Nelson’s Candies may not sound like the name of a blues venue. But Nelson’s Candies/Local’s Café on Main Street in Wilton, New Hampshire has been offering live blues bands monthly for about five years now. Owner Doug Nelson, a 73 year old candy maker and entrepreneur, enjoys bringing blues bands into his New Hampshire candy store. The entire left side of his building is a music venue complete with stage and audience style seating that can hold up to 50 people for an intimate concert setting. Once Nelson’s candy store customers and blues patrons wrap their heads around both functions being under one roof, it all makes sense, in a Doug Nelson kind of way.
“Why is it there to begin with,” Nelson asked rhetorically. “I always liked music, and I wanted to keep that other side. When I first bought this building, I had a lot of people who wanted to rent that space. I said ‘no.’ A good friend of mine is a really good musician. We thought we’d start a little music venue over there. I started out with the open mic type thing. That drew young and old and I had some really, really good talent come in the down. I was amazed at some of these players. That started to fade off when the kids were starting to come in. I couldn’t refuse them. Next thing I knew, that became a babysitter thing.”
Then something miraculous happened. Nelson booked a hugely popular blues act, and the current blues program just blossomed from there.
“It all started out with Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson about maybe four years ago now,” Nelson said. “That was the first time I ever filled out a show that I actually sold out the house. A light bulb went off. I said ‘Jesus, people are coming to see the blues.’ I started from there, looking on websites” for more bands to book.
Nelson also used for a resource Diana Shonk, owner-publisher of Blues Audience Newsletter, based out of Harrisville, New Hampshire. “I got a lot of leads from her of different bands that she knew that drew pretty well. I started booking some of those bands.”
Nelson also has an affinity for blues music.
“I like the real, true blues,” Nelson said. “The old school stuff, I like. You go back to some of these older blues groups and bands, really, really good stuff. Some of it, I can take or leave it. I like the John Lee Hooker type of stuff, B.B. King.”
Nelson has to be patient with the ups and downs in revenues that change depending on who he brings in and or what time of year he brings them in. “I’m still struggling with certain bands,” Nelson said. “I’m telling you, it’s not easy. I don’t know why I haven’t quit by now, just stubborn, I guess.”
Yet, Nelson remains philosophical about it, realizing that the money he pays the bands would have gone toward advertising his candy store. “It’s get people in, and they said they didn’t know there was a candy store here too.”
Nelson’s Candies/Local’s Café, Nelson said, does well with Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson, Bobby Radcliff, Willie J. Laws Band, Chris Fitz Band, and Nick Moss Band. “Those are the back bones of the bands that come here,” Nelson said. “I can always count on a full house with those guys. I’ve had them all back here several times for the last four or five years. Chris Fitz drew a pretty good crowd. I’ve only had him here once but I would have him back.”
Nelson’s next show is his July 26th presentation of Tony Law And The Dream Machine featuring Tony Funches of The Platters. Nelson had met Law through a Boston blues artist.
“Shor’ty Billups did a show here with the Foxx Band. Tony Law was with him that night playing keyboards,” Nelson said. “I liked the guy right away. I was having conversations with him outside. That’s when I got involved with him. He just puts these bands together. He knows a lot of musicians. He’s just a great guy. So, I started booking his bands.”
Luther “Guitar Junior“ Johnson will make another return appearance on August 12th. “He always brings a great crowd with him,” Nelson said. “I’ve always had a decent show with him. People just like Luther, they just like the guy. He’s getting up in age now so people want to see him. I just had Luther here not long ago, and I booked him again. I usually wait at least a year. His health isn’t quite a hundred percent. But, he’ll do the show. People will come to see him.”
Nelson teamed up Boston area blues man Gil Correia with Boston blues harmonica lady Cheryl Arena for a special joint appearance on August 26th. It’s billed as Gil Correia Band featuring Cheryl Arena. “The first time I had Gil Correia here, he was a great little band, he’s a good little guitar player. I had Cheryl Arena here and she did very well. Gil knows Cheryl very well” so Nelson thought the fiery guitarist and lightning paced harmonica lady would be a good match up.
Dr. Dann & The Brothers Blues Band will appear, for the fifth time, at Nelson’s Candies/Local’s Café on September 30th. Hailing from Hopkinton, New Hampshire they are comprised of Dr. Dann The Bluesman on lead guitar and vocals; Blind Davis on lead guitar and rhythm guitar; Joe Joe Quinn on keyboards; Ron Welch on bass guitar; and Kurt Berger on drums.
“They are a really, really, really good band. But the problem is, even though they’re based in New Hampshire, nobody knows them. That’s a split the door with him thing. If I handed him a hundred bucks, he’ll be happy with that. He loves to get out and play. Him and his brother are great guitar players, really good. But nobody knows them. This will be the third or forth time I’ve had him here. I’ve had real light crowds with him every time. I don’t do this for money. If there’s money left over, I give it to the bands” in addition to what they’ve already been paid.
“I’m not over here doing this for money,” Nelson said. “I don’t need the money any more. I’m just doing this to promote the store and have some fun. It’s fun to do this.”
Returning to Nelson’s Candies on October 14th will be The Undaunted Professor Harp, a Boston-based harmonica player-vocalist who leads a four piece blues band. “He’s totally on that harmonica,” Nelson said. “I like Professor Harp. I like the guy. He always has a great band with him,” Nelson said.
Another return feature will be Willie J. Laws Band on November 4th. “They always do well. I always do very, very well with Willie,” Nelson said. “It’s always 45-50 people. I pay them very well. I pay my house band for opening, and I buy pizza for everyone.”
The B.Y.O.B. venue charges about $20 to $30 for a ticket. Although that is more than a cover charge at a blues bar, Nelson maintains that the patron saves money by bringing their own six pack of beer that only costs $10, as opposed to paying $5 to $6 for a single beer at a bar.
“I look at it a little different,” Nelson said. “I don’t think $30 is any money nowadays. How far does 30 bucks go? You look at some of these concerts that people go to, they’re paying two to three hundred bucks to see a lot of these performers. I’ve never had a bad band in here. I have to say that. I’ve never had a band that sucked. Never. They’ve always been good bands.”
Nelson’s usually gets positive feedback on his venue and its blues schedule. “The feedback I get is ‘Thanks for doing this.’ I hear that a lot. It’s a great place. It’s a great venue. It’s nice and homey. There’s not a bad seat in the house, which there isn’t because it’s a small venue.”
Nelson ended this interview by saying “It’s a great little venue. It’s got good acoustics. I’m doing this to make a place for people to come to on a Saturday night to get out of the house and enjoy some really good music.” Shows start at 7:00 p.m. For more information and tickets stop by 65 Main Street in Wilton, New Hampshire, or call 603-654-5030, or just visit: