Music — You're Not So Very Far From Tupelo

You're Not So Very Far From Tupelo

By Seth Hoy

$100K renovation in the bag, joint is ready for music

We’ve all been there before — that smoky dive bar on a slow Friday night with a friend you don’t really like that much. No matter how much you drink you can’t get drunk and every time you suggest you split, the local suck band in the background plays another horrifically loud chord which makes you long for the days when bands like Hanson were big. (Don’t ask. I’m not sure when that was either)

Well, it doesn’t have to be like that.

Tupelo Music Hall at 2 Young Road in Londonderry may not be a brick house or even a love shack, but it’s definitely a place to kick back and listen to quality music.

Owner Scott Hayward purchased the building, then The Muse, from Meredith and Ken Allen in July 2004. A financial planner, Hayward has no background in music — oh, except for the fact that he loves it. They say life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, but Hayward would argue that it’s the music.

“I have no background playing music,” Hayward said. “But I’ve been living my whole life with the music on. You go to school and take classes to learn how to read and write. But you spend your whole life with a radio on or going to concerts. That’s my thing. This stuff needs to continue. Music always needs to be available for all ages. You shouldn’t have to deal with the whole waiter/waitress thing or a smoky bar. There needs to be a venue that doesn’t have all that or cost a ton of money. So we’ve created a pure listening room.”

And pure it is. After he purchased The Muse, Hayward sank more than $100,000 renovating the 2400-square-foot music hall. He ripped out the sound system and installed a 22-by-14 foot stage, painted the walls in warm vibrant colors and installed a state-of-the-art full JBL sound system with speakers. But not everything new is better, like the 1942 baby Baldwin piano on stage. The hall also comes complete with four monitor mixing systems that allows four artists on stage to tailor the sound they want to make.

“We were going for a Boston/Manhattan club feel,” Hayward said. “My wife and I have a favorite place in Manhattan — The Rue 57. There are a few other restaurants we tried to model it after, like Cotton in Manchester. There’s a cool vibe about it. We wanted our place to be the place that when you get here, you say, ‘Wow, I only drove 10 minutes to get here.’ You really get a night out.”

Renamed The Tupelo after the birthplace of Elvis, Tupelo, Miss., the music hall seats 250 theater-style and 140 with tables. But while you’re sitting in this lush and highly equipped listening room, what, pray tell, will you be feasting your ears on?

Think 92.5 The River ,which plays anything from U2’s Vertigo to Green Day and Norah Jones. In fact, 92.5 The River sponsored a show on Sunday, Jan. 30, featuring singer-songwriter acoustic queen Melissa Ferrick. Although Tupelo has only been open since September, they have booked more than 30 solid shows with such artists as coffeehouse favorite Vance Gilbert, Eddie from Ohio, Braddigan (Brad Corrigan, formerly of the jam band Dispatch) and other stars-to-be.

“We have a lot of acoustic, jazz and folk bands,” Hayward said, “but we’re working on getting some R&B and country because no one else around here has that. I don’t want to be known as the “Oh, they only have country and folk” place. I want to be known as a showcase that plays all kinds of music — not just folk and acoustic.”

“I’m trying to keep with the tradition of some of these folk artists” Hayward continued. “But I’m also trying to add more shows to the schedule with bigger names — like Roger Mcguinn, who used to be with The Byrds and Richie Havens, who warmed up at Woodstock.”

Though Hayward doesn’t have a strong music background, he has friends who do. His booking man is Tim Mason, who books for Club Passim in Cambridge; and Robert Haigh, who ran the Old Vienna, runs the sound board.

In an attempt to give younger people in the southern New Hampshire area a place to go, Hayward is actively trying to book bands that often play at the Paradise in Boston. People like Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, Braddigan, Melissa Ferrick and Ollabelle.

“Ollabelle is a gospel sing-and-clap-your-hands band.” Hayward said. “There are six of them in the band and they are unbelievable. They’re going to be a ‘holy-shit-I-saw-them-when’ band. And Braddigan is absolutely one of my favorites. He brings in a completely different crowd — the 17 to 25 crowd. He fills the room with these kids and delivers a really nice message. He doesn’t preach, but he’ll be in the middle of a set and talk about things he’s going through.”

And one of my favorite parts about the Tupelo, aside from the fact that it’s a joint entirely devoted to music, is the BYOB policy. They serve a light fare of your normal concession food, but people 21 and up are free to bring wine, beer or whatever they’d like within reason. Rather than set the focus on booze, Tupelo’s BYOB police allows the music hall to remain a place to listen and enjoy the music.

“We don’t have a liquor license,” Hayward said. “If we had a liquor license we would have a bar. But are we a listening room or a bar? If we had a bar we’d have to serve food. Next thing I know I’m exactly what I didn’t want to be. I don’t want waiters and waitresses getting in the way and watering down the musical experience. So if we’re not selling wine or alcohol, we have to let people bring it.”

Even though Hayward continues to book shows with bigger and better names, he doesn’t forget that the focus of his music hall is, and always will be, the music.

“This is the stuff in life we need,” Hayward said. “When you’re done with the bullshit of your nine-to-five job, you come here. And why wouldn’t you? This is the place that stars five years from now will get their start. It’s the alternative to the smoky bar setup.”

Shows typically run with an open mic on Thursday, a show on Friday and Saturday and two shows on Sunday. Tickets range from $5 to $25 depending on who’s behind the mic. For a complete line-up of performances, check out or call 888.688.7356.

— Seth Hoy

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