Highlights: A Tribute to Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee

  • Singer and guitarist Guy Davis and harmonica player Fabrizio Poggi perform tonight at the Flying Goose Brew Pub and Grille in New London. The duo has a new recording, a tribute to blues legends Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Courtesy photograph

  • The satirical puppet show Made in China comes to Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center for the Arts this weekend. See ‘Best Bets’ for more information. Courtesy photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/30/2017 12:05:11 AM
Modified: 3/30/2017 12:05:15 AM

During a Broadway revival of the musical Finian’s Rainbow in 2009, bluesman Guy Davis found himself reprising a role that one of his idols, harmonica wizard Sonny Terry, played during the original production in 1947.

“I was told I didn’t have to play a single note that he played the way he played it,” Davis said during a telephone interview last week. “But I wanted to get as close as I could. In some ways you could say it was a crash course, but I’ve also been an admirer for a long time.”

After the play, Davis’ admiration for Terry evolved into Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train — A Look Back at Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, the tribute album that Davis and longtime collaborator Fabrizio Poggi recorded in Italy last summer and released last Friday. Their tour of the album leads tonight to the Flying Goose Brew Pub and Grille in New London and Friday night to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rutland.

“To an extent, I’d been training for this for a couple of decades,” said Davis, who wrote the title track and with Poggi covered compositions of Terry and McGee. “We’ll do a lot from the album, other songs of theirs that didn’t make it onto the CD, and songs of my own.”

Between tonight’s and Friday night’s shows, the duo will introduce Terry and McGhee’s music and stories to inmates of Vermont’s Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Rutland.

“That’s something I have done there a number of times now,” Davis said. “I do it because it’s important to remember that folks in prison are just like folks outside of prison.

“Wherever I’m playing, I give ’em all I’ve got.”

Now 64, Davis has been touring, recording and storytelling for several decades, between stints of teaching, writing and acting — the latter the craft of his late parents, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.

On one of Davis’ swings through the Twin States in 2002, Rutland resident John Cassarino caught an appearance at Woodstock’s Town Hall Theatre, and started wondering whether he could bring Davis to the Rutland prison, where Cassarino coordinates volunteer programs.

“During the show he was talking about playing at a correctional facility,” Cassarino recalled on Tuesday. “As a blues fan and a music fan, I have albums of Johnny Cash live at Folsom Prison, and live records of John Lee Hooker and B.B. King at prisons. It was something we hadn’t done here, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to start a music-appreciation thing.”

Cassarino contacted Davis’ agent, Thom Wolke of Meriden, and they soon struck a deal for the first of what Cassarino estimates has been at least eight visits between regular gigs in the Upper Valley and Rutland.

“It went over really well,” Cassarino recalled. “Aside from being a bluesman, he’s a world-class stor-yteller and a real nice guy. He’d just released an album, and there was a song from it where the narrator got into trouble and was in prison when his mother died, and he went to her funeral in shackles.

“You could tell, it really resonated with the inmates.”

While he occasionally plays for inmates of prisons ranging from Riker’s Island to the Isle of Wight, Davis these days mostly saves his prison appearances for Rutland.

“It’s really not all that different from any other show,” Davis said. “Sure, I’m coming into a room with restrictions. I hear doors clanging behind me. But they’re a very attentive audience. The guards don’t make a point of being up in anybody’s face, so it’s more relaxed. … Sometimes it’s just me on the guitar, and some songs they’re singing along. I might have a word of encouragement or two. Something like, ‘Hopefully if you’re doing time, you won’t be too much longer.’ ”

Guy Davis performs with harmonica master Fabrizio Poggi tonight at 8 at the Flying Goose Brewpub and Grille in New London, and at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rutland on Friday night at 7:30. For tickets ($25) to and more information about the Flying Goose show, for which reservations are required, visit flyinggoose.com or call 603-526-6899. To reserve tickets ($20 to $25) for and learn more about the Rutland coffeehouse appearance, call 802-558-7587 or email johncazz31@yahoo.com.

Best Bets

Vermont Public Radio meteorologist Mark Breen kicks off the Thetford Historical Society’s “Weather or Not” series with a presentation on Vermont weather tonight at 7, in the Rich Theater at Thetford Academy. To learn more about the series, visit thetfordhistoricalsociety.org.

The Party Crashers set the rockin’ rhythm for the annual spring dance and silent auction benefiting The Hand to Heart Project, on Saturday night at 7:30 in Plainfield Town Hall. In addition to donations (suggested at $10) for admission at the door, proceeds from the auction go toward the project’s free in-home massage and compassionate touch for people with advanced cancer. Auction items this year include works by local artists, gift certificates for massages and dinners, round-trip plane tickets between Lebanon and Boston, handmade quilts, a long-weekend stay at a ski chalet near Killington and more. To learn more about the project, visit handtoheart.org.

The Nordland Visual Theatre puppet troupe performs the satirical Made in China in the Moore Theater of the Hopkins Center in Hanover at 8 on Friday and Saturday nights. For tickets ($17 to $35) and to learn more, visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422.

Celtic musician Reagh Greenleaf sings and plays the bodhran while the Fairlee Reel & Strathspey Society dances during the country fair that the Scottish Club of the Twin States will host at the Newberry Market in White River Junction on Saturday morning at 10. To learn more, visit the club’s Facebook page.

In an appearance benefiting West Windsor’s Fourth of July celebration, singer-songwriter Erik Boedtker leads a roster of musicians Saturday night at the MountainView Ballroom of the Mount Ascutney Resort in Brownsville. Admission to the Flannel Fling, which runs from 7 to 10, costs $10 to $15. To reserve tickets and learn more, visit westwindsorvt.govoffice2.com.

