Singer-Songwriter Comes Home
Cormac McCarthy Returns to His Roots at Claremont Opera House
Folk singer-songwriter Cormac McCarthy returns to his hometown this weekend for a performance at Claremont Opera House. (Courtesy photograph)
Singer-songwriter Cormac McCarthy turns to the milltowns of his upbringing as material for his songs. (Courtesy photo)
Ana Popovic brings her fiery blues sound to Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction this weekend.
Long before either troubadour established himself, Bill Morrissey advised fellow New Englander Cormac McCarthy in the early 1970s never to forget where he came from — namely, New Hampshire’s Sullivan County.
“Like most kids, I wanted to get as far away as possible from where I grew up,” McCarthy, a 1970 graduate of Claremont’s Stevens High School, recalled a few days before his performance this weekend at Claremont Opera House. “The lumbering, the woolen mills (he worked a few summers at the Dorr plant in Newport), a lot of the stuff that was starting to fade away. Bill encouraged me to remember the stories from growing up. That definitely colored my outlook.”
More than 40 years, five albums, and countless gigs later — ranging from Colburn Park in Lebanon to the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island — he’ll touch up the picture in brushes of song and anecdote Saturday night at 7, as part of the latest in the Fiske Free Library’s series, “Making Connections: Recalling the Past, Connecting with the Present,” celebrating Claremont’s 250th anniversary.
“He’d been on our radar screen for quite a while as we were planning,” the library’s Colin Sanborn said this week. “Sometime last year I sent out an inquiry to him and a number of other individuals, and he was receptive.
“He’s seen a lot and knows how to share it in a compelling way.”
McCarthy figures that he took the first fork in the road to his life’s labor of love in the mid-1960s, on the day the authorities in his world told the eighth-grader from Lempster that he needed to pick where to attend grades 9 through 12: at Newport High School, Sunapee High, or Stevens High.
“Because we lived in the sticks, I had the choice,” McCarthy said. “I heard I could get a better education in Claremont, and since my father was the urban renewal director in Claremont, I went to Stevens.”
In those days, with Joy Manufacturing still in its heyday and the town still bustling as the economic hub of the Upper Valley, Stevens housed enough students for its interscholastic varsity sports teams to be playing in the top division of New Hampshire — and to employ Frank Stone, the music teacher whom McCarthy describes as “just the best guy ever” and to whom he dedicated his third album, Picture Gallery Blues.
“I’d play rudimentary stuff on my clarinet, and he would improvise on his violin while I did my etudes,” McCarthy said. “It opened everything up for me. He made drudgery exciting. More important, he confided in me that I didn’t have a future as a clarinet player, but had a good ear for music and should stay with it.”
A t Plymouth State College, McCarthy wound up rooming with a Plymouth State dropout turned folk singer named Bill Morrissey. While Morrissey was a good influence as far as helping McCarthy transition to the guitar and introducing him to the masters of country blues and other genres that would leaven his repertoire, he resisted some of Morrissey’s artistic and logistic advice.
“Bill said that to be a real folk singer, you had to flunk out of school,” McCarthy said. “But my draft number was 52, and it was the Vietnam era and all that entails.”
So McCarthy stayed in school, transferring after sophomore year and eventually graduating from the University of New Hampshire with a degree in English. Over the ensuing decades, he honed his craft at venues large and small, mining all the while his memories of the workman’s world he remembered, and that was disappearing, around New England and the nation.
Before his last performance in Claremont, with fellow folk singer-songwriter Patty Larkin some two decades ago, he scarcely recognized the city of his teens.
“The town was pretty much boarded up, going through hard times,” said McCarthy, who now lives in South Berwick, Maine. “It’ll be interesting to see what’s changed since.”
Time permitting, maybe he’ll get to see the development of the old mill buildings on the Sugar River into high-tech firms, the Common Man restaurant and the Common Man’s adjacent inn. Maybe even gather some material for a follow-up album to his 2013 outing, Collateral, a task he’s been putting off while pondering a CD of live recordings from his concerts. For now, he’s focusing on sharing the connections he sees.
