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Singer Noah Kahan makes pitch-perfect return in Hanover High alumni soccer match

  • Noah Kahan, left, and Sam Bagatell come together over the ball during the Hanover High boys soccer team's annual alumni game on Nov. 25, 2022, at Merriman-Branch Field in Hanover, N.H. Kahan, a 2015 Hanover graduate, is a rising music star. Bagatell is a freshman at the school. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News —Tris Wykes

  • Noah Kahan, center of the back row, stands with other Hanover High soccer alumni game participants for a team photo on Nov. 25, 2022, on Merriman-Branch Field in Hanover, N.H. The back row, from left: Ian Strohbehn, Kahan, Jonah Levine and Brendan Barth. Front row from left: Jim Mitchell, Sam Gest and Ethan Kable. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Tris Wykes

  • Noah Kahan listens to Hanover High boys soccer coach Rob Grabill speak during halftime of the program's annual alumni game. Kahan, a 2015 graduate, played two varsity seasons and is now a rising standout as a folk-pop songwriter and performer in the music industry. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley news file photographs

  • Noah Kahan as a Hanover High junior in 2013. Kahan played two seasons of varsity soccer for the school and participated in the program's annual alumni game on Nov. 25, 2022 at Merriman-Branch Field in Hanover, N.H. Kahan is now a rising standout as a folk-pop singer and songwriter in the national music industry. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

  • Hanover High's Noah Kahan, right, plays the ball in front of a Londonderry teammate on Sept. 9, 2014, at Merriman-Branch Field in Hanover, N.H. Kahan is now a nationally prominent singer and songwriter and recently returned to play in the Bears' annual alumni game. Mike Stinson—Paul Stinson

  • Hanover High's Noah Kahan exits a Hanover High soccer game on Aug. 29, 2014, on Merriman-Branch Field in Hanover, N.H. Kahan has risen to national prominence as a singer and songwriter and recently returned to play in the Bears' annual alumni game. Mike Stinson photograph (left); Valley news file photo (right)

  • Hanover Senior Noah Kahan, and his guitar at Hanover High School in Hanover, N.H., on September 11, 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Valley News file photograph

  • Hanover High Senior Noah Kahan plays his guitar in the music theory room of Hanover High School in Hanover, N.H., on September 11, 2014. In the past year, Kahan has been getting exposure with his songs being played and used on the internet and in the community. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Hanover High School senior Noah Kahan plays his guitar in the school’s music theory room on Thursday. In the past year, Kahan’s music has been getting exposure both locally and on the Internet. Valley News photographs — Sarah Priestap Valley News file photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/7/2022 11:09:35 PM
Modified: 12/8/2022 10:39:29 PM

HANOVER — Noah Kahan’s father taught him how to play the guitar around age 8.

Around the same time, he suited up for a Stafford rec soccer team and the activities fed off each other as he grew up. Playing for the local Lightning Soccer Club and Hanover High while performing at open-mic sessions at local restaurants, soccer and music consumed much of his time.

Now 25 and a budding music star, Kahan spends considerably less time on the pitch. He’s performed on television shows hosted by the likes of Stephen Colbert, Kelly Clarkson, Seth Meyers and Jimmy Kimmel and his third album, Stick Season, which draws on his New England roots, has captured a post-pandemic moment of global scope.

“The level of soccer was high and competitive, and so I approached music competitively as well,” Kahan said of his younger days. “You compete for playing time and you’re competing for people’s attention and their ears. Competitive soccer sets you up to achieve things in your adult life.”

On Nov. 25, the day before he performed for a crowd of 20,000 during the World Cup ski races at Killington, Kahan played in the annual boys alumni soccer game at Hanover’s Merriman-Branch Field.

“I was more nervous for the alumni game than I was for Jimmy Kimmel,” Kahan said. “It’s my one chance a year to go out and show that I’m not totally washed up. I don’t know that I succeeded today, but the amount of love I have for music and soccer are very similar.”

Kahan played for the Hanover varsity in 2013 and 2014, mainly as a striker known for his skill at heading the ball.

“We used to hide him at midfielder and run him in on corners,” longtime Hanover coach Rob Grabill said. “He was a real offensive asset.”

Kahan was also memorable for the various ways he’d beg for playing time. Sometimes he’d stand extremely close to the coach. Sometimes he’d watch Grabill from the bench with pleading eyes or offer pointed comments as the boss strode past.

“Where do you think he learned about alienation and depression?” Grabill said with a grin. “Right here on the Hanover High pitch.”

This sounds like a joke, but soccer makes an appearance in Kahan’s work, which is long on both gloom and hope. The official video for his song Hurt Somebody features a suffering futbol player.

As a junior, Kahan said he had “11 minutes of playing time,” but he was a regular as a senior and scored to beat powerful Pinkerton Academy in overtime. His favorite memories of the sport are the bus rides and stints on the bench, complaining and joking with his friends.

“I spent so much time wanting to be good at soccer, but Hanover had so many great players and I compared myself to them,” Kahan said. “It was always a grind and a lot of time invested, but playing soccer at Hanover is different than at a lot of places in America. When I left and started playing pickup in Nashville, I realized I’d played at a pretty high level in high school.”

Kahan was on his way to soccer practice as a senior when he received a message from a manager at a Los Angeles record label, who wanted to meet him. Somewhat in disbelief, Kahan continued to the workout, telling his teammates about the call and how he’d be happy to be a one-hit wonder if nothing else.

Music industry executives liked what they heard after flying Kahan to the West Coast to record a few demo tracks. The youngster was offered a record deal the same week he was admitted to Tulane University in New Orleans, eventually deciding to pursue the former and defer the latter.

“My parents said they didn’t want to spend $60,000 a year if I was already a musician, so I never ended up going,” Kahan said.

Stick Season, released last month on Mercury Records, has propelled Kahan on a tour this fall featuring 27 sold-out shows and more than 40,000 purchased tickets. That effort will continue next year, with more than a dozen sold-out U.S. shows before he heads to Europe to share a sound that’s moved from pop to a more folkie vein.

Roughly 26 million Spotify users have listened to Kahan’s songs more than 313 million times in 183 countries. He boasts 238,000 Instagram followers and 686,000 on TikTok. It’s all a little nuts for a guy who was once paid for a high school gig with a $30 gelato gift card, so the alumni game was a touch of hometown grounding.

Dressed in a “Birds Aren’t Real” T-shirt and gray sweatpants, Kahan showed well, running with current and former NCAA Division I players against a Hanover varsity that’s reached the last two state title matches. Consistently tiptoeing the line between on- and offside, the bearded celebrity displayed more than passable on-ball skills and scored late for his victorious side.

“He always been mischievous but unassuming,” Grabill said. “He’s not a glad-hander and he’s learned grace the last few years. He was very willing to talk to everyone after the game, including his shy 12- and 14-year-old fans.”

Kahan said he’ll enjoy about a month relaxing in the Upper Valley before the tour resumes next month in Houston. Tickets for his Houston show are selling for more than $300 apiece on eBay.

“I struggled with self doubt before and after I got signed, wondering how a kid from Hanover and Strafford got this opportunity,” Kahan said. “That’s a challenge I still face, but I have a lot of people, including many from this community, who show me support that sometimes I can’t show myself.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.


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