September 23, 2010

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Slutty Pete’s birthday blues
Jamming at the Trestle with Zona and special guests
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

When Wan-Tu Blues Band harp player Pete Zona first began performing live, he was constantly searching for an open jam session. In 2004, his girlfriend Brenda Cadieux decided to bring the music to the couple’s favorite bar, the Village Trestle in Goffstown. She organized a surprise birthday party and invited the many musicians Zona had sat in with. “Point being they all had to let Peter play with them,” explained Cadieux recently.

On that day, guitarist Tom Bellerini dubbed him Slutty Pete, because, says Cadieux, “he will play with anyone.” When the participants all agreed the experience was so much fun it should be repeated a week later, the gathering also marked the beginning of an enduring Sunday afternoon tradition. But while the weekly Wan-Tu Blues Band session is one of the most popular in the area, nothing draws a crowd like Slutty Pete’s annual Birthday Jam.

Past jams have featured surprise appearances — one year, singer Mighty Sam McClain stopped by, and the late George Gibson showed up unannounced at the second jam. “He did a most memorable set of his originals, all dedicated to Peter and his love of the blues,” says Cadieux; Gibson died in 2009. “George was the real thing, and he is sorely missed. Another great moment was Peter’s brother Tommy, also a musician, flying in from Chicago.”

The sixth annual birthday party happens Sunday, Sept. 26, at 3 p.m. at the Village Trestle. Special guests expected to participate include legendary singer Sheila Lewis, Roomful of Blues member (and former Kan-Tu Blues Band keyboard player) Travis Colby, and singers Lisa Marie and Elle Gallo. Also confirmed are the Bob Pratte Band, Rocco Stephens, Gracie Curran, Southern Ways, Wendell Jenkins, George Leh, Common Knowledge and Wild Bill Gleason.

Harp player and Wan-Tu member Dave Glannon played at the first jam and has been at every one since. He says Zona has a natural ability that he finds astonishing.

“I’ve been to some jams where it’s either total mayhem or it’s uppity. That never happens with any of the jams that Pete hosts,” says Glannon. “Everyone’s made to feel welcome, it’s like a family, from the best players around to people who’ve just started and aren’t quite there yet. He does a really good job of mixing things up and making sure things move along.”

Zona is modest about his role. “To be honest, I’m not sure what makes the jam go quite like that,” he says. “Everybody is very supportive of everybody else and tries to help out. There’s not a lot of ego going on, which makes people relaxed, and they play better that way.”

It’s a community of kindred souls that seems to grow every year, according to Glannon, who has noticed a significant influx of out-of-state musicians. “Once somebody plays there they tend to come back,” he says. “Pete doesn’t ask for anything in return; he’s happy just to keep people happy. There’s definitely a lot of love in that place on a Sunday afternoon, it’s true.”

Shirley Lewis (who also performs a ticketed show at the Village Trestle on Oct. 9) met Zona through the lat K.D. Bell, who introduced her to New Hampshire music scene more than 10 years ago.

“That is the connection,” she says. “The Trestle is a fun place, the food is good and the owners are just great people to know. Also there is really good acoustics — it’s a great atmosphere when you walk in the place.”

Zona’s 50th birthday party in 2008 drew the largest crowd, but Cadieux expects an even bigger turnout this year. “I honestly believe it will be the biggest and best to date,” she says. “Peter works so hard all year, and all the players respect him and his ability to juggle and set up so that the music flows smoothly. The musicians are happy and the audience is entertained. He makes sure everyone is introduced and treated like a star. Because, after all, that is why they are there.”

Cadieux herself doesn’t perform at the jams. “I have zero talent,” she says. “My only claim to fame is getting the people out to support live music.” To that end, she manages a large e-mail list and Facebook page to update Wan-Tu followers about the Trestle and the band’s two Manchester jams, Tuesdays at Fratello’s and Thursdays at Johnny Bad’s.

“All of our relationships with the various musicians have begun at jams,” Cadieux says. “It is a community in itself. There is no one-upmanship, there are no ego issues and there is an underlying sense of brotherhood. Much like any form of unity, the musicians take care of each other, and they learn from each other.”

These days, the camaraderie is especially important. The economy has taken a big toll, forcing six- to 10-piece bands to go out as trios or even solo acts. Some venues have given up live music completely. Says Cadieux, “if you’re playing music in the New Hampshire area, you do it because you love it.”


Slutty Pete’s Birthday Jam
Where: The Village Trestle, 25 Main St. in Goffstown
When: Sunday, Sept. 26, at 3 p.m.
Info: Call 497-8230