• 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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