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Highlights: Dar Williams’ Music and Book Tour Stops in Randolph

  • Singer-songwriter Dar Williams performs Saturday night at Randolph's Chandler Center for the Arts. She also will give a talk at 3 on Saturday afternoon about her recent book about the creative economy. (Courtesy photograph)

  • Singer-songwriter Iris DeMent performs Saturday night at Alumni Hall in Haverhill. (Courtesy photograph)



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, June 07, 2018

Among the hundreds of venues that Dar Williams played during her first quarter-century as a touring singer-songwriter, Randolph’s Chandler Music Hall left a lasting impression — and helped trigger an obsession.

“I haven’t been there in a long time; I would say 20 years,” Williams said during a telephone interview last week. “What I remember most was how motivated everybody was about the Chandler and the town, about the idea of getting involved in a concert venue as a way of waking up the town.

“It was a thing that I was starting to see in small cities and towns all over the country.”

Williams returns to the Chandler to perform on Saturday night, bringing, along with her guitar and her deep catalog of sometimes droll, sometimes reflective, always intelligent songs, her evolving interest in how small venues are bringing life back to downtowns around the country. Saturday afternoon at 3, she’ll share her observations about the role of the creative economy in a time of rapid economic change in a free talk in the Chandler’s Upper Gallery.

She’ll also find, thanks to a $3.7-million renovation of the Chandler, further evidence of the kind of renaissance that she documents and celebrates in her 2017 book, What I Found in a Thousand Towns: A Traveling Musician’s Guide to Rebuilding America’s Communities One Coffee Shop, Dog Run and Open-Mike Night at a Time.

“I think that downtowns have really come back,” Williams said. “It’s a good feedback loop. Whether it’s a concert hall or a nature trail or a library or a community garden, once people in a town have that success, in common space, they get involved in other spaces. They get to know who to call to make this project work and that project work.

“It’s important to recognize how cool you are.”

Around the same time that folk-music fans and radio hosts and peers started recognizing Williams’ artistic gifts, she was noticing how the loss of manufacturing plants and the arrival of big-box stores, particularly in the heartland, were turning once-thriving downtowns into ghost towns.

“You want to see dead, go back to 1995,” Williams said. “Plywood over windows. Empty storefronts. When I was touring the backroads of the country, the Midwest was the test patch of Walmart.”

Early on, the idea of resisting the temptation to view big boxes as saviors was an issue even in New England, where states like Vermont and regions like Massachusetts’ Berkshires resisted for a while.

“It was really hard in the ’90s to tour around and tell people in Lowell, Mass., for example, that ‘I’m sorry you’re getting a Walmart’ and then hear a chorus of boos,” Williams recalled. “It was really sad.”

At the same time, Williams noticed cities like Lowell, a textile powerhouse during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, starting to reboot by building around their history and their remaining assets, including rivers and former rail lines along which coffee shops, microbreweries, farmers markets and specialty stores were sprouting. Now Lowell has a thriving summer folk festival on the grounds of the national historic park built along the old row of factories along the Merrimack.

“I was seeing the opposite of this narrative of division that we’re hearing about between the red states and the blue states,” Williams said. “I was seeing so much health. I saw all these young people in their 20s who weren’t afraid to open breweries in dodgy neighborhoods in parts of Buffalo and St. Louis. I think people recognized this need, and started to fill their downtowns really well.”

Williams saw the trend particularly pick up speed in smaller communities such as Randolph, Lebanon, White River Junction and Keene, N.H., when she swung through to sing and play.

“When I saw what was then Three Tomatoes before playing the Lebanon Opera House, I saw that as a promising sign,” she said of the Italian restaurant that is now an anchor of downtown. “Things were really starting to move. When I played Tupelo last, I think in 2013, I stayed at the Coolidge, and before the show I went to a bar and saw kids singing karaoke. I went over to Quechee and saw young artisans blowing glass at Simon Pearce.”

