GREENWELL: The howling down on Hampshire
Once in a blue moon, you get lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. I mean REALLY get lucky enough to see something that you wouldn’t have on any other day, at any other hour, and to be blown away.
That happened to me last Thursday night. Thursday is not a common day of the week for Belinda and I to go out, but because our friend Josh Lanier was turning 30, and because he wanted to celebrate at New Hampshire bar, we had the fortunate experience of seeing one of the best singer-songwriters (hands down, no arguing) that I’ve seen live, named Graham Lindsey. Graham’s tunes and musicianship rivaled some of my contemporary favorites — Mike Kinsella (Owen), Samuel Beam (Iron and Wine), Rocky Votolato, and Kristian Matsson (The Tallest Man on Earth) — that I’ve seen at larger venues in bigger cities.
I want to acknowledge the new owner of New Hampshire Bar — Jeremy Grootens — for some of the work he’s done to turn the place around. If you drive by the corner of 10th and Hampshire frequently, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the salmon colored building on the corner. The place was kind of an eyesore, but not anymore. The landlord gave the outside a face lift with a couple buckets of black and red brick paint and new signage. It really looks like a different place. The special was also fitting for a country/folk show — $2 pounders and $3 tall boys of PBR. Even though hipsters have taken over the PBR market, the stigma of skinny jeans, faux hawks and scarves worn in summer months aren’t enough to deter me. I prefer PBR to other domestics like Bud or Miller anyway.
The show consisted of three acts — Ted Holt of Quincy, Owen Mays of Madison, Wisc., and Graham. Unfortunately, I was too late to catch Ted Holt, but all is not last. Ted is playing in Quincy again this weekend on Saturday, May 21, at O’Griffs Irish Pub.
Owen banged out a variety of originals and cover songs from well known and not-so-well known roots, country, bluegrass and folk musicians, including “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash. He also twanged out a guitar and banjo number with Graham. I caught up with Owen outside after his set and asked him about the tour. We talked about the arts community in his home town, Madison, WI, and how the eclectic tastes and talents of the Midwest have shaped his influences and inspiration. He was at the end of a 40 state tour, and he told me, with a smoky rasp in his throat, that he and his Buick LeSabre were on their last leg. Despite his weariness, he was excited to play his final show at home the next day, where he will take a breather for 30 days before heading back out in July. His tour was solo, and he only met up with Graham for these last few dates. He is a very modest and talented musician, and he mentioned that he was very honored to share a stage with Graham.
I also talked to Ted Holt when I went back inside, and he expressed similar admiration for Graham. That got me curious. After the show, I sniffed out Graham’s website, where I found out that his first album, Famous Anonymous Wilderness, was written in a farmhouse in Nebraska and debuted in 2003 on several notable top ten lists, including a couple Rolling Stone’s Critic’s Choice lists. He has since released 2 full length albums, an EP and moved to Missoula, MT.
All the semi-drunk meandering and wisps of conversation stopped when Graham started plucking. Accompanied by his wife, who played a variety of percussion instruments, Graham kept my attention from the first strum of his copper guitar strings to the final fading whine of his harmonica, playing a variety songs from different albums, including a few from his latest 2009 release, We Are All Alone In This Together. I thought of Bob Dylan, Hank Williams and all the other folk and roots musicians that I’ll never have the chance to see live, and I knew I was getting a small taste of it—all that organic instrumentation and storytelling that makes folk and bluegrass a brilliantly accessible and profound magnifying glass for rural America. I especially took to a number called “Matchbook Song,” which I was fortunate enough to record. Here’s the video:
After his set, Graham and his wife took the many compliments with a smile and soft spoken appreciation. They were generous enough to take a picture with me, but as a testament to their talent, we kept getting interrupted when I tried to talk about their tour. I checked the calendar on Graham’s website, and it looks like they’re on the first leg of a month long tour that began in St. Louis and spirals out to Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Texas, the Southwest and Western U.S., and ending in Montana.
I consider myself very lucky and grateful to have caught Graham. I am also surprised that an act with that kind of notoriety and talent traveled 30 highway hours and picked Quincy as a stop between St. Louis and Chicago. To me, that means we are doing something right, whether it is building a reputation, aggressive and expansive booking or a combination of both. In terms of live music, growing up in Quincy was not fulfilling and even painful at times. I still keep my ear to the ground, and the fact that I just happened to be at New Hampshire Bar for a birthday, catching the show kind of by accident, tells me that we also need to focus on promotion. If we can align all this, I think Quincy could draw in more great acts like Graham.
Regardless of the circumstances, I saw a show in this little river city last Thursday night that left a lasting impression on me, and I’m grateful I had the chance to meet these musicians and listen to their songs. I intend to follow them with an ear throughout the course of their careers.
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