Introducing The Loft at Hermit Woods
Wine Club Fall Newsletter
Music has played an essential part in my life for as long as I can remember, from vague memories of attending the Bean Blossom Festival with my family at a young age to listening to my dad’s reel-to-reel recordings of his favorite tunes. As I grew up, I recall repeatedly playing several albums from my dad’s record collection. They included Fleetwood Mac, Carole King, The Beatles, and others. Hearing these albums today brings back such fond memories of my childhood years.
It could be said that Bluegrass music had the earliest and most impactful influence on my love of music. So much so that I took up the fiddle in my teens. I did this as much to play the fiddle as to participate in the jam sessions that are always so popular during bluegrass festivals. Unfortunately, the only instruction I received was in classical violin, something I had little interest in at the time. This resulted in a rather abrupt end to my musical career.
Like many teenagers growing up, I began to develop a taste for the popular music of my youth. Although I always remained a fan of my dad’s music, I am not sure he was a fan of some of my new choices. I still remember my first three eight-track tapes. Yes, you heard that right. They were Ted Nugent’s Cat Scratch Fever, Led Zeppelin III, and Led Zeppelin IV. My interest in Ted Nugent was short-lived, but Led Zeppelin holds a strong influence on me to this day.
Another significant musical influence was in my first year of college when I saw Matt “Guitar” Murphy at Toad’s Place in New Haven, Connecticut. I remember getting there early enough to get a spot up front at center stage. I will never forget watching Matt play his guitar, just a few feet in front of me, in a manner that seemed as if no one else was in the room. His eyes were closed, and he appeared to be in a trance. I, too, felt as if there was no one else in the room during those few mesmerizing moments. It felt like a spiritual experience and one I will never forget.
When my education caused me to switch coasts, I discovered an even more comprehensive array of musical styles and genres, further broadening my exposure and taste for music. I attended the California Institute of the Arts, a school that attracted students from around the world. I encountered styles and genres of music I had never heard before, including jazz, new age, funk, world music, and experimental. You name it, and my peers were enjoying it.
Shortly after arriving in CA, I had the opportunity to rent a room in a home shared by several international students. Growing up in the small town of Scituate, RI – one of the least culturally diverse towns – I learned so much from my new companions. One of them, Evandro, was born and raised in Brazil and was a few years older than me. He was hip, savvy, and exotic. He introduced me to Brazilian music, among other things. Every day he would play one of his many records, filling the house with new and enchanting sounds and singing and dancing around the living room. It was beautiful music, the likes of which I had never heard.
Evandro played more often than any other, “The Girl From Ipanema,” performed by Stan Getz and composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim. This new sound so moved me that I couldn’t get enough. Apparently, Evandro couldn’t either.
Oddly enough, being young and filling my head with so many new things, I neglected to note all the new music I was learning. I soon moved out and fell out of touch with Evandro, completely forgetting the artists that moved me so many times while living there. I spent the next ten years trying to find the exact song that Evandro played so many times. It remains today one of my all-time favorite songs and albums.
To the more culturally and musically informed, it is widely known that “The Girl from Ipanema” is one of the most recorded songs in the world. It was not that I couldn’t find versions of that song. I did, many. However, it was the version performed by Stan Getz that so moved me. Eventually, of course, I found it.
Evandro also introduced me to Gato Barbieri, another well-known Brazilian artist. There isn’t a celebratory dinner at my home with my wife that is not at least in part celebrated with music by this artist.
Again, to the enlightened, Stan Getz, Carlos Jobim, and Gato Barbieri are some of the most celebrated and respected musicians of the time. However, to my young and culturally starved ears, they were musical gods, expanding my understanding of the world around me in ways that changed me forever.
My college years were by far the most musically diverse. However, in the years that followed, my life was filled with many discoveries and adventures, and music became a minor part of my experience. It’s not that my music appreciation waned. It’s just that so many other things drew my attention.
It wasn’t until years later that I would rekindle my appreciation for music in an entirely new way. I have had the good fortune to become close friends with some fantastic musicians who have influenced me for decades. Of note are two local musicians, Don Severance and Paul Luff. Through my friendship with these two artists, I began understanding the musicians themselves and music from the performer’s side of the equation.
I have been a big fan of Paul and Don for nearly thirty years, and they introduced me to dozens of other local artists. Don and Paul regularly performed at our annual 4th of July parties for almost fifteen years with many of those artists. I have heard them perform together and in collaboration with others hundreds of times over the years. Don and Paul helped me appreciate the artists behind the music in ways I had never understood before.
By the time I was in my 40s, I had developed an enormous appreciation for music, all styles and genres, and the people who create it. However, like wine, music offers continuous learning and growing opportunities. My friend and now business partner, Ken Hardcastle, helped further my growth and understanding of music. In addition, Ken was a true audiophile, adding to his many interests and influences on me.
Ken introduced me to a whole new collection of music and artists I had either not heard of before or taken the time to appreciate. On a few occasions, Ken, Chuck, and I would position ourselves on Ken’s couch directly in front of his specially designed stereo and turntable and work through his collection of albums while sampling our favorite alcoholic beverages. Think Maxell Tape ad, only with the three of us.
Living part-time in New York City, Chuck introduced me to some of the coolest jazz clubs in the city, further broadening my interest in all things jazz. Together with Ken, we visited the Smoke Jazz & Supper Club and Minton’s Jazz Club and spent many hours watching virtual performances at Smalls Jazz Club.
As Ken, Chuck, and I explored our passion for wine, we eventually founded Hermit Woods Winery. During the early years, we worked into the wee hours of the morning, making our first batches of wine together. Accompanying us during these long nights were our favorite tunes cranked to levels probably not healthy to our ears and indeed not good for my marriage, considering my wife was a school teacher.
