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July 19. 2014 9:26PM

Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: James Taylor, beer and business on tap at Meadowbrook


James Taylor performs Monday at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion at Meadowbrook to a packed house in Gilford. (COURTESY)

GILFORD - Musicians accustomed to performing in front of thousands of people follow a simple plan: Play to the fans in the first 10 rows, acknowledge the ones sitting in the cheap seats. Make sure everybody who is paying $8 for a 12-ounce beer feels like they are part of the show.

James Taylor adhered to that principle during his 2½-hour set Monday at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion at Meadowbrook, signing T-shirts from the front of the stage during an intermission and including several shoutouts throughout the night to the folks huddled up in the lawn section.

It helps to go local, too. Taylor's set list included "Mill Worker," a song that offers a snapshot of New England's manufacturing heritage. He jokingly pronounced bass player Jimmy Johnson's name in French and muttered a reference to Lake Winnipesaukee during his comic blues classic, "Steamroller Blues."

Likewise, New Hampshire's premier outdoor concert venue - which now has a capacity of 9,600 after a $3 million upgrade - does an admirable job playing up its local connections with an array of corporate sponsors, including the bank that pays for the naming rights.

The logo for Moultonborough-based CruCon Cruise Outlet stretches across the top of the stage above the lighting rig. Kubota, whose lawn vehicles and excavators are sold in three dealerships in New Hampshire and one in Maine operated by MB Tractor & Equipment, has its name featured above the stage-left video screen and has vehicles on display at Meadowbrook's midway. The Common Man restaurant chain operates an ice cream stand.

Beer drinkers have a choice of regional brews, as advertised on banners inside the concert seating area. You can dine at the Samuel Adams Brewhouse restaurant or order a beer at the Harpoon Saloon. (Jamaican brand Red Stripe also is represented, as are a couple of wine and spirits makers.) And for some shows, you can catch an upstart band performing on the small Magic Hat stage near the venue's main entrance. Ten Foot Polecats from Boston get the honors at the Aug. 14 Moody Blues date.

What I couldn't find at Meadowbrook: beer brewed in New Hampshire. Massachusetts is represented by Sam Adams and Harpoon, and Vermont is the home of Magic Hat (though since 2013, it's been owned by a Costa Rican company). But there's no Smuttynose or any of the other three-dozen New Hampshire microbreweries that have sprung up like rows of hops and barley over the past few years.

Granted, many of these Granite State brewers are tiny, operated by men and women who have graduated from making beer at home to opening small neighborhood tasting rooms and selling to local restaurants, such as Lone Wolf Brewing Co. in Wolfeboro (see story, Page D1.)

But one, the aforementioned Smuttynose, is a regional player widely available in local grocery stores and has been shipping its beer outside the state for more than a decade. Perhaps the state's biggest independent brewer is ready to jump from those lawn seats to a closer spot near the stage and share the spotlight with some other established local brands, such as Tuckerman Brewing Co. in Conway or Woodstock Inn Brewery in North Woodstock.

Smuttynose would certainly be interested in having its beer available at Meadowbrook, said JT Thompson, spokesman for the Hampton-based brewery, whose brews are sold at both Fenway Park and TD Garden in Boston.

"If you look at the surrounding states - Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts - they tend to have more support for local brewers than New Hampshire does," Thompson said.

How about a beer lounge at Meadowbrook that has taps for a rotating cast of Granite State breweries? Smuttynose already has a relationship with Amoskeag Beverages, the Bow-based beer distributor whose brands are sold at Meadowbrook. (Note those brands include Coors and not Anheuser-Busch, which has operated a large-scale production brewery in Merrimack since 1970.)

"Where do you rock?" That's the slogan for Amoskeag's advertisement in Meadowbrook's program guide, which promotes its branded beverage lounges at the venue. Adding a watering hole whose beers are produced in the Granite State would enhance the concert experience - both for New Hampshire craft beer fans and for tourists vacationing in the Lakes Region who want to sample local fare.

At Hadlock Field in Portland, home to the Boston Red Sox minor league affiliate Portland Sea Dogs, a craft beer stand offers Maine brands like Shipyard and Baxter's Brews along with Harpoon, Sam Adams and other regional varieties. It's a chance for local brands to get a taste of what it's like to mix with the headliners.

Speaking of headliners, I thought James Taylor might be holding onto a great name for a beer, but Arbor Brewing Co. in Michigan already has dibs: Steamroller Russian Imperial Stout.

Note: I tried to reach Meadowbrook President R.J. Harding for comment, but did not hear back from him before press time, though the venue did provide us with photos. Maybe I'll bump into him at that Moody Blues Show. He might find me in one of the beer tents.

Mike Cote is business editor at the New Hampshire Union Leader. Contact him at 668-4321 ext. 324 or mcote@unionleader.com.



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