You could ask me in a flyby conversation how many home runs former third baseman of the Boston Red Sox, Butch Hobson, hit in 1979 and I would tell you 28 jacks without blinking or Googling it.
Ask me the song list on Bob Dylan’s “Desire” record as I’m biting into a burrito, and I’ll rattle off “Hurricane” to “Sara” and sing you a line from “Oh Sister” before I swallow back a single black bean.
But ask me anything outside sports and music, and I mean anything, like, history, and I am doomed, a stuttering mess of nothingness.
That’s why when Ashland musician, Paul Hubert, was telling me in the WKXL studio recently about a new song he wrote and was about to perform with his friend the Chicken Man called “40 Bushels,” I was flabbergasted to hear the tale about the “Year Without a Summer” in 1816.
Mr. Hubert will tell the story in the interview below, but, lets just say, for a nitwit like myself whose sole interests reside in the spectacle and heroics of athletes and artists, well, now I understand why this man named Rueben Whitten kept me so enthralled.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Paul Hubert…..
Q. Tell me about the “Year Without a Summer” in 1816 in New Hampshire. When did you first hear about this? And when did you start writing a song about the event?
A. Last year here in Ashland was the 200th Anniversary of that event. Early in the year the town started planning to celebrate it in some way. I did some research and was intrigued by the story. The song came to me as I was planting my garden, particularly the part about “poking in” the seed. Whitten Woods is a great hilltop sanctuary right around the corner and up the hill from us, and my wife takes the dog running up there all the time.
The historical facts are that the year before, in 1815, there had been a big volcanic eruption; Mount Tambora, in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). It sent up lots of ash which then proceeded to drift our way. In 1816 it blocked the sun to extent that there was frost every month all year, crops failed and folks were starving. Reuben planted up on his hill and got enough sun up there to bring in a crop of wheat, 40 bushels which he shared with his neighbors and saved the day. It’s all in the song.
Q. Do you often write songs about historical events?
A. No, I don’t, but when the perfect opportunity presents itself, how can a guy resist. Songwriter’s always got his ears open for something pithy!
Q. As far as you know, has anyone else ever written a song about Reuben Whitten?
Oh yes, several. I know that last summer Barbi Sharrow wrote one with the parks and Rec kids here in Ashland. It was a parody to Bingo or something. Very nice, and creative too! My friend Natalie wrote one that I’ve heard her perform as well, and I bet there’s more. I wonder if there’s any from other parts about that year too.
Q You have a new CD coming out. Are all the songs based off the historical events around the Granite State?
A. I’m involved in a project with Denise Castonguay to put a collection together of New Hampshire songs by New Hampshire (primarily acoustic) artists. We call it Granite State Tunes! Got a few of my buddies on board; Don Bartenstein, Doug Hazard, Craig Engel, but need more submissions to bring it home. 40 Bushels is my contribution.
Other than that I’m always chipping away at the next CD. I have several things in the can already, but so much more material that needs to be studio recorded before I can see what sticks together. I do demos here at home and put ’em up on SoundCloud to see if they click: https://soundcloud.com/paul-hubert-2
Q. Can you tell us a little about the music scene around the Lake Region? I know how active and soaked in talent it is, but the readers may not.
A. The scene here is thriving! It blows my mind how much talent comes crawling out of nowhere on any given night. Lots of clubs feature music more than just the usual weekend evenings, but it’s hard to beat Giuseppe’s in Meredith where there’s music seven nights a week! Lots of open mics, I think you can find one somewhere on any given night, and the talent, like I said is unbelievable. Folks who just a couple hours ago were working a day job, strap on a guitar (or ukulele or whatever) and put it out there! It’s kind’a scary, good scary!
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