Eric Gagne runs a record store, moonlights as a singer/songwriter, plays in several bands and runs The Glass Museum, a combination concert promotion company, record label and music art studio. In short, he’s immersed in music most of the time.
An inveterate fan, he found traveling to shows both time-consuming and expensive. Seven years ago, Gagne hit upon a novel idea — why not have his favorite performers travel to his hometown of Peterborough? Thus was born the eclectic four-day festival called The Thing in the Spring.
“I get a little anxious in the city, and I don’t really have a lot of money — the idea of traveling around to see all this stuff is way too overwhelming,” he said recently. “So I figure if I just have everybody come here, it would be a lot more fun.”
Peterborough has a solid independent music pedigree, but often it’s not stuff that excites Gagne.
“I put on what’s different [and] the thread that ties it together is an intrinsic heavy quality,” he explained. Not musical heaviness — though bands performing this year like Rough Francis and Magik Markers can be described that way. “I think of people like John Coltrane or Springsteen … heaviness equals gravity to me.”
Impossible-to-categorize performers dominate the 2014 lineup, like experimental noise rockers Bill Orcutt and Chris Corsano, bass playing torch singer Nat Baldwin and David Kontak, who plays instruments built from toys, appliances and random parts. One critic described him as “Dr. Frankenstein meets Brian Eno.”
Since its inception, the festival has grown from a handful of performers at Harlow’s Pub to over 25 acts on five or six stages. A turning point came in the fourth year, when Thurston Moore and J. Mascis were booked to overwhelming response.
“We had to turn people away,” Gagne recalled. “So that sucked, and we said, ‘We have to grow up.’”
Subsequently, headliner concerts happen at the much larger Town Hall. Topping the bill this year are Lady Lamb the Beekeeper (June 6), Simon Felice (June 7) and Charlie Hunter (June 8), with each show preceded by a free “pre-doors” performance. Author readings, DJ shows and movie screenings — Seven Samurai and Seventh Seal following the Friday and Saturday shows — are also free.
Other events happen at Harlow’s, Waterhouse Restaurant, a pair of art galleries and Gagne’s Toadstool Bookshop — a source of many talent ideas.
“I am constantly engaged in checking out new music,” he said. “Every year, creating a lineup is an exercise in what can I do and what can I pull off.”
Part of the festival’s impetus came from Gagne’s desire to bring affordable art to his hometown. His wife runs and curates *broke, a free fair with everything priced at $50 or below. Held on Saturday, June 7, the all-day event includes a wide range of artworks and wares ― prints, collages, soft sculpture, wearable items and independent records.
The art fair also has a music tent, with bands playing from noon until dusk. A single ticket provides entry into all music events, with the exception of Harlow’s (the bar is precluded due to ID restrictions).
“It’s a lot of different pieces put together, rather than it being 25 bands in a field,” Gagne said. “I really like the fact that you can come and go as you please, you don’t come in a gate and that’s it ― you’re not trapped.”
Musicians enjoy it as well.
“A common thread is they’re into the idea of playing in a small town. It’s different, but intimate and really beautiful.”