“I’ll be doing a lot of story songs that come directly from living over there,” McCarthy said. “Every regional writer, when they go for a metaphor, some of the story and the feeling comes from their youth and upbringing. I can still picture stuff, almost like it’s a movie.”
Cormac McCarthy will perform Saturday night at 7 at the Claremont Opera House. While admission is free, donations are welcome. Cafe-style seating on the stage of the auditorium is limited to 78, so those tickets must be acquired in advance at the Fiske Free Library on Broad Street. For more information, call 603-542-7017 or visit http://www.claremontnh.com/uploads/Library/cormacweb3.pdf.
The Boston-based Walden Chamber Players will perform “Cuba — Music and Images from the Forbidden Island” at 7:30 tonight, at the First Baptist Church in New London. Before the concert, the Summer Music Associates of New London will present, at 6:30, an exhibit of photos of Cuba by Doug Munch and a lecture on the musical history and culture of Cuba by Benjamin Willis. Tickets cost $5 to $25. For reservations and more information, visit summermusicassociates.org or call 603-526-8234. Tickets also are available, by cash and check only, at Morgan Hill Bookstore, Tatewell Gallery and the New London Chamber of Commerce..
∎ Alumni Hall in Haverhill will be jumping this weekend, first with a concert Friday night at 7:30 by compo ser-violist-arranger LJOVA — a ka Lev Zhurbin — and his ensemble Kontraband, who play their own spin on klezmer and jazz. Then on Sunday Court Street Arts holds its fourth annual Festival of Earthly Delights, at which Upper Valley fiddler Patrick Ross, Vermont singer-songwriter Hunter Paye and the Boston-based Van Burens band will perform both for an audience and for some 40 vendors of food and beverages. Tickets for the Friday concert cost $20, festival tickets are $20 for food-only revelers and $25 for food and drink. For more information, visit alumnihall.org or call 603-989-5500.
∎ Sensible Shoes and Americana singer-songwriter Bow Thayer lead the list of the musical attractions at Woodstock SummerFest, which will take over the downtown stretch of Elm Street from all vehicle traffic on Saturday between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. SummerFest, the new incarnation of The Taste of Woodstock festival, will feature food, drink, street performers, kids activities, dancing, and tasting along with the soundtrack of live music. Sensible Shoes will perform between 12:30 and 2 in the afternoon, while the play time for Thayer and his band is still in the planning.
The Old Church Theater in Bradford, Vt., will stage the Peter Clapham adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women, with performances Aug. 15 and 16 at 7:30 p.m., and on Aug. 17 at 4 p.m. The run continues through the weekend of Aug. 22-24. For tickets and more information, call 802-222-3322 or visit oldchurchtheater.org.
The New London Barn Playhouse continues its production of Cole Porter’s classic musical Kiss Me , Kate with 7:30 stagings tonight, Friday night and Saturday night, at 5 p.m. on Sunday, at 7:30 Tuesday night, and at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. The play continues through Aug. 16. For tickets ($24.50 to $40) and more information, visit nlbarn.org.
Sensible Shoes will provide a rocking, danceable soundtrack to the Lebanon Farmers Market at Colburn Park this afternoon from 4:15 to 6:45.
∎ The Island Times Steel Drums quartet will pound a Caribbean beat on the green in Woodstock at noon today, the latest in the Pentangle Arts series of admission-free Brown Bag concerts.
∎ The John Lackard Blues Band will play on the Quechee Green tonight at 6:30.
∎ Soul singer-songwriter Jesse Dee will perform on the bandstand at Colburn Park in Lebanon tonight at 7.
∎ Memphis-based guitar wrangler Ana Popovic and her four-piece band will test the air conditioning at Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction on Friday night at 8, with a set of fiery blues. For tickets ($30 to $35) and more information, visit tupelohallvermont.com.
