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Highlights: Native Sons Bring Musical Treasures to Valley

  • Well-known classical music composer, arranger and performer Nico Muhly returns to his native Vermont to play a benefit concert for the Main Street Museum with violist Nadia Sirota on Aug. 25, 2017, at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction. (Fritz Myers photograph)

  • The Haitian roots music ensemble Lakou Mizik returns to Barnard for a performance Friday evening at the site of the Feast and Field Market.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, August 24, 2017

Zach Niles and Nico Muhly return to their native Upper Valley on Friday night, bearing gifts of music.

At the Barrette Center in White River Junction, Muhly, a celebrated classical composer and pianist, joins violist Nadia Sirota in performing on the theme of “Drones & Ornaments; Strings & Hammers,” during the Main Street Museum’s celebration of its 25th anniversary.

And at Feast and Field’s Fable Farm in Barnard, Niles will introduce Lakou Mizik, the Haitian folk ensemble that he manages as part of his humanitarian efforts in that Caribbean nation and his overall mission to broaden understanding of cultures of the developing world.

“(Muhly) really, sincerely is a genius,” museum founder and director David Fairbanks Ford said of the Randolph-born Muhly on Tuesday. “I met him in Rome when he was about 13 years old, and he could play all of Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the piano. … He likes to refer to his music less with labels than with notes and chords and how they all work together. I find it very accessible, very entertaining, very complex. It’s smart.”

Lakou Mizik, meanwhile, is the second world-music group that Niles, a 1991 graduate of Woodstock Union High School, has brought to the Upper Valley as ambassadors of cultures about which most Americans know little or are outright suspicious. He helped the Haitians get started after they saw his 2006 documentary about the Refugee All-Stars, a band he had encountered at a refugee camp in Guinea, in the wake of the civil war that wracked Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002.

“If we can have people’s first real interaction with Haiti be this band, to feel all that positive energy, I’m going to be happy,” Niles said this week from the bus in which the band was traveling to Woodstock from several concerts in Maine. “ ‘Build bridges, not walls’ is a big hashtag for us.”

While he had enjoyed international music since childhood, with particular inspiration from Paul Simon’s groundbreaking Graceland album in the mid-1980s, Niles didn’t grow up picturing himself serving as tour manager, translator, merchandise wrangler and bus driver.

“It’s a lot of heavy lifting,” Niles said. “I probably thought that I would be in a minivan with my kids by now instead of a 15-passenger van with a band from Haiti.”

Even while studying in Cameroon during his undergraduate years at Middlebury College and hosting a world-music show on the college radio station, he added “I didn’t realize I was being sent down this particular path. I saw myself maybe doing humanitarian work for the U.N., helping out in refugee camps.”

During a break from his day job of working in production and promotion for tours by the likes of the Rolling Stones, Simon and Garfunkel, Paul McCartney and Madonna, Niles and a friend filmed Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars, a documentary about survivors of that nation’s civil war coping through music. He wound up taking the All-Stars on tour, including performances at Woodstock’s Town Hall Theatre.

“Coming out of that project … I kept a pretty good finger on parts of the world that are having a difficult time,” Niles recalled. “When we shared their story during a film festival in Haiti, it was on a beach with something like 2,000 people. The feedback was so amazing, because the Haitians saw so much of themselves. The vibe was very west Africa. People were singing along and dancing.”

The festival in Haiti eventually evolved into a performing arts school that Niles helped run after the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 Haitians. The quake left hundreds of thousands homeless and was followed by a cholera outbreak.

Niles also is helping to build a school of audio engineering, to open other forms of work in the arts for Haitians.

“One of the things I learned in the time I’ve spent there is that if you’re living there, as hard as it is for many people, the earthquake and the cholera isn’t your whole reality,” Niles said. “People figured out ways to keep some sense of spirit alive, helping each other out. I wanted to spread the word that it’s more than the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, with no hope and no prospects. That’s something that I wanted to fight back against.”

He added that he and the band also are bucking the rising suspicion of, and federal policies cracking down on, immigrants and foreigners that is leading many Haitian refugees to flee to Canada rather than risk deportation.

“Lakou Mizik was formed on the consequence of recovering from the earthquake,” Niles said. “It’s taken on a different resonance now. The other day, a reporter asked (guitarist and lead singer) Steeve Valcourt if this is a political band. Steeve’s answer was, ‘All people sing their history. If you know Haiti’s history, an artist can’t help but be an activist in one way or another.

