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MacDowell Medal given to singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash in intimate ceremony
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PETERBOROUGH — Singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash spent much of her two days at the MacDowell artists’ retreat in Peterborough looking ahead — to new inspiration, to her legacy, even to death.

When given the organization’s 61st MacDowell Medal on Thursday, however, a tearful Cash — the first woman to win the annual award in music composition — was reflective.

“I’d love to travel back and show myself this day,” she told a crowd of about 150 in the organization’s Bond Hall, noting the despair and deep insecurities she felt early in her career.

Her younger self, Cash said, “would still have to figure out how to get from there to here” but could’ve appreciated the “darker moments” that she said were as crucial to her development as learning how to play a G-chord.

The 16-time Grammy nominee and four-time winner charmed Medal Day attendees — mostly MacDowell supporters and fellows — in receiving the award, which is given to artists who have made outstanding contributions to American culture. In a lofty acceptance speech that quoted Emerson and called the arts a “service industry for the heart and soul,” Cash also poked fun at her tendency toward melancholy.

“I’m an acolyte of the patron saint of minor chords,” she joked.

The intimate ceremony departed from a traditional Medal Day, when MacDowell typically opens its sprawling grounds to the public for people to visit its artist studios and watch the award presentation. (Past winners of the MacDowell Medal — named for composer Edward MacDowell, who founded the artists’ retreat in 1907 with his wife, pianist Marian MacDowell — include Thornton Wilder, Georgia O’Keeffe and Toni Morrison.)

A music legend visits MacDowell

But after postponing last year’s ceremony to help curb the spread of COVID-19, the organization opted for a smaller event this year, citing the pandemic’s “lingering effects.”

N.H. PBS will broadcast the event in an August program that will also include footage from Cash’s visits with MacDowell artists-in-residence Wednesday and an interview she taped that day with New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast.

MacDowell’s resident director, David Macy, said the organization decided this spring to televise the proceedings because it wasn’t clear at that time whether a crowded event would be feasible. The Medal Day program will be broadcast at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 8.

“We wanted everyone in New Hampshire and New England to have access to it,” Macy said.

In her studio visits Wednesday, Cash marveled at paintings, textile prints and poetry created during the artists’ residencies and inquired about their time at MacDowell, asking New York painter Gina Ruggeri if she felt “the weight of history” at the acclaimed retreat.

Cash also seemed particularly to enjoy comparing the fellows’ inspiration and artistic process with her own. In one studio visit, Angela Dufresne and Mala Iqbal, both of New York, showed her paintings they started on their own before swapping midway through to finish the other’s work.

“I would love to try that process with songwriting,” Cash told them. “… That’s going to give rise to some whole other things.”

Cross-disciplinary conversations like those are the “DNA of MacDowell,” which typically hosts around 30 artists at a time but has reduced those numbers during the pandemic, MacDowell Executive Director Philip Himberg said Wednesday.

“Today is kind of like eavesdropping on one of those conversations,” he said.

In an interview with The Sentinel, Cash called it “invigorating” to speak with visual artists and to learn from another MacDowell fellow about a new style of poetry. Despite their artistic differences, she said aspects from all of their work will likely inform her future songwriting.

“I wish I could have spent the day with them,” she said. “… I’m going to take so much inspiration from every single one of them.”

Cash continued the exchange of ideas Wednesday afternoon in a sit-down interview with Chast, the New Yorker cartoonist, at MacDowell’s James Baldwin Library.

In that conversation, Cash — the daughter of singer Johnny Cash — said she started writing poetry at eight or nine but initially didn’t want to be a performer, which she thought would attract negative attention. That changed when she realized performances could be an “energy exchange” with her audience, she said.

“My goal was to make music that didn’t have a bin at the record store,” she said.

Cash also compared notes with Chast on artistic technique, examined how mortality shapes her work and discussed her early years in the music industry, when she said male executives often told her how to look and sound.

“I was just stubborn,” she said. “I pushed against it … Even at that young age, as insecure as I was, I trusted my instincts.”

In a final break from tradition Thursday, Cash followed the Medal Day ceremony with a rendition of her song, “The Undiscovered Country,” with her husband and music collaborator, John Leventhal — the first Medal Day performance by a recipient, according to Himberg. Famed folk singer Emmylou Harris also toasted Cash, combining with Leventhal to perform a cover of Cash’s song, “I Was Watching You.”

In addition to being the first woman to win the MacDowell Medal in musical composition, Cash said the award is also a nod to roots music and her other musical inspirations.

“It’s an honor that the particular genre I work in is being recognized … because it’s so quintessentially American,” she told The Sentinel. “Feeling that I represent that, as well as just myself and what I do — that’s a big deal for me.”

