SANDWICH — From hosting “Hollywood Squares” in the 1980s to appearing on Valley Vision’s “Charity Chatter” is quite a career leap — but it suits former Broadway star and current Sandwich resident John Davidson just fine.
Now 79 and white-haired, but with the same charm, dimples and piano-keyboard set of teeth that flash into a charismatic smile, the approachable and friendly Davidson feels he’s landed this side of Heaven, having moved to Sandwich with his wife Rhonda 4½ years ago.
Prior to the pandemic, Davidson performed twice at Stone Mountain Arts Center, as well as at Kimball and Neysa Packard’s The Barn at The Farmstand music venue in Chocorua. He also did a benefit for Believe in Books in 2017.
And now, come the end of the month, he’s opening up his own small venue in the picture-perfect Lakes Region town of Center Sandwich.
He’s calling it “Club Sandwich” — which Davidson acknowledges sounds more like a deli than a musical venue, but in a recent on-site interview confirmed that there will be “no food served, other than popcorn and water.”
“I had my graphic designer put on some musical notes below our logo to get that across,” said Davidson as he led a tour of his venue, located at 12 Main St. in the heart of the village.
Davidson is anticipating that folks coming out this side of the pandemic after a year of being cooped up will be hungering for intimate musical performances and a night of entertainment.
“I think this is the year when people want to get out and get back to live entertainment,” he said.
He also acknowledged that this is something he’s wanted to do for a long time — and with his 80th birthday coming up in December, if not now, when?
“I think a lot of people once they turn 55 or 60 and have had their careers, they stop and ask themselves: now what I want to do?” he shared on his recent “Charity Chatter” appearance to promote his upcoming benefit shows for the Rozzie May Animal Alliance of Conway, set for June 25 and 26, in which he plans to donate all of the proceeds to the local non-profit animal care organization.
Rozzie May Alliance is a neuter/spade clinic for cats and dogs, located at 64 Hobbs St.
“I think people in my age group finally have figured out what we like to do — and on this home stretch of life, I think it’s important to make a list of those things. For me, sometimes it’s opening your own venue and hiring yourself first,” laughed Davidson, noting he will be performing solo shows Fridays and Saturdays from June 25 to Halloween, and presenting touring performers Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“I am going to be doing what I love to do best — singing with my guitar,” he told host Lisa Dufault and co-host Chelsea Hupalowsky and Kristen Corrigan of the Rozzie May Alliance during the show that aired on Channel 3 this week.
“I think we all need to find a passion in our life, to find some reason to get up in the morning — this is my reason to get up.”
He said friend Kimball Packard — who with wife Neysa operate The Farmstand Bed and Breakfast/Feel the Barn Series in Chocorua — told him about how they had their cat treated at the Rozzie May Alliance and all the good work that the organization does.
That led the animal-loving Davidson to choose Rozzie May as a recipient of his upcoming two sold-out shows.
“I am OK and comfortable money wise (at this point in my life), so I can do what I want to do — and I want to celebrate Rozzie May because it’s an incredible organization,” said Davidson, as he held his Mexican street dog, Calle, during his TV interview. (The Davidsons winter in Baja, Mexico, with their son and his family, who live there full-time.)
Back at Club Sandwich last Saturday, he further elaborated, “I don’t know what you call this — what, the ‘September of your life’? It brings to mind that there are three phases to life: there’s being young, there’s middle-aged, and there’s ‘You look good; you look good.’ I’m at that phase.
“So, this is something I want to do and we’re going to have fun doing it.”
He plans to deliver that fun in heretofore quiet Center Sandwich — close to New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, Plymouth and North Conway — and adding to a White Mountains music scene that already includes such venues as the Stone Mountain Arts Center in bustling downtown Brownfield, Maine; the aforementioned Farmstand Bed and Breakfast’s “Feel the Barn” concert series in just as teeming Chocorua; Jonathan Sarty’s Cold River Radio Show Wildcat Tavern Garden Outdoor Series and Theater in the Woods’ outdoor Summer Concert Series in mostly quiet Intervale.
“There really is a lot of music going on around here, and it’s fantastic to see,” said Davidson.
Then there’s the Barnstormers of Tamworth and the Winnipesaukee Playhouse and North Conway’s M&D Playhouse, all of which are reopening to live shows this summer. And Sandwich’s Advice to the Players, which pre-pandemic utilized the space now being rented by Davidson, has several shows planned, outdoors at venues to be announced (including “The Ballad of Daphnis and Chloe,” July 10-11, and 16-18 and “Comedy of Errors,” Aug 6-15. Go to advicetotheplayers.org for further information).
Asked how his venue will fit into that entertainment mix, Davidson said it will be much smaller, with just a 35-seat capacity. People can go to the Corner House Inn or the Foothills Cafe to dine beforehand. Or shop at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen Shop located just down the street — it was the first of the League’s shops when it opened in 1932 as Sandwich Home Industries and is now managed by Martha Nichols.
Of Club Sandwich, Davidson said: “I think first of all, this is the most intimate of the venues that you just mentioned — and believe me, I love Stone Mountain, having performed there twice. There’s nothing like Stone Mountain; it’s just very special. Carol is just amazing how she treats performers, being one herself,” said Davidson.
“For my Friday and Saturday night ‘John Davidson’ shows, people are going to be able to see somebody they’ve seen on TV for years, 15 feet away so there’s something there, telling stories and singing songs,” enthused Davidson, whose natural cadence reminds one of Robert Preston in “The Music Man.”
(By the way, Davidson actually played the lead role in a stage performance of “The Music Man” in summer stock with the Sacramento Music Circus in California in July 1991.)