“You’re singing your life.”

Life led Muhly, who turns 36 on Saturday, into the arts early, as the son of painter and Main Street Museum supporter Bunny Harvey and documentary filmmaker Frank Muhly. The family moved from Vermont to Providence, R.I., early in Muhly’s childhood, and he began studying piano at age 10. He went on to the Juilliard School, and soon was collaborating with composers ranging from Philip Glass to Bjork. His work in recent years has included an opera, Two Boys, that debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 2013, and a tour with Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard.

And once in a while he still makes it to his parents’ home in Tunbridge. As a teenager, he even took “very creative” minutes for the Main Street Museum’s board when his mother served on it, Ford recalled.

“My business partner asked him a year and a half ago if he’d do a concert in August, and he said, ‘Sure,’ ” Ford added. “At the time, I thought that meant last August, but come to find out it meant 2017, given how booked he is. It worked out fine for our 25th anniversary, plus it’s his birthday this weekend and his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.”

Nico Muhly and Nadia Sirota play on Friday night at 7:30 at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction, as a benefit for the Main Street Museum. Admission is $45 to $65. Before the concert, the marching band Brass Balagan will play during a 25th-anniversary barbecue at the museum starting at 5:30, then at 7 lead a parade to the Barrette Center. After the concert, the focus returns to the museum for performances by So Sol at 8:45 and H. Seano Whitecloud at 9:30. To learn more, visit mainstreetmuseum.org.

Lakou Mizik performs the BarnArts Center for the Arts’ next Music on the Farm concert at Fable Farm in Barnard on Friday night at 7. Before the show, Lazou Mizik’s singer-voodoo drummer Sanba Zao performs at 6. For tickets ($25) and more information, visit feastandfield.com.

Best Bets

Students and faculty from Dartmouth College’s summer course in chamber music perform the original, 13-instrument version of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring tonight at 7, in the Faulkner Recital Hall at the Hopkins Center in Hanover. Admission is free.

The festivities at Saturday’s Quechee Games Scottish Festival include Celtic music from the contradance ensemble Frost and Fire at 11 a.m.. and 2 p.m., and by fiddler Katie McNally at 1 and 3 in the afternoon. Admission to the festival, which opens at 8 in the morning at the Quechee polo field on Deweys Mill Road, is $10 to $15. To learn more, visit quecheegames.com.

Kat Wright leads her Indomitable Soul Band to the village common in Newbury, Vt., on Sunday afternoon, to headline the parade of performers scheduled to enliven the UnCommon Jam Festival. The lineup also includes the Vermont-based blues, rock and soul ensemble Dwight & Nicole, and the jazz, funk, and rhythm-and-blues stylings of The Joe Moore Band. For tickets ($20 for ages 13 and older) and more information, visit courtstreetarts.org.

Violinist John Lindsey, violist Scott Woolweaver, cellist Karen Kaderavek and flutist Deborah Boldin perform works of Mozart at Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church in Woodstock on Sunday afternoon at 4. While admission is free. Donations are welcome. For more information, visit pentangearts.org/mozart-20.

Singer Nancy Tripp leads bassist Andy Bourke, percussionist Tim Cohen, saxophonist Mike Parker, guitarist Billy Rosen and keyboard player Norm Yanofsky onto the verandah of The Fells estate in Newbury, N.H., on Sunday afternoon, to revisit Oscar-nominated songs that didn’t win the Academy Award. The event begins with refreshments at 5, and the music begins at 6. For tickets ($35) and more information, visit thefells.org or call 603-763-4789, ext. 3.

Theater/Performance Art

The ArtisTree Music Theatre Festival resumes tonight at 7:30 with a preview performance of Always … Patsy Cline at the new Grange Theatre in South Pomfret. The musical, adapted from a two-year correspondence between the country singer and a fan before Cline’s death in a 1963 plane crash, runs through Sept. 10. For tickets ($10 to $20 for tonight’s preview, $15 to $25 for the rest of the production) and more information about this and subsequent festival productions, visit artistreevt.org or call 802-457-3500.

