Putnam developing eclectic music scene

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Tue., Jan. 17, 2012
Roger Glidden and Matt Vernali of Symphazzico get ready to play at Bella's martini bar. Photos by D. Coffey.
Roger Glidden and Matt Vernali of Symphazzico get ready to play at Bella's martini bar. Photos by D. Coffey.

Bill Altmeier was pleased to find a gallery opening and live music at the Silver Circle Gallery in Putnam on Jan. 13. The two don't usually go hand in hand. But Shaun Rock, one of the featured artists, happens to be a musician, as well as a teacher and artist. He brought along his guitar and set himself up in the corner beneath a painted figure of Icarus.

Altmeier wasn't completely surprised. “There are cool things going on in this area,” he said. “Important things are happening. The carpets aren't rolled up at 6 p.m.” The vitality he sees isn't confined to Putnam, but it's certainly evident in the town. Main Street alone counts seven restaurants that offer everything from pizza to pizzazz, coffee shops and honkey tonks to martini bars. Summertime crowds fill sidewalk tables and the well-heeled rub elbows with the high school crowd.

With the success of First Fridays, a city-wide street fest held on the first Friday of every month (except for the winter months), more musicians are finding places to play. Still, it's difficult to find a regular venue. Only three establishments offer music on a regular basis now - Bella's Bistro Martini Bar, Chickerings, and Victoria Station.

Pangaea Wine Bar offered music on the weekend, but they are closed for January. Main Street Grille co-owner Kim Brotzman said she has more musicians as customers than as performers, though Joanna and Scott Chaurette have played for diners there on First Fridays.

Victoria Station has drawn in performers Jenelle Provencher and James Keyes. The Station has a strict original music only policy because of licensing issues. The coffeehouse setting is appropriate to individual singer-songwriters with its couches and easy chairs and its draw of students from area schools.

Allen Granberg, owner of Bella's Bistro, is hoping that the martini bar downstairs will provide that little something extra for his customers who want more than dinner out on the town. The 75-seat capacity bar will be a venue for jazz, blues and big band sounds. On Jan. 14, they showcased the band Symphazzico, a jazz quintet. It was the first time they'd been able to bring live music to town. “We're going to try to slowly increase so that we have six to eight performances a month,” Granberg said.

Kurt Michon grew up in Putnam. He remembers when the Pub at 44 and the Irish American Club had bands on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. That was years ago. “They used to pack them in,” Michon said. Given the opportunity, he'd go into the city to listen to live music.

That sentiment is music to the ears of Roger Glidden, bass player for Symphazzico. Glidden has been playing for more than 30 years, but feels this group (there are five other musicians) is the best that he's involved with. “It's been a real struggle to find venues for jazz in New England,” he said.

He and his band are hoping that their opening performance at Bella's will be the start of something good. Already, the band's Facebook page has drawn in more than 100 friends, 20 of whom are major names in the jazz world, he said. Glidden probably wouldn't be spending four hours a week on music, beyond his full-time job and weekend gigs, if he didn't love it. But even hobbyists can find a place to play in Putnam.

Harry Rock set up his guitar in the common hall connecting Silver Circle Gallery, Bella’s, 85 Main Street and a host of smaller businesses. He had accompanied his brother, Shaun, to the gallery opening, but wasn't playing with him. “We have different styles,” he said.

Shaun Rock spoke about his art with gallery visitors, his guitar leaning against a wall in the corner. “Having people around creates nice energy,” Rock said. “It's nice to play in your living room, but it's nice to have an audience.”

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