Only a few businesses in Keene still have live music regularly, with most bands having to play in a few basements around town.
After the times where Penuche’s, Fritz’s and even the now-closed Starving Artist offered music every week downtown for anyone to enjoy, the people at Local Burger, and booker Kyle Christensen are doing their best to keep music and local business tied together.
Hosting a variety of musicians every Friday night free to the public, Christensen said he wants to offer a place where musicians and play music to an audience and get compensation for their work, something many artists struggle for.
Booking every week is said to be difficult at times, according to Christensen. On occasion, such as this past Friday, Feb. 19, he asked artists he’s worked with to put something together.
Doing this allows Christensen’s friends to play with musicians he may not know he said, and expand his repertoire of acts to book.
The acts of the evening were three familiar Keene faces, all having bands originating from the area.
Greg Fisher, the first performer, was the frontman of the now defunct band The Honeybears; second was John Remmetter of now Manchester-based band TheColorOrange; and closing the night was Keene local, Jake McKelvie, of Jake McKelvie and the Countertops. [Disclaimer: I am a member of Jake McKelvie and The Countertops and friends with all three performers discussed in this article.]
All three agreed playing apart from their bands added a new level of vulnerability when on stage.
Fisher said he hadn’t performed in town in many months, and with a whole new set of music apart from The Honeybears he said he planned to separate himself from the group entirely.
The crowd was ecstatic to see an old friend back on stage, he performed six songs over the half-hour set regaling memories of his time living in Keene and as a Keene State College student, stories of travels he’s had and funny songs about friends.
Fisher said, “The [Honey]bears were college for me, and when we were doing it I think we all somehow knew that…playing tonight wasn’t me as a bear but as Greg.”
In regard to playing acoustic compared to with a band, he said he “would always rather plug in. There’s just something about getting to be loud!” but he said he writes most of his music with an acoustic guitar so he wasn’t uncomfortable.
Remmetter took a different approach for his set, playing entirely songs written with his band TheColorOrange. The first few being older songs that didn’t make the cut for their first album Sprinting, then closing by playing the entirety of a new five song EP they plan to record together soon.
Remmetter said, “We’ve only played these songs out once at the Disco, and we’re recording with Converse Rubber Tracks soon so I played them tonight so people would hear them.”
Remmetter said playing solo is “scarier than when you’re with the band, if you [mess] up with a band, you can look back at your boys and it’s okay…playing alone and with a band are two incomparable things.”
The final act, Jake McKelvie, played a combination of original solo tunes, songs he performs with his band, and even a cover of Elizabeth Cotton’s classic “Freight Train.” Having played a Local Burger a few times now McKelvie said he was glad to return, but that being solo made him weary of crowd attendance.
“I was nervous before coming about our pull, but it was a good show…a lot of fun,” he said.
McKelvie was excited about the shows happening at Local Burger because as he put it “[the scene] in my opinion is kind of dying…and after places like The Starving Artist close[d] it’s hard to have a place like this in town that can host shows.”
Christensen said that this business to musician relationship with Local Burger is incredibly important to him, not only to have a space for booking but also to keep the town involved with the music community.
The owner of Local Burger was unable to comment because of working the kitchen the entire night. With a crowd of over 50 people, the burgers and fries were flying from out of the back. Christensen said, “This is allowing me to book any music I want to see in town, and add the attraction of live entertainment to a business in town.”
Audience member Joe Geis was glad to see his friends performing at the local burger joint. Geis said, “The turnout for them was awesome, they played great, it was so fun to see everyone and burgers are always good.”
Christensen said he will book any type of music. “I don’t like to keep restrictions on who can play, acoustic [acts] and full bands play here…I just want to keep music every weekend,” he said.
Matt Bacon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.