Art Notes: Canaan Meetinghouse showcase brings musicians and listeners together

James Graham, center, rehearses with James Gilbane, of Bradford, Vt., left, and Jim Musty, of Piermont, N.H., right, at Graham’s home in Lyme, N.H., on Wednesday, March 29, 2023. Graham recently released his first EP titled “Every Day Is You,” which he recorded at The Underground in Randolph. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

James Graham, center, rehearses with James Gilbane, of Bradford, Vt., left, and Jim Musty, of Piermont, N.H., right, at Graham’s home in Lyme, N.H., on Wednesday, March 29, 2023. Graham recently released his first EP titled “Every Day Is You,” which he recorded at The Underground in Randolph. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

Tommy Crawford performs at a First Friday event in White River Junction, Vt. (Mike Cannon photograph)

Tommy Crawford performs at a First Friday event in White River Junction, Vt. (Mike Cannon photograph) Mike Cannon photograph

Alex Hanson. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Alex Hanson. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

Martin Decato in an undated photograph. Decato and seven other singer-songwriters are to perform at the Canaan Meetinghouse on Saturday, May 11, 2024. (Courtesy photograph)

Martin Decato in an undated photograph. Decato and seven other singer-songwriters are to perform at the Canaan Meetinghouse on Saturday, May 11, 2024. (Courtesy photograph) —

By ALEX HANSON

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-08-2024 5:31 PM

CANAAN — A few summers ago, during the pandemic, Martin Decato and Peter Dionne got together to play music. Decato is a longtime pro, Dionne an avid amateur.

They looked around for a good place to make music videos, and didn’t have to look far. They both live in Canaan and a familiar building checked all the boxes.

“We discovered it’s really cheap to rent the Meetinghouse,” Dionne said in a phone interview. A Canaan resident can rent the restored 1793 hall for the scarcely believable sum of $80 a day for a private function.

So they recorded some videos, but decided they wanted to do something to bring musicians together. In September 2022, they held a singer-songwriter showcase that was well-received.

A second showcase is set for Saturday, featuring Decato and seven other singer-songwriters, including Tommy Crawford, James Graham, Leeanne Morin, Jim Fortmuller, Austin Martel, Rick Clogston and Rob LeBlanc. They’ll perform in two separate sessions, with four of the musicians playing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the other four from 6 to 10 p.m. Admission is by donation and there’s a 2 p.m. potluck. Bring a dish to share.

By chance, the performance falls on the day of Canaan’s annual townwide yard sale, so Dionne and Decato hope people decide to make a day of it.

Maybe it’s because of the venue, the potluck or the casualness of what Dionne and Decato are doing, but the event feels like a bit of a throwback. Thirty years ago, a lot more of the area’s musical performances took place in venues not necessarily designed for the purpose. In some cases, they still do, notably the Anonymous Coffeehouse, in Lebanon’s First Congregational Church, and Classicopia, which performs chamber music in area churches.

What really takes the Canaan event back to an earlier time is the sense that it’s for a community of musicians and listeners.

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“It gives everybody a chance to get together and get to know each other,” Decato said.

Decato and Dionne both lived in Florida, 28 years in Decato’s case. When the Dorchester native came back to the Upper Valley, 20 years ago, the music scene seemed nonexistent at first. Then he started going to open mic nights and realized the area was teeming with musicians making original work.

But they were playing mainly in bars and restaurants and at farmers markets, where the music isn’t the main event.

“It’s important for people like me to go out and play in a listening room,” Decato said. Performing for audiences intent on food and conversation, rather than music, can become dispiriting. “After a while you start questioning, ‘Can I still hold a crowd or not?’ ”

In the case of Saturday’s showcase, there’s also a reverence for the meetinghouse at work.

“I’m addicted to playing in that building, so I have to find reasons to do it,” Decato said. The age of the building, its acoustics, the history it exudes, all of it appeals to him.

The musicians fit under the big tent marked Americana. Decato, Crawford and others write and perform in a folk vein, but Austin Martel, who’s from Warren, N.H., is “purely country,” Decato said. Crawford will be recognizable to an Upper Valley audience as an actor who has appeared in multiple shows at Northern Stage and, most recently, in “The Minutes” at Shaker Bridge Theatre. Graham, a Lyme resident, put out his first record last year.

Decato also put out his first solo album, “A Tale to Tell,” in October. Charles Geoghegan, a Canaan-based videographer who has branched out into music, did the recording. He’s planning to record Saturday’s session; some of the sets he recorded in September 2022, including Decato’s, are available on YouTube.

If Dionne and Decato can pull it off, they plan to keep the showcases going, with another in September.

There’s certainly no shortage of musicians. Decato has been hosting open mics twice a month at Poor House Bar-B-Q in Canaan that have drawn 10-15 local performers, Dionne said.

Decato thinks this bodes well for the Meetinghouse sessions. “I think it could happen at least twice a year,” he said.

For more information go to martindecatomusic.com. The Meetinghouse is opposite Canaan Street Lake.

There is a season

In contrast to the Canaan showcase, the Anonymous Coffeehouse closes its season Friday night with performances from acts hailing from beyond the Upper Valley.

Effy Marella is a young singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn; finger-style guitarist Hiroya Tsukamoto is originally from Kyoto, Japan; and The Hot Skillet Club, a three-piece vintage jazz combo could be based anywhere, but performs all over New Hampshire.

The first act, Marella, takes the stage at Lebanon’s First Congregational Church at 7:30 p.m., and The Hot Skillet Club headlines. Admission, baked goods and non-alcoholic drinks are free, though a hat is passed for the musicians.

Across the park

AVA Gallery and Art Center opens three new exhibitions with a reception from 5 to 7 Friday night. AVA is kitty-corner across Colburn Park from the coffeehouse, so someone could make an evening of it.

The shows comprise recent works by New Hampshire artist Joan Hanley, Massachusetts artist Caleb Brown, Canaan artist Peter Anderson, and Vermont artist Denis Versweyveld.

For more information, go to avagallery.org. Receptions are always free and open to the public.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.