Beloved New Hampshire Music Venue Retains Intimate Feel in New, Larger Location.
When Scott Hayward was thinking of opening Tupelo Music Hall in 2004, people in the live music world told him he was making a mistake. At the time, the traditional model was to put live music into distinct categories. There were jazz clubs, rock clubs and folk clubs, but not places for acts from different genres whose only connection was excellent musicianship.
Hayward went ahead despite the naysayers.
Twelve years later, it was clear that Tupelo Music Hall had outgrown its location in Londonderry, N.H. After hosting its final show on March 12, it reopened a week later in Hayward’s hometown of Derry. The new venue is over twice as big, holding about 670 seats, compared to 240 previously. Parking is much easier, and there are other added amenities, including improved air conditioning and a large area for artist meet and greets.
In its first week, the new A Street location hosted four sold-out shows. Hayward reports local restaurants have seen an uptick in business, a good sign for the neighborhood. “You learn a lot when he you expand,” he says. In just a few weeks, he has already remodeled the bar. This is an unfamiliar aspect of the business to him. The hall now sells liquor, to the satisfaction of thirsty music fans.
The inspiration for the Tupelo name reflects Hayward’s open-minded approach. A graduate of Wake Forest University in North Carolina, Hayward says the name has personal meaning for him as it evokes tupelo trees and warm, Southern hospitality, as well as one of his favorite songs, Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey.” And Tupelo, Miss., was the birthplace of Elvis Presley.
Hayward, 50, is passionate about music. He says he’s always listening, and his tastes range from Eminem to Metallica to smooth jazz, country and blues. He tells a story going back to his days in college about meeting one of his favorite artists, pianist George Winston. Hayward showed up near backstage to get a battered copy of his CD signed, but was suffering from a sinus infection so he didn’t want to get too close. Winston was all warmth and wasn’t worried about speaking face-to-face with an ailing young fan, and even offered him samples from his private supply of vitamin C. Years later, when Winston was playing at Tupelo, Hayward approached the pianist and wanted to let him know what the earlier experience meant to him. Before he was able to go into detail, Winston stopped him — “You’re the kid in the hall!” he said. Hayward was stunned — Winston remembered him over a decade later.
The late Richie Havens was another musician who left a lasting impression on him. “Richie Havens was a true spirit,” Hayward says. “He had this aura about him. When he shook your hand and you talked with him, you were the only person who existed in the world. He had this way of being in the moment that I’ve never seen in anyone else.”
While on the job, Hayward prefers to remain inconspicuous, quietly making sure both audience and performer are satisfied. His presence can be so unassuming that he’s often mistaken for a roadie or a stagehand, a fact he notes with pleasure.
Tupelo Music Hall has been host to such luminaries as Squeeze, Blue Öyster Cult and Joan Osborne. Major acts are willing to play the small club because it offers a sense of closeness you can’t find elsewhere.
A number of national acts will be swinging through Derry this year. The rock band Toto is scheduled for June. Guitarist and songwriter Johnny A. and the Welsh band The Alarm will perform this year, and there will be a special holiday show by Darlene Love, famous for her hit “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” You’ll find music clips on the Tupelo Music Hall website.
“The people that we book are the best at what they do,” Hayward concludes. “That’s my litmus test for music — how good is it? And if it’s really good, we’re going to try to get it in here.”
Tupelo Music Hall