Seasons of Wither

Sunapee celebrates Sestercentennial with second Aerosmith History Day and a weekend of activities

Lisa Martineau
August 22. 2018 7:21PM
Rebecca Neil of Claremont steals a kiss from Steven Tyler look-a-like, Chris Van Dahl. (Lisa Martineau)

It's hard to believe that the small town of Sunapee is 250 years old, but indeed it is, and it's not the only one. The town of Mason will be celebrating 250 years this upcoming weekend and the town of Meredith celebrated theirs in July. But Sunapee has a unique story. Its ties to music history go back - way back - to the days when vacationers from New York City would flock to the woods and waters of Lake Sunapee to keep cool for the summer. They would take a train from the city, and load their trunks onto a steamboat. The steamboat would drop them off at one of the grand hotels or private cottages along the lake. Sunapee Harbor's Ben Mere Inn was just one of the grand hotels that sat beside the lake. It was here that the Big Bands, like the Glenn Miller Band and Ben Cutler provided entertainment for tourists. Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Duke Ellington are also rumored to have played Sunapee's grand hotels on a circuit that took them throughout New England. Sunapee was also home to Trow-Rico Lodge, a summer music resort owned by the Tallarico family. The Tallarico's would later produce one of the most famous musicians in the world, Steven (Tallarico) Tyler, the lead singer of America's greatest rock 'n' roll band, Aerosmith. For all of its history, music was always an integral part of life in the small town of Sunapee.

Founding member of the band Aerosmith, "Crazy" Raymond Tabano and his wife Lorraine from Yonkers, NY talk to the fans. (Lisa Martineau)

Will the real Steven Tyler please stand up?

There were two Steven Tylers in Sunapee this weekend, and neither of them was the lead singer of the band Aerosmith. But, had you walked by either of them, you would have probably done a double-take.

Chris Van Dahl is the lead singer of his band Aeromyth and the Stever Tyler impersonator for Legends in Concert. They have been performing daily at Canobie Lake Park this summer as part of a two month residency. Their final shows, which run three times a day for 30 minutes, will be performed on August 26. However, last weekend, the look-a-like who drips with personality and is a true doppelganger for the singer of Aerosmith, Van Dahl, along with three other members of his band, were in Sunapee, celebrating the second Aerosmith History Day, which has now grown into two days and moved to a larger building. Van Dahl was able to schmooze with the locals and grab some serious attention, at least for a moment. Once you realize Tyler is much older and Van Dahl is much taller, you recognize that he is not Steven Tyler, but you still won't believe your own eyes.

While the real rock 'n' roll legend still has a home on the lake, Tyler was busy in New York with Aerosmith this weekend, filming various shows including The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and The Today Show, to announce and promote an upcoming residency with Aerosmith in Las Vegas for 2019.

The Aerosmithsonian

Last year the turnout for Aerosmith History Day stopped traffic in the harbor and brought 700 people through the Sunapee Historical Society building to look at memorabilia from every decade of the band's history. This year the exhibit, now dubbed "The Aerosmithsonian," moved to the Livery, and the number of people who walked through the doors more than doubled.

The much larger collection, which started as the brainchild of local collector, Jonathan Robinson, who has one of the largest collections of paper memorabilia of Aerosmith in the world, was displayed on boards so the stories could be read more easily. The materials included pre-Aerosmith items that are extremely rare.
Andrew Scola, 4, from Needham, Mass. belts out the Aerosmith song "Sweet Emotion" on the microphone at Aerosmith History Day in Sunapee, NH on August 18, 2018. (Mike Sisto (courtesy))

The entrance was missing a red carpet, but there was a scarf-draped microphone stand with an Aerosmith background behind it for photo-ops and to welcome visitors to the exhibit. This is Sunapee, after all, not Hollywood. At the entrance a television was also playing Aerosmith's "Unplugged" MTV special from 1990. It was here that Rebecca Neil from Claremont bumped into Chris Van Dahl. She did not mistake him for Steven Tyler though. Rebecca has met the real thing and developed something of a friendship with the rock 'n' roll legend. But that didn't stop her from planting a kiss on Van Dahl's cheek to pose for a picture at the microphone stand.

Had you been to the first event, you would have noticed the larger space also made it easier for fans to move around and interact with exhibitors. Unfortunately, at this time, the Livery cannot hold a permanent collection as the building is dealing with some structural issues. Still, the crowds came through to chat with a founding member of the band, Ray Tabano, read magazine articles from the 70's, and look through albums, gold records, old t-shirts, tour jackets, ticket stubs, old photographs and any number of items that donned the Aerosmith logo - from Christmas cards to cat food and many other unusual items. They were all on display in some corner of the room or another. In the crowd we bumped into David "Pudge" Scott. Scott was a member of the Jam Band with Joe Perry and Tom Hamilton, who were the house band at a nightclub located in nearby George's Mills called The Barn. Both Joe and Tom would become members of Aerosmith. Unfortunately, although he has said that he has no regrets, David's opportunity to live the rock star life was cut short because he was underage when the band decided to move to Boston.

