In downtown Keene: Art, the last days of summer, and rock n' roll

·4 min read

Sep. 4—A fat blues riff wobbled from Central Square in downtown Keene on Saturday afternoon, as a hundred or so people gathered under the shade of the park's oaks and maples — the leaves not yet turning — to listen on.

From the stage setup on the bandstand, Chris Dixon leaned into his electric guitar, syncing up with a funky bassline from Randy Tougas and a snappy rhythm from drummer Gary Rzab. Like many years before, the trio, known as Electrio, made the trip up from western Massachusetts this Labor Day Weekend to play the Keene Music Festival.

"We love this town; it's one of the best towns we know," Dixon said.

The festival, which has brought a mix of musicians and bands to makeshift stages up and down Main Street almost every year since 2000, returned last year after a brief hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's his eighth year performing at the festival, Dixon said, describing a deep-rooted sense of community inherent in the event. Driving into Keene with the windows down earlier in the day, it was a bit like flipping through the radio stations, he said, "a different music comes on on every street."

In all, more than 50 bands and musicians — playing everything from rock to folk, electronic pop, bluegrass, punk, metal, rap and indie — performed at the free festival Saturday from stages set up at Central Square, Railroad Square, Lamson Street, and outside City Tire, the former Miller Bros.-Newton and the Monadnock Food Co-op.

Rzab bore a large grin as he packed up his drum set, his tie-dye shirt still sweaty from the performance.

"If I'm having fun with my musician friends, I'm good to go — and I think the audience appreciates that," he said.

Tougas agreed: "There is something about these small town's that is just conducive to the arts."

That certainly appeared true in Keene this weekend where, moseying about a mile down West Street to Ashuelot Park, there was another, albeit quieter, arts scene in full swing.

There, fellow Marlborough residents Pamela Frankel and Linda Phelps strolled leisurely through the dozens of tents set up in the grass for the 63rd Art in the Park. Hosted by the Monadnock Area Artists Association, the weekend-long event featured the work of more than 65 artists from around New England.

"I love it," Phelps said. "There are so many mediums, so much talent here."

Frankel carried a notebook to keep track of the variety of artists and their different methods and styles. She noted one artist's work used melted crayons, while another used mixed acrylic paints as a backdrop for her original photography. Moving from booth to booth there were impressionist paintings, scenes of Mount Monadnock and Madame Sherri's Castle ruins, colorful abstractions and much more.

Shaded by his tent, Brian Fournier, one of the many artists, worked on a drawing of a bee on a purple flower. The Massachusetts-based artist said he has been coming to Art in the Park for about five years.

"I kind of enjoy when we come here to actually work so people can see what I'm doing," Fournier said, occasionally smudging the inks from his colored pens with his fingers.

Back in downtown, guitars continued to scream into the afternoon. At Railroad Square, a mix of kids and young adults grooved to the punk band Oziem, as the lead singer jumped around and headbanged with them.

A few hundred yards away, outside the co-op, Julie Janks and Liz Biggar swayed to the more mellow country, folk and rock tunes of Bob Jordan, who played an acoustic guitar in a duo with a percussionist on a washboard.

"It seems like it's all over downtown," Biggar said of the festival. "That's one of the best parts."

Janks said she has been coming to the music festival for three years and that the couple had just bought a house not far from downtown. All day, the two had wandered from show to show, enjoying the sunshine, blue skies and cooling weather.

"We're going down to City Tire to finish hard," Janks said. There, she said, the three-piece punk band Lobotomobile would finish out the night, as they have done in years past, often with a set that includes some Halloween-inspired horror themes. "They shred."

Ryan Spencer can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1412, or rspencer@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter at @rspencerKS