Lunch at the Dump: musical institution or frugal diet option? You decide

Sometimes, a name just draws you in.

Maybe it’s a funny pun that grabs your attention or a string of foul words put together that shocks you so much, you just can’t look away. 

Or, in this case, a title for a band that shares synonyms with, well, garbage.

They’re called Lunch at the Dump and they’ve been playing on and off in the area, in one form or another, for the last 40 years. They play mostly bluegrass and roots style music and perform original tunes with a mix of covers from the Grateful Dead, John Hartford and The Band.

Their music features a lot of string instruments, like the mandolin, the fiddle, the upright bass, the banjo, the pedal steel guitar and the acoustic guitar. And when they play a gig at a bar, a town gazebo or at a local community center, like they did last week at the Dame Elementary School on Canterbury Road, they intersperse their set with a mix of instrumentals, folk-style tunes and audience requests.  

They’ve been playing that way since they formed in the early 1970s in the Davisville village area in Warner. There have been plenty of changes in the group’s lineup since those early days, but the style has stayed pretty much the same and the band has always gotten back together after taking a few years off here and there.

“We’re like a bad penny. We keep turning up,” joked Chris Pimentel, who started playing bass with the group in the mid-1970s, as he and his bandmates were setting up for a show at the school last Thursday. The lineup, these days, includes the 61-year-old Pimentel; co-founder Pete Leavenworth, 60, who plays the banjo and pedal steel guitar; his brother and co-founder Matt Leavenworth, 57, who plays the guitar and fiddle; Doug Baker, 36, who plays the guitar; and Charlie Chamberlain, 32, who plays a mean mandolin.  

The venues, over the years, have included plenty of bars, community bandstands and other small, local music halls. The group – whose five members each take turns on vocals during tunes – was supposed to play at Eagle Square in downtown Concord last Thursday but the show got moved to the Dame Elementary School due to rain.    

They played on, though, like champs, singing and jamming for a few dozen or so people who huddled in chairs in front of a makeshift stage. On the setlist this night were cuts from the Everly Brothers, Dan Hicks and others. There were also some new tunes written by the members of the band featured in the performance.

They’re working on an album of original work, recording tracks bit by bit, that they hope to release sometime in the not too distant future.     

“It’s a process,” said Pimentel. “It’s fun to see something go from a vague idea to a finished song.”

So how’d they get to be called Lunch at the Dump, anyway?

A couple of the guys, as the story goes, were living in a house with other buddies in Davisville in the early 1970s not too far from a landfill. One day, one of them went up there and spotted a carrot cake that one of the neighbors had made a few days before. It still looked edible and intact.

“So they brought it home and left it on the table and people started eating it,” Pete Leavenworth said. “Somewhere, somebody got the idea to call the band Lunch at the Dump.”

The name stuck and still sticks with the band all these years later.

Last week, as they were wrapping up their show and getting ready to send off the spectators into the dark, lonesome night, the group performed a cover of The Band’s 1970 hit “Stage Fright.” There was no Levon Helm there to provide sweet drumbeats or Garth Hudson to play the organ, and there wasn’t really much of a stage either.

But the group pressed on, playing as if they were performing for a big audience like The Band did when they played the famous “The Last Waltz” concert on Thanksgiving Day in 1976. There wasn’t turkey and fixings at this show like there was at The Band’s back in the day. 

There wasn’t even carrot cake like there was on the kitchen table at that house in Davisville all those years ago.

But there was Lunch at the Dump playing, singing and jamming out to sweet rhythms, and leaving the audience with powerful lyrics and harmonies – something else, something different, to chew over as they headed home. 

Author: Ben Conant

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