NASCAR on 4th of July: Ranking the 10 Best Pre-Race National Anthems Ever
The Beacher Report
By Melissa Bauer-Herzog (Featured Columnist) on July 5, 2011
"Ashley Alexander definitely fits on this list. The girl has pipes and can really belt out the anthem, as she proved before the Nationwide race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in June of 2010."
One of the most moving parts of a NASCAR race is the beginning ceremonies with the flyover and the national anthem. While every American heart swells with pride at hearing the national anthem before the roar of the engines, there aren't always good renditions of the song. Today, though, we take a look at the 10 best national anthems ever sung before a race.
While I am sure I have missed posting some amazing national anthems that have played at NASCAR tracks around the country (and have a list a mile long of those that unfortunately didn't make my top 10), here are the ones I feel are the 10 best we have heard at the races.
New albums and bigger spotlights
Five local bands who made a mark in 2009
By Michael Witthaus email@example.com
The Goffstown junk rockers were far and away the biggest New Hampshire music story of the year, making a national splash on America’s Got Talent with a third place finish — behind two singers, giving them bragging rights as the NBC show’s top band.
A few days after the show ended, an impromptu homecoming show happened where it all began. The band returned to Goffstown High School for a free show in the school’s gymnasium. Fourteen years earlier, bandleader Justin Spencer debuted his musical project there for a school talent show.
The band toyed with doing a bigger venue, but didn’t think they could fill it on such short notice. That turned out to be false modesty. One-to-a-customer seats were snapped up in 15 minutes. Some fans started lining up at Shaw’s supermarket in Goffstown three hours ahead of time. A humbled Justin Spencer said later, “I didn’t realize how massive the support would be in New Hampshire, because we were in L.A. for the past few months and were kind of detached from all the media.”
Brooks Young Band
Blues rockers the Brooks Young Band began the year with the release of the Back On the Ground, a well-received EP of originals. The rootsy record had a vintage Rolling Stones feel, partly because guitarist Young plays instruments made around the same time that classic rockers were coming up – a 1962 Gretsch Country Classic and a 1957 Fender Stratocaster.
Two songs, “Last September” and “Dream Away” received radio airplay on 92.5 FM, The River. After an emotional high opening B.B. King’s Hampton Beach Casino show in August, the local guitar hero topped the bill at the recently opened Chandler’s in downtown Manchester. The lanky, clean living Young is the kind of guy that makes mothers encourage their kids to become musicians. His modern-hued blues excite fans across the musical spectrum, from Clapton to Dave Matthews.
In early December they opened a sold-out J. Geils/James Montgomery show at The Middle in Franklin. As 2009 ended, work on a follow-up to Back On the Ground neared completion, and the band prepared for big shows in Boston (Harper’s Ferry, Dec. 27) and New York City (Sullivan Hall, Jan. 7).
Berklee grad Ashley Alexander’s appearance opening for Chuck Wicks at the Palace Theatre in Manchester last September was a return of sorts. As a high school student, the hometown girl performed on the Palace stage as Sandy in a production of Grease. Alexander had a Sandy-like transformation of her own – a musical one - with the release of Heaven on Earth, an album of originals which was worlds removed from the come-hither funktronica of Fantasy, her teenage duo act with sister Arsha.
The well-received album, made with the support of Grammy-winning producer Bill Cuomo (“Bette Davis Eyes”), was more Reba than Rihanna, with empowered woman songs like “Good Luck” and “Goodbye Cry” along with love-gone-wrong tunes (“You’re Right, I Left”) and the husband-snagging romp “Too Bad You Don’t Know It Yet.” As the year closed out, Alexander was back in the studio working on a new album.
Jamantics formed last March, but in very short order they’ve gained a big following, from Capitol bars to Seacoast clubs and beyond. They’ve also attracted attention from local luminaries like Rock 101/WHEB Program Director Chris Garrett, who helped secure them a slot opening for Little Feat at Hampton Beach Casino last August.
The Concord-based combo blends elements of rock, funk and free-form jazz into a lively musical stew that sounds like it took years, not months, to perfect. Their set list of original material was 40 songs deep when the band was profiled in October. The band has already released three EPs, including Fall Sampler, released in November.
“As we jam into 2010, there’s lots of exciting things in store,” the band recently reported, including monthly exclusive shows at the Barley House in Concord, the release of a live winter sampler CD and a one-year anniversary celebration.
Black Brook Band
Always a favorite of traditional country fans, the Black Brook Band won big at the New Hampshire Country Music Association Awards in September. The NHCMA named the Manchester-based six-piece both Best Traditional and Best New Country band at its 22nd annual awards show, proving the maxim that versatility is the best measure of a bar band.
With a repertoire of standards from performers like George Jones, Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash, Black Brook has won the NHCMA traditional award before. In 2006, they went on to win the national title. But 2009 was Black Brook’s first entry in the new country category.
