July 1, 2010

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Fan-driven music
Gravity Tavern pulls them in
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

One quick look around the remodeled Gravity Tavern, located in a former 19th-century axe factory across the parking lot from Kiki’s Restaurant in New Boston, and the sense is immediate: this is a listening room.

It’s rustic, from the exposed roof beams to the rough-sanded wide pine floorboards. But situated above the bar and at other strategic locations throughout the spacious tavern are curved acoustic panels, which enhance the overall sound. Other touches — the room’s layout, a big deck overlooking the Piscataquog River equipped with outdoor speakers — reinforce the music-friendly impression.

There’s plenty of space for performers like Ameranouche, Acoustic Truffle and the Russell Hill Band to spread out. On a recent Friday night, the Bradford Bog People played old-time bluegrass in the far corner of the room. Pub tables are situated far enough away from the band to keep conversation from drowning out the music.

Black leather couches arranged in an L shape across from a large fireplace at the tavern’s center seemed to whisper, “sit down, relax and enjoy.” It feels like a hybrid of your best friend’s living room and a top-end recording studio, with pricey Mackie speakers driving the house sound.

“The musicians are told to keep it low, and focus on talent over amps,” said Joel Bedard, who been began booking the music earlier this year. “So far, everyone seems to be very receptive to that because they like the idea of showcasing as opposed to blowing the windows out.”

Bedard is a music fan with fond memories of his Vermont college days: “I saw Phish 100 times without paying a cover charge,” said the Nashua native, who lived in Boulder, Colo., and Seattle after graduation. “I’ve always tried to be around a college town — that’s where a lot of the up and coming music is.”

But New Boston isn’t Boulder. Though bucolic, his current hometown can feel pretty remote at times. “We like to say it’s close to nowhere,” Bedard said, laughing. So when Kirsten “Kiki” Montgomery broached the subject of bringing music to her recently opened farmhouse restaurant, Joel Bedard saw a chance to do something about it.

Now in his early 40s, Bedard’s tastes have refined over the years, spurred by trips to the Winter Hawk (now Grey Fox) Bluegrass Festival in upstate New York.

“I like the clean aspect of acoustic music — you can actually distinguish each of the individual instruments,” he said. “I think it’s really the essence of the talent of the musicians.”

Ideally, Gravity Tavern will one day come to resemble the Folkway in Peterborough, which closed in 1996. In its heyday, that music club hosted early performances by Mary Chapin Carpenter, Suzanne Vega, Greg Brown and other seminal musicians.

With a day job as a program manager with PC Connection in Merrimack, Bedard doesn’t have nearly the time he’d like to devote to his new avocation of live music impresario. Still, he doesn’t miss an opportunity to find new recruits for his mission.

He booked Ameranouche after doing a Cisco networking job at a Manchester dog kennel run by the wife of the band’s guitarist. At a recent lunch at Daniel’s in Henniker, he noticed Mink Hills Band was playing the restaurant, so he dashed off an e-mail invitation to them to play the Gravity Tavern.

“I’ve been checking out Savoy Truffle since the late ’80s, when I used to see them at the White Horse Tavern in Milford,” Bedard said, so booking the Seacoast band for a July 29 acoustic show was a no-brainer. He’s also reached out to Harlow’s Tavern in Peterborough and Boynton’s Taproom in Manchester to see if they can work together to attract bands to the region.

Upcoming performers include Newfound Grass (July 1), Hungrytown (July 31), Charlie Christos (Aug. 13) and Lunch at the Dump (Aug. 27). Some higher-energy shows are also scheduled: Electric Truffle on Aug. 14, as well as September appearances by Jamantics and Superfrog. Bedard recently began a music blog (http://gravitytavern.blogspot.com) to keep patrons up to date as the schedule evolves.

“We hope it takes on a life of its own,” Bedard sid. “What we’re looking to do is create a synergy where not just people but the artists hear about the place and say, ‘Wow, that sounds like a fit for us.’”


Gravity Tavern
What: Gravity Tavern
Where: 35 Mount Vernon Road in New Boston
Info: www.gravitytavern.com, 325-4122
Upcoming performances, all shows start 8 p.m.:
Friday, July 2, New Found Grass
Saturday, July 3, Putnam Smith
Friday, July 9, Charlie Christos
Saturday, July 10, TBA
Friday, July 16, Gary Lopez
Saturday, July 17, Mark Marquis Trio
Friday, July 23, Gerry Pawquet
Saturday, July 24, Ballou Brothers
Thursday, July 29, Dave Gerard/Truffle
Friday, July 30, TBA
Saturday, July 31, Hungrytown