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Gardner Berry. Courtesy photo.




Gardner Berry Farewell Party

When: Sunday, Nov. 23, at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Whippersnappers, 44 Nashua Road, Londonderry
More: mamakicks.com




Snowbird
Gardner Berry heads south for the season

11/20/14
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com



Back when MTV still played videos and live music was a nightclub’s raison d’etre, not just one item on a crowded menu, Gardner Berry led the house band at Classics Restaurant & Bar in Manchester.  The place closed after just three years, but the short-lived venue produced two long-term connections for Berry.

Crucially, he met Lisa Guyer and began a musical partnership spanning over two decades. Their popular cover band Mama Kicks played its final show in June 2013.  The two continue to perform together. Lately, Berry plays keyboards at the teen-oriented Monday Muse open mike Guyer hosts at Whippersnappers in Londonderry. 
The second friendship to come from Classics was with the club’s owner, Paul Labbe. In February, Berry vacationed in Florida. Labbe, who relocated there a few years ago, helped him get a couple of gigs. 
“It was just like the old days up here,” Berry said. “They hit the dance floor on the first note and stayed all night, having a good time.”
Last summer, Labbe bought a Venice restaurant, renamed it (surprise) Classics Steakhouse, and called Berry with a proposal. 
“He plans music seven nights a week [and] he’s offered his house for me to stay in, a place to play. … It’s a perfect storm that I can’t turn down.” 
Apart from annual spring break tours undertaken with his old band Stone Cross in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it’s the first time Berry’s done anything like this. Before heading south, he plans a final show at Whippersnappers.
“A going away party for me, starring me,” he said with a laugh. “God knows who will show up; I hope everybody does.”
Berry believes it’s the right time for him to take a break from the Granite State music scene. 
“I’ve been playing for 50 years and my November calendar was the emptiest I’ve ever seen it,” he said. “I don’t think people are appreciating live music like they used to, that’s my gut feeling. I do see the open mikes doing well, which is kind of interesting.”
He heaped praise on the young talent coming out to Guyer’s Monday Muse event. 
“A couple of them literally blow my socks off,” said Berry. 
Teenaged guitar prodigy Delanie Pickering sat in on one of his solo shows; he was well impressed with a 13-year-old guitarist who came to the jam. 
“I started an old Ray Charles song; after two measures it was like he’d played it all his life … I started at 14, but I wasn’t nearly as good as these kids.”
The Tampa/St. Pete crowd suits Berry, now 65. 
“It’s my demographic — everyone is my age or older,” he said. Playing solo is also appealing. “The nights are earlier [and] the older I get, the earlier I like it. Throw my piano under one arm, a speaker in the other and I’m good to go, set up in 20 minutes.”  
When he returns in April, he’ll play a Whips set with Four Sticks, the Led Zeppelin tribute group he’s in with Tim Theriault and former Mama Kicks members Chris Lester and Dave Stefanelli. But apart from that, Berry is his own boss, which suits him fine. 
“The band business is awful,” he said. “I’ll be honest with you, playing in bars as a band is just not that much fun anymore.”
New autonomy makes forays like the coming one possible, added Berry. “Florida is something I’ve always wanted to do, but I’ve always been saddled with a band that had gigs to fulfill,” he said. “Hopefully, everything goes well — I’ll let you know in April. If I’m out of work, I can still lay on the beach.” 
 
As seen in the November 20, 2014 issue of the Hippo.





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