Black Brook lead singer Marcus Knight says he didn’t expect to beat Jonathan Scott and the Blazing Hearts, a band that won multiple times in past years. When the award was announced, says Knight, “I was numb. We were stunned that we took the both of them.” Knight also took home personal honors as Best New Country Vocalist.
Poised to shine in 2010
Derry singer-songwriter Amy Petty spent five years building a catalog of original songs and performing them at venues throughout the area — Milly’s Tavern in Manchester, Milford’s Pasta Loft and Nashua’s Simple Gifts Coffeehouse. This and her debut album, Mystery Becomes You, helped Petty earn runner-up honors in the Hippo’s annual reader’s poll in March 2009 as Best Local Performer Playing Original Music.
The singer-songwriter is hard at work on a follow-up CD, and in December the Christmas track, “A Lullaby for a King,” arrived on her www.amypetty.com Web site. Petty is donating all proceeds from song’s sale to Habitat For Humanity. “You give to me, I give to you, we all give to those in need,” she wrote in a holiday note. “Generosity can be contagious.”
Petty will play her first Tupelo Music Hall show on Jan. 7, when she hosts the weekly songwriter’s night. She’s also scheduled to perform at Newmarket’s Stone Church on Jan. 17.
Jazz scholar and ace pianist Ben Geyer broke through as a composer in 2009. The New Hampshire native will formally release his new CD The Narrative, a pair of storytelling musical suites (including one based on John Steinbeck’s East of Eden), on February 1l.
A series of local release parties, featuring The Ben Geyer Sextet, are set for Nashua’s Studio 99 on Thursday, Feb. 11, at 8p.m., the Cambridge, Mass., Lily Pad club on Friday, Feb 12 at 7p.m. and Portsmouth’s Press Room on Saturday, Feb. 13, at 9 p.m. Geyer will also perform at a Homecoming Jazz Concert on Saturday, Jan. 2, with Robbyn Tongue and Chris Burbank at the Adams Memorial Opera House in Derry. His band The Gate plays at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 23, at Nashua’s Sky Lounge and Geyer will do a free solo show at Stella Blu in Nashua on Thursday, Feb. 4.
From Rihanna to Reba
Hometown girl finds Heaven on Earth with country
By Michael Witthaus firstname.lastname@example.org
Ashley Alexander has been onstage at the Palace Theatre before, when she was 17. However, it was under much different circumstances than her Thursday, Sept. 10, appearance, opening for country hunk Chuck Wicks.
“I was in a production of Grease. I was Sandy – oh, Sandy,” Alexander said with a laugh, on the phone from her Manchester childhood home.
In that musical, a good girl trades her white sweater and pearls for a tough leather jacket look. Ashley Alexander did that in reverse before heading to Nashville last year to record her first solo album, Heaven on Earth.
For most of high school, Ashley and her younger sister Arsha performed as the teen-pop duo Fantasy. The pair specialized in beat-infused funktronica, full of come-hither lyrics (“why you trying to play me?/you used to call me baby”) and a pose more Rihanna than Reba McEntire, Alexander’s childhood idol.
It was a successful run. Fantasy made a few records and toured the country with a team of backup dancers, opening for boy bands like O-Town — all before graduation.
At Berklee College of Music, Alexander majored in performing and the business of music.
“I planned on that coming out of high school, I wanted a college that would have both aspects for me,” Alexander said. “I wanted to learn about the business so I’d know how to take care of myself.”
In college, she dabbled in different genres, acquiring a love for blues and singing jazz in a cover band.
“I had a well-rounded musical education,” she said. She also interned at Warner Brothers Records and did marketing work for a concert venue in Los Angeles, where she moved after completing her degree.
But along the way, she never forgot the night her father took her to see Reba McEntire.
“I was eight years old, and I thought — I want to be just like her,” Alexander said.
To that end, Heaven on Earth relies on themes familiar to Reba fans, with songs about empowered women (“Good Luck” and “Goodbye Cry”), love gone wrong (“You’re Right, I Left”) and steel-eyed determination (the husband-snagging romp “Too Bad You Don’t Know It Yet”).
The title track, an ode to positive thinking, was co-written by producer Bill Cuomo, who won a Grammy for his work “Bette Davis Eyes,” Little River Band’s Beeb Birtles, and Nashville newcomer Britt Adams.
“Everyone thinks they’ve heard it before,” Alexander said of the song. “People were stopping and staring when we did the video shoot for it, saying ‘I know that girl, I know that song’ — even though it hadn’t been released yet.”
The familiar chorus — “dance like no one’s watching, love like you’ve never been hurt, sing like no one is listening, love like it’s heaven on earth” — has been credited to everyone from Mark Twain to Sunday school teachers, though Alexander is uncertain of its origins.
