2018-11-08 / Around Town

Common Fence Music Hits the Road

By Mark Gorman

Chris Bloniarz, Benjamin Burns, and Holly McGarry of the band Honeysuckle. Chris Bloniarz, Benjamin Burns, and Holly McGarry of the band Honeysuckle. Joni Mitchell summed it up best when she wrote, “Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got til it's gone.”

For over a quarter century, the dedicated folks at Portsmouth's Common Fence Music have been putting on world class roots and folk music shows and now, more than ever, they welcome the support of all lovers of music to help them sustain their amazing series.

There are some great things happening this season and Newport This Week sat down with CFM's new artistic director, Erin Young, to get caught up on all the news.

"I don't think people are aware of the level of quality the CFM performance experience provides music goers," she said. "There seems to be this misconception that if our performances are taking place in the boonies of Portsmouth in a community hall, then the caliber of performance must not be that high. But the truth is we present Grammy winners and nominees in a fun, intimate venue with incredible sound."

Mark Gorman is a retired high school guidance counselor and guitarist-vocalist who performs locally each week. Mark Gorman is a retired high school guidance counselor and guitarist-vocalist who performs locally each week. Common Fence Music was recently voted the best live music venue in Newport County by the readers of Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.

If you've been to the cinderblock Common Fence Point Hall in Portsmouth, you're well aware that the on-going upgrades to the building are very much needed. But because the hall is the home base of the CFM music series, they've become nomads and have taken the show on the road this season.

"The Common Fence Point Improvement Association has put in an extraordinary amount of work securing funding...working with the town, architects, contractors and many community members to bring this much-needed project to fruition," Young said. "We couldn't be more excited to see [what] a beautiful space it will be when it's finished and we are so grateful to CFPIA and Conley Dani [who helped spearhead the effort]."

But taking the show on the road this season has been a tall order. "It was definitely a scramble trying to secure new venues and artists for the season," she said. "I looked at a lot of venues and managed to find two: Fenner Hall in Newport and St. John's Lodge in Portsmouth."

They have occasional shows at Hope and Main in Warren, and Young was able to secure the auditorium at Portsmouth High School on Dec. 8 for their popular Christmas performance by The Sweetback Sisters. She is particularly happy that $3 from each Sweetback Sisters ticket sold will be donated to the Kate Grana Music and Art Association.

"Kate Grana, a much-loved music teacher in the Portsmouth school system and a great supporter of the arts in our schools sadly passed away from cancer in 2017. Her partner and friends founded KGMAA in her memory as a way to give back to Portsmouth High School by raising funds to renovate the school's auditorium," she said.

We asked Young what it's like to produce so many world class events each year. "We put an immense amount of care and energy into creating memorable music experiences for everyone involved, and pay a lot of attention to the details. We've received such positive feedback from both audiences and artists that visit us. It's good to know we're doing something right," she said.

No nonprofit organization can survive without a cadre of devoted volunteers, and CFM is no exception.

"We have a solid crew of longtime volunteers, many of whom have been with CFM for 20-years-plus, and are deservedly proud of it," Young said. "We also have new volunteers joining the team all the time, and we're always happy to see new people come on board."

Jeannie O'Donnell-Northup, a long-time volunteer and an original member of the Common Fence Music board of directors, has been one of the unsung heroes of the music series.

"I served on the board for 17 years and have always volunteered. It is the best volunteer job," she said. "I've made wonderful friendships through CFM. We were excited to welcome Erin Young and we welcome new volunteers and board members, too."

On Nov. 16, be sure to catch the Boston-based folk/bluegrass group Honeysuckle at Common Fence Music. They've performed at the Newport Folk Festival and at Lollapalooza and they won't disappoint. Also featured that evening will be local favorites Four Bridges, playing hard-driving bluegrass with a down-home feel.

For more information and tickets, visit commonfencemusic.org.


WHAT: Honeysuckle

WHEN: Friday, Nov. 16, 7:30p.m.

WHERE: Hope and Main, 691 Main St., Warren

ADMISSION: $18/advance, $20/door, tickets at commonfencemusic.org.

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