power ballads a la Whitely, Celine and Barbra.

Over on the Oval Stage at 1 p.m., the Exeter/Peterborough-based Random Acts of Harmony give the three-part treatment to everything from the Lettermen to the Beach Boys. The festival’s final act at 2 p.m. on the Oval Stage is Rakes of the Milford Area, who take things all the way up country — Quebec, Nova Scotia and points beyond.

Milford Pumpkin Festival
Where: Milford Town Green
When: Friday, Oct. 9, 5-10 p.m.; Saturday, Oct.11 10, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 11, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Cost: Free for all performances held on the Oval Stage and Community House Lawn

More festival music
Live music of many styles will be offered during the 62nd Warner Fall Foliage Festival, happening Columbus Day weekend, Oct. 9, 10 & 11. The bands will play in the Warner Power Entertainment Stage Tent, a restful place to sit to take a break from the festival — but it also has a dance floor if you’ve just got to get up and express yourself! Dance troupes will perform in front of the Information Booth if the weather permits. 

Saturday, Oct. 10, brings traditional jazz by Contoocook’s The Fountain Square Ramblers, who share their love of early jazz and Dixieland sounds at 11:30 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. The Kearsarge Dance Studio, appearing for their first time at Festival, will perform original routines to popular music at noon. The Bradford Country Squares bring fancy footwork to a modern Country beat at 1:45 p.m. The crowd-pleasing Granite State Cloggers are on at 2:45 p.m. Round out the night starting at 5 p.m. with The October Sons playing their original and classic rock’n’roll tunes.

Sunday, Oct. 11, will bring the Granite State Cloggers back for an encore performance at 10 a.m. Another new group, Julie and Brownie (pictured) , will celebrate the joys of childhood and friendships for the very young and the young-at-heart at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The toe-tapping East Bay Jazz Ensemble will play their Big Band and classic songs at 12:15 and 3:30 p.m. At 1 p.m. the Grand Parade will wend its way through downtown and the fairgrounds, complete with school marching bands.

See www.wfff.org.