Alexander’s turn to country has paid big dividends so far. One whirlwind week last spring she opened for Chuck Wicks in Keene, then headed to over to Gilford to play before her first-ever Meadowbrook crowd as the lead-in to Willie Nelson’s show.
“I’m still pinching myself,” she said of the appearance with Nelson. “It was very exciting and a real honor.”
Her well-received opening Keene set led to the Palace gig, where she’ll perform acoustically with guitarist Johnny Duke.
Alexander plans to savor every moment.
“It’s gonna be really exciting to get up on that stage again and perform for family and friends who can come and see the show because it’s right here at home,” she said. “It’s gonna be a trip.”
Though she lives in California, Ashley Alexander continues to keep her heart in the Granite State.
“I’m still a hometown girl.”
The Hippo Press
Union Leader, The/New Hampshire Sunday News (Manchester, NH)
New Hampshire Sunday News (Manchester, NH)
May 31, 2009
The last time Ashley Alexander sang at the athletic complex off South Commercial Street, the place was called Singer Family Park, and soccer was the game of choice.
She returned there last Wednesday to what is now known as Merchantsauto.com Stadium, the minor league baseball park that is home to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Double-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Fisher Cats play at a level viewed as a launching pad for future big league stars. Ashley is hoping that also holds true for aspiring singers.
The Manchester native showed up to lead the crowd in singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and to sign copies of her recently released CD, "Heaven on Earth." It was one of a handful of stops during her brief visit home from Los Angeles.
She appeared on the Fox 25 morning show Thursday and was the opening act for country singer Chuck Wicks the following night at the Colonial Theatre in Keene. You can call her return to New England part homecoming, part business trip. It's what you do when you're trying to make it in show business.
The pride of Central High, who first made her name singing with her sister, Ashra, as the pop duo Fantasy, graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston this fall, released the country-tinged CD she recorded in Nashville in December and took off in February to L.A., where she fell in love with the music scene after doing an internship for a record company.
"I love Nashville, but this is something I wanted to explore," Ashley said.
She just turned 23 this month and is steadily building a career as a singer. Her video for the title track on "Heaven on Earth" played on the big screen in center field as folks waited for the start of Wednesday's game between the Fisher Cats and the Portland Sea Dogs.
She's refining her sound to incorporate a bluesier feel, getting her inspiration from people such as Susan Tedeschi, Bonnie Raitt and John Mayer.
"It's about finding your own niche," Ashley said. "I definitely plan to stick with the country and mix it (with blues)."
She's putting together a band out in Los Angeles, and is using her business training from Berklee to organize a series of small shows that will feature a handful of other young artists. In the meantime, like every aspiring actor/singer/model trying to make it, she works a day job as a receptionist at a spa. You don't get to be a star overnight.
"I try not to set any timetable for myself," she said. "Everything is slowly, but surely."
Ashley is heeding the advice her father gave her when she was young: Look at where you are now and compare it to where you were a year ago. A year ago, Ashley Alexander was a college student with no record and she wasn't opening for national recording artists like Wicks.
The folks at the spa are excited that Ashley was opening for Wicks, who gained a new audience with his appearance on this year's season of "Dancing with the Stars." She was excited, too, but for different reasons.
Her half-hour acoustic set was another chance to get seen, to continue to build a fan base and, above all, to perform on stage.
"My main goal, really, is to perform," Ashley said. "I want to tour and perform much more."
When she does reach her goals, Ashley might not remember her appearance at a minor league ballpark in Manchester as her big break, but we'll be able to add her name to the list of future stars who played there.
She might not be able to hit the curveball, but then, the Fisher Cats probably can't sing like she can, either.
E-Mail staff writer Jim Fennell at email@example.com.
Copyright, 2009, Union Leader Corp.
Record Number: mandc5-5pg4r8w0jf61jwd27bti
THE UNION LEADER – Sunday Dec. 12, 2008
‘Fantasy’ gives way to country reality
*Music maker: Singer Ashley Alexander grew up in Manchester and lives in Boston, but she’s moving from Los Angeles to Nashville.
By JIM FENNELL
The New Hampshire Union Leader
Ashley Alexander said she grew up idolizing Reba McEntire, so it was fitting for the Manchester native to end her recent performance celebrating the release of her solo CD, “Heaven on Earth,” by covering a McEntire tune.
After all, that’s what you do when you’re a country singer.
The idea that Ashley is now singing country may be a bit of a surprise for anyone who remembers Fantasy, the pop duo formed by Ashley and her sister Arsha. They were named the Best New Artists of the Year for R&B at the Los Angeles Music Awards in 2003-while they were both attending Manchester Central High School- and seemed more likely to end up in Los Angeles than Nashville.