In addition to describing such progress in her book, Williams has harnessed such scenes in more metaphorical ways in her songs, including Mad River from her 2015 album, Emerald:

Ron was a friend and a brother and a golden one

Like a leader and we were the tribe of the northern sun

He dropped down

From the bottom of the covered bridge when the day was done

In the northern sun

“I’ve been slowly getting back to songwriting,” Williams said. “This thing I’m doing now is just all consuming. The book has been an exciting ride. Before I really get back to creating new music, I’m going to see how far the book goes. It’s been a new path for me. We’ll see which way the river bends.”

Singer-songwriter Dar Williams performs at the Chandler Music Hall in Randolph on Saturday night, with Vermont singer Ariel Zevon opening for Williams at 7:30. To reserve tickets ($28 to $38), visit chandler-arts.org or call 802-728-6464. While Williams’ pre-concert talk in the Upper Gallery is free, the Chandler advises early registration because of limited seating.

Best Bets

Singer-songwriter Iris DeMent promises not to hold it against Upper Valley devotees of folk music who choose to go see Dar Williams play the Chandler on Saturday night instead of DeMent’s concert at Alumni Hall in Haverhill.

“Any town of any size usually has somebody besides me doing a show on the same night,” DeMent wrote during an exchange of emails this week. “Once, at a festival, I got upstaged by a pig race going on next door. The crowd got up and left, and I kept going.”

DeMent last performed in the Upper Valley in July 2014, when her new album, based on the work of Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, still lacked a title and a release date. It came out in 2015 as Trackless Woods, at least some of which DeMent expects to perform along with Infamous Angel and Our Town, her Grammy-nominated hits from the mid-1990s.

“The songs I choose to share are the ones I believe will matter the most to all of us, and they come from anywhere I can find them — my albums, old standards, something I heard in the grocery store,” she said. “You never know.”

For tickets ($20 to $22) to Iris DeMent’s show at Haverhill’s Alumni Hall, on Saturday night at 7:30, visit courtstreetarts.org or call 603-989-5500.

The New London Barn Playhouse kicks off its 2018 season tonight with the first of five free performances of its Straw Hat Revue, a variety show staged by this year’s troupe of acting interns.

The playhouse’s first production, Camelot, opens on Wednesday with performances at 2 in the afternoon and 7:30 at night, and runs through June 24. After Camelot, the schedule of shows includes Little Women, Sylvia, 42nd Street, Newsies and Murder for Two. For tickets to Camelot and subsequent shows ($20 to $40), and to the revue (free admission, but reservations advised), and to learn about options for season passes, visit nlbarn.org or call 603-526-6710.

The bands Sensible Shoes and Haywire perform at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds on Sunday afternoon, during the Party in the Pasture that follows The Ranger bicycle rally benefiting the programs of the Alliance for Vermont Communities. Former NRBQ guitarist Johnny Spampinato will join Sensible Shoes during its turns on stage. To learn more about the ride, the alliance and the post-pedaling party, visit therangervt.com.

Musician-puppeteer Jacob Graham performs the first of three free shows at Meriden’s Aidron Duckworth Art Museum on Tuesday night at 8. Following Tuesday’s experimental puppet show, created for the museum, Graham stages his “Creatures of Yes” puppet show next Thursday night at 8. The visit closes on June 16 with Graham leading his band, Sound of Ceres, in a concert that starts at 8. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the 16th, Graham will lead a puppetry workshop; to register (fee $15), email director@aidronduckworthmuseum.org.

Looking Ahead

The Moonlighters big band will kick off its summer tour on June 20, with a 6:30 p.m. performance on the Quechee Green.

Theater/Performance Art

The Old Church Theater company wraps its production of Pride @ Prejudice with three performances this weekend, starting Friday night at 7:30. To reserve tickets ($6 to $12) and learn more, visit oldchurchtheater.org or call 802-222-3322.

