Seth McNally of Stoddard and Mike Chadinha of Peterborough have booked hundreds of concerts across the Northeast and brought live music to the Monadnock Region at a time when it didn’t seem possible. But their business partnership stems from a chance meeting 11 years ago and what very easily could have been a missed connection.
In a word, their meeting could be described as “serendipitous.” In Chadinha’s five words, it’s “actually a really weird story.”
Chadinha was vacationing on Caye Caulker — a tiny island off the coast of Belize — when a familiar face zoomed by on a golf cart. Chadinha vaguely recognized the cart’s occupant, but couldn’t quite pin down why.
The second time the man whirred by, Chadinha flagged him down.
“Hey — Peterborough, New Hampshire? Ring a bell?” Chadinha recalled asking him.
It did, in fact. Behind the wheel was McNally, who was working as a bartender and a concert promoter at the time, and Chadinha recognized him just from seeing him around town.
The two kept in touch upon returning home to New Hampshire and became friends. After a few years, Chadinha joined M.E. Productions, McNally’s concert-promoting company, which has programmed local concerts including Northlands (previously called Drive-In Live) at the Cheshire Fairgrounds in North Swanzey and the Peterborough Concert Series.
By the time he joined the company, Chadinha already had some experience organizing live music. He and his wife, Heather Kumph, along with a couple of friends organized Uplift Music Festival in Greenfield.
For about a decade, the annual festival — which began as a “one-time party” to raise funds for Harlow’s Pub in Peterborough, Chadinha said — would donate all revenue to a different beneficiary each year, including the Cornucopia Project, the Community Center in Antrim and The River Center in Peterborough.
McNally, 44, of Stoddard, had spent his early twenties promoting nightclubs in Boston. He learned the ropes, found mentors and eventually moved on to start promoting blues-rock concerts at venues in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
It was after working his first sold-out shows — Johnny Winter and J. Geils — 12 or 13 years ago when McNally knew he wanted to make a career in music promotion, and he started M.E. Productions a few years later. Chadinha joined the company about four years ago, McNally said.
Chadinha grew up in Fall River, Mass., and moved to the Monadnock Region to play baseball for Franklin Pierce University. He picked up drumming his freshman year and joined a band, Roots of Creation. In 2002, he left Franklin Pierce and drummed with Roots of Creation for about 16 years before joining M.E. Productions.
Since joining forces, the pair has pursued a few different projects, including a series that was inspired by their office view.
“Our office is in the Gurnsey Building in downtown Peterborough, and we kind of stare at the Town House building in Peterborough all day, and we know there was a performing arts space there that was kind of being under-utilized,” Chadinha said. “So we were talking to the town to see if they had an appetite for more events in that space, and they did.”
In late 2018, McNally and Chadinha started the Peterborough Concert Series. They began booking more acts, gaining more momentum and interest — until that fateful March 2020.
“The music industry was the first to go down and the last to be revived,” McNally said.
But despite restrictions limiting large gatherings, McNally and Chadinha weren’t ready to give up on live music entirely.
The pair began throwing around ideas, kept tabs on outdoor concert series happening in Europe, and scoped out potential venues in the area — spaces that could hold at least 75 cars, Chadinha said.
They settled on the Cheshire Fairgrounds, and in the summer of 2020 launched Drive-In Live, a socially-distant concert series where attendees would park and watch a performance from their cars.
“That energy between a crowd and an artist is palpable when you’re there and that is such a joyful space for people to be in for a few hours,” McNally said. “Everybody has stressful lives, and live music is good for the soul, it’s soothing.”
“... Knowing that the world was in such a crazy place, and if there was a way that we could do something to bring that back to people at a time when they so badly needed it, at a time where there wasn’t much you could do,” Chadinha said. “[A]s long as we could keep it safe, we wanted to [do that].”
The act of bringing people together — even if it was just dozens of cars parked in a field — was important, too.
“Performing arts centers and music venues in general, they tend to keep communities vibrant, and that’s an important factor and driver for what we do as well,” McNally said.
While challenging, the pandemic-related restrictions also fostered a kind of energy that may not have existed in normal times, Chadinha said. When musicians were once again allowed to take the stage, it was evident how grateful they were to be performing again, he said.
He also recalled a performance by the band Guster, where the performers called for everyone to raise their lights.
“It was crazy to see a field of 450 cars all turn their high beams on at the climax of a chorus,” Chadinha recalled. “It was like nothing else I had ever seen before and probably never will.”
It was moments like those, spurring feelings of elation and gratitude, that stand out in Chadinha and McNally’s career, they said.
In its second year, Drive-In Live was rebranded as Northlands, and people could sit in socially-distant “pods” rather than remain in their cars.
And how are things looking for 2022? The Peterborough Concert Series has already resumed in recent months (there have been a few shows so far, and Mihali is scheduled to perform at the Town House Dec. 4). M.E. Productions plans to continue Northlands next summer, but will likely pivot toward hosting a couple weekend-long music festivals instead of a full season of concerts, McNally said.
Regardless of the format, McNally and Chadinha plan to ensure the Monadnock Region has plenty of live music to look forward to.
“Recorded music is great too, but there’s nothing like the energy of a live show: the lights, the people and the sounds,” Chadinha said. “There’s nothing like it, and there’s nothing that can replace it.”