One of New Hampshire’s most eclectic music and art festivals turns 10 this year.
The Thing in the Spring kicks off Wednesday in Peterborough, and continues to grow, adding a fifth day this year.
The festival features a wide range of independent musicians. There are art displays, film screenings, and even food trucks.
It's a quiet Tuesday morning at the Peterborough Town Library. Locals shuffle in and out, while a group of children play at a nearby makerspace table. It's a stark contrast to the scene festival co-founder Eric Gagne says will soon take its place.
“And then we’ll also have two stages around the library," he says, pointing to the back of the building. "There will be one in the reference section back there, and there will be one around back, underneath the overhang. So there will be four bands playing that night, we’ll have this art show. Yeah, so should be a pretty fun night at the library.”
One of the bands that will play at the library is Palehound, a Boston-based rock trio. Now, if you’ve never heard of Palehound, you’re probably not alone.
“I would say 75 percent of the people I see on a regular basis are just like I don’t know who any of these bands are (laughter). And a lot of those people will still come. We’re looking for people to trust us, to trust our track record and the high quality of stuff that we bring.”
It’s a track record Gagne and those behind the festival have built up over the past decade, since they organized the first Thing in the Spring.
Gagne curates music for the festival, which he admits isn’t much of a stretch for the guy with the black, scruffy beard who works in the music section at the local bookstore.
“It’s a little selfish because I really don’t have the time to go out and see tons of shows, so the idea is every show I want to see all year, I bring it here for one weekend.”
Gagne came to the library this morning with his 4-year-old daughter Zadie. She brings him pieces of art she’s been making during the interview.
Becoming a parent is one way Gagne has changed since the festival began. But even with it expanding this year, and taking more of his time to plan, Gagne hasn’t lost of any of his enthusiasm.
“I’m going to be 40 in a couple years, and I still feel like a kid doing this, even to the point where when I see like grown-ups or cops, I’m like oh no, it’s a grown-up! We’re gonna get shut down! And I’ve been doing this for 10 years, putting on concerts for 20 years.”
And in that time, Gagne’s learned to work with town officials to make sure everything goes off without a hitch. There are no big fields or gates – the concerts are held in buildings right in downtown Peterborough, where everything is within walking distance.
Leaving the library, Gagne crosses the bridge over the Contoocook River into downtown. He points out a church that will serve as one of the venues.
And even before the show there, he says bands will be playing outside on the church lawn.
“It’s literally as accessible as possible. All you have to do it roll down your window, or just stop for a second. Stop and smell the music. I don’t know if that’s a real thing. It’s probably a t-shirt somewhere.”
Gagne puts his daughter on his shoulders, crossing the street, where he bumps into Peter Robinson, owner of Roy’s Markets. Robinson is carrying some cheese inside to the store, but pauses a minute to talk about what the festival means for the town.
“It helps the economy of course, but I think one of the things that’s more important is it really helps the cultural atmosphere of this whole community, and we really enjoy that. It really makes a great place for creative people to mix and to meet and to enjoy the environment here.”
With events like this, parking and traffic can be an issue. Gagne talks about whether there’s been any pushback from downtown business owners.
“There’s definitely some resistance…but I would say its 90 percent positive.”
With the festival now a decade old, Peterborough Town Administrator Rodney Bartlett agrees that anyone with negative feelings about the event is in the minority.
“I think during the growing process, some of the local merchants and restaurants weren’t sure what was happening. You know, new event, new festival. As it has grown, the support has grown among local merchants and restaurants. It’s well received.”
The festival draws thousands of people from across the Northeast to this small town every spring. Most of those who come are just here for a few days, but some see a place they can settle down.
Corrine Chronopoulis is the town’s library director.
“My husband’s a musician and he travels around and he came to Peterborough for a Thing in the Spring concert. And because of that experience, it brought him back to Peterborough. And then we start visiting, and when a library job opened up here, we were like this is a community we want to live in. So it really had a direct impact on our family.”
So does the town change during the festival?
“It feels like the weekend where – this sounds kind of cheesy – the young people are kind of in charge.”
Standing in the fiction section of the Toadstool Bookshop, where Gagne works, he explains the setup for the show here:
“So all of this stuff will wheel out and we’ll put a big stage right here. It’ll be pretty wild in here. This is the Thursday night show.”
The bookshop is just one of several unlikely venues featured in the festival. Rachelle Beaudoin is a local artist who now volunteers as secretary for The Glass Museum, a nonprofit Gagne created to make the festival sustainable.
“Things transform, so the library becomes a music venue. The churches are music venues. Parks become music venues and art spaces, as well. Things all of a sudden have this different identity for the weekend. They pop up. It’s kind of magical, then it all disappears until next year.”
And speaking of next year, Gagne admits the 11th Thing in the Spring is already on his mind.
“I really do already have Google Docs for 2018. And as soon as this one’s done, I will start firing off emails. I always have this dream list of people I want to invite to play.”
Who's on that dream list? Gagne says he doesn’t want to jinx it.
All this summer, we'll be exploring what music means to the people and communities of the Granite State.
If you have a story about a fun music event or venue in your town, or maybe someone you know whose life revolves around music in a unique way, let us know, by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.