From the Annie Perry collection. Perry is the sister of guitarist Joe Perry of Aerosmith. (Lisa Martineau)

Annie Perry, from New London, who is Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry's sister, brought her display out for a second year. Her exhibit featured t-shirts that were made prior to Aerosmith's memorable logo. She also had some items from the time period when the band split up and her brother formed the Joe Perry Project, along with dozens of other items. She even included a family photo or two.

One of the exhibitors, Deb Formica from New Ringgold, PA, had a number of collectible records and other items that she had signed by band members over the years. A lifelong fan, Formica was her own exhibit in a way. She has 27 signatures of the band members tattooed all over her body. One of the more interesting pieces is a tambourine - a rare catch - signed by the band. It's not unusual for band members to toss drum sticks, guitar picks, and even a harmonica, but a tambourine is almost unheard of.

Exhibitor Mark Blair was also present for the second year in a row. His exhibit was filled with iconic pieces from every era of the band's history, including the pre-Aerosmith era, that he had accumulated over many, many years. His collection is quite possibly the largest in the world. 

There were eight exhibitors in total this year. "Even though these events were my idea and pulled together by me, I owe a great debt to the other seven exhibitors and many helpers, whose incredible efforts cannot be overlooked and whose sincere dedication could never be overstated. I really do owe it all to them, it certainly was a collaborative effort," said organizer Jonathan Robinson.

Guitarist Liv Lorusso stands in front of the barn with Jordon Brilliant (Courtesy: Facebook)

Enter The Barn

Upon arriving in town, it's natural to wonder where exactly the band made their start. George's Mills, in Sunapee, is where. And the place they first played is a place simply called "The Barn." It's just a spot in the woods next to the lake - a place you would never think of as a part of rock 'n' roll history. The current owner of the property, Gene Hayes, spent six months making a beautiful sign that points out which barn, exactly.

Now, with the appropriate signage, The Barn stands out now in a town filled with barns. Hayes also allowed folks to come inside this past weekend and see its hallowed spaces, where names where etched into the walls and a banner behind the stage now points out the spot where Aerosmith played their first shows. Guitarist Liv Lorusso was one of the people who just happened to stop by on Saturday. She posted on her facebook page about the experience. "Not only did the owner let us in to see it- but we got to plug in an amp and actually PLAY on the stage. I stopped in the doorway on my way into the barn to try and capture the energy and magic that went on in that old building...This was truly a dream come true," she said.

Neill Byrnes of the Band Draw the Line performs in Sunapee's High School Gym as part of the Sunapee Sestercentennial. (Lisa Martineau)

Raining on their parade

Although Friday brought late afternoon downpours which postponed a fireworks display in the harbor and moved a performance by the Aerosmith Tribute Band Draw the Line from the Ben Mere Bandstand to the High School Gymnasium, crowds of people filled the gym to capacity. Cars lined Route 11 in every direction. There was more than an outpouring of support for the band. Despite temperatures and humidity that were beyond tolerable, the band jumped around on stage for three hours, kicking the show off with one of the band's early songs, "Make It," from their first album. Singer Neill Byrnes - another Steven Tyler look-alike - has long held the endorsement as the official tribute band of Aerosmith, despite various band members coming and going. It's Neill they come to see. David Hull, an infrequent substitute for Aerosmith's bass player, Tom Hamilton, also took the stage with them. Near the end of the show Neill invited Annie Perry and founding Aerosmith member Ray Tabano up on stage to do an encore that included "Walkin' the Dog" and "Train Kept a Rollin'"

Marching on

The rain fell through the night but the fog lifted in time for the Sestercentennial Parade on Saturday. Every kind of antique vehicle, firetrucks and an iron steam roller came through Main Street, along with horses pulling a wagon, a band on a flatbed, and the Shriners in their tiny cars. Other events were held throughout the weekend, including youth games and fairy houses, music in the harbor, a golf tournament, hikes, a "Scenes of Sunapee" Art Exhibit, "Love Your Lake" activities, an antique boat parade.

To wrap up a weekend of celebration, the town buried a time capsule at Veteran's Field during a closing ceremony that featured Governor Chris Sununu and other dignitaries. We have to wonder if the time capsule contained any Aerosmith memorabilia since we missed the closing ceremonies. Whether Aerosmith will continue to be linked with the town remains to be seen, but if you're around for the 350th Anniversary, when the time capsule is expected to be opened, you'll be among the first to know.

Article about last year's Aerosmith History Day: Aerosmith History Day draws crowd to Sunapee Harbor

To contact the author, email Lisa at

EntertainmentMusicNew HampshireSunapee

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