Author: Gillian Barnes/Tuesday, November 14, 2017/Categories: Dining
On Wednesday nights, the bar is abuzz with satisfied golfers reminiscing over their games, families bonding over a nightout, and the after-work crowd sharing stories over a couple of cocktails. At 15 minutes past 5 pm, Clint LaPointe enters the room, sets up his guitar, plugs into the PA system, and mingles a bit with the crowd.
The bespectacled performer, based out of Manchester, returns to his equipment just before 6 pm and starts playing the first chords to “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor. The chatter dulls as the diners take a moment to enjoy the music setting the mood for their meals. Even the servers at Merrill’s Tavern sing along under their breath.
As the night goes on, LaPointe jumps from classics like Bill Withers “Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Fly Me to The Moon” by Frank Sinatra, and “Layla” by Eric Clapton. The 28-year-old performer has played “once or twice a month” at Merrill’s for about a year, and plays a number of different genres from rock to reggae to country to folk. At every gig, he shuffles his musical deck and deals out cover tunes based on his perception of the audience.
“I like Merrill’s Tavern, and the country club/resort vibe, because the crowd is usually more sophisticated, and is open to a wide range of music styles,” said LaPointe. “Every night is different at every venue I play, and you really never know how it’s going to turn out. Sometimes you are background and sometimes the whole room comes together in a very organic way and everyone is clapping and sharing the space. But you can’t plan those moments at any venue. Sometimes people want to be left alone, and sometimes they want to be engaged. Knowing how to read the situation is half the battle.”
Merrill’s Tavern has been hosting live music for the past year and a half. The performers set up right along the entrance way to the restaurant, greeting hungry and thirsty patrons with soft melody that’s great to eat to or singalong with.
According to Merrill’s Restaurant Manager Patti Houston, the idea to host live music was intended to bring in more customers on Wednesdays nights, as well as provide current customers with a little something special to spice up their outings at the restaurant.
“We hope to increase business even more and let customers know that they can come enjoy themselves and listen to some great local talent,” said Houston.
Houston decided to find her ideal performers through Paul Costley, the booking agent that runs “NotSo” Costley Productions. From there, the production company sends a rotating cast of performers through to give Merrill’s Tavern a variety of styles, and set lists to ensure that no two Wednesdays are quite the same.
Sharing the stage with LaPointe are some of Costley’s performers and Houston’s favorites such as Brian Gray, Brad Bosse, Sean Dennehy, Amanda McCarthy, and more. While the musicians may play an occasional original tune, both Houston and LaPointe said that the type of music that works best in the Merrill’s Tavern environment is cover tunes.
“Playing cover songs is a great way to get people on your side. If you deliver good music, people will like anything you play,” said LaPointe. “When a room is engaged it’s the perfect opportunity to throw out an original. The only problem with some musicians playing originals is it gets too personal sometimes, and it’s as if they are playing for themselves. I have a ton of original material that I’ve written and performed since I started playing, but they are not ALL restaurant/pub quality songs. When you’re at a venue like Merrill’s Tavern, the most important thing to remember is that you are there for them. Not the other way around.”
Depending on the night, customers can relax to their favorite tunes or will sometimes request an original composition from LaPointe. Mostly, the audience puts in requests for karaoke-worthy tunes.
“The top three in no particular order,” said LaPointe. “’Sweet Caroline’ (Neil Diamond), ‘Country Roads’ (John Denver), ‘Hotel California’ (The Eagles).”
As for LaPointe, his favorite songs to perform are “Deal” by the late, great Jerry Garcia and “Crazy” by Charles Barkley.
“I practice and learn new songs on a daily basis to keep up with the needs of all of the different demographics,” said LaPointe. “My set list is mostly well-known songs that I grew up listening to.”
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