For about a decade, Monday night was perhaps the best time to see live music in downtown Portsmouth. That’s when The Red Door hosted the Hush Hush Sweet Harlot concert series. Created by musician Sidney Lindner and bar manager Cresta Smith in 2004, the Hush Hush series celebrated local and touring acts in the uniquely intimate setting of The Red Door’s martini lounge.
On Tuesday, Nov. 15, Portsmouth Community Radio (WSCA) will aim to replicate that setting at Soundstage 909 in its newly renovated studio. The radio station is hosting a Hush Hush Sweet Harlot reunion show featuring more than a dozen local acts, with proceeds from the concert going to a worthy cause.
The show will serve at least three functions: paying tribute to the Hush Hush series with a stellar lineup of Seacoast acts, introducing audiences to WSCA’s new stage, and raising funds for a beloved couple dealing with a serious illness.
Hush Hush history
The Hush Hush series was conceived by former Seacoast resident Sidney Lindner, then front man of indie band The Hotel Alexis. His vision, in part, was to promote local shows where the focus was squarely on the music. Unlike other bars and clubs, where live acts often must compete with the noisy chatter of disinterested patrons, Hush Hush put musicians in a distinctly attentive atmosphere. The audience was there for the artists, and the artists were there for the audience.
After running the series for a couple of years, Lindner moved out west and handed over booking duties to singer-songwriter Laurel Brauns. She, too, later relocated, leaving Hush Hush in the hands of Jason Boucher, who is now a board member at WSCA. He booked the series for the next five years.
According to Boucher, most of the acts that performed in the series were on “the quieter side of indie music.” Like his predecessors, Boucher usually booked two or three acts for each show, uniting regional bands with touring acts. The format resulted in valuable exposure for each act, as guests who came out to see the touring artist would also discover the local band, and vice-versa.
Over the years, Hush Hush served as an early launching pad for numerous local and national acts, including Deer Tick, M. Ward, and These United States. Boucher noted that some of the bands that played on The Red Door’s tiny stage went on to sign with big labels, perform at major festivals, and tour the world. One of the highlights for Boucher was twice booking Phantogram, who just last month performed on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
“That was fun, to have them play twice at The Red Door,” he said.
Still, Boucher said his fondest memories are of the many local acts that performed in the series, and of the fans who came out every Monday night to see them.
“Overall, my favorite memory is having people like Guy Capecelatro and Justin Carloni, Dylan (Metrano), Dan Blakeslee. … Those are the people that were the most fun, and they’re the ones that came through the door the most,” he said.
The Hush Hush booking lineage continued when Boucher handed over the reins to Tristan Law, who expanded the series to encompass more genres for the next couple of years. Then Hush Hush went silent, and Monday nights became much less interesting for music fans on the Seacoast.
Boucher joined the board at WSCA just as the station was completing a major renovation project that included a stage for live performances, now known as Soundstage 909.
“They had just finished reconstructing the station and building a stage with some seats, so they wanted to do live music,” he said.
With space for about 60 seats, the studio enables the station to put on concerts that can be broadcast live on air and online, while also hosting a sizeable in-studio audience. Boucher thought the space could offer the same feeling of intimacy that The Red Door provided for Hush Hush.
Boucher also saw an opportunity to help a pair of community members who frequently supported the original concert series. Once he’d secured the acts for the show, he informed local singer-songwriter Guy Capecelatro III that it would serve as a benefit for him and his wife, Pam Raiford, who is undergoing treatment for clear cell ovarian cancer.
“They are an integral part of this community on all levels, amazing people,” Boucher said, noting that Raiford and Capecelatro regularly attended shows at The Red Door. “The least we can do is get together, perform, and have a concert, and raise what little money we can to help them to continue.”
The lineup for the reunion show features more than a dozen local performers who have played in the Hush Hush series before, including Capecelatro, Martin England, Justin Carloni, Jake Mehrmann, Elissa Margolin, Dan Blakeslee, Dave Hunter, Dylan Metrano, Djim Reynolds, Nate Groth, Eric Ott, Chris Greiner, and others.
If all goes well on Tuesday night, Boucher hopes to launch a regular monthly concert series at Soundstage 909. WSCA is already looking for sponsors to help pay the artists and market the shows.
“This is the first of hopefully many down the road at the new Soundstage 909,” Boucher said.
The Hush Hush Sweet Harlot reunion show takes place Tuesday, Nov. 15, from 7:30-11 p.m., at Portsmouth Community Radio, 909 Islington St., Suite 1, Portsmouth. Portions of the show will be broadcast live at WSCA 106.1 FM, and streamed online at wscafm.org. Tickets are $10, available here.