Rynborn reborn? Capitol City blues
“My dog died, my wife left me,” at the Draft
By Michael Witthaus firstname.lastname@example.org
Andy and Laurie Sanborn remember a time when Luther “Guitar” Johnson lived down the road from them in Antrim, and on any given night something magical might happen in a rough and tumble blues shack called the Rynborn.
“We’d go there all the time,” says Laurie. “It was nothing fancy, but it was the best blues.”
“When the Rynborn left Antrim and went to Keene and then closed, it left a void in my soul,” Andy said. He added: “I consider the blues to be the foundation of original music.”
When the couple opened the Draft in downtown Concord in 2006, they entertained the idea of offering music, but market forces won the day. Concord needed a sports bar, and the converted bike shop on Main Street soon became a neighborhood magnet.
With flat-screen televisions lining the wall, a solid menu of comfort food and nearly two dozen beers on tap, the Draft routinely drew standing-room crowds for Super Bowls, March Madness and Red Sox playoff games.
Still, Andy Sanborn said, the blues kept calling him.
“In my heart, I wanted to do music,” he said. “Johnny Lang, John Lee Hooker — my dog died, my wife left me, down and dirty.”
So they decided it was time to bring the Mississippi Delta to downtown Concord, along with a little bit of Chicago and Texas for good measure.
Sanborn did what anyone with no experience booking live music would do upon making such a decision. He Googled “New England blues bands.”
Soon he was checking out the MySpace page of Houston-born, Massachusetts-based Tom Yates. Entranced by Yates’ playing and hoping for talent by association, Sanborn began clicking different names on the guitarist’s friend list.
Eventually, he’d built a list of 40 or so musicians. From it, he culled a tasty lineup of regional talent — local players like Francine Calo, Dr. Harp and Lisa Marie and the All Shook Up, along with out-of-town performers like Yates — and made plans to start presenting live music every Thursday night.
Dr. Harp’s Blues Revue began things on Feb. 11 and will return to the Draft on April 15.
On a recent night, Jay Scheffler and Jim Chilson of the eastern Massachusetts band Ten Foot Polecats worked through an original acoustic blues shuffle. Chilson fingerpicked a six-string guitar, while Scheffler played a moaning harmonica. Due to a communication mix-up, the duo had to hook up to the house PA system, but that turned out well, as their sound enveloped the room.
As they wrapped up Howlin’ Wolf’s “44,” the crowd whooped in approval.
One week earlier, the Sanborns were out of town, scouting for bands in Austin, Texas. Upon their return, patrons gushed over the Racky Thomas Band, who’d won the house over with their raw, authentic-sounding South Side blues, driven by Thomas’s spirited harp playing.
“He played for four and a half hours, nonstop,” Andy said. “Everyone says he was the best we’ve had so far.”
They plan to continue the music indefinitely.
“We’re making a very big decision to invest in this, which is why we’re starting up with one night a week,” Andy said.
Live bands will always be free to customers.
“I don’t believe you should have to pay money to get into a bar,” Andy said. “We’re paying the bands out of our pockets, but there’s never a cover charge.”
Sanborn said he’s considering booking a country performer for NASCAR weekend, though he quickly added, “I’m not a fan of that kind of music.”
The couple is also being careful not to upset the formula that’s worked well for the Draft so far.
“We are focusing on quality over quantity,” Laurie Sanborn said. “The music will be extremely enjoyable and engaging, but not so loud that you can’t have a conversation with your friends.”