Music in Center Sandwich in a club that only holds 35 people, after a pandemic — does that make sense?
It does to Davidson.
“We’ll make rent. That’s my goal — and have a lot of fun,” said Davidson, a singer-songwriter who arrived in Sandwich from the Berkshires of Massachusetts.
“It was beautiful in the Berkshires, but it was just really expensive down there. Here? I love the mountains (his home off Route 25 has views of the Ossipee Range) and the trees. I really like trees,” he said, just as a couple from nearby Laconia walked into the intimate barn, last Saturday afternoon asking if it were open, mistaking it for an antiques store. (It wasn’t open and it wasn’t an antiques store, either, but given his welcoming nature, Davidson invited them in anyway for a quick look — and Calle did her part by getting up from her pet bed to greet the newcomers).
“I’m John Davidson and you may know me from TV, and this is my new club, Club Sandwich. We’re presenting shows all summer and into fall,” said Davidson.
He then described how he will start each show by screening a video that celebrates New Hampshire’s scenery and heritage — from Monadnock in the Keene area east to the Seacoast, and north to the Lakes Region and Lake Winnipesaukee and the White Mountains, even showing the Jackson Honeymoon Covered Bridge.
In between those scenes are vignettes of the pleased-as-punch-to-be-here Davidson, whether frolicking in a snowstorm or hiking in the summer and fall splendor and, yes, playing his acoustic Taylor guitar.
The video — crafted by former Jackson and ex-WMUR-TV 9 cameraman Danny Ryan — features Davidson singing the song, “Live Free or Die,” with lyrics by Ernest Thompson (who won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for “On Golden Pond”) and with music by local Sandwich Fair musical personality Art Harriman.
After performing many self-penned songs and covers, and telling stories, Davidson will end his shows with a rendition of New Hampshire singer-songwriter Jimmy Lehoux’s “White Mountain Fever.”
It features as its chorus:
“White Mountain Fever,
got me singing this song;
I’m going back to New Hampshire,
that’s where I belong.”
“The seating is old stuffy couches and chairs. You’ll be able to fall asleep very nicely at my shows,” quipped Davidson, who seemed to be trying out new material in his repartee.
After the couple left, promising to return to see some of his shows this summer, Davidson said, “Now THAT was just so New Hampshire, them coming in like that. I love that! And just I love the New Hampshire character — New Hampshire people are independent-minded; the old ‘Live Free or Die’ thing.
“Now, I’ll admit I’m a ‘Masshole,’ having lived a number of years in Bridgewater outside of Brockton before my family moved to New York State — and then moving here from the Berkshires; but I am very happy to be here,” he said.
His good-natured ability to improvise was a talent he honed throughout his showbiz years and made him a good guest host for Carson and on other shows, not only on “Hollywood Squares” (where the stars’ answers were all scripted, truth be told, Davidson says — who knew?) to co-hosting “That’s Incredible!” with Fran Tarkenton and Cathy Lee Crosby.
He says “That’s Incredible!” was the start of reality TV.
“We’d show people covered with bees — now they would want to show people eating bees,” related Davidson.
As for his “Hollywood Squares” days, his favorite star was Joan Rivers, who also used to guest host for Carson before they had a now infamous rift.
“She was really, really smart,” he said, noting she had a degree in English lit from Barnard College. Asked what the often pointedly sarcastic Paul Lynde was like off camera, Davidson’s upbeat demeanor changed, and in a subdued voice he shared, “He was a very, very unhappy person. Maybe he just didn’t like me, I don’t know.”
Can’t please everybody, it would seem — but at Club Sandwich, Davidson won’t have to — just 35 people or so each Friday and Saturday.
“The performers are happy to be coming to take part. Many of them are passing through on tours and Wednesdays and Thursdays are off-nights for them, so we’re happy to welcome them to our tiny venue,” said Davidson.
The guest performance series includes: July 7, Tom Bartlett; July 8, Cliff Eberhardt; July 14, Sandwich’s Cindy Duchin; July 15, Brian Doser; July 21, Peter Mulvey; July 22, Debra Cowan; July 29, Katie O’Connell; July 29, Emerald Rae; Aug. 4, Carolyn Waters; Aug. 5, Scott Wakefield; Aug. 11, Jim Trick; Aug. 15, Gibson Center for Senior Services matinee at 2 p.m. featuring John Davidson; Aug. 18, Ossipee’s Andriana Gnap; Aug. 19, Raymond Gonzalez; Aug. 25, Electric Bonsai Band; Aug. 26, Pump Boys; Sept. 2, Will Dailey; Sept. 9, Green Heron; Sept. 15, Sam Tracy; Sept. 23, Claudia Schmidt; Sept. 30, Jackie and Gary, Singing the Good Old Songs Again; Oct. 7, Vance Gilbert; Oct. 14, Jon Svetkey; Oct. 21, Jim Infantino; Oct. 28, An evening with America’s Master Mentalist, Jon Stetson.
Tickets for Davidson’s personal Friday and Saturday night shows are $20 in advance and $25 at the door; tickets for other shows range from $10 to $20. Tickets may be purchased by going to johndavidson.com/clubsandwich.
The video show starts at 6:30 p.m. with the live show at 7 p.m. The club is wheelchair accessible. He is not taking phone calls — all advance transactions are being done via his website.
From Broadway to New York to Branson to landing in Center Sandwich, John Davidson is like a kid in a candy shop. Or a performing arts venue that sounds like a deli — Club Sandwich, that is. Order up some tickets and have it there, versus to go, for some fun weekly summer entertainment into the fall.