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Hunter Stamas of Hunter. Photo courtesy of Michael Brooks.




A mixed bag:2015
Looking back on 2015

12/31/15
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com



Though not without its high points, 2015 was a difficult year for the region’s nightlife scene. It began promisingly enough, with Jewel Nightclub in Manchester presenting national acts like Jackyl and Flyleaf, and memorable gigs from Plain White T’s and the late Scott Weiland. At the same time, though, shows at Verizon Wireless Arena didn’t happen — snow wiped out a Nickelback date (and a Jewel pre-party), while Linkin Park (band injury), and Cher (diva virus) canceled.  

Local musicians saw venerable venues close. Prominent losses included Clark’s on the Corner in Milford, which championed original live music but shuttered mid-year. Whippersnappers in Londonderry suddenly closed in November and Milly’s Tavern in Manchester will hold a final show on Jan. 2 before tearing down the stage and concentrating on its brewpub/restaurant business. Both places offered live performances most nights of the week before closing.
The epic winter played havoc with the calendar for places that did stay open; even when the weather warmed up, bad news didn’t end. The Press Room in Portsmouth had to close for most of the summer to fix code problems —  though other clubs often stepped up and rebooked many of its shows. On Dec. 8, a five-alarm fire swept through Portsmouth Gas Light Co., a welcome home to many area bands. Reopening may take months.
 
The good news
The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year had an upside. In March, 3S Artspace opened in Portsmouth, with an eclectic array of original live music, and in the fall Birdseye Lounge began presenting a similar slate in a nightclub setting. Nashua’s Riverwalk Café offered a steady stream of local talent in a listening room environment. Up north, Concord’s Spotlight Café, located in the Capitol Center’s lobby, bustled with great shows, as did Pitman’s Freight Room in Laconia.
At year’s end, a new company named Old Sol Productions announced plans to open a 350-seat venue in Manchester before the close of 2016. At a launch party on Dec. 21, Old Sol founder Matt Wilhelm described the effort as a mix of art and altruism. 
“It’s more than music … operated under the same values that guide our favorite musicians when they’re on tour,” said Wilhelm, who has experience coordinating nonprofit efforts for bands like Guster and State Radio. “It will be an institution that builds social capital and in turn gives millennials one more reason to stay in New Hampshire.”
Despite the many challenges, area musicians produced some terrific albums in 2015. Best of the bunch was the debut from Nashua alt rock band Hunter, full of sass, whimsy and irresistible hooks. Manchester treasure Alli Beaudry released a long-awaited solo record; its hopeful song “Keep the Light” is a fitting anthem for the local scene. Progressive rock band Mindset X finally unveiled its years-in-the-making concept album Oceans. Rachel Vogelzang, Superfrog, Joshua Incident, Todo Bien, Anna Madsen and Freevolt all released Top 10-worthy CDs, while Pat & the Hats finished a new EP.
 
Funny stuff
Comedy had a (mostly) great year. Shaskeen Pub in Manchester continued to attract top comics to its Wednesday night no-cover events, like Dan Soder (Trainwreck), Will Noonan, Kenny Zimlinghaus and several veterans of Last Comic Standing. On the other hand, the Shaskeen’s sister act stopped when Derry’s Halligan Pub ended its Thursday standup night. Across town in Manchester, Nick David turned over the comedy reins at Murphy’s Taproom to focus on his music.
Alana Susko’s Comedy On Purpose stayed busy, launching Tuesday nights at Derry’s Hilltop, and moving its weekly Wednesday event to Arena in Nashua when Whippersnappers closed. Monthly showcases at Hudson’s Soho and Fody’s in Nashua continued apace. 
On the Seacoast, Josh Day’s monthly Stone Church comedy night expanded to Birdseye Lounge, while Pitman’s Freight Room regularly offered monthly shows to mostly full houses. Rob Steen’s Headliners brand continued its success, with weekly shows at Manchester’s Radisson and frequent nights at Chunky’s in Nashua, along with one-offs throughout the region. Big-name shows included Gilbert Gottfried, Mitch Fatel and Lenny Clarke.
Larger-scale comedy also did well, with packed houses from Kathy Griffin and Jim Breuer at Manchester’s Palace Theatre, Lewis Black at the Capitol Center and Daniel Tosh at Lebanon’s Opera House. Next year, the Verizon Wireless Center gets into the laugh act, with Jeff Dunham due Feb. 13 and a Jeff Foxworthy/Larry the Cable Guy double bill on March 10. 
Finally, monthly standup nights at Tupelo Music Hall were regular sellouts, offering encouragement to anyone trying to wring a laugh from a year that’s maybe best left in the rear view mirror. Have a happy 2016, music and comedy fans.  





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