Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Narrows' Ten Years: Personal Memories

This week the Narrows is marking 10 years at our Anawan Street location!

Concerts by Sonny Landreth, David Wax Museum, Jorma Kaukonen, and Rosanne Cash. Hope you'll be coming to at least one of 'em. Rosanne is sold out, btw.

I started hanging out at the Narrows when it was on Martine Street on the other side of Fall River. The focus was visual arts, but music was soon added, although I think there was maybe one concert from a well known performer. Anybody remember? The rest was us at open mics and the like playing our guitars and what-have-you.

My first exposure to the Narrows was as a weekly columnist with the New Bedford Standard Times back in maybe 1998 or thereabouts, interviewing Bert Harlow, a founding honcho, for a column. Soon I was hosting open mics and playing guitar with now executive director Patrick Norton and now frequent concert opener Louie Leeman.

After a couple years or so, property issues led the Narrows to re-locate to Anawan Street. Bert, Patrick, Peter Belanger and other hardy souls took up the challenge and got the ball rolling. Meanwhile, I was involved in other things, but soon re-connected by attending a Professor Louis and the Cromatix show, possibly the second concert at the new location (the first, I believe, was with the Continental Drifters, featuring Newport's Susan Cowsill).

Pretty soon I was working the door, hauling equipment etc. with Patrick, his wife Maggie (and their two boys), Bert, Peter, and a few others. The first show I remember being involved with was with Kris Delmhorst, who had come down from the Boston area despite a rather fierce snow storm. Don't think we had many at that show. Another early performer was Stephen Bruton, who was involved with the Crazy Heart movie before his untimely passing.

After a time I suggested I might start emceeing the shows, something I had done a bit of in Providence.

For years, since I lived in Fall River and there were fewer shows than today, I emceed nearly every show and often did the equipment load-out after the show (great way to get to know the artists). One of my fondest memories was carrying out former-Byrd Roger McGuinn's 12-string Rickenbacker guitar.

About five years in, the blogging technology was available, so I began writing a frequent blog for the Narrows called "Backstage at the Narrows." I remember asking people from the stage if they knew what the word "blog" meant. Few did.

In time, I moved to Attleboro, so I couldn't work as many shows, but fortunately the Narrows had great volunteers to replace me on stage and with the equipment, although I usually work a show or two every week, emceeing, taking photos and blogging.

To make a long story short: a lot more volunteers got involved, the physical plant improved (artist studios, the elevator, improved bathrooms, better sound, better lighting, better seating), more concerts, a fantastic partnership with, and more as well as better visual art shows, some paid staff, and now fame and incredible respect nationally and internationally.

It's been a fun, enriching experience. Thanks to Patrick, Maggie, Bert, Louie, Peter, Deb Charlebois, Kathleen Duffy, and others who have put up with me for a long, long time.

Looking forward to our 20th anniversary! Hope you'll be along for the ride!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Quiet Night

During my more or less 10 years hanging around the Narrows I've developed a preference for quieter shows with new faces, new voices.

Catherine MacLellan fit the bill, as this Canadian songstress made her Narrows debut Friday night, accompanied by guitarist Chris Gauthier.

A beautiful rich voice singing beautiful rich songs, a combination somewhere in between Kris Delmhorst and Eilen Jewell in sound and feel.

Plus, for those of us who pay attention to such things, she's the daughter of the late Gene MacLellan, composer of the song "Snowbird," a hit for Anne Murray (and covered by Ms. MacLellan during the show and on her CD Silhouette), and "Put Your Hand in the Hand," a hit for a group called "Ocean."

Lovely concert. Hope she visits again soon.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Strangler and Blondie Skinsman

Tuesday night was New Wave night at the Narrows, featuring Hugh Cornwell, former frontman of Brit group The Stranglers, and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, and Blondie drummer, Clem Burke making sure we got the beat.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Glen Campbell: Last Studio Recording a Gem (Rhinestone?)

Ghost on the Canvas--Glen Campbell--He's not the fresh-faced guy in the 1960s and 1970s who had what some called "countrypolitan" hits: "Gentle on My Mind" (written by the late John Hartford), "Galveston," "Wichita Lineman," "Rhinestone Cowboy" and others.

These days he's in his mid-70s; it's been announced he's battling Alzheimer's disease; and he says this is his last studio release (since he's touring, I figure there'll be a follow up live recording).

So, you may ask, "I haven't paid attention to Glen Campbell in years, or maybe never, so why should I now?"

I realize some hip tastemakers may not immediately give Mr. Campbell his due. He really wasn't part of the hippie folk scene of the 1960s, and his records had strings on them so he wasn't "rootsy." He had a popular mainstream television show--Johnny Cash did, too, by the way--and his image was wholesome, instead of "counter-culture."

But did you know that he struggled for years for solo success (his first single was in the late 50s, about a decade before the hits)? And did you know he was part of the "Wrecking Crew" (which included Narrows alum Leon Russell)? The crew consisted of crack studio players brought in by producers. Mr. Campbell, per the recording's notes, played on "Good Vibrations," "You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin' " and other important records of the period.

So, the fact is Glen Campbell was no overnight sensation. He worked hard, and was a heck of a guitar player and singer. And I liked most of his hits; come to think of it, I liked ALL of his hits.

Ghost on the Canvas is a superbly crafted recording, with songs contributed by Jakob Dylan, alternative rocker Paul Westerberg and others. Contributing musicians include surf guitarist Dick Dale (from Massachusetts by the way) and Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen.

So has Glen gone hip and rootsy?

Not really. If you liked "Galveston," you'll like Ghost on the Canvas. And if you appreciate heartfelt music that is well-written, well-produced, and well-performed, you'll like it too. One more note: the last track "There's No Me...Without You" sounds like a John Lennon recording, probably deliberately.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

She Could Perform at a Narrows Comedy Night

She's very funny, as she reflects on the ordinary foibles that confront us all at one time or another. Cats, cruise ships, mean people, cell phones.

And she can write and sing a song with the best.

That's why we're always pleased to host the SouthCoast's very own Cheryl Wheeler.

And she likes the fact that the Narrows is something like 10 miles from her home.

She made her annual appearance before a packed house--she said she pretty much knew everyone--at the Narrows Saturday night. It was streamed live on and should be in their archives soon in case you missed it.

By the way, although I was surprised when I learned this, one can now follow Cheryl on Twitter! Never thought she'd do it! Looks like she started November 5 of last year under the tutelage of Jill Sobule.

Becky Chace, who plays in Narrows' faves Forever Young, opened as a solo, something she noted she prefers not doing. She charmed us all nonetheless.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Gentle Ben

Jazz bassist Ben Allison teamed with guitarist Steve Cardenas to perform an understated evening of jazz Friday night the first weekend of October.

It was a "must see" for local jazz enthusiasts, according to the Providence Phoenix, because Mr. Allison rarely works in the duet format.

A highlight: an interpretation of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy."

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Comedy in this Economy

Imagine you, alone, on stage, in front of a crowd of strangers expecting you to make 'em laugh--not once, but many times.

And in this economy.

And after the Red Sox were just eliminated.

And after Tom Brady showed how throwing a bunch of interceptions is no way to beat the Buffalo Bills.

A nightmare? Maybe for you and me.

Saturday night, headliner Paul Nardizzi (photo), along with fellow comedians Mitch Stinson and Chris Pennie, showed how it's done at the Narrows.

If you haven't attended a Narrows Comedy Night, join the growing audience that has.

We can't do anything about the Red Sox and, apparently, the economy. Now if Brady will just throw passes to fellow Patriots this Sunday instead of guys on the other team...