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Art Notes: Downtown Lebanon hopping this weekend with Nexus Music and Arts Festival

  • DJ Sean will play two sessions of Silent Disco, where dancers will hear him through headsets, from 9:30 to 11 on Friday and Saturday nights as part of Lebanon Opera House’s Nexus Music and Arts Festival. photographs Courtesy of Lebanon Opera House

  • Red Baraat performs Saturday night at 8 as part of Lebanon Opera House’s Nexus Music and Arts Festival.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/11/2021 9:31:37 PM
Modified: 8/11/2021 9:42:33 PM

Last summer, a few performing arts organizations were able to present concerts and events outdoors.

As director of Lebanon Opera House, Joe Clifford was on the inside of his empty 800-seat venue looking out.

So he started to plan.

“I really just made it my mission to look ahead to summer 2021,” he said. He wanted to put together “the party of the summer.”

That party starts Friday. The opera house’s first Nexus Music and Arts Festival crams more than a dozen musical acts, circus and clowning performances, chalk art, participatory workshops, jam sessions and parades into three days of celebration surrounding Lebanon’s Colburn Park, all of it free and open to the public.

The festival takes place against the backdrop of a rise in COVID-19 cases in New Hampshire and Vermont. Attendees are urged in the festival’s promotional materials to “respect personal space and wear a mask if you are unvaccinated.” And free vaccines will be available at the festival on Friday and Sunday through the state Division of Public Health Services.

“Everything has been planned with public health in mind,” Clifford said.

For example, setting the festival in late summer allowed time for vaccination to take hold and for the novel coronavirus’ grip to loosen. The rise of the delta variant was unforeseen when the planning started nine months ago. The situation with the pandemic changes quickly, Clifford said.

That uncertainty was “one of the other reasons to do a three-day, multi-stage festival,” he said. The hope is that attendees can stay spread out.

The main stage is behind Lebanon Opera House, and the entire upper parking lot will be closed to cars. Musical performances alternate from the main stage to Colburn Park, so attendees can either take them all in, or pick and choose.

The lineup is about as eclectic as they come. Friday includes a 5:30 p.m. show by Twisted Pine, likely the only Americana band ever to record a cover of Blondie’s Heart of Glass.

Other performers from beyond the Valley include the self-described “rhythm-and-bluegrass” band Bitter Pill; Mystic Bowie’s Talking Dreads, who re-interpret Byrne, Franz, Weymouth and Harrison through a reggae filter; Louisiana blues-rocker Eric Johanson; Red Baraat, the Brooklyn-based party band that fuses North Indian bhangra with funk, hip-hop and punk; Vermont soul singer Kat Wright; and Moondance, which celebrates Van Morrison.

Among the local performers are chalk artist Katie Runde, the bluegrass band Reckless Breakfast, the East Bay Jazz Ensemble and the acoustic duo of Jes Raymond and Jakob Breitbach.

And DJ Sean will preside over a potentially surreal experience Friday and Saturday nights: silent disco. From 9:30 to 11, participants can rent headphones ($5) and beam in Sean’s beats. Passing traffic will see people dancing to an imperceptible soundtrack.

Clifford is particularly proud of the festival’s participatory opportunities. For example, the members of Twisted Pine will lead a jam session at 1:30 p.m. Friday, in conjunction with the Upper Valley Music Center.

The festival also aims to highlight the arts organizations clustered around the green, including the music center, AVA Gallery and Art Center, and City Center Ballet. Revels North, which will perform and lead both a parade through the new rail trail tunnel and a pub sing at the downtown Salt hill Pub, has become a Lebanon entity, since shifting its performances from Dartmouth’s Spaulding Auditorium to the opera house a few years ago.

How quickly live entertainment venues reopen has been largely dependent upon the comfort level of patrons, a dynamic that Clifford, among others, identified last year. At Salt hill, the scene is gradually re-emerging, co-owner Josh Tuohy said.

“We’ve been building that back slowly,” he said. The pandemic has altered the tempo of night life in the Upper Valley. People tend to head home earlier, he noted. The Conniption Fits, the beloved Upper Valley party band, has been playing a monthly set that packs the house from 9 p.m. on, but that’s the exception.

“We’re still feeling it out, changing and adapting in little increments,” Tuohy said.

The festival could be a boost, bringing more people downtown.

“I’m very excited about that,” Tuohy said, though he noted that downtown Lebanon has been vibrant pretty much all summer, with diners able to sit outside.

The current COVID-19 surge might not have a big effect on the festival, but the fall season is another matter. Clifford has booked acts that have a following, including Richard Thompson (Aug. 26) and Rosanne Cash (Nov. 12).

“I’m just trying to get through this weekend and then talk with my staff about where things stand,” Clifford said.

The opera house has been able to bring its staff back to work, but the pandemic still holds sway. “We really don’t know what the size of the audience will look like,” for the fall season, he said.

So, for now, the Nexus Festival is what’s available. Clifford opted to pack it all into three days partly because festivals aren’t all that common, especially not downtown.

“I feel like I booked an entire season for one weekend,” Clifford said.

For more information, go to lebanonoperahouse.org/events.

‘The Ballad of Ethan Alien touches down in Barnard

I’m going to go out on a limb and call The Ballad of Ethan Alien the only Vermont sci-fi musical based on a country song.

Filmed last fall during the pandemic, Ethan Alien is now ready for viewing. A screening is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday evening at Fable Farm Fermentory in Barnard, with musical guests Bow Thayer and Western Terrestrials, the band behind the movie.

The film was the brainchild of Terrestrials frontman Nick Charyk, and was shot in 15 fevered days last October. Barnard filmmaker Teo Zagar is now credited as producer.

Other screenings in the Upper Valley are scheduled for Sept. 3 at Milldale Farm in West Fairlee and Sept. 10 at Farmer’s Exchange in Windsor.

Tickets for the Barnard screening are by donation and are available at https://feast-field-at-fable-farm.square.site/events.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.




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