∎ Beth and Clint Telford of Braintree, Vt., will host a house-party performance by Ireland’s Mick Conneely and David Munnelly, Saturday night starting at 7:30. Conneely plays fiddle and six-string bouzouki while Munnelly wields the accordion and the melodeon. To reserve tickets and for more information, call 802-728-6351 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
∎ The duos of Norman and Jeanne Fischer and of Andrew and Gail Jennings will join forces on Sunday afternoon at 2 to perform “European Masters for Eight Hands” during the weekly concert at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish. Jeanne Fischer and Gail Jennings are the pianists while Norman Fischer plays the violoncello and Andrew Jennings the violin, in a program that includes works by Sibelius, Copland, Brahms, Ravel and Beethoven. Admission is included in the price to enter the historic site, $5 for age 16 and up. For more information, visit nps.gov/saga/planyourvisit/summer-concerts.htm.
∎ Michael Sachs and the jazz ensemble Little King will perform at Newbury, Vt.’s Tenney Memorial Library on Monday night at 7. For more information, visit flavors.me/littlekingmuzac.
∎ The folk duo of Dana and Susan Robinson will will hit the bandstand of Lebanon’s Colburn Park on Monday night at 7.
∎ The Cardigan Mountain Tradition band will play bluegrass old and new starting at 7 Tuesday night on the green in Canaan.
∎ Mark Douglas Berardo will sing folks songs and tell stories at Lyman Point Park in White River Junction at 6:30 on Wednesday night.
∎ The Flames will burn through rock’s golden age, the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, at the Ben Mere Bandstand on Sunapee Harbor, on Wednesday night at 7.
Bar and Club Circuit
Guitarist Phil Singer opens the next week’s parade of performers through Hanover’s Canoe Club, tonight at 7. Following Singer to the microphone with 7-to-10-p.m. sets are Americana singer-songwriter Madeline Kelly on Friday, pianist Gillian Joy on Saturday, the roots quintet Danny and the Dinosaurs on Sunday, the Billy Rosen Trio with a night of jazz on Monday, The Real Bossa Nova quintet of Dartmouth students and graduates Juliana Baratta, Alfredo Velasco, Reed Harder, Phil Laire and Moises Silva on Tuesday, and jazz/blues pianist Bob Lucier on Wednesday. Also, Marko the Magician will perform his weekly sleight-of-hand on Monday night between 5:30 and 8:30.
∎ The lineup of performers at Salt hill Pub in Newport at the end of this week starts tonight at 8 with Americana singer-songwriter Madeline Hawthorne, and continues with 9 p.m. performances Friday from Flew-Z and Saturday from the rock trio Jester Jiggs.
∎ The Mo’Combo quartet will play funk, blues, R&B, soul and classics on Friday night at 9 in the Skunk Hollow Tavern at Hartland Four Corners.
∎ The Vermont-based trio Hi-Way Five will perform classic rock at Salt hill Pub in Lebanon on Friday night, starting at 9.
∎ Tadd Dreis performs at Jesse’s in Hanover on Friday night, starting at 5.
∎ The weekend of music at Salt hill Pub in Hanover starts Friday night at 9 with the duo Crushed Out performing honky-tonk surf rock, proto-punk, and country blues, and continues Saturday night at 9 with Royalton singer-songwriter Ali Turner playing acoustic pop.
∎ The Wheelers family band will spare Kim and Anthony as a duo on Tuesday night at 6, to play at Windsor Station.
Ramunto’s Brick & Brew Pizza in Bridgewater hosts an open mic starting at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays. Participants get a free large cheese pizza.
∎ At Salt hill in Lebanon, Brian Warren and Seth Barbiero will host an open mic tonight starting at 8.
∎ Brian Warren also hosts an open mic at Bentleys Restaurant in Woodstock. It’s on Mondays, starting at 8:30 p.m.
∎ Bradford’s Colatina Exit holds an open mic on Tuesdays starting at 8 p.m.
∎ The Seven Barrel Brewery in West Lebanon runs an open mic on Wednesdays, beginning at 8 p.m.
∎ Gregory Brown hosts an open mic at Hartland’s Skunk Hollow Tavern, beginning at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.
David Corriveau can be reached at email@example.com and at 603-727-3304.