It’s a gloomy, rainy Sunday in downtown Portsmouth. I’m hanging out in a dark basement beneath a bookstore waiting to see a creepy Halloween music show for kids.
Dozens of children dressed in their Halloween finest crowd the room. There are princesses and superheroes. An elephant finds a seat next to a dinosaur as the show is about to begin.
(Editor's note: we highly recommend listening to this story.)
Doctor Gasp is dressed in a long black cape with a white skeleton mask covering his face. Jack-o-lanterns cast orange light across a makeshift stage. He gives a lively performance, jumping and dancing while playing his guitar.
The kids get up to dance along with him. Monster Mash is a crowd favorite of course.
I sat down with Doctor Gasp after the show to find out who he is behind the mask.
Dan Blakeslee is actually a folk singer for most of the year. When he first started writing Halloween music, he would play under his own name at his regular shows.
“But then it got to be at the point where people were coming in like midsummer and asking me to play a song about the candy corn or vampires,” Blakeslee said. “I was like that doesn’t quite fit with my other material.”
So he created a character called Doctor Gasp. His band, the Eeks, joined a few years after.
Now every October, Doctor Gasp and the Eeks tour all over New England, playing clubs, festivals and even kids shows like this.
“I sort of just kind of wrote a bunch of Halloween songs, put out an album and like never thought about what the audience would be like or anything,” Blakeslee said.
But when his friends started playing his album for kids at Halloween parties, it was a hit.
“When I play with the band, the intensity and the creepy, eeriness is up quite a bit,” Blakeslee said. “You know, I don’t want the kids to run off screaming.”
When Blakeslee was a kid, he loved all things Halloween. His dad, also a musician, would play Halloween music on vinyl every year as kids came through the neighborhood for trick-o-treating.
Blakeslee says Doctor Gasp allows him to express a side of himself that doesn’t come through in his folk music.
“This gets that weird, art punk side out of me that’s kind of cooped up sometimes the rest of the year,” he said. “I get to unleash and sort of show my creativity for everything it’s got.”
I asked Blakeslee what he loves about Halloween.
“You can sort of be whoever you want to be, you know what I mean?” he says. “And I don’t know, it sort of changes people’s mindsets.”
You can catch Doctor Gasp and the Eeks live on Halloween night. They’re playing at The Press Room in Portsmouth.