Music

Folk singer-songwriter Spencer Lewis serenades the weekly Feast and Field Market at Fable Farm in Barnard this afternoon starting at 5:30. The market opens at 4:30. Next Thursday night, the Afro-beat ensemble Barika performs.

The Grammy Award-winning a cappella ensemble Roomful of Teeth performs at the Woodstock Town Hall Theatre tonight at 7:30. General admission costs $10. To reserve seats, visit pentanglearts.org or call 802-457-3981.

Pianist Annemieke McLane and accordionist Jeremiah McLane play European and South American works inspired by folk melodies, on Sunday afternoon at 4 in the Hayloft at ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret. Admission is by donation to The Family Place. To learn more, visit artistreevt.org.

Cellists Elizabeth Cheng and Alberto Parrini and violist Nardo Poy play chamber works of Mozart and Kodaly at Woodstock’s North Universalist Chapel on Sunday afternoon at 4. Admission is by donation, recommended at $10.

Dance

The roots quintet Red Dog Riley sets the rhythm and Don Stratton calls the steps for Muskeg Music’s next contradance at Norwich’s Tracy Hall on Saturday night at 8. Admission is $6 to $11.

Bar and Club Circuit

Joseph Stallsmith leads a band of friends onto the patio of Orford’s Peyton Place restaurant tonight at 6, to play classic rock and folk tunes.

Sensible Shoes pulls into Windsor Station for a set of rock tonight at 7. The Windsor-based RoadTrash Band performs its mix of “cow punk” and rock on Saturday night at 10 and Australian-born singer-songwriter Grayson appears on Tuesday night at 6.

Royalton singer-songwriter Alison “AliT” Turner performs at the Inn at Weathersfield in Perkinsville on Friday night at 6.

The Montpelier-based Kava Express plays rhythm and blues at the Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners on Friday night at 9.

FLEW-Z frontman Alec Currier performs a solo set of acoustic rock at the Salt hill Pub in downtown Lebanon on Friday night at 9, and Better Days plays rock hits of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s on Saturday night at 9.

Acoustic rocker Chris Powers kicks off the weekend at Salt hill Pub in West Lebanon on Friday night at 9. And on Saturday night at 9, the Never Too Late Trio performs a set of folk music.

Singer-songwriter Thomas Knight plays Newport’s Salt hill Pub on Friday night at 9.

The weekend line-up at Salt hill Pub in Hanover features The Frogz with their mix of rock, blues and folk on Saturday night at 9.

Pianist Sonny Saul performs jazz at the On the River Inn in Woodstock on Saturday and Wednesday nights from 6:30 to 9.

Saxophonist Mike Parker and singer-songwriter Alison “AliT” Turner join forces at SILO Distillery in Windsor on Saturday afternoon at 1 and at Crossroads Bar and Grill in South Royalton on Tuesday night at 7.

The Americana ensemble of keyboardist Doc Winslow, bassist Tom Lord, guitarist Kit Creeger and drummer Bryant Harris serenades the weekly brunch at Poor Thom’s Tavern in Meriden on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Open Mics

Woodstock musician Jim Yeager hosts open mics on the following nights over the coming week: tonight at 7 at the ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret; at Bentley’s Restaurant in Woodstock on Monday at 7:30; at the Public House in Quechee on Tuesday at 6; and on Wednesday from 8 to midnight at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

String players of all ages and abilities are welcome at the weekly acoustic jam session at South Royalton’s BALE Commons on Friday night from 6:30 to 10.

Joe Stallsmith leads his weekly hootenanny of Americana, folk and bluegrass on Monday night at 6 at Salt hill Pub in Hanover.

Fiddler Jakob Breitbach leads a weekly acoustic jam session of bluegrass, Americana and old-timey music on Tuesday nights at 7 at The Filling Station Bar and Grill in White River Junction.

Tom Masterson hosts the weekly open mic at Bradford’s Colatina Exit on Tuesday nights at 8.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

Entertainment news also can be sent to highlights@vnews.com.