But Ashley, now 22 and a recent graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, said McEntire was her idol when she was young. She went to see the country icon in concert and even sang her songs in early talent contests she entered.
Ashley said she became more comfortable embracing her country roots after she enrolled in Berklee. Maybe that’s why she was willing to record a couple of country tunes on a demo CD she made with her former Fantasy producer. That demo led to “Heaven on Earth” a country pop CD recorded in Nashville.
Jerry Marcellino was the executive producer and the man who put the project together. In addition to being the producer and co-writer for Fantasy’s self-titled debut CD in 2001, he’s a family friend who began working with Ashley again while she was in Los Angeles doing an internship in the marketing department of a music company last year.
“He asked me if I wanted to do a demo while I was out there and it kind of snowballed from there,” Ashley said.
She headed to Nashville to record “Heaven on Earth,” making three weeklong trips to record the CD at Manzantia Studios.
“It was very relaxing,” she said. “Not the crazy world that L.A. and New York can be.”
Ashley said her first extended time in the studio without her sister was different. The two had success as Fantasy, opening for acts such as Lenny Kravitz, O-Town and Nick Cannon. Now, she’s on her own.
“It’s been very different,” Ashley said. “We shared the stage for so long.”
Arsha is a senior at Hofstra University majoring in sociology with a minor in music. Ashley said the two still talk often and while they no longer perform together as Fantasy, Arsha joins her sister on stage on occasion.
“When I first started recording, I’d always go to her and ask her opinion,” Ashley said.
For now Ashley remains in Boston, working for Cafe 939, Berklee’s student-run coffee house and music venue where she held her CD release concert last week.
She continues to evolve as a musician and is now trying to expand as a songwriter.
She wrote one of the songs on the CD, the love song “Your Kiss,” with Beeb Birtles, one of the co-founders of the Little River Band. Birtles is a partner of Bill Cuomo, who co-produced the CD and also co-wrote several of the songs. Ashley also wrote for a project she is working on with Gabrielle Varner.
“I was shy about writing,” Ashley said. “It can be a scary thing, getting your feelings out on paper.”
Ashley is also trying to market her CD, which doesn’t have the luxury of being backed by a major label. She has two websites (www.ashleyalexandermusic.com and www.myspace.com/ashleyalexandermusic) and is also selling the CD on CD Baby (www.cdbaby.com/ashleyalexander) and iTunes (www.itunes.com).
“It’s definitely hard,” Ashley said. “There’s no right or wrong way, you just have to follow your heart.”
She continues to sing for the cover band Classic Groove in addition to doing her own shows. She and her band played New York City for the first time in November, and she has a show coming up on Saturday, Dec. 27. at Milly’s in Manchester.
She also has help from her parents; she said they both hand out CDs to anyone they meet.
“I get e-mails from people I don’t know telling me how they like the CD,” Ashley said. “It all helps.”
She said she considers herself a singer first, but is comfortable being labeled a country singer. That may mean a detour from her plan to move to Los Angeles.
“I still want to explore the L.A. music scene, but Nashville seems like the logical thing,” she said. In the meantime, she is doing what she can as an independent artist to make it.
“It may be hard and it’s a long process,” Alexander said. “But it’s a wonderful journey.”
Ashley Alexander Sells Out the Red Room @ Cafe 939
By Callum MacKenzie
The audience was packed at Ashley Alexander’s sold-out show at Café 939, and those who could not get seats stood to hear her energetic blend of country and pop music. Her honeyed voice was surrounded by an electrified country-rock accompaniment that added just the right amount of edge to her songs’ southern-fried hooks. At the end of the concert she gave out free copies of her new CD, Heaven on Earth to the visibly thrilled audience.
Alexander, who is a native of Manchester, New Hampshire, got her start with her sister Arsha as one half of the pop vocal duo Fantasy. Fantasy won a Los Angeles Music Award in 2003 for their self-titled debut album, and have shared a stage with artists as varied as O-Town, J.C. Chasez and Tito Puente, Jr. Since arriving at Berklee, Alexander has been paying her dues by gigging around Boston with her own band and as the lead singer of Classic Groove.
As if her work around Boston isn’t enough, Alexander has had to divide up her time between Boston, Nashville and Los Angeles in order to record Heaven on Earth. This debut album, which comes out this week, is a “collection of songs about love and life”.
Haley Arnott, Alexander’s opening act at the 939 show, has been a close friend of Alexander’s since freshman year of college. Arnott’s ten-piece band included three back-up singers, a saxophone, and a trumpet in addition to herself and a rocking rhythm section. Arnott belted out stirring renditions of popular songs, and the audience responded gleefully, especially after the closing number, “Whipping Post.”
Heaven on Earth, Ashley Alexander’s new album, will soon be available online at iTunes and CD Baby and at various retail stores, and her MySpace contains information about her shows and some selections from the new album.
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