New Hampshire smells wonderful — pine-dominated fresh air. Without snow, the ski slopes were striped with trees and fresh grass. Varying shades of green to compliment the pure blue sky and scattered clouds. Such a small state a long way from anywhere, though Boston is only a couple hours away if you take the direct route. We didn’t, opting for small roads with farms, forest, and country stores. The stores appear to be the only place to get any supplies such as whoopie pies, ham salad, beer, and locally made soaps.
We find a place to sing in the middle of all this nothingness. Woodpeckers is a mix of Boston sports meets ski lodge, with a smattering of bird decor that reflect its namesake (cartoon character representations included). The door says no patches, referencing bikers; this bar is neutral territory. An obese man plays an arcade shooting game in the otherwise vacant pool room. Most are outside playing corn hole on the patio.
The KJ does some serious hustling to the small group of us there: Sing a song and enter a raffle to win a bunch of Sam Adams stuff, including a table umbrella and a beer cozy. Drawing at 11:30 and if you sing a song your name goes in the bucket. When it’s time for me to go up, I tell her to not bother with my slip. I see the metal pail isn’t that full from the previous weeks of raffle collecting. As the KJ cues up the song she looks over at me and says “I can tell this is going to be good.” I do a decent job, but don’t remember the song as much as I think. Still, I do OK, and the KJ is very encouraging, putting forth effort to enjoy the music. I can’t tell if she’s sincere or not. When I’m finished with my song, she’s back to encouraging others to sing, trying to tempt those inside into taking the stage with the allure of Sam Adams gear. This is the sort of place that seems to have more vacationers and travelers than regulars, though and I doubt anyone will ever be here to claim that prize.
Location: Woodpeckers Pub and Eatery, Campton, NH (population 3,333)
Happy Canada Day! I order a large Labatt and sit at the bar. Everyone calls everyone “honey” here –customers and the servers alike. It’s clear that once again I am walking into a group of regulars, or at least people who know each other from around this tiny town. Although we are only 15 miles outside of downtown Cleveland, it feels like the middle of nowhere – my friend says we are in a “small historic town” as opposed to a suburb.
The bar is also in a weird sort of limbo; it’s not located on Main Street along with the rest of the commercial establishments, but in a house in a residential neighborhood. As one person walked in, he said he “didn’t know whether to knock or ring the door bell” in order to come in.
Throughout the night, I make conversation with another solo patron; he’s originally from Italy, and has the accent to back that up. He also lived in Switzerland for a time, but says that this is the best place in the world to live. I silently disagree. After I talk to him about my reason for being here (“Very unusual,” was his reaction), the Italian and I talk about singer-songwriters; he thinks a good song has a good story to it and tries to get me to sing Piano Man or something by Harry Chapin. I agree those songs are excellent stories, but try to figure out a way to tell him there’s no way I would sing any of that because they are karaoke show-stoppers. Instead, I tell him those songs are out of my range and deflect the conversation by throwing Bob Dylan into our conversation as another amazing singer-songwriter. I don’t sing him, either. The Italian says he doesn’t sing himself, but likes to listen to karaoke because “Karaoke is homey. It’s relaxed and comfortable. Not like a night club…homey is the only word I can think of.”
As a small group in their 50s/60s come in, a loud woman in the party yells “We’re here!” and my heart warms a little. That group never ends up singing, but does quietly sing along with most songs. Two young couples sit at the bar alongside me. They get carded as one of the young women asks, in a squeaky voice, for a “flat” beer, meaning no foam. Her friends mock her terminology. Both the younger and older group talk about their high school days. The loud woman went to high school with the KJ; everyone here has probably known everyone else since they were born. Though there is a mix of ages, the music selection is mostly older stuff. A young man sporting a backwards baseball cap and reddish blonde beard sings Frank Sinatra. A clean-cut skinny guy sings The Beatles. A young woman dressed fancier than the rest sings old Billy Joel. Some crooners get up to sing standards as well – songs actually from their time. I sing a song by Queen released in 1980 – one of the most modern songs of the night. When I make my way to the bar, I see that someone stole my pen. I announce that fact to no one in particular when I sit back down, but turn to the Italian to see if he has any information. He’s no help. The bartender tracks my pen down for me and returns it from her co-worker who was using it to close out tabs.