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Art Notes: Anonymous Coffeehouse making a name for itself as performance space

  • Caroline Cotter will be performing at the Anonymous Coffeehouse in Lebanon, N.H., on Sept. 24, 2021. (Brendan Bullock photograph) Brendan Bullock photograph

  • Dana Robinson will be performing at the Anonymous Coffeehouse in Lebanon, N.H., on Sept. 24, 2021. (Stefan Hannigan photograph)

  • Diana Whitney is joining Bookstock as its first-ever Managing Director. (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/22/2021 10:43:23 PM
Modified: 9/22/2021 10:43:27 PM

There are a lot of ways to experience live music in the Upper Valley.

The big fish, such as the Hop’s Spaulding Auditorium and the opera houses in Lebanon and Claremont, are surrounded by schools of smaller ones — town halls that double as theaters, Chandler Music Hall, bars like the Salt hill Pubs, churches and even private homes.

But there is nothing quite like a coffeehouse, and they are few and far between.

The lack of a coffeehouse in the central Upper Valley led Adam Sorscher to start one in Lebanon in 2019. After a pandemic-imposed break, the Anonymous Coffeehouse returns Friday evening with performances by peripatetic singer-songwriter Caroline Cotter and Vermont multi-instrumentalist Dana Robinson.

Live music can get lost in vast halls or at bars where there’s a lot of crowd noise. A coffeehouse, Sorscher said, is a place for music that addresses personal or emotional subjects that you just can’t plan in a large or boisterous environment.

For the musicians, “there’s really nothing more rewarding than performing before an attentive audience,” Sorscher said.

Anonymous Coffeehouse is a bit of an homage to the Nameless Coffeehouse, an all-volunteer project that’s been up and running in Cambridge, Mass., since 1967. Anonymous is housed in Lebanon’s First Congregational Church, on the green next to the fire station.

It is unusual among local venues in all kinds of ways.

Admission is free and a hat is passed for the musicians. Likewise, there’s no charge for coffee and baked goods, though donations are accepted.

“Our performers are not focused on the monetary aspects of what they do, by and large,” Sorscher said, “although they’re not opposed to it either.” He added that the coffeehouse has been able to pay “a decent amount” to musicians.

The coffeehouse — like others of its kind, no doubt — is popular with people in the recovery community, who would like to hear live music but don’t want to be around alcohol, Sorscher said.

The variety of performances has been surprising, including the differences between performers on the same night. On a typical night, three acts will each play for about 30 minutes. One evening, the young jazz singer Grace Crummer, backed by a quintet, shared the bill with the old-timey Bradford Bog People, who sat rapt in the front row during Crummer’s set. Musicians will sometimes join other acts for a song or two.

“With every show, there’s something memorable to me,” said Sorscher, a Thetford resident who started the coffeehouse out of his love for folk music and memories of the Nameless Coffeehouse from his college days.

There are other coffeehouses in the area, but they are a bit of a drive away.

For years, the Corinth Coffeehouse has entertained visitors in the Corinth Town Hall in the village of Cookeville, though it appears to be continuing its pandemic hiatus. And the Sunapee Community Coffeehouse is up and running in the Sunapee Methodist Church with a scheduled performance Friday evening by acclaimed interpreter of traditional Scottish fiddle music Jamie Laval.

The Anonymous Coffeehouse plans to hold shows every other week, and the ongoing pandemic has moved performances from the cozy parish hall into the sanctuary of the church, which provides more room for the audience to spread out and has the bonus benefit of improving the acoustics.

Cotter is a world traveler who has been based in Portland, Maine, for a time. She has stopped here before, playing a show at the Unitarian Church in Norwich a few years ago, Sorscher said.

Dana Robinson plays in a more traditional, Appalachian style. With only two musicians on the bill, each will play around 50 minutes, with refreshments at intermission.

The first set on Friday starts at 7:30. For more information, go to

Bookstock hires a leader

Though it didn’t take place this year, Bookstock is taking steps to cement its place in the literary landscape.

The Woodstock-based festival announced this week that it has hired its first managing director, author and editor Diana Whitney.

A Dartmouth College graduate, Whitney is the author of a volume of poetry, Wanting It, and edited You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves, which came out in March.

Whitney also is one of the leaders of Dartmouth Community Against Gender Harassment and Sexual Violence, a group that has worked to make the college accountable to survivors of sexual assault and harassment.

The Bookstock literary festival, which is now in its 12th year, is scheduled to return June 24-26, 2022.

Cinematic experiments

Ciné Salon, the long-running exploration of cinematic curiosities shepherded by curator and archivist Bruce Posner, resumes at 7 Monday night in Hanover with a suite of seven short experimental films and a conversation with film scholar Enrico Camporesi.

Monday evening’s event starts a season series devoted to the film historian, archivist and photographer Robert Haller, who died in April at age 73. He was a longtime functionary of the Anthology Film Archives in New York, including two stints as its executive director.

Posner plans to talk to Camporesi live via Zoom, and the event listing on the Howe Library’s website lists a way to get a Zoom link. There are digital hoops to jump through, but where else are you going to see 90 minutes of experimental French films from the 1920s?

A breath of fresh air

At times, plein air painting can seem like a dominant mode in Upper Valley art making. All the French term plein air means is that the painting is done outdoors and in a particular place.

While there’s a fair bit of that kind of work around these parts, there isn’t a lot of talk about it. South Royalton painter Joan Hoffmann plans to remedy that.

“Libraries and Barns: Vermont en Plein Air,” an exhibition of Hoffmann’s acrylic and watercolor paintings, opens Sunday at Tunbridge Public Library. A reception is planned for 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The show is on view through Nov. 21, and at 7 p.m. on Oct. 15, Hoffmann plans to give a talk titled “A Brief History of en Plein Air Landscape Painting in America 1850-1950.”

The reception and talk are free and open to the public. Hoffmann has painted at national parks around the country, so this subject is near and dear to her.

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3207.

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