Vermont-bred folk musicians Anais Mitchell and Sam Amidon perform a wide range of ballads, folk songs and their own compositions during an appearance at Chandler Music Hall in Randolph on Saturday night at 7:30. To reserve tickets ($10 to $35) and learn more, visit chandler-arts.org or call 802-728-6464.

The ToasT ensemble of Jim Yeager, Scott Paulson, John Foster and Barb Smith serenades the final Tunbridge Town Hall Shindig dance of the season on Saturday night at 7:30. Admission is $10. To learn more, email shindigsvt@hotmail.com or call 802-738-9602.

More than a dozen years after his last performance at Dartmouth, improvisational jazz pianist Brad Mehldau returns to the keyboard at Spaulding Auditorium in Hanover on Tuesday night at 7. For advance tickets ($17 to $40) and more information, visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422.

Opera North resident artists Trevor Neal, Elisabeth Slaten, Christina Christensen, Tobias Wright and Emily Geller sings excerpts from Kurt Weill’s Street Scene at Woodstock’s Norman Williams Public Library on Wednesday afternoon at 4. The public performance, to which admission is free, is part of the company’s spring education and outreach tour, which also will share Weill’s drama of immigrant life between the world wars during visits to nine Upper Valley high schools next week.

Looking Ahead

The Vermont Comedy Divas team of Josie Leavitt, Autumn Engroff Spencer and Hillary Boone swings through the Lake Morey Inn in Fairlee on April 8 at 8 p.m., to perform a benefit show for the nonprofit Safeline Inc.’s programs for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Light refreshments will be served before the show, starting at 7:30. For tickets ($20) and more information, call 802-685-7900, or visit eventbrite.com.

Theater/Performance Art

In preparation for its seventh annual summer festival at Randolph’s Chandler Music Hall, Vermont Pride Theater holds auditions on Saturday for its July productions of Deborah Salem Smith’s Love Alone and of DC Cathro’s Family Holiday. The auditions will take place at the music hall from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. To arrange auditions and learn more, email director Margo Whitcomb at margonomy@gmail.com.

The Old Church Theater in Bradford is inviting aspiring actors to two auditions this weekend for its June production of playwright Tony Sportiello’s mystery One Night in the Valley. The auditions will start on Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 1 in the vestry of the Congregational Church, next door to the theater on North Main Street. The production requires four men and three women in a play that interweaves the stories of a washed-up opera star, a couple who married accidentally and a homeowner catching a burglar in the act. To set up an audition time and to learn more, call director Diane Chamberlain or Jim Heidenreich at 802-439-6199, or email publicity@oldchurchtheater.org.

Northern Stage wraps its three-week run of the George Brant play Grounded with performances this afternoon at 2, tonight and Friday nights at 7:30, Saturday afternoon at 2, Saturday night at 7:30 and Sunday evening at 5. Admission is $14 to $54.

For its summer production of Beauty and the Beast, North Country Community Theatre holds the first two sets of auditions for singers, actors and dancers at Lebanon Opera House on Wednesday afternoon from 4 to 6 and Wednesday night from 6:30 to 8:30. To learn more, visit ncct.org.


Trumpeter Tiger Okoshi performs this weekend’s Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon session at the Center at Eastman in Grantham, at 4 in the afternoon. To reserve tickets ($16 to $18) and learn more, visit josajazz.com or call 603-381-1662 or email bill.wightman@comcast.net.


Carlos Ocasio leads Frydaddy into the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction on Saturday night at 8 to set the rhythm for an April Fools dance party. To reserve tickets ($20) and learn more, visit yellowhousemedia.com.

Bar and Club Circuit

Singer-songwriter Rick Clogston appears in the tavern of the Lyme Inn tonight at 6:30.

Pianist Jonathan Kaplan commands the keyboard at the Canoe Club in Hanover tonight starting at 6, followed by pianist Gillian Joy on Friday night at the same hour and the Sensible Shoes duo of Barbara Blaisdell and Tim Utt on Saturday.

Singer-songwriter Benjamin Fuller appears at Taverne on the Square in Claremont tonight at 6, and the country duo of Jilly Martin and Ryan Kelly performs on Friday night at 8.

Off the Rails pulls into Windsor Station tonight at 7:30 to play old-timey country music. Following them to the microphone with a set of Americana on Friday night at 9:30 will be Wild Earp & The Free for Alls.

Singer-songwriter Chris Powers performs in the tavern of Jesse’s in Hanover on Friday at 5 p.m.

Singer-songwriter Alex Smith plays the Sunapee Community Coffeehouse on Friday night at 7, in the basement of Sunapee’s Methodist Church. While admission is free, donations are welcome.

Turner Round frontman Chad Gibbs kicks off the weekend of music at Salt hill Pub in Hanover with a set of acoustic rock on Friday night at 8, followed on Saturday night at 9 by The Squids.

The Boston-based Cold Engines plays a set of rock at Salt hill Pub in Lebanon on Friday night starting at 9. The following night at 9, Stuart Ross and the Temp Agency play a mix of Americana and jazz.

About Gladys rocks the Salt hill Pub in Newport, Friday night at 9.

The Exit 9 Blues Band performs at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners on Friday night at 9.

Roots singer-songwriter Mary Maguire appears at Stone Arch Bakery in Lebanon on Saturday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Open Mics

Ramunto’s Brick & Brew Pizza in Bridgewater hosts an open mic starting at 7:30 on Thursday nights. Participants get a free large cheese pizza.

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 a weekly hootenanny of Americana, folk and bluegrass at Salt hill Pub in Hanover on Monday nights at 6.

Bradford’s Colatina Exit holds an open mic Tuesday nights at 8.

Jim Yeager hosts open mics at Hartland’s Skunk Hollow Tavern at 8:30 on Wednesday night and at the ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret next Thursday night at 7.

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