At 11 a.m. on Saturday, Jess Hutchins sat down in a wooden chair in Keene’s central plaza gazebo, guitar in hand, and started playing.
Flanked by fellow Nelson residents Geoff Williams and Mark Grover, the trio performed the original Hutchins song “Dream with Me,” the Keene Music Festival’s first track in two years, after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s event. The three have been playing together for about a year, but Saturday marked their first public concert, an experience that Hutchins described as exciting, if a little scary.
âI’m excited, however,â she said. âLike I said, we’ve been working on this for a year. We haven’t really shared much of this with anyone. So it’s sort of our beginnings.
As they played, the crowd gradually grew to around 20 people. Pablo Fleischmann, the festival director, was among them and said he was delighted to be able to bring the event back to the city center.
âIt’s fantastic,â said Fleischmann, a resident of Marlow who owns Green Energy Options in Keene. “… It’s my favorite day of the year in downtown Keene.” Walking around and hearing live music coming from everywhere is just a beautiful thing.
Fleischmann has been involved with the festival since its inception in 2000, he said, and has worked with a small group of volunteers to keep it going over the years. This year, a group of six organized the Keene Music Festival, which they initially planned to be a smaller-scale affair, Fleischmann said.
âOriginally when we were planning this there was a full-fledged pandemic and hardly any vaccinations going on,â he said. âSo we said, ‘Well, why don’t we just do three scenes and a few bands? And the bands, when we introduced it to the people in the band, everyone was so excited to play it turned into a full-size event.
From 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., 52 artists performed on seven stages across the city center: at Railroad Square, Miller Brothers Alley, Lamson Street, Central Square Lookout, City Tire, The Toadstool Bookshop and Monadnock Food Co Amphitheater. -Op. One of those musicians, Ian Galipeau from Keene, said it was great to perform his acoustic indie folk music again for an outdoor audience.
âThis weather is perfect,â he said after completing an hour-long shoot at the Monadnock Food Co-Op. âIt’s wonderful to replay. I took a big chunk of last year, like pretty much all musicians. And it’s just great that you can see live music and have a crowd without being afraid, or feeling like you’re compromising your health or that of your community.
Bruce Elliot, a Keene resident who played tenor saxophone on Saturday with local rock band Blue Motel, said the pent-up desire for live music throughout the pandemic makes events like the festival even sweeter.
âIt’s like it’s even better than before, because this break kind of gave everyone a fresh start,â Elliot said after the band’s performance on Railroad Square. âSo I think everyone has a lot of energy and enthusiasm for this. And it really feels good. “
Shortly after Blue Motel wrapped up its shoot on Saturday afternoon, six-year-old Violet Deaver sat in the shade of a nearby tree, enjoying a pumpkin muffin from Works CafÃ© with the friend of the Amy Trippodi family. They were “doing stuff,” Violet said, and decided to stop and grab some musical acts, including a punk rock band and an acoustic guitarist.
âWe’ve heard a bit of music from a few bands, and I’ve liked it so far,â Violet said.
âAnd I was saying to Violet, this is something that we look forward to every year,â added Trippodi. âIt’s Art in the Park and the Keene Music Festival. They’re just great community events. And I think everyone is ready to go out in good weather, to listen to good music.
The Keene Music Festival was one of many events held on a busy Saturday downtown. Art in the Park, organized by the Monadnock Area Artists Association, returned to Ashuelot River Park on Saturday and Sunday. Nearby, the Keene Farmers Market drew a crowd for its regular hours on Gilbo Avenue.
For Jayna Leach, a Keene resident who studies violin at the Boston Conservatory in Berklee, the confluence of events is a year-round highlight in Elm City.
âI happened to be here this weekend,â she said. âI was in Boston yesterday and had a gig that got canceled, so I decided to come over for it because I love it. And it’s also Art in the Park weekend, so it’s my favorite weekend in Keene, and I’m never around for it.
As an artist herself, Leach said the weekends are of particular interest but also serve as a chance to catch up with old friends.
âI love everything Keene has, everything community,â she said. âIt’s great to see everyone coming out, just people that I wouldn’t normally see anyway. And I especially like it [the music festival is] happening at the bottom [Main Street], so you get one thing, and then you get another thing everywhere else, and it just keeps changing.
Throughout the day, hundreds of people strolled down the main street, which Festival director Fleischmann said also helps promote downtown businesses.
âWe set up on the Labor Day Saturday weekend mainly to help downtown merchants, which I think helps them,â he said, noting that the music festival has maintained its tradition this year of excluding outside sellers to keep the spotlight. on local shops and restaurants.
Tim Pipp, owner of Beeze Tees Screen Printing on Main Street, said the music festival has certainly given his business a boost, especially after the coronavirus pandemic caused pedestrian traffic to slow down during the major part of the past year and a half.
âAnd now we’re attracting people from out of town, we’re attracting people from college – parents and elders,â Pipp said. âSo these weekends when there are events, we see a real influx of foot traffic and foot traffic. It definitely benefits us, and I know that just talking to a lot of other companies increases our sales.