PORTSMOUTH — The “gold lamé stage” may be long gone, but live music has finally returned to Common Fence Point.
Before it rebranded itself as Newport Live last year, the nonprofit Common Fence Music had hosted about 15 coffeehouse-style concerts annually in the neighborhood’s community hall since it was founded in 1993 by music director Ed Nary. The popular series hosted many notable touring musicians and bands, such as Maria Muldaur, Chris Smither, Eilen Jewell, Tom Paxton, Mary Gauthier, Cheryl Wheeler, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Bill Kirchen, Patty Larkin, Bill Morrissey, Paul Geremia, Àine Minogue and others.
But now there’s a new-and-improved hall — the CFP Arts, Wellness and Community Center — and a new concert series called Music at the Point. It started with open mics last fall, and it’s now gearing up for concerts spotlighting featured artists.
David Breton, Music at the Point’s co-founder, said Common Fence Music took a different direction when its board changed leadership and its new artistic director wanted to find larger venues to attract bigger, national acts, as well as charge more for tickets.
“He wanted to find venues so he could get more people to come,” said Breton, noting that the capacity limit at CFP is about 135. “The Norman Bird Sanctuary (in Middletown) partnered with them and they did a series of outdoor concerts.”
At the same time, CFP increased the cost to rent the improved hall, which now has a bigger stage, with modern lighting and sound. “They were still offered the nonprofit rate, but the maintenance cost of the building has gone up. We upped our rent, but I think at $375 it was still a good rate. It wasn’t a rate they were willing to pay, so we parted ways,” Breton said.
Soon after, music-lovers missed the shows at CFP and started clamoring for a return of concerts.
“There was a vacuum that was left,” said Breton, who along with Lisa Santucci founded Music at the Point, an internal program of the Common Fence Point Improvement Association (CFPIA), which owns the hall. “It fits in with CFP’s programming for the community.”
The new organization had some seed money and started off small with an open mic night.
“We were pleasantly surprised that some of the local musicians have adopted us or become our friends,” said Breton. “When we invited them to come back again for another night, they said yes. We’d put out a tip jar and they’d play three songs each.”
Music at the Point has taken a decidedly “listen local” approach to booking musicians, compared to Common Fence Music, Breton said. A good example will be the Featured Musicians Night scheduled for Friday, Feb. 24, starting at 7 p.m. (open mic at 9 p.m.)
The evening will feature Ryan Lee Crosby, a blues singer/songwriter who tours nationally and internationally but now calls Portsmouth home, another town resident, John McDaid, plus Barrington-based Beth Barron, Ray Welch and newcomer Joslyn Flaherty. Jason Gramitt is the regular emcee.
As an added bonus, the Portsmouth High School Jazz Combo, led by PHS student Hayden Shea, will also be performing that night.
“It’s delightful to have (Hayden) and his friends here,” said Santucci. “They bring so many of the high school kids who don’t stay for the whole night, but they’re so supportive and the parents of those kids are supportive. It just brings a whole energy to the music situation here that we haven’t had before.”
Other upcoming shows, all on Fridays:
• March 24: Wind Harp Celtic Band (“That’s the Friday after St. Patrick’s Day. We hope to have bagpipes,” Breton said.)
• April 21: Ryan Lee Crosby Band
• May 19: Beth Barron, with opener John McDaid (“John McDaid has been very supportive and steps up for everything,” Santucci said.)
All indoor events start at 7 p.m. and are BYOB. Tips are welcome.
Ray Davis, who lives in Common Fence Point and plays bass guitar with the band The 40, attends the Music at the Point organization meetings. His band is slated to play a block party just outside the CFP hall on Saturday, June 10. “We want to get the food trucks,” said Breton, adding the organization still needs to acquire a permit from the town to allow the outdoor show, which may run from 6-9 p.m.
Music at the Point is also excited to feature a future show by the singer Diane Blue, who is now based in Portsmouth. “She’s got her own jazz-themed band. She came in a booked the place herself and just played for her friends, and the place was full,” Breton said.
Music at the Point is trying to book a wide variety of bands that will appeal to many music-lovers, he pointed out. “We don’t want to be just like Common Fence Music, which was mainly folk. We’d like to get more people out there dancing.”
Recording studio, too
While the musicians will be playing for dancers upstairs in the CFP hall, downstairs they can also lay down some tracks for their latest release. Music at the Point is putting together a small recording studio in the building’s basement that will be available to up-and-coming artists.
“You can come for free, but after a while we’re going to ask you to contribute toward the operational costs. Our total investment is about $4,000,” said Breton.
An 88-key MIDI keyboard, microphones, and recording software are available in a small room, which is being sound-proofed. Recordings will be made on MacBook Pros using a Logitech editor.
“Because this office was also designed for the (YMCA programs), it has a window,” Breton said, adding that drum sets and other instruments that are too big for the room can be placed outside and still be recorded.
Trying out the studio last week was Cynthia Fontaine, an author who bills herself as a psychic medium, coach, master healer and certified professional clearer.
“I’m going to record some meditation CDs, and we’re also kicking the idea around of maybe recording podcasts, too,” said Fontaine, who lives in Tiverton but grew up in Common Fence Point.
For more information about Music at the Point, including upcoming shows and how to get on its mailing list, visit musicathepoint.org. For information about the recording studio, e-mail email@example.com.