A Great, Squeezin' Time at Portsmouth, New Hampshire

September 2003

By Ken Coles

I was in the northeastern U.S. (aka New England) in the early Fall of 2003. After many dreary weeks of job hunting, including two on the road, I needed a music fix to follow on the Northeast Squeeze-In held Sept 19-21, 2003. I remembered Tom Hall telling us the year before about the Maritime Music Festival in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. So I went there September 26 to 28 to join in the fun. It was well worth the trip from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where I was then staying with a friend. Here are some pictures to give you an idea; you'll have to imagine the music for yourself, or come in a future year!

Come to New Hampshire

Portsmouth is, appropriately, at the mouth of a river; in this case the Piscataqua. The large estuary is a scenic place with lots of birds and had some nice camping areas.

The Great Bay near Portsmouth
A view of the Great Bay of the Piscataqua estuary.

The Festival began with a grand version of the regular song and tune session hosted by Concertina.netter Tom Hall at the Press Room in Portsmouth.

Tom Hall and Ken Sweeney playing
Tom Hall (on left) and Ken Sweeney (on right) playing at the Press Room Friday night. (Click image for larger version.)

This was a great time. It was unusual in my experience for American musical get-togethers in that there was a good mix of songs and dance tunes. This may be the result of guidance by the leader and a set of regulars with these overlapping specialties. Since moving to Massachusetts in late 2003 I have been back to the Press Room on a Friday now and then. Well worth the 90-minute drive for me.

Music and Maritimers

One highlight for me was meeting, and listening to, Concertina.netter Chris Stevens. He is indeed prodigous at Irish-style anglo playing at a tender age.

Chris Stevens plays concertina
Chris Stevens plays Irish dance tunes. Is that a modern anglo by a famous maker? Sure sounds great! (Click image for larger version.)

Sure it looks innocent, but this is how it starts folks...

Four concertinists without concertinas

Left to Right: Bob Webb (not playing Maccann concertina), Jeff Warner (not playing English concertina), Celeste Bernardo (not playing anglo concertina), Ken Sweeney (not playing English concertina or even harmonica). (Click image for larger version.)

Another new way to play duet concertina

Ken Sweeney plays two at once

Another amazing moment is shown here. Ken Sweeney simultaneously plays an English concertina and a diatonic harmonica. One of the other musicians tried to explain to the crowd what a two-brain job this is conceptually, but I'm not sure they understood how truly amazing this was. At the end Celeste Bernardo put a dollar in Ken's case! (Click on the image for a larger version.)

So check out Portsmouth's Maritime Festival if you ever get a chance! (By the way, these photos were a matter of opportunity, taken with a single-use camera and scanned to photo CD, and they came out OK to share with you.)