The Best Seat in the House
Dreadnaught has been playing together since 1996, making records and touring the nation, and generally doing wild things that we could have only dreamed of as kids, working with some of the most talented, admired, and decorated artists in the business, while also playing lonely gigs in sketchy, really-kinda-dangerous-if-you-think-about-it pool halls reeking of beer, cigarettes, and… other things. We’ve been around the block, let’s put it that way.
So I don’t say this lightly: since November 2005, the “Writers” series has consistently given us the biggest jolts and the most electric experiences of our career, the most fascinating moments of contemplation and enlightenment, and quite frankly, more than a few sparks of utter panic and confusion. If you’ve been to the shows and think really carefully, and use your powers of deduction, I’m sure you can recognize one or two in that last category.
But hey, that’s show biz.
Getting this gig was in part the byproduct of my not getting the gig to produce new theme music for New Hampshire Public Radio’s program “The Exchange” – something which actually occurred shortly thereafter, the result of which you can still hear on NHPR to this day, composed by yours truly and recorded by Dreadnaught.
I had been speaking with NHPR’s then-Program Director, Mike Arnold, about this, but at that time it just wasn’t in the budget. As I was about to leave his office, Mike gave the classic “Columbo”-esque line I’ve heard so many times in so many circumstances over the years.
“Oh Bob, just one more thing.”
My head angled like my cat Bert when he hears the first toe of my first foot touch the first step to the basement where the bag of food is.
“There’s some talk with The Music Hall of a series that is part live event, part radio program, involving writers on book tour.”
Hurm, I thought.
“And if this all happens, what we might be looking for is,” he continued, “well, oh, I don’t know, maybe a quirky, fun, energetic group in a New England, maybe Americana, style to act as the house band. Like on Leno. Know any groups that fit the bill?”
And he smiled.
I still laugh at the whole exchange (pardon the pun). And I laugh partly because it was only after that when I met Patricia Lynch, Executive Director of The Music Hall, the dynamo who has been so utterly central and fundamental to the flowering of the arts scene in our region, and realized that the true test was yet to come.
Throughout the years, Patricia – along with the amazing Hall staff, led by Margaret Talcott at the front of the stage and Zhana Morris behind the curtain, and New Hampshire Public Radio and its President Betsy Gardella, led by the virtuosic host and interviewer Virginia Prescott – has consistently brought in stars of the highest magnitude, people whose work I (and many, many others) have read, studied, and enjoyed for my entire life. Talk about raising the bar.
We’ve been insulted in public by John Updike, one of my favorite authors (RIP John). We’ve been bear-hugged by Madeline Albright. We’ve been high-fived by Alan Alda. We’ve evacuated for Barbara Walters. I think I lost more hearing in my right ear from a 10-minute backstage chat with Chris Matthews than I have in my decades of playing in apocalyptically loud rock bands. We even performed live with Dan Brown on piano, one of the nicest, most insightful, and talented artists working today, in his first major public musical appearance in ages.
I mean honestly, how many musicians get to perform with and for creators of such magnitude? It’s really something. And not to toot the old Dreadnaught horn here, but how many of these authors have been welcomed onstage with such rocking pomp and circumstance? It was an inspired idea then by the visionary Music Hall and NHPR teams, and it remains so.
In many ways, the test goes on. There isn’t a single event that doesn’t present its own unique problem, be it a musical one (seriously, how would YOU pick out songs appropriate for John Adams? Consult the Billboard November 1755 issue?) or a logistical one (the concept of an “audible” doesn’t only apply to football, believe me). I’d like to think that we’ve been up to the challenge over these last 10 years, and I hope to be lucky enough to be up for it for another 10 at least.
It’s nice to know that my seat awaits – and I hope to see your face out there somewhere behind the shining lights, on the other side of that curtain, enjoying this truly astonishing series just as much I do.
Music Director, Writers On A New England Stage
Member, Board of Trustees, The Music Hall
* Virginia, I realize you probably could claim the title of this note as your own, but let’s face facts, you’re working way harder than we are. We literally have the best seats in the house.