Dan Thompson elected as first Town Troubadour of Manchester

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Thu., May. 16, 2013
Town Troubadour Dan Thompson performs with The Guinea Pigs at MCC on Main during the Taste of Manchester, held Tuesday, May 14. Photo by Christian Mysliwiec.
Town Troubadour Dan Thompson performs with The Guinea Pigs at MCC on Main during the Taste of Manchester, held Tuesday, May 14. Photo by Christian Mysliwiec.

The Manchester Arts Commission recently came up with a unique idea to build town pride and celebrate the arts at the same time. The plan called for the appointment of an official Town Troubadour, and on Saturday, May 11, an audience at Cheney Hall elected Dan Thompson as Manchester's first.

In his new role, Thompson will perform at various town events, such as Imagine Main Street during the upcoming Pride in Manchester Week on June 6, and the Manchester Art Commission's Arts Hall of Fame Induction on June 26.

As Town Troubadour, Thompson will entertain local audiences with music and storytelling, and he is a stranger to neither. “I've been playing music since I was 5 or 6 years old,” Thompson said. He was ushered into music by his family, and when The Beatles came onto the scene in 1962, his inspiration was energized. His musical performances took him from garages to college bands. “I've always had a musical outlet as a kid and young adult,” he said.

Later, Thompson got married, had children and focused on his career (he sells software for IBM). During this time, he put his music to the side. When a friend introduced him to open mic coffeehouse events hosted by the Unitarian Universalist Society, he decided to perform.

“I went up there, and my knees were knocking, I was so nervous,” he said. “From there, I decided I would perform every month, and I would write two new songs every month.” To his surprise, his music became hugely popular. “People wanted to hear them over and over again. They would call them by name.” He decided to record a CD at The Gallery in East Hartford.

Thompson is part of a vocalist ensemble called The Guinea Pigs, which began when he met singer Sandy Johnson at the coffeehouses. The two began playing together, and soon were rehearsing regularly. One day, Johnson had a proposal. “I said, we should play at the open mic night at Pub on Main.” When they got there, a new sound system had just been installed, and the technician asked for some guinea pigs to test it out. Thompson and Johnson agreed to be the “guinea pigs” for the evening, and the name stuck.

The duo became a trio when columnist/radio personality Colin McEnroe introduced them to bassist Jude Russell. Some years later, when the three were playing at the Coventry Farmer's Market, Johnson announced that they were looking for a drummer. One man, Will Laramie, said he was interested. “We took his card, called him, and we played together,” said Thompson. “This guy was amazing. He knew how to keep it low key, and stay on the beat.” Laramie played with The Guinea Pigs for two years, until Sept. 1, 2011, when he was struck by a drunk driver in East Hartford and killed.

Today, The Guinea Pigs have a drummer in Steve Dauphinais. “He keeps the rhythm right where it's supposed to be,” said Thompson.

Thompson greatly enjoys playing with the ensemble, but is also excited about the opportunity to develop his own musical voice as Town Troubadour. He draws from many different influences – right now he is currently inspired by French-influenced North African music – as well as rock, jazz and blues.

“The kinds of songs I write are generally about people and places that I know,” he said. As Town Troubadour, he looks forward to writing songs that are reflective of the Manchester community. Some Manchester staples that he hopes to honor in song are Chuckles the Groundhog, Case Mountain, and the Hockanum River.

Thompson also is honored to represent the Manchester arts community. “There's so much going on right now, with Imagine Main Street, the Little Theatre, and next year they're electing a town poet,” he said. “Manchester is just blooming right now in terms of the arts. I'm really proud to be a part of that.”

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