BROWNFIELD — Music producer Carol Noonan has been trying to lure Benoit Bourque onto the stage at her Stone Mountain Arts Center ever since she opened the performance space six years ago.
A folk musician herself, Noonan first crossed paths with Bourque at a festival they both played many years ago. She was impressed with his dynamic energy and amiable style — “like a rock star,” she remembers thinking, “a giant presence but without the attitude.”
On Thursday , Aug. 30, Noonan finally gets her wish. Bourque and 10 colleagues in the acclaimed La Bottine Souriante will sing, play the accordion, step dance and otherwise entertain at Stone Mountain.
Hailed by Dirty Linen magazine as “the greatest band in the world” a dozen years ago, the award-winning Quebecois ensemble drafted Bourque into its ranks in 2009.
Since then, La Bottine Souriante, known for its lively foot-tapping and driving Celtic melodies, has toured throughout North America and Europe. The band made a memorable appearance at the closing ceremonies of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.
“If Big Bad Voodoo Daddy were a Celtic super group, it would be this Canadian band,” Noonan said, noting La Bottine Souriante has a four-piece brass section of trumpet, sax and trombones as well more traditional fiddles, accordion, guitar, mandolin, string bass and piano.
“This living legend of French North American roots music has and does everything, producing some of the most exciting sounds that have ever come out of Quebec. Our challenge, will be fitting them all on-stage,"Noonan said.
The Stone Mountain stage is ensconced in a humble but handsome timber frame performance hall seating only 200, meaning every audience member is guaranteed an up-close-and-personal experience with performing artists.
La Bottine Souriante is by no means the most famous of artists who have appeared at Stone Mountain since its inception. Prior celebrities include Mary Chapin Carpenter, Richie Havens, Bruce Cockburn, The Indigo Girls, Bela Fleck and top comedy acts Paula Poundstone and The Capitol Steps.
How does Noonan manage to afford this level of talent? For one thing, she assigns ticket prices accordingly — admission to the La Bottine show is $60 — and generally fills the place. In fact, Grammy-winning, singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett played to a full house earlier this summer with tickets selling for $200 a head (and he'll be back in November).
But why would such in-demand acts opt to detour from the usual big-city/big-venue/bigger-pay tour routes to venture on narrow back-country roads to this modest, red clapboard hall tucked into the foothills of the White Mountains?
It's the unique small-town, down-home ambiance of the venue, said Noonan, who admits to bending over backward to spoil the artists who perform there. Country music star Marty Stuart, after playing at Stone Mountain with his band a few years ago, vowed that “our little place was the best stop on the tour," Noonan said. "They said our audience was 'powerfully enthusiastic and full of love' and that we fed them, and I quote, 'the best dang food we ever had on a tour. ...' ”
Food is also part of what attracts audience members to Stone Mountain. For those looking for a preshow meal, Noonan (whose eclectic work history includes stints as a chef, bartender and waitress) offers a revolving menu that includes a variety of hearty stews, pizza, salads and such comfort-food classics as beef stroganoff and macaroni and cheese — all given a distinctive gourmet twist. An assortment of fine wines, beers and desserts is also available.
Asked how Stone Mountain, born as a labor of love, has beaten the odds and managed to not only survive but thrive out in the sticks in Maine, especially in this economy, Noonan replied, “It's the 'special' factor."
"The place is special, the artists are special and we treat our customers special. And we have the best staff in the world. No Ticketmasters here, real people answer the phone," Noonan said.
"And I have my hands in everything," she said. "I cook the food, manage the bands, even perform in some of the shows. We are owner-operated for sure and it shows. I think people want the Mom and Pop places these days and we are definitely one of them."
"It's an effort for the the artist and the audience to come way out here, so we try to make sure it's worth it for them. We are presenting big acts with a small-town feel," Noonan said.
Tickets and dinner reservations for Thursday's La Bottine Souriante concert (at 8 p.m.) are still available. Tickets are $60 each and may be purchased by calling 935-7292 or visiting www.stonemountainartscenter.com. Food and beverages are charged separately from the concert admission, with a $10-minimum purchase requested to reserve cabaret-style dinner seating.
Upcoming concerts at Stone Mountain Arts Center:
1 - Saturday: Quebe Sisters Band, Texas swing
6 - Thursday: Martin Sexton, singer-songwriter
7 - Friday: Old Barn Series, featuring Nuala Kennedy Irish band
16 - Sunday: Connie Smith, country legend
19 - Wednesday: Steve Earle with special guest Charlie Mars, singer-songwriter
20 - Thursday: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
21 - Friday: Barn Burner Music Series, featuring Session Americana
27 - Thursday: Recession Session, Kenny White, singer-songwriter
28 - Friday: Old Barn Series, featuring Cahalen Morrison & Eli West
30 - Sunday: Glen and Grant-Lee Phillips, pop songwriters
1 - Monday: John Hiatt and the Combo
11 - Thursday: Suzanne Vega, folk singer-songwriter
16 - Tuesday: "Lunch with Lucy!" Lunch and famous movie clip series
19 - Friday: Barn Burner Music Series, featuring The Deadly Gentlemen
21 - Sunday: Steep Canyon Rangers, award-winning bluegrass
23 - Tuesday: Keb'Mo,' singer-songwriter
25 - Thursday:Rock Legend Peter Wolf (of J. Geils Band)
31 - Wednesday: Toots and the Maytals Acoustic Tour, reggae
2 - Friday: Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas, Scottish fiddler and cellist
3 - Saturday: Red Horse — Eliza ilkyson, John Gorka & Lucy Kaplansky
5 - Monday: Lyle Lovett and his acoustic group, country
8 - Thursday: Mary Black, Irish singer
9 - Friday: Nanci Griffith, up close and personal
10 - Saturday: Capitol Steps evening show, political satire
11 -Sunday: Capitol Steps afternoon show, political satire
17 - Saturday: Unger Games —Jay Ungar, Molly Mason, Darol Anger & Emy Phelps
29 - Thursday: Waltzing for Dreamers free music series, featuring the Laura Cortese Acoustic Project with Valerie Thompson and Mariel Vandersteel
8 - Saturday" Little White Church Christmas Concert, Carol and Dana
11 - Tuesday: "Fa La La Luncheon." Lunch and famous movie clip series
15 - Saturday: Stone Mountain "LIVE for Christmas," with Gibson Brothers
16 - Sunday: Stone Mountain "LIVE Christmas" matinee, with Gibson Brothers
21 & 22 - Friday/Saturday: Stone Mountain "LIVE for Christmas," with Gibson Brothers
29 - Saturday: Dar Williams, singer-songwriter