Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Visiting Musician's Guide To Portsmouth NH

So you’re here.  You've made it to Portsmouth, one of New England's quintessential seacoast towns.

Yes, this is real
You’ve got a gig, or possibly a meeting and a gig, or possibly a party and a meeting and a gig, or possibly simply one long binge of some type or other with a little incidental playing and talking.

It matters not.  What matters is the plan, because we are musicians.  We're more easily distracted than goldfish, and we often need to have music written down in front of us, like large burly children, in order to know what to do.

If we don't have a plan... we're screwed.

But don't panic.  This is New Hampshire, we're civilized here.  There are cows, yes, but not in the middle of the roads or anything like that.  Not usually, at least.

Portsmouth has all the normal amenities one would expect but there are also many outstanding locally-owned establishments that you might easily miss without proper planning, and it’s some of these special places that I want to share with you:

1) DAMMIT I FORGOT THE ______________
You’ve arrived but things are amiss, items have been neglected, details forgotten, etc.  It’s the usual state of affairs when on the road.

For the obligatory sticks 'n' strings pickup, start down on Islington Street at Gary’s Guitars and the DrumCenter of Portsmouth.  Gary has been taking wonderful care of my gear for 20 years now and is a true institution among area musicians, and Shane Kinney, owner of the Drum Center next door, keeps all those beaters beating. 

You can thankfully buy earplugs at either store as well.

You are still my enemy, Kid Icarus
2) EXTRA TOWELS
When traveling, I need to hit the reset button as frequently as is reasonable (I'm Italian).  Both The Hotel Portsmouth and the Ale House Inn are centrally located, welcoming and hip, comfortable and sophisticated – in many ways microcosms of the city itself.

The suites at the Hotel Portsmouth are well-suited for relaxing, readying, and even holding small meetings, like, for example, the latest installment of a furious, protracted, decades-old argument with your bandmates about whether or not “Close To The Edge” by Yes is a better long-form prog-rock epic than Floyd's “Echoes.”

3) ME
An introductory stroll through Market Square is in order, so wind your way over to Bull Moose Music.  Bull Moose is one of the very few places around where you can find a healthy selection of new and used vinyl, CDs, DVDs, and all those other lovely physical artifacts that we obsessively slaved over in our youth.  Tons of tiny treasures.

If it’s ink on paper that you’re into, cross the street to River Run Bookstore and snag a book or, better yet, the Portsmouth Herald and The Sound, two of the most important publications in town.  They’ve got their fingers on the pulse of the arts scene.

4) THEM
At this point in your day you should likely begin to think ahead (I know, I know) and consider what you will bring home for those in your life with whom you do not argue about oblique chord voicings or earnestly-desired-yet-ill-advised metric modulations.

Time is of the essence but quality cannot be compromised.  Pickwick’s Mercantile presents numerous solutions, and quite literally brims with a semi-chaotic panoply of knick-knack paddy-whacks.  If you can’t find anything at Pickwick’s for your significant other, please consult a doctor immediately.

5) EMERGENCY STEAK
My name is Bob Lord and I approve this pork bun
There are vastly more delicious dishes than you can reasonably try in any single trip here, unless that trip simply ends with you not leaving (this is indeed possible). 

Moxy is always a fun experience with their “American tapas” concept and fresh farm-to-table ingredients.  Dig that Great Bay Martini too.  It’s a perfect place to try a little of a lot and talk over it all… and negotiate, if need be.

For a more traditional sit-down dinner, Louie’s is fast becoming a steady go-to.  The rustic northern Italian-inspired menu is diverse and deep (get the sprouts get the sprouts get the sprouts) with a wine list to match.  

But if grease is what you need, there’s only one place to go: Gilley’s, to which I’ve dedicated more than just a healthy portion of my yearly caloric intake.

If it is a true Emergency Steak that you require - and you'll exactly know what I mean if it is - then proceed directly to The Library for the Gentleman's Cut 16 oz. New York Strip.  We have an excellent emergency room here in town too!

During the summer months you can walk across the bridge to Black Birch and Anju in Kittery Maine for a snack, and on your way back pick up a drink (and a massive lobster roll) on the decks at the River House on Bow Street.  Breathe deeply and hydrate.

6) WAIT, I’M SUPPOSED TO PLAY TONIGHT?
All right, maybe you’re not supposed to play tonight, not all musicians perform after all, but whether you’re on the stage or in the audience at any of the area venues you’re likely to experience something… interesting… at the very least.

The best seat in the house at The Music Hall
The Press Room is quite simply the best place in town to catch the widest variety of music in a relaxed atmosphere.  An absolute must-visit, and a definite must-play.  Don’t tell Bruce I told you any of this.

Right up the street is Rudi’s, which frequently has some of the very finest jazz musicians in the seacoast just a couple feet away from you.

Full disclosure in advance: since 2005 I have been the Music Director for the “Writers On A New England Stage” series at The Music Hall, one of the finest historical theaters in New England, where I also serve on the Board of Trustees.

So while I undoubtedly have a clear bias in regard to the venue, I can say with certainty that, having been on stage and in the audience many times over the years, The Music Hall is an extremely special place to visit – a true flagship organization of the community, a first-rate venue across the board.  Not to be missed (especially if you can catch the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra and conductor John Page on a Sunday afternoon).

If there’s time, wrap it up with a drink at The District across the street.  And then you’re only a block away from Gilley’s again…

6) OH FUDGE
Ding ding ding!  Out of time, you’re on your way home fantasizing about the next trip.  Here’s what you very likely could be thinking:

  • “If I had only known there was a community radio station to help spread the word!”  WSCA-FM is a wonderful resource for the area.  Be sure to let them know about where and when you are performing.
  • “I should have had a photographer for the show.”  Talk to Nate Hastings at 4077 Photography, because he can make even the most hideous, Gollum-level effects of aging look within the realm of acceptability.
  • “I hope no one took pictures of that.”  Sorry, we live in a day and age where that can’t be helped.
  • “Wish I had to time to get a sense of more of the musical culture in the area.”  The non-profit PMAC (Portsmouth Music & Arts Center) is a nexus of musicians in the seacoast, with young up and coming students being taught by some of the best we’ve got here, and there's plenty of info about what's going on in our area at the Discover Portsmouth Center just up the road.
  • “I’m kind of hungry.”  Well then clearly you did this all wrong.  Stop by Street and repent over the porchetta.

We’re just down the street a few minutes in North Hampton, so stop by on your way out of town to say hi – and would you mind grabbing an order of the short rib marmalade from Moxy for me? 

Thanks,

Bob Lord
CEO, PARMA Recordings


2 comments:

  1. This is fantastic! A great overview of our beloved city, Bob! I hope all visiting musicians find this awesome resource!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Looking forward to savouring the delights of Portsmouth town and surrounds in May this year.

    ReplyDelete