A sold-out show is packed with flannel shirts, beanies, and sweaty, joyous bodies while feedback and anthems ring out from the speakers. Tapes, LPs, and zines line the table by the door. No, it’s not the Elvis Room circa 1994 — it’s the Salty Speakers Thursday night series at The Red Door in 2015. All over the Seacoast, a vibrant and varied punk scene has returned, but nowhere is it more obvious, or more inclusive, than at the weekly shows curated by Ryan Harrison, Alex Bourne, and Claire McHenry, also known as the Salty Speakers collective. Here, most every genre of ’90s-inspired music thrives and multiplies, hosting nationally-known acts and nourishing the creation of new local bands.
What the scene at The Red Door lacks in square footage it more than makes up for in punk spirit and camaraderie. At the State Street venue’s latest sold-out night on Thursday, Jan. 8, Zac Mayeux of Billy Raygun had just headlined a show that included Boston’s The New Warden, Damp and Kiss Concert.
“Ryan, Alex, and Claire know a lot of bands that wouldn’t be playing around here otherwise. It’s musically inclusive and friends support each other’s bands,” Mayeux said.
It all started in 2011, when The Red Door manager and co-owner Cresta Smith gave Harrison the chance to book shows on Thursday nights. A drummer for local bands Rick Rude and Black Norse and graphic designer for Parma Recordings, Harrison saw this as a chance to help the music scene grow.
“It started as a way to promote shows, to be different than the other venues in town. A place for more punk and weirdo and original music,” Harrison said. “It’s motivational. So many bands have popped up and they all met at a show.”
What began simply as a website for basement shows has evolved into a collective that books bands at venues throughout the Seacoast, including Sonny’s Tavern and the Brick House in Dover, The Press Room in Portsmouth, and Buoy Gallery in Kittery. Harrison also books acts for the Pawtuckaway Takedown, a yearly outdoor music festival in Nottingham.
“It’s motivational. So many bands have popped up and they all met at a show.” — Ryan Harrison of Salty Speakers
At every turn, it’s clear that the Salty Speakers’ communal spirit has carved out a place for alternative music of all kinds to grow again in Portsmouth.
“It’s a melting pot. People meet and get inspired by each other. They get to know each other and then play together at other venues,” said Bourne, who handles sound for the shows. Bourne also plays drums in the band New Legs, records other local bands at his studio, and is an A&R representative for Parma Recordings.
At the shows, Bourne, McHenry, and Harrison’s enthusiasm is contagious. Bands and listeners alike help each other move equipment, share zines and recordings, and make plans for future projects.
McHenry tends bar at The Red Door on Thursdays — a job she kept as a way to help foster the resurgent scene through Salty Speakers.
“I already have a physically demanding full-time job (at Anju Noodle Bar), so one of the big reasons I’ve kept my Thursday night job is to hang with really great friends, listen to the music and be a part of something bigger,” she said.
In a town now typically associated with noise complaints and upscale boutiques, punk rock is no longer the first thing people think of when talking music in Portsmouth. But at a Jan. 1 show, there was a blistering hardcore set from Teacher Mother Secret Lover, stoner metal by Durham’s Green Bastard, folksy punk from Manchester’s Dustcloud, and the garage/blues-core of Dover’s Jimmy Farquhar, all typical of the variety of bands that play each show. After their set, Teacher Mother Secret Lover’s Adrick Giles said what scene publication Boston Hassle has been writing for a few years —the Seacoast was again a viable punk destination.
“Is punk a word we can use?” McHenry asked. It’s the perfect segue into the age-old discussion of what constitutes punk rock. In the end, it’s the weird, independent, and DIY-attitudes that qualify the myriad bands that play on Salty Speakers’ bills. From Boston legends Pile and the prog-punk of Comma to the deafening blast beats of Ampere and the quirky folk of Diane Cluck, the punk label is a common thread and an inclusive theme that the collective strives to build on.
“When I lived (in Portsmouth) I always dreamed about this place being like it is now,” says McHenry, who now lives in Dover. Today, the Salty Speakers scene has so far transcended the overly-cliquey, rough and tumble days of old. “There’s no fighting, there’s hugging and high fives,” she says.
Salty Speakers’ upcoming shows include Black Norse, Raw Blow, and Big Mess on Thursday, Jan. 15; and Lisa/Liza, Joey Pratt, Little My, and New Leg’s Blake Joseph Seale Jr. on Jan. 22 at The Red Door, 107 State St., Portsmouth. All shows start at 8 p.m. For more information, visit SaltySpeakers.com.