The Hanover Exposition: "Homegrown"

by Kevin Hu | 2/7/17 1:00am


Hanover Strings was founded in 1975 by late Hanover local Charley Conquest.

by Kevin Hu / The Dartmouth

Setting the stage for folk-meets-bohemian styling, Hanover Strings, an instrument store on Main Street, embodies modest bluegrass roots and an eccentric vintage aesthetic. Merging a time-honored cordial demeanor with a ’60s counter-culture maverick spirit, Hanover Strings emerges as the primary source of stringed instruments for the town and its neighboring communities. It is a musical cathedral for the Upper Valley, providing a receptive community space for the generation of traditional bluegrass and folk alongside a younger generation of evolving expressionist styles.

Founded in 1975 by late Hanover local Charley Conquest, Hanover Strings is one of the oldest businesses on Main Street.

Noted for his lively panache, Charley Conquest brought a friendly beatnik spirit to the community and was often described as a genius eccentric, guitar enthusiast, master luthier and generous friend. In the ’90s, Conquest even created his own music production library in the store’s back room and performed a self-arranged compilation of traditional Celtic music every Thursday night at the Salt Hill Pub until his passing, filmmaker Wendy Conquest, owner and wife of Charley Conquest, said.

“It’s completely homegrown,” Wendy Conquest said.

In rhythm with the calm day-to-day dynamics of the small town, Hanover’s traditional musical scene, offbeat from de jour music styles, really reflects the town’s bluegrass roots.

“It’s a weird time right now,” staff member Duncan Carroll said. “Music’s changing so much. It’s not so much about playing instruments well or getting by with skill alone; it’s about appealing to people and matching what they want to hear. Here, live shows incorporate a lot of acoustic guitars and stringed instruments. You won’t see many people here pulling out a synthesizer ... it’s about a songwriter with a guitar.”

Although Hanover’s folksy roots suggest a chronological clash with contemporary music styles, Hanover Strings champions this disharmony to cultivate an environment that intermixes both folk and avant-garde styles, re-articulating the oxymoronic description: a modern classic.

A Norwich-raised Hanover local, Carroll himself frequented Hanover Strings from a young age, purchasing his first guitar from the store at age nine, as well as several more since.

“I feel very comfortable here,” Carroll said.

This organic environment invites a diverse audience of Upper Valley locals, Dartmouth students and alumni. Welcoming both folk and contemporary kitsch styles, Hanover Strings bridges two generations of differing tastes by focusing on quality of craft, skill and artistry.

Furnished with a decadent collection of studio grade instruments from a select vintage assortment to the newest Martins, Hanover Strings equips Upper Valley bands and individual performers for street gigs, bar performances and local concerts.

In addition to providing for the local conservative music scene, Carroll said that Hanover Strings also specializes in contemporary music setups and is heavily involved with a younger generation of Dartmouth students.

“The store was and is always rooted in Dartmouth — students and alumni especially. For students, Hanover Strings rents out sub boxes and mixing boards, helps fraternities with lighting equipment and wires sound systems for events. Occasionally, alumni bands also reunite and come back to rent equipment,” Wendy Conquest said.

With two members of garage alternative-rock band The Pilgrims and two former professional musicians who offer lessons at the store, the store’s staff members are recognized for their professionalism and caliber of knowledge.

“The staff places a lot of importance of disseminating relevant information to the community — information which supports music performance and music education on both a personal and professional level,” said Tony Mastelar, a jazz and classical music instructor at Hanover Strings.

From Kimball Union Academy to Shelburne Craft School, Mastelar boasts a long history of teaching and formerly studied under jazz guitarist Barry Galbraith. With large and small ensembles, Mastelar performed throughout Boston, Massachusetts, New York City, New York, and the greater New England area.

The store’s second instructor, Ed Eastridge , who was a veteran recording engineer and professional musician for over 40 years, toured Washington, D.C. in the ’70s and crossed paths with a number of recognizable names, including musicians David Gilmour and Jimmy Page, as noted by Carroll.

“All I know is that the people that work here, we really got into it because it’s the stuff we love. We’re all likeminded here,” Carroll said.

On-the-road adventures and years devoted to music effortlessly translate into a personal intimacy between artist and instrument — a key parameter that the store’s staff credits its success to.

“A lot of people that come in here — they’re real easy to talk to because we all share something,” Carroll said. “It’s an understated cool that brings us all together.”