Hoot Night at The Press Room

Bret Belden

On Tuesday, my girlfriend and I visited The Press Room to scope out the place and have a drink or two. Upon entering the brick building, we were shown to a booth right in front of a makeshift stage in the back of the main dining area. A waitress presented us with a menu of food and drink and a pitcher of water. Directly in front of us was a table with a notepad on it for Hoot Night sign-ups. To the right side of me was the bar, loud with laughter and clanking glasses. A mural of a naked lady hung above the center of the bar. 

The building itself was split into two floors. Downstairs contained the main bar, a small dining room and a kitchen. Upstairs was a little more spacious and contained a bar and lounge, complete with a small dance floor and stage. Rocking out on the stage was Odetta Hartman, an indie rocker from New York.  

After taking in my surroundings, I looked down at the menu to see my options for order. The menu was described as “progress pub” fare by Josh Sheets, the current owner and manager of The Press Room. He described the food as having “a serious focus on making exceptional comfort food that’s fun and locally sourced.” Sheets also claims that The Press Room’s cocktail and beer program “is one of the most fun and ever-changing in the Seacoast,” to which he credits his bartending staff and the numerous breweries in Portsmouth. “We’re fortunate to have some of the best mixologists in town and (make deals) with all of the top breweries in the area,” he said. 

Neither Odetta nor the food were the reasons my girlfriend and I were in The Press Room that night. No, I was there for their weekly Hoot Night.  

Hoot Night is The Press Room’s version of an open mic night. I had heard some amazing things about the event and wanted to check it out for myself. According to Sheets, the opening of The Press Room and the conception of Hoot Night were synonymous. 

“The Press Room first opened in November of 1976 (and Hoot Night shortly followed),” he said. Sheets thinks that Hoot Night may have been created and hosted by Rockey Rockwood, “a popular local musician (in the mid-1970s),” according to Sheets.  

Nowadays, Hoot Night is hosted by a number of different people. “The torch has been passed on many times over,” he said. “These days we have a rotating cast of eight different hosts, each of whom bring out their own crowd, in addition to the folks that show up every week no matter who’s hosting.” 

The general public can also sign up to perform as well. Bruce Pingree, a former staff member of The Press Room from the 1980s through October 2018, said of Hoot Night that “you never know who (might) show up to play,” ranging from “a (professional musician) trying out a new tune, or your neighbor who just learned to play an instrument.”  

The lone performance was done with a pianist and his partner – a tap dancer. The tap shoes acted like a drum as the duo performed a variety of songs, back to back to back. The tap dancer had a portable wood floor that he used to dance on. His dancing was phenomenal and quick, like a car driving on the highway; his feet like car wheels spinning so fast it creates the illusion that they are spinning counterclockwise.  

While I was watching, I began to wonder about the phrase “hoot night”. I thought it was an interesting title for an open mic night, so I asked Bruce about the origin; he told me that the word hoot is short for “Hootenanny, which (is another way of saying) open jam session” and is a common term used to refer to an open mic event.  

Curious about the other events The Press Room held, I found a calendar on The Press Room’s website (https://pressroomnh.com/portsmouth-nh-events/month/). One or more events happen each day, seven days a week.  

“Our (focus) is on music,” Sheets told me. “It’s all over the map, genre-wise, and it’s a mixture of local and regional artists, and national touring acts.” 

For anyone looking to perform at Hoot Night, sign-ups start at 6 p.m. with the show going from 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. every Tuesday night. (Aside: You must be 21 or older to enter the building unless accompanied by someone who is 21 or over).