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Putnam Smith plays from the roots

putnam smith and mariel vandersteel give a house concert in Bangor, Maine
putnam smith and mariel vandersteel give a house concert in Bangor, Maine
photos by Robin Wood

In medieval times, aristocrats hired local musicians to perform in a room of their home. That was the
beginning of classical “chamber music.” There is another, folksier descendant of chamber music that I
recently discovered – the house concert.

house concert
photo by Robin Wood

A house concert is a wonderful, intimate way to experience live music, right in the living room. Don’t
be fooled by the casual setting – many artists of significant renown like to perform house concerts in
between big shows on the road. Its unique atmosphere allows artists a warmer interaction with their

Putnam Smith is a talented singer-songwriter with two CD’s and a third soon to be released. I had the
privilege to meet this thoroughly down-to-earth musician before he performed at a house concert in a
Bangor home last month.

At age 39, Putnam could easily pass for twenty-something. Maybe it is the vibrant glow about him – that
youthful glow of someone who has finally found his calling after a long journey of exploration.

When Putnam was seven years old he started composing songs at the piano. He picked up the guitar at
age twelve, and began playing the banjo and mandolin in college. Music was always his passion.

His father counseled him against playing music as a career, so Putnam pursued other directions in school.
He went to Bowdoin and became a philosophy major, which led to playwriting.

After college Putnam worked on his writing in New York City, then in Bangor, where he got involved in
theater. Over time he found himself repeatedly cast in acting roles where he played music on stage.

“I had this revelation,” said Putnam. “Theater and writing aren’t any more practical than music!” A
friend encouraged him to play more, “and I began to make the transition (to music). I decided to go with
my first love.”

Music is in Putnam’s heart and soul, but it is also in his blood. When his grandfather died, he passed
down about ten instruments to Putnam – including a 1924 Martin guitar, a Martin mandolin, and several
banjos. One banjo originated with his great-grandfather, and that one has become Putnam’s primary

The music scene led Putnam back to New York City for a while, but “I found living in the city harder
than I thought…I needed trees and solitude.” Another essential part of Putnam’s nature is his love of the
land and simple living.

“When I was literally having dreams about compost, I moved back to Maine.” He settled into a log cabin
north of Portland, established some raised garden beds, and made that his home base. Putnam’s musical
style, a mixture of folk, bluegrass, and old-time traditional, dovetails perfectly with his lifestyle. The fact
that he plays the same banjo that his grandfather and great-grandfather played adds an even greater sense
of home-grown, personal warmth to his music.

That personal touch is in everything Putnam does. He writes his own music and lyrics, produces his own
CD’s through his company, “Itchy Sabot Records,” and even printed his CD covers on an old, pedal-
powered, handset printing press that he found in “Uncle Henry’s” catalogue.

Putnam’s fan base is enthusiastic and growing. His second CD,” Goldrush,” reached #5 on folk DJ
charts, and he is booking festivals and concerts large and small across the US and in Canada. Perhaps
the happy glow I saw in Putnam can be attributed to the increasingly warm reception he receives from
audiences all over the country.

Though winter road tours take him away from Maine for a couple of months, Putnam is sustained by the
knowledge that he will spend his summers back in Maine, working his own gardens and playing his banjo
on Maine’s front porches. Even on the road, he is always happy to land in someone’s home for a concert.
There is no better setting for Putnam Smith’s music – home-grown from the roots of his heart.


Robin Clifford Wood is a columnist for the Bangor Daily News. She also has two blogs about sunrise - and Feedback is always welcome at


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