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Meet the Red-Headed Stranger

Singer-songwriter Brett Dennen opens for Guster at The Wellmont Theatre.

Brett Dennen is forlorn.

Maybe it's because he's alone on the road. Or because it's a gray November day in Londonderry, New Hampshire, which sounds like it might be as bleak as a Bergman movie. He's also all too aware that the economy is affecting rock and roll ticket sales. Perhaps he's pining for the 70s, a period of music he calls his "favorite." Still, there's no doubt this promising, red-headed singer/songwriter is blue.

"I'm doing some solo shows in the Northeast right now," he said, with a hesitant, Northern-California drawl. A slow, Western sound, that was made for uttering words like, 'Rad.' "But my band is going to hook up with me this weekend. That's when we're opening some shows for Guster."

If you like smart, catchy songs, you will want to be at these gigs. Dennen, who combines great hooks, with, often, funny, self-deprecating words, will be doing his opening act at The Wellmont Theatre. 

Hey, Guster? Stay on your toes, fellas.

When asked what fuels his folkish-rock, best embodied by his recent radio hit, "Comeback Kid (That's My Dog)," he said, "I like the music of the '70s.",

He elaborates: "Van Morrison is my favorite singer. I think, objectively, he may be the best singer of all time. I also grew up listening to The Dead, Paul Simon and Graham Nash. My parents use to play that stuff around the house, and for some reason, the '70s, the songs and the warm production vibe of a lot of those records, really resonates with me."

Dennen, whose first record appeared in 2004, and whose songs have graced a number of TV shows and commercials, thinks wistfully about the '70s, for other reasons, as well.

"My current deal with the small label I'm on (Downtown Records) is about to expire and I'm wondering how I want to proceed. Do I want to put out my next record myself? Do I want to sign with a major? I've never experienced the kind of big push and promotion a big label can provide. So you can go from cult figure to big star. What's weird is, with all the consolidation, there are really only three major labels now. I think things in the '70s were a bit more clear cut and artist-friendly."

Despite some great notices, an ever-evolving live show and licensing of his songs, Dennen says the static economy and rough times for many Americans, have trickled down into his field, too. He's philosophical about it, if, understandably, not too happy.

"This past year, for the first time, I've really seen a decrease in tickets sales. Not just for me, but lots of people in my  market. People just don't have the money to go out and hear live music as much. They're spending their money on more essential things. Hopefully, that's all going to turn around one of these days."

The red-haired kid from California does perk up, however, when he talks about his band joining him for his Guster shows and makes it clear, he needs the community and solidarity. He's also, cautiously optimistic about the new business model for musicians. That, even if the majors aren't as sensitive to singer/songwriters as they use to be, there are new routes being opened up all the time for musicians to travel on.

"I'm actually in a pretty good place," said Dennen. "And I've got good people around me: my lawyer, my manager, publicity people. So, whether I want to sign up with a record company or just put out my own stuff, either way it's cool. I actually have plenty of options. All I have to do is pick one. And ultimately? I think things are going to be okay."

Info: Brett Dennen will be opening for Guster at The Wellmont Theatre on Friday and Saturday nights. Tickets are $35 for a single show, $50 for a 2-day pass. Doors open at 7 p.m. The shows start at 8 p.m. For more information, call 973-783-9500

Meg Beattie Patrick November 25, 2011 at 09:36 PM
He is a brilliant musician and I wish him all the success in the world after his contract expires. Wish I could see him at The Wellmont! Hope everyone who goes has a blast!

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