Portsmouth was kind of a wildcard destination. I had no contacts there, no show planned, and knew little about the city. It took a long time to get there from deep in Maine, and we arrived around 9pm.
The city was still kind of “up” and there were more than a few pedestrians wandering around, so it would have been feasible to play some music. But after a long day of driving, I was kind of not in the mood. Instead, my friends and I went out for a walk, stopped at a bookstore-themed bar for a beer, and checked into a hotel for a good night’s sleep.
The next day, we drove back into the downtown area and breakfasted on coffee and bagels, while planning out the rest of our day. Then it was time to play some music. I got the gear out of the trunk of our car, and the search began.
It was already hot and sunny–like everywhere else on this tour–so my main priority was shade, followed by things such as spacious sidewalks and pedestrian traffic. The trifecta seemed to be in front of a church near the very café we’d just been to.
I set up and began to play, and it quickly felt like a far cry from the avid reception I’d gotten a mere 36 hours earlier at the Black Fly Ball in Maine. People briskly walked by with looks of puzzlement, confusion, irritation, annoyance, even pity. The man who stayed across the broad street watching from afar might have been enjoying it, but his face evinced something more along the lines of, “Why are you bothering to do something so pointless?”
I’d like to say eventually a dam broke, and people became generally delighted by my foolhardy attempt to entertain. But I don’t think I ever penetrated the tough shell of New England Puritanism pervasive among these Pilgrim-descendants.
I gradually felt tolerated, but never exactly “welcome,” by the people passing by. A few people did pause to take in a song or two, but most people maintained a sang-froid worthy of the most callous of big-city dwellers.
Discomfited by such cold shoulders on such a hot day, I wrapped up and loaded the gear back into the car. Afterward we got ice cream at a friendly (!) shop by the waterfront, and idled in Portsmouth just long enough to get some sandwiches to eat on the trip back to the warm embrace of New York City.