Rain Can

By Colin Ryan
Observer correspondent

When Jan Howard arrived at the empty green at Maple Tree Place in Williston last Thursday, she felt a momentary panic. The band she had driven from Colchester to see, The Nobby Reed Project, was nowhere to be found. In fact, the green was empty, and for the first time in a long time, that seemed like a strange thing.

“I didn’t see anybody around, but I heard something,” Howard said. “And man, did it sound good!”

What she was hearing was the sorrowful, soulful licks of an electric guitar, not-so-gently weeping. It was Nobby Reed’s guitar, and it was belting out the blues. And just like that, a newly attempted outdoor concert series started to feel like an instant tradition.

As the rain fell hard on Williston in the hours approaching the concert, the quick decision was made to relocate the band to the pedestrian corridor between Christmas Tree Shops and Best Buy. Under the thick glass awning, safe from the rain, the three-member band was picking, pounding, and playing their hearts out.

As Nobby’s fingers danced their way towards the first verse, he shouted out with a big smile, “It’s always fun to play outside. Nobody ever tells you you’re playing too loud!”

Amidst the slowly gathering crowd was Maple Tree Place Property Manager Richard Golder, who was on site to make sure the last minute decision to switch the concert to a Plan-B location was still resulting in a Grade-A good time.

“We want Maple Tree Place to be a happening place for the community,” he said.

The crowd, sparse at first, increased as the sunshine took hold of the evening, and as the band’s classic sound traveled outward in both directions. People wandered closer to the music with big smiles on their faces, tapping their feet. And if you looked carefully, you could even see a little dancing. The under-10 crowd ate up the tunes, dancing carefree in front of the band in their multi-colored crocs.

“Yeah, the kids are into it,” acknowledged drummer Eric Belrose during the intermission. “If only they had the guts to come a little closer… I’d let ‘em play the drums.”

The Nobby Reed Project is happy to play these kinds of family-friendly venues. After all, they used to play a lot more bars than they do now.

“We were a bar band, essentially,” Belrose said. “But we stopped that about 10 years ago. It just wasn’t a great atmosphere. On top of that, we were touring hard. I mean, we played 65 shows in three months,” he said, shaking his head in remembrance. “This is a great gig. We like seeing the kids, the families, out at our shows. And we’re home in time to get some sleep.”

Lead guitarist Nobby Reed played the concert with a smile on his face as his fingers leaped from string to string. He first took up the instrument during the golden age of guitar gods: the 60s, when Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana and Duane Allman were tearing up the airwaves and venues around the country.

Backed by the impressive musicianship of Belrose on drums and Ray Bushey on bass guitar, the trio grooves together effortlessly. It comes in part from their time-tested relationships with each other, long partnerships borne from of the harmony of the music they have made. Over the past decade, Reed, sometimes with, sometimes without his bandmates, has released nine independent CDs.

For many, the concert was an unexpected pleasure.

“I certainly didn’t expect this on my way to Best Buy,” said a father with his two boys in tow.

“This is so much fun,” said Williston resident Audrey Towne. “Next time we’ll bring a blanket.”

Others came prepared, with some families riding their bikes to the show. Outdoor diners at the Mexicali Cantina got to soak in the songs over dinner. Overall, the reaction was quite favorable, with many indicating they’ll definitely come back for more outdoor concerts.

“It’s a nice idea,” said audience member Jeff Ford as he nodded to the song. “It’s a really nice area for this, plus it should help the plaza become more pedestrian. I mean, I didn’t even know this section was here. I probably would have gotten into my car and driven around to the other side without ever seeing this. So having bands play here, turning it into more than just a shopping plaza, is just a terrific idea.”

For the next six Thursdays, the green of the Maple Tree Place will be the site of an eclectic mix of rock, blues, and country bands playing in the late-evening sunshine (hopefully). And based on the first night’s reaction, there will be plenty of fans lined up for future shows.

Golder was happy to declare the evening a success.

“It looks like, come rain or shine, people are going to come,” he said.

The next concert scheduled is Bob Degree & The Bluegrass Storm on June 28 at 6 p.m.