LACONIA — The Lake City will be rocking on Saturday, with more than a dozen bands playing between two live music festivals just a few miles from one another.
Fresh off a successful second annual Biketemberfest, nightclub owner Anthony Santagate is hoping to replicate the excitement with the first-ever Laconia Blues Festival at Weirs Beach.
In Lakeport Square, Justin Spencer, of Chaos and Kindness fame, is hoping to throw the biggest block party in recent memory.
“It’s gonna be insane,” Spencer said about the free outdoor concert, which will start at 1 p.m. and culminate with a 6:30 p.m. performance by Recycled Percussion, Spencer’s own rock band. A fireworks display will conclude the event at sunset.
“The biggest fireworks show, not just a fireworks show,” Spencer said.
While initial published plans called for closing Union Avenue and setting up a stage on the street, the show has now moved to the parking lot of the Opechee Inn and Spa. This revision both allows for normal traffic flow to continue, and has double the capacity for fans.
“It would not surprise me if we hit the 20,000 people mark,” Spencer said.
With so many people expected, remote parking lots will be available at Tavern 27 on Parade Road, which will be serviced by a shuttle bus, and at Cantin Chevrolet. Handicapped parking will be available at Belknap Tire, Lakeport Landing and Fisher Auto Parts.
The list of bands at the Lakeport venue includes Bend the Ride, Whatshername, Northern Stone, Boyz Gone Wild, and Recycled Percussion.
The concert and pyrotechnics are a celebration of the Chaos and Kindness brand. That brand includes a television show, which follows Spencer and company as they perform, lead a rock star lifestyle and practice acts of good.
Chaos and Kindness also has an online store, which Spencer said has been doing well, and, as of Saturday, the brand will have its first bricks-and-mortar location, at 777 Union Avenue. Though the store will offer retail sales, Spencer said the brand is as much about experiences as it is about material products.
“We are spreading positivity, kindness and fun with the expansion of this brand. We want people to come to our store and have an experience. We want them to walk away inspired to do amazing things in their lives, to help others and to have fun. We could’ve chosen anywhere in the world to launch our stores and expand our business and brand, but we picked Laconia because it’s in our home state and we felt this community needed some extra kindness,” Spencer said.
Chaos and Kindness offers some things you might expect, such as sweatshirts and hats. It offers some other things you might not be able to find anywhere else, such as the opportunity to write something on a pane of glass, then smash it with a baseball bat, while being filmed in high-definition.
And the vision goes far beyond the Laconia store. Spencer said he plans to make Chaos and Kindness a worldwide brand – if so, the people who visit on Saturday will be able to say they were there for the beginning.
“We could be out of business in six months, or we could be the next big thing, the Ben and Jerry’s but for New Hampshire,” Spencer said. “In our heart of hearts, we know what we’re doing is right… Our whole thing is to try and inspire people.”
When Anthony Santagate started the Tower Hill Tavern, he booked primarily blues acts. There wasn’t a fanbase for the blues at the time, but it was what he wanted to listen to. After a while, though, the blues acts started to draw steady and consistent crowds.
“It brings out all kinds of different people,” Santagate said.
Santagate, who owns Tower Hill as well as the nearby Big House dance club, just wrapped up his three-day Biketemberfest event. Now in its second year, Santagate said it drew significantly more than its first year, which itself was considered a success. Biketemberfest was an important experiment, because it proved that crowds would still come to Weirs Beach during the off-season if there’s something for them to do.
On the strength of Biketemberfest, Santagate is organizing the inaugural Laconia Blues Festival, a 12-hour-long celebration of the blues, located right on the sand at Weirs Beach. There is no outside food or drink permitted on the beach for the festival, and no smoking, either. There will be vendors on site, though, to keep participants fed and hydrated. Admission costs $10.
The line-up includes: Kan-Tu Blues, Downtown Dave and the Deep Pockets, the Arthur James Band, Chris Fitts Band, Luther Guitar Johnson, Willie J. Laws, Tyler Morris, and Amanda Fish.
The schedule also includes a band that Santagate has been booking since they were practically children: the Michael Vincent Band.
Michael Vincent, guitar and vocals, bassist Dan Mack and drummer Dan Hewitt all grew up in the Lakes Region and have been playing together since they were 13. After high school, they decamped for seven years to Gulfport, Mississippi and immersed themselves in Gulf Coast blues. They left as boys and returned as bluesmen, and now they tour up and down the East Coast, with a base in the Lakes Region.
Mack said he’s excited to be part of this year’s Laconia Blues Festival, which is expected to become an annual event.
“I think it’s a really good idea. There’s a lot of people who like that type of music, but they have to travel an hour to see it,” Mack said. Also, having the event start at 11 a.m. means that fans of the music have the option of seeing live blues without having to go to a bar or stay up late at night, Mack said.
Vincent agreed: “I am excited about the festival in Laconia. Actually, I had that idea a few years ago. I thought it would be the greatest to do something down at The Weirs, especially on the beach.” He and his band have played at many beach-side festivals in southern states, and he said the environment and the music are a perfect fit.
“We could use something like that, and the blues needs it, too,” Vincent said. He said he’s a fan of all types of music, but, “I have to say that blues is the deepest relatable music to me. Especially getting to know the artists that I loved, it’s as good as I’ve always hoped it would be. They’re just human beings; we’re not really different.”
One of those musical heroes is Ron Levy, a pianist and keyboard player who toured with BB King during his zenith, 1969 to 1976. He also played with Albert King, as well as many other giants of the genre, and is a Grammy-nominated producer. Vincent said he reached out to Levy on social media and, after learning that they happen to live not too far away – Levy’s from Massachusetts – Levy agreed to join the Michael Vincent trio on several performances, including Saturday, much to Vincent’s amazement.
“It was kind of like a dream come true,” Vincent said. “He’s done everything, you name it, he’s done it… He has all the stories I really want to hear, how great these guys were and how hard they worked.”
There’s not a lot of places to see live blues in the Lakes Region, Vincent said, but there are fans, as evidenced by the people who turn out to see his band. He said he hoped the festival will give the blues a firm foothold in Central New Hampshire.
“I’m excited about this weekend, I hope it’s a great turnout, people are going to get a whole lot of entertainment for their money,” Vincent said. Looking at the lineup, he said many of the acts have performed and recorded alongside some of the biggest names in blues. “There’s living, breathing connections to the legends of this genre, right here in Laconia.”