By Sarah Lennon
To find out what the restaurant music scene is like from a musician’s perspective, I caught up with Jake McKelvie, lead singer and guitarist of local indie-rock band Jake McKelvie & the Countertops. McKelvie is a seasoned restaurant performer; his first experiences were at age 13 or 14. He would occasionally play in a weekly music series at the Gardner Ale House in Gardner, MA, close to his hometown. The members of the Countertops converged during their time at Keene State, and began to frequent an open mic night at Ramunto’s Pizza. Gradually, they began booking full sets at Ramunto’s, Fritz’, and other venues.
“In a town like Keene, there isn’t a huge wealth of places to play, so you pretty much play wherever you can,” says McKelvie. This point is driven home by the dwindling number of restaurants in the area that offer live music – both Fritz’ and Ramunto’s have since gone under new management and no longer host shows or open mics. However, McKelvie also points out upsides to playing in a restaurant as opposed to a club or other venue: the built-in crowd, and exposition to new audiences without constraints such as age limits.
Live music in restaurants can also foster a solid partnership between the performers and the management of the restaurant, thereby fortifying both local economy and arts appreciation. In Ramunto’s open mic days – before management changed hands – the members of the Countertops had a solid partnership with the owner, Andy Reid. “He was always nice to us and always accommodating,” McKelvie recalls. The Countertops were also on friendly terms with the previous management at Fritz’. “It’s good to have a relationship with the people running venues of any kind, because once they know you and like you, they’ll start asking you back more often than you have to ask them,” says McKelvie.
As of late, Jake McKelvie & the Countertops have moved on to other venues, but still occasionally swing by Local Burger in downtown Keene. Interested folks can hear live music there every Friday evening! McKelvie also referenced Union Coffee in Milford as one of his recent favorite venues.
In small towns such as Monadnock’s, people are always searching for something to do. If you haven’t read Part One yet, check it out for some food and entertainment suggestions – maybe even sign up to perform yourself! Keep in mind that we can all participate in this partnership between local music and local businesses. There are few better feelings than the selfless reward of seeing these two communities intermingle and grow together. See you at the next open mic!
About the Author
Sarah Lennon is currently a student of Communication and Creative Writing at Keene State College in Keene, NH and an intern with Arts Alive. She originally hails from Charlestown, RI.