5/23/2013 - Twenty-five years in, the Simple Gifts Coffee House continues to attract an eclectic array of music.
Next season will be Anya Zakiewicz’s eighth booking the listening room, located in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashua. Don’t ask her to name a favorite show, however — she loves them all.
There are plenty of memorable moments, like welcoming John Gorka a few weeks back. But it’s love of music that drives Zakiewicz and a team that works tirelessly presenting eight or nine shows a year.
“Everyone we bring, everyone agrees and is excited about,” she said recently.
The season finale on June 1 (postponed by a February storm) brings several talented singer songwriters together. The feature performer, Timothy Jackson Scott, came to her attention when he appeared at the nearby Riverwalk café.
“Timothy is something else,” said Zakiewicz of Scott, who’s still in high school. “He has this presence like Bob Dylan … not just music and poetry, but the whole package.”
She’s quick to praise the other performers sharing the stage. Tom Keating is a local luthier — “a fine songwriter and performer … a wonderful and talented man” — and Kevin G. Moore, who gained a love for folk music playing at Linden Tree Coffeehouse in Wakefield, Mass.
Amy Spillert writes original songs that frequently draw from the North Shore area she calls home.
“She is a wonderful singer and definitely has that Old World folk flavor to her music and a very gentle presence on the stage,” said Zakiewicz.
Along with the solo performers is Neptune’s Car — Holly Hanson and New Hampshire native Steve Hayes. Their nautically themed name reflects a love of lighthouses, and their music compares favorably to the Civil Wars.
Rounding out the evening is Les Canney, who will appear with a trio. The event is a showcase with a twist, said Zakiewicz.
“We made it more of a tournament. … The audience plus the team will decide their favorite performer [and] they will be invited back to be the feature next year.”
The show is also a fundraiser, with all money donated to the Nashua Soup Kitchen.
Zakiewicz is still excited by Simple Gifts’ mission, though she occasionally worries about the long-term future.
“I love this venue and I love what coffee houses are and what they do, but I’m a little concerned at the lack of attention they get,” she said.
Early on, local media covered it generously, but that waned, much to her disappointment.
“We’re bringing really fine people here and Nashua should know about this,” she said. “But they say, ‘Oh, that happens in the church, right?’ And I say, ‘Yeah, but it’s not church related.’ Nothing we do has anything to do with organized religion, but there seems to be some stigma to it and people just don’t pay attention.”
That said, Simple Gifts presses on. Muriel Anderson is already booked to open the fall 2013 series. A guitar virtuoso who studied with Chet Atkins, Anderson is available due to a happy coincidence. She’s doing a New York guitar symposium that’s a few hours’ drive away.
“I just called her up and said, ‘Hey, would you consider doing this?’ and after much talking she said yes,” said Zakiewicz. Such “fill in” shows help keep costs down.
Next season will also mark the start of a stewardship campaign to recruit new blood.
“I’m trying to get some of the younger people involved because they are the ones that will carry this forward,” said Zakiewicz. “If they understand what the coffee house means … I think they will want to continue keeping it going.”