The New London Barn Playhouse continues its production of On Golden Pond this week, starting with a 7:30 performance tonight. Norwich resident Gordon Clapp stars as the crusty Norman Thayer in this adaptation of Ernest Thompson’s family drama, which runs through Sept. 3. To reserve tickets ($20 to $40) and learn more, visit nlbarn.org or call 603-526-6710.

Music

Quincy Mumford and The Reason Why play funk and soul at the weekly Feast and Field Market tonight starting at 5:30.

Thomas & Friends Goes Electric plays indie folk-rock at the Denny Park gazebo on Main Street in Bradford, Vt., tonight at 6.

Bassist Peter Concilio and drummer Tim Gilmore play jazz with pianist Sonny Saul at Pleasant Street Books in Woodstock tonight starting at 7:30.

Faux in Love provides the rockin’ soundtrack to Friday afternoon’s benefit for the Upper Valley Land Trust, starting at 4 on the patio at King Arthur Flour in Norwich. The trust receives 10 percent of sales of King Arthur pizza, Skinny Pancake crepes and other refreshments.

Sensible Shoes performs at the Storrs Pond recreation area in Hanover on Saturday afternoon starting at 5:30, during the annual Camp Out for the Cause benefiting efforts to stop and prevent child abuse. Running from 1 in the afternoon until 8 on Sunday morning, the camp out also includes swimming, tennis, volleyball, fishing, a scavenger hunt and a demonstration of live raptors from the Vermont Institute of Natural Science. For tickets ($15 a person and $50 for Saturday’s events, $100 for overnight camping parties) and more information, visit cfsnh.org or call 603-298-8237.

Harmony Hotel plays the Flanders Stage on Sunapee Harbor on Saturday afternoon from 5 to 7.

Chris Brubeck, son of the late jazz pianist Dave Brubeck leads his jazz ensemble Triple Play into Colby-Sawyer College’s Sawyer Theater in New London on Saturday night at 7:30.

Guitarist Jose Lezcano plays works of Faure, Piazolla and his own compositions at Union Church in West Claremont on Saturday night at 6:30 and in the Little Studio at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish on Sunday afternoon at 2. Admission is by donation to the West Claremont performance; admission to the Saint-Gaudens concert is included in the historic site’s $10 entrance fee.

The Upper Valley Singers tackle Maurice Durufle’s Requiem on Sunday afternoon at 2, at the Mary Keane Chapel next to the Shaker Museum in Enfield. Admission is $15 to $20, with proceeds going toward upkeep of the chapel.

The Kearsarge Community Band bids farewell to summer on the bandstand of the Newport Common on Sunday night at 6.

Mo’ Combo rocks the Ben Mere Bandstand overlooking Sunapee Harbor on Wednesday night at 6:30.

Bar and Club Circuit

Saxophonist Michael Parker pulls into Windsor Station tonight at 7:30 to join acoustic rocker Chris Powers and singer-songwriter Jim Yeager. Following them to the venue over the coming week are Binger on Friday night at 9:30, Jester Jigs on Saturday night at 10 and singer-guitarist Joice Marie on Tuesday night at 6.

Singer Linda Boudreault and guitarist Ted Mortimer appear at the tavern at Jesse’s in Hanover on Friday evening starting at 5.

Royalton singer-songwriter Alison “AliT” Turner performs at the Inn at Weathersfield in Perkinsville on Friday night at 7.

Soulfix plays the Seven Stars Arts Center in Sharon on Friday night at 8. Admission is $20.

Tirade frontman Toby Moore kicks off the weekend of music at Salt hill Pub in Lebanon with a solo acoustic set on Friday night at 8. Following him to the microphone at 9 on Saturday night will be the rock quartet Turner Round.

Acoustic rocker Chris Powers plays Salt hill Pub in West Lebanon on Friday night at 8.

The weekend lineup at Salt hill Pub in Newport features About Gladys on Friday night at 9 and singer-songwriter Chris Parlon on Saturday night at 9.

The Blues Brothers Revue plays Salt hill Pub in Hanover on Friday night at 9. On Saturday night at 9, The Squids come calling.

Toast sets a funky, soulful rhythm for dancing at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners on Friday night starting at 9.

Bow Thayer plays his weekly session of Americana on Wednesday night at 7:30.

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 his weekly open mic at 8:30 Wednesday night at Hartland’s Skunk Hollow Tavern. And next Thursday night at 7, he leads an open-mic in the Hayloft at ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.