Two facets of Carl Rubino at Keene Arts

Jul. 14—KEENE — Catch two of Carl Rubino's creative outlets simultaneously 7 p.m. today at Keene Arts.

Come listen to him play and see his work in Giphantie," an exclusively photographic exhibit that includes work from: Alice Boardman, Sam Cecil, Nathan Farb, Daesha Devón Harris, Mark Kurtz, Sean Platt, Carl Rubino, R.L. Stolz, Eleanor Sweeney and Ed Wheeler.


Rubino grew up in New York City with his family and distinctly remembers a moment when he was five.

"My mom put me on the couch in the living room, and she played some classical symphonic music," he said.

"I don't know if it was something on the TV or the record player. But she said if I closed my eyes, I could see the music. I can't remember what I saw, but I had some visual experience. Later on when I started to get into creative things, I interpreted that to mean we are not bound in the creative world to literally what we see in front of us. We can use our imaginations and create what we see in our minds."

After graduating from Boston University, Rubino got a Eurorail pass and went all over Europe.

"In Spain, I bought a guitar for $15 bucks, a chord chart in London, and I basically spent a couple of months trying to learn how to play guitar," he said.

"I was really self-teaching. I really was only interested, in the beginning, in writing my own songs, not learning to play other people's music, maybe as a result of that little episode with my mom at five."


Life brought more schooling, a family, and he put the guitar in the closet for 15 years or so.

"At some point, I started writing for fun again, just for myself," he said.

"I took a few workshops here in guitar playing and songwriting, but I still was doing it just for fun and basically just writing my own music, never trying to learn anybody else's songs."

In the mid-'90s, a group of singer-songwriter friends were at his home sharing songs they had written.

They thought his tunes were good enough to record in a studio for a demo to maybe interest recording artists and bands in playing his songs.

"I booked some time with Chas Eller Studio in Vermont planning to do three songs," he said.

"I loved the process. I had plenty of songs written, so I kept going and I made a full-length CD entitled 'First Bite,' which I think was released in 1995. After that came out, I decided to go out on my own as a performing songwriter, a singer-songwriter, doing my own songs."


Rubino got his act together and learned how to do self-promotion, bookings, publicity and get radio spots.

He started in little towns and advanced to small festivals, multi-artists songwriters' festivals, and solo gigs in the Burlington area and Upstate New York.

"Then, I started getting booked as an opening act for some pretty well-known national and international singer-songwriter artists in Burlington, New York City, Cafe Lena," he said.

"Then, I got gigs as a featured artist at smaller venues, even places like Cafe Lena, and other listening rooms," he said.

"I did some live playing on a few radio stations. One of my songs was recorded as part of a series of songwriters on a video now at the Smithsonian. I got featured by BMI in New York at some of their songwriters nights at the Bitter End, selected to play invitational songwriters nights in some Nashville songwriters circle venues. I was getting airplay on ten or so radio stations in Vermont, Upstate New York, Massachusetts, Carolinas, Tennessee, and some other places."


It was hard for him to balance his full time job as an attorney, a music career and family life.

"I just couldn't handle it all, so I focused on playing my guitar and writing songs for myself and try to get others do my songs, he said.

"I had some small successes."

His "Two Days Out" was recorded in Nashville by a guy using many of Alan Jackson's road players.

"I co-wrote a song with somebody for a children's album, which she put out," he said.

"For awhile John Prine's Oh Boy Records was hanging on to a song of mine and wound up not recording it. One of my songs was on Car Talk, and I almost opened a season, one of my songs, almost opened a season for MTV's Road Rules. So, things were progressing nicely."

In the early 2000s, he was in a head-on collision.

His days of contemporary folk, Americana, country, blues music on acoustic guitar, finger picking or hybrid, finger and flat picking, were done, so it seemed.

"I broke some bones in my hand, messed up my shoulder, I couldn't play for years," he said.

"When it started to come back, I had lost a lot of dexterity. Eventually, it seemed to be over."

His energy turned to fine art photography.

"I was satisfying my creative urge that way," he said.

"I kept playing guitar as much as I could, and it started getting to the point where the dexterity came back. I was better than I was before the accident with the guitar playing, but for some strange reason, my lyrical muse had disappeared. And, I always thought the lyrics were my strongest point."


For years, he immersed himself in photography in shows and galleries locally, New York and the Berkshires.

Once again, he returned to songwriting. Feeling a little insecure, he tested the wind at the Falcon Ridge Festival in the Albany area in 2019.

"I had been there as a viewer before," he said.

"I never played anything there before. Late at night after all of the actual performances on stage, there's some very large tents set up where they have songwriters circles. It's very informal. Show up and have a seat and when the guitar comes to you, you can play your song."

Rubino played a few songs, which were very well received.

"I remember walking out of one of them at three in the morning, looking up at the night sky, and saying to myself with a big smile, I'm back," he said.

"Later on that year in the fall of 2019, I went to the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance Annual Conference. I played at some artists' showcases that I was selected or invited to play at. It was well received. That was my second, okay, you got it."


Rubino booked gigs for the summer and fall 2020, then the COVID pandemic hit and wiped them all out.

He started doing his own weekly live stream shows for a year on Facebook. Then, he added a second weekly show on Twitch.

"The weird thing that happened is people started showing up at the live stream Facebook performances that I went to grade school and high school with," he said.

"The word traveled, and it was amazing. It was the best feeling imaginable. I started bonding with some of these people again. It was outstanding."

Besides the reconnections and lively banter, Rubino sold CDs. Via Zoom, he started co-writing songs with people from other states such as California and Arizona. He even penned a song with Dan Nevarro over Zoom.

"That was a really cool thing," Rubino said.

Next, he got a busking license and opened his guitar case in Burlington.

"It was a wonderful opportunity to get back in public again and a hell of a challenge," he said.

"If you can stop people and get them to listen who are not there to see you, if they can stop and listen for awhile and throw some money in your guitar case and buy your CDs, that's a great accomplishment."

This was his real-time practice for his 2021 gigs, which were once again wiped out by COVID.

Rubino takes a break from live streaming to do his summer gigs now.

"I'm also going to create some free and some ticketed online concerts and other performances that people can get," he said.

"I tend to write songs that tell stories about people characters you can see come alive and scenes you can visualize, often with an emotional feeling.

"I have a personal rule about my songwriting, unless it's a humorous or political song I do once in awhile, if you can't close your eyes and see the video when the song plays back, it's not done yet or throw it away. That's what drives my music."