The Difference

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On
August 9 I
wrote
about my wife's and my experience at the Meadowbrook concert
venue in Gilford, New Hampshire. The Nanny State atmosphere robbed
what should have been a fun and enjoyable evening of much of its
luster.

A
similar experience awaited us a few days later, at the Redhook Brewery
in Portsmouth, when we saw Robert Randolph and the Family Band,
a funk-rock jam band often seen opening up for the Dave Mathews
Band, play to an audience of about 1,000. Though a better experience
by comparison — we were at least allowed to carry our beers around
the grounds with us — the large, and, I should add, unnecessary
police presence again created that environment of authority and
watchfulness typical of a public school cafeteria.

Both
events, however, stand in stark contrast to our experience last
Saturday night at the Stone
Church
in Newmarket, New Hampshire. Standing atop a steep hill
and overlooking this lovely New England village, the Stone Church,
a circa 1832 former Universalist Meeting House built on land donated
by the Newmarket Manufacturing Company, has all the charm one would
expect from a wonderfully preserved historical structure serving
spiritual and other enlightening pursuits for over a hundred and
seventy years. We were there to see another of our favorites, the
Dirty Dozen Brass Band, a New Orleans-funk-jam band, an eight-man
tour de force of trombone, sousaphone, trumpet and flugelhorn, electric
guitar, drums, tenor sax, baritone and soprano sax, trumpet and
vocals, that fairly blows the doors off of every place they play.

While
the band certainly makes the scene, it's impossible to disconnect
the pleasure of this occasion from the place where it happened.
With a maximum capacity of just 200, the Stone Church provides an
incredibly intimate setting for listening and dancing to good music.
Entering through a big wooden door and vestibule, the large, open
room holds a long bar to your left and a scattering of tables around
the floor and bar stools along the walls to your front and right.
The tables go right up to the stage at the far end of the room,
leaving only about ten square feet of space for an unofficial "dance
floor" — a space that quickly expands to accommodate a steadily
growing number of people on their feet as the music gets going.

The
staff Saturday night was just two bartenders and a waitress, friendly,
efficient, and competent enough to easily serve the small crowd.
The food is very good American-café-style stuff, and reasonably
priced. The beer selection is great; macro-brews like Sam Adams
are side by side on the row of taps with regional brews from the
Smuttynose Brewery in Portsmouth, Shipyard Brewery in Portland,
Maine, and a smooth and tasty microbrew called Rogue Ale from Oregon.

As
the small room began to heat up, the staff put out several large
coolers of ice water and plastic cups for patrons to help themselves.
Nobody cared if we took our beers into the small but wildly dancing
crowd in front of the band. Nobody checked my I.D. when I ordered
a drink. There isn't any silly "No Re-entry" rule at the
Stone Church, though they did check my ticket at the door — but
only once, despite the fact that I came in and out several times
over the course of the evening. It is a smoke free building, at
the insistence and preference of the business-owner — a preference
usurped by our newly elected Democratic legislature, whose smoking
ban goes into effect in the middle of this month.

All
in all, the Stone Church gives a little truth to the First Amendment's
promise that government "shall make no law…abridging…the right
of the people peaceably to assemble." While all around us statists
draw the noose ever tighter, this church-turned-music hall provides
a tiny sanctuary of peaceful, responsible association without a
lurking police presence to remind us that freedom is largely becoming
an illusion.

Sitting
at the bar before the show started, I struck up a conversation with
one of the bartenders about beer, which soon turned to the topic
of good music and bad concert venues. Telling him briefly of my
experience at Meadowbrook, he said, "Everyone's terrified about
loosing their liquor license."

(And
with good reason: the September 2 New Hampshire Union Leader
reported that the Aborigen Restaurant & Bar in Manchester had
its liquor license "immediately suspended" because of
a shooting outside the bar in the early hours of this morning.
The fight started initially inside the bar, "was broken up,
and then a subsequent fight broke out and went out the back door.
And then shortly thereafter, some shots are fired," is how
Detective Bill Davies explained it to the paper. Patrons act stupid
and the business-owner is punished. In the upside down world of
the Nanny State's definition of personal responsibility, that's
how it goes.)

"So
how do you guys handle underage drinkers," I asked him.

"We
use common sense," he said. "If we're going to be full
to capacity, we check ID at the door and don't let the underage
people in. But if it's a small crowd, we check ID if someone looks
underage. Maybe we'll mark their hand with some kind of identifier,
and we try to move around in the crowd to make sure kids aren't
drinking."

"We
check ID if someone looks underage." Like at liquor stores
and supermarkets, I thought. And that seems to be working out okay.
"Sounds pretty libertarian to me," I said, "unlike
at the big venues, where cops are everywhere standing around like
thugs."

"There's
a difference between doing your job and being an asshole,"
he said.

"Right,"
I replied. "I like the idea of security being there to make
sure no one hurts anyone else, but there's a big difference between
keeping the peace — "

"
— and actually causing the problems," he finished the sentence
for me.

When
we left that night I carried a cup of water out the door with me.
Everywhere else I've been you wouldn't be allowed to do that. We
took a midnight stroll around Newmarket before driving home to relieve
the babysitter. As we walked up Main Street to our car a police
cruiser rolled by, slowing down to eyeball me — no doubt hoping
I was carrying a cup of beer so that he could harass me for drinking
in public.

If
you want to be treated like a kid, eat bad, overpriced food, and
generally feel like you’re in school again, go to the big music
venues for your fun. But if you're in New Hampshire and want good
beer, good atmosphere, good music, good food, and good company,
I highly recommend a visit to the Stone Church. Especially if the
boys from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band are in town.

September
3, 2007

Scott
McPherson [send him mail]
lives, reads, writes, plays music and home schools his kids in Portsmouth,
New Hampshire.

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