Maxine Linehan preparing for benefit show at SVAC

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MANCHESTER — As Maxine Linehan undertakes the work of updating and rehearsing her solo concert, "An American Journey," as a benefit for the Southern Vermont Arts Center on Saturday, Oct. 13 at 7:30 p.m., she knows one thing: It won't be the hardest or scariest thing she's done this year.

That's because Linehan, a critically acclaimed recording artist and performer, has recently done something considered far more challenging: Sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in front of a baseball stadium full of fans. She sang the anthem at Boston's Fenway Park on September 14.

"It's equal parts thrilling and terrifying," she said Tuesday of the experience. "A lot of really accomplished people have messed it up, and the worst thing I could have ever done was research that," she said with a laugh.

Having knocked that challenge out of the park — despite an anxiety dream that she had to complete an obstacle course just to get to home plate — Linehan's attention now turns to her autobiographical show, relating the experience of following her dreams from her home town on the southwestern coast of Cork, Ireland, to the United States.

"It was one of the first ever solo concerts I put together," Linehan said in a conversation at The Studio at Strawberry Fields Lane, the recording studio she and her husband, Andrew Koss, have built at their home. The couple and their two children moved to Manchester from New York City two years ago.

In 2015, Stephen Holden of The New York Times described Linehan as a "fiercely talented, self-assured" vocalist who "exudes the comfortable rootedness of a performer who knows who she is and where she came from." She has performed in venues including the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris and New York's Lincoln Center.

The show, co-created by Linehan and Scott Siegel, with music direction by Ryan Shirar, is Linehan's second benefit in as many years at SVAC's Arkell Pavilion. Last summer, she performed her Petula Clark tribute "What Would Petula Do?" to raise funds for Taconic Music.

"It felt like this was the right time to revisit it," Linehan said of "An American Journey."

"It's very simply the story of an Irish girl who always wanted to visit America and telling that story through song. And what goes along with that? The ups and the downs of wanting to start a new life but being connected to home and family — the things that you give up to pursue a life somewhere, and what you go through in that process," she said.

For Linehan, who first visited Boston at the age of 11 (hence her Red Sox loyalty), the experience of first coming to America remains a vivid memory.

"I remember everything," she said. "I remember getting a taxi and the smell of America. And the roads and rows of rows of cars all going in the same direction out of Logan [International Airport]. And I vividly remember the first time coming to New York and seeing that skyline."

While the story is very much autobiographical, "any time I've performed it, I've had audience members come up to me and say 'that's exactly how I feel,'" Linehan said. "It's the American story. It's a universal story of people who came from all over the world to be here because of the promise of this country and freedom."

Putting "An American Journey" back on stage meant revisiting the song choices and the arrangements. Linehan's voice has evolved with time — "things sound different in my body and I wanted to embrace the nuances of my voice now," she explained. And Linehan and Shirar are in the process of evaluating song choices for the show, including original songs Linehan has been co-writing with Koss. "One of the things we did for this show was bring more contemporary music into the mix," she explained.

Linehan is very happy to be performing on behalf of SVAC, as she loves the programs it offers and its natural setting, and sees potential for the center as a performing arts venue.

"I think it can be such a wonderful performance space with the right acts and the right treatments in the space," she said. "We're hoping something like this will open people's minds and eyes to the idea this can be a really great venue for national and international acts to come play here."

Tickets range between $40 and $80 and available by visiting SVAC.org, or by calling 802-362-1405. Berkshire Bank is sponsoring the event.

Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at gsukiennik@manchesterjournal.com or at 802-490-6000.


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