Although music played a massive role in the process, we had not yet considered it a part of the wine experience as it is today. However, as the years went on and our winery grew in size and popularity, we began to include music in the wine experience in a more formal way.
Around the time we opened Hermit Woods, I discovered a new venue in Laconia, Pitman’s Freight Room. Every Thursday evening, you could pay $10 and bring your own food and beverages and spend the evening listening to some of the most fantastic jazz, folk, and world music I had ever had the chance to hear live. Adding to the joy was that the performance took place in a listening room environment, a term I was unfamiliar with at the time. During every performance, the audience was asked to remain quiet.
This experience allowed me to appreciate music and the artists behind it in ways I had not before. I was hooked. So much so that I introduced myself to the organizer of the shows, Jonathan Lorentz, and expressed my interest in doing what I could to help ensure the continued success of the venue and the experience. Jon and I hit it off instantly. With my photography, advertising, and marketing background, I began to offer Jon any time I could afford to help him get the word out about this new venue.
Jon and I began meeting regularly. Ken, Chuck, and I attended as many shows as we could find the time for, and we ultimately began offering wine tasting during the shows after they eventually moved to the Margate Resort. We got so excited about the possibilities that we initiated a discussion with Steele Hill Resort about putting on an annual jazz festival at Steele Hill, next door to where our winery began on Taylor Rd.
Unfortunately, for several reasons, the jazz series eventually ended its two-year run, and with Hermit Woods moving to Meredith, the festival planning also ended. However, my friendship with Jon and my love of the listening room concept continued.
Around 2017, Ken, Chuck, and I began to imagine what we might do with the unfinished space on our third floor. Until then, it was the remnants of an 80’s law office that we used for storage and an occasional ping pong or foosball game. It didn’t take long for us to decide. We shared a passion for wine, so we started a winery. We enjoyed fine food and beer, so we added a restaurant. We all shared a passion for music, so now we needed a music venue. The Loft was born.
I immediately reached out to Jon and, with his help, began creating our own version of a listening room. Over the next few years, Jon and I spent many hours imagining what the space would look like, the sound and lighting necessary to support it, and who would perform there.
We worked with Meredith Village Savings Bank and Belknap Economic Development to generate the funding necessary to realize our dream. In 2019, we signed a contract with Clason Remodeling to see our vision through. Work began in early 2020, just before the pandemic. We dealt with setbacks related to the pandemic, other unforeseen challenges, and worker shortages for a long and arduous year, completing the process in May of 2021.
During this time, we began exploring the furnishings, sound, lighting, and, most of all, deciding what piano would find its new home in the Loft. Jon reached out to many of the players he worked with over the years for recommendations, and the overwhelming response was the Yamaha C3. With that in mind, Jon recruited Tom Robinson, an accomplished keyboard player in the area, and in October of 2019, the three of us headed down to Darrell’s Music Hall, NH’s largest piano store.
With Adam Darrel’s guidance, we spent the better part of the day playing through Adam’s vast collection of pianos. With Tom and Jon playing dueling pianos and Adam and I listening, one by one, we worked our way through every piano on the showroom floor and some that hadn’t made the showroom yet. Ultimately we settled on a 1991 Yamaha C3 that a concert pianist had just traded in for an upgrade. Darrel’s Music Hall’s talented team had completely refurbished the piano and made it as good as new. We put a deposit down that day.
The recommendations and the time spent seeking the right piano was one of the earliest and best decisions we could have made for our new space, as every pianist who has played it has commented on what an outstanding instrument it is. Furthermore, we have pianists from all over New England who have heard about what a fine piano we have and are seeking to perform at our venue for that reason alone.
We worked with John Corretto ofWHB Concert and Production Services, LLC, to help us with our sound and lighting. Through John’s guidance and craftsmanship, we spared no expense, ensuring that our venue would do justice to all the future performers that will take our stage. John hooked us up with a Meyer Sound system and a wide array of stage lights designed to make our performers look their best on stage.
Finally, in the year leading up to the opening of our Listening room, Chris Mega, the Executive Director of the Lakes Region Symphony and one of our regular piano players in the Loft, agreed to join us in the planning and organizing of our Listening Room Series. With Chris’s impeccable attention to detail and ear for quality sound, Chris quickly made himself invaluable in the planning and organizing our new venue.
In May of 2022, we hosted the first of our Listening Room Series with Wangari Fahari and have filled the room with fantastic music every Thursday since. We have had the pleasure of hosting some of New England and beyond’s most talented musicians. Again, with Chris Mega at my side attending to the myriad of details associated with every performance, every show has gone off without a hitch. All our anxieties about whether our new room would be well suited as an acoustic space were quickly relieved as performer after performer raved about the space and its acoustic qualities.
In addition to our Listening Room Series, our piano is played every Friday and Saturday by talented pianists from around New England. As your interest in our musical journey expands, so will our venue. We hope to grow The Loft into one of the premier performance centers in New England. We strive to be an “artist’s venue” where performers have the unique opportunity to connect with their audience in extraordinary ways. We also hope to create an environment where musicians and audiences alike can come to learn and appreciate music as Ken, Chuck, and I have throughout our lives.
With your support and the help of music lovers worldwide, we hope to continue bringing beautiful music to your ears for the rest of our lives.
The following artists, many of whom are pictured on the pages of this story, are listed below.
Tribute to Clark Terry featuring the Chris Humphrey Quartet
Adventure Time Trio
We look forward to seeing you at The Loft Soon!