This story has been corrected to reflect that James Baldwin never won the MacDowell Medal. He was a three-time fellow at the artists' retreat.


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Bennington recovery housing to open next week
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BENNINGTON — A new transitional housing facility for those in recovery from addiction will open next week, according to its co-founders.

Bridge Street Recovery broke ground last fall at 608 Francestown Road, the former location of the long-gone Highland Inn across from the Crotched Mountain ski resort.

Construction wrapped up a few weeks ago, and the facility will open its doors Tuesday, co-founder John Christian said.

“We’re excited,” he said. “We know that there are people out there suffering from substance-use issues, and we’re glad we’ll be able to provide beds and treatment.”

The 40-bed residential care and transitional housing facility will provide both emergency and long-term care to New Hampshire residents recovering from addiction.

Christian and co-founder and fellow Massachusetts resident Stephen Bryan also plan to open a 64-bed detox facility in Peterborough in 2022.

Both men have experience related to substance-use treatment.

Christian said he has worked for recovery programs for more than 25 years, including with many clients from New Hampshire, while Bryan is a real estate developer who oversaw several addiction-treatment center projects.

The pair saw a “tremendous need,” Christian has said, for substance-use programs statewide and wanted to help fill that gap.

New Hampshire’s number of fatal drug overdoses skyrocketed starting in 2013 and 2014 as part of a nationwide opioid epidemic. Drug deaths peaked in 2017, with a confirmed total of 490, and have since started to decline.

In 2018, New Hampshire ranked third highest in the country for opioid-related deaths per capita, according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse, but that same year was reported to have the second-lowest level of access to substance-use treatment.

“We are looking forward to following through with the mission that Steve and I have had for several years now,” Christian said.

Bridge Street Recovery’s transitional housing facility is for adults of all genders who are at least 30 days into sobriety and need help transitioning back into everyday life. The facility will accept any form of insurance, including Medicaid.

Clients will have the option of attending treatment, such as substance-use counseling, at the facility six days a week if needed, the co-founders have said. Clients will also have full access to treatment staff of varying specialties, ranging from clinicians to peer-recovery workers.

Additionally, clients will receive job counseling and help finding permanent housing.

Stays at Bridge Street Recovery can range from 30 days to six months, depending on the client’s needs.

The detox facility in Peterborough will be for people who are just coming off substances, may be going into withdrawal and need a more intense form of treatment.

The goal is to have clients start in Peterborough and then come to Bennington to continue their recovery process.

Christian said they hope to break ground on the facility this fall.

Bridge Street Recovery can be reached at 255-7070 or at newhampshiretreatmentcenter.com.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance-use disorder, The Doorway — a referral hub for people to get help — is at 24 Railroad St. in Keene and is open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Support through the state’s 24/7 hotline is available by calling 211.


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$61M contract approved for new Brattleboro-Hinsdale bridge
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CONCORD — A long-running plan to replace the Route 119 bridges linking Hinsdale and Brattleboro moved another step forward Wednesday, with the N.H. Executive Council’s approval of a $61 million contract for the project.

Reed & Reed General Contractors of Woolwich, Maine, will replace the aging Anna Hunt Marsh and Charles Dana bridges, according to the agenda for Wednesday’s Executive Council meeting. The company outbid two others for the project, said N.H. Rep. Michael Abbott, D-Hinsdale.

Meagan Rose, the executive assistant to the Executive Council, said the council voted unanimously to approve the contract. The full cost of the project is $61,170,536, according to the agenda.

The N.H. Department of Transportation’s narrative of the project, available online, describes the current bridges as “functionally obsolete and structurally-deficient.” The narrative also notes that the bridges — which were built in 1920 and rehabilitated as recently as 2003 — are too narrow to safely accommodate trucks passing each other.

According to the contract, a new bridge will be built slightly downstream from where the current bridges are.

Federal funding will cover 86 percent of project costs. Of the remaining 14 percent, New Hampshire will fund 83 percent, and Vermont 17 percent, Abbott said.

At the end of last year, the project was estimated to cost closer to $50 million. However, the rising cost of steel and concrete, in tandem with difficulty finding labor, increased the price, Abbott said.

Reed & Reed recently completed a bridge near Bellows Falls, and so already has subcontractors in the area, according to Abbott, who said construction is expected to begin in August or September.

The new bridge is anticipated to open to traffic starting in October 2023, Abbott said. According to the contract, the project’s final completion date is Oct. 25, 2024. The old bridges will be revamped for pedestrians and cyclists.

“This will be a culmination of a lot of peoples’ work,” Abbott said. “I think a lot of people will be extremely happy when they see the finished product.”


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