by Dan Bolles
A little over a week ago — maybe even two weeks now — I received a lengthy, irate missive from a member of our little music scene who had big problems with yours truly. At this point, I'm fairly used to the occasional letter or voice mail — or anonymous blog comment — questioning anything and everything from my ability and credibility to my brain power and manhood — and no, I'm not kidding about that last one. Whatever. It comes with the territory.
But this particular diatribe was notable not because of what its writer had to say about me — there was a lot — but for what this individual had to say about the Burlington music scene. And no, I won't reveal the author's identity. And I quote:
"Burlington is a once great music mecca of the northeast that is dying into the college town mold it has fought for so long." Whoa. Now that's a serious claim. And with all due respect, I beg to differ.
Flash forward to last Thursday night at Nectar's and Club Metronome, the site of the "Bands of Burlington" showcase/Radiator benefit show. Now before I go any further, yes, Seven Days put the party together. And yes, I had a hand in its planning, especially where the lineup was concerned. But I'm not writing this to pat myself, or the paper on the back, although the evening was successful beyond anyone's expectations. But that had very little to do with me or my illustrious employers. It had to do with you.
All totaled, we raised $2400 for the Radiator, which will hopefully keep their lights on for some time to come. Divided by the $5 donation, that means 480 people showed up on a Thursday night, for an entirely local lineup. But here's the kicker: I hardly recognized a soul there.
When you spend enough time taking in the sights and sounds of the live music scene in and around Burlington, you tend to run into a lot of the same people. It's the blessing — and sometimes, the curse — of life in a small city. While many of the usual suspects were in fact in attendance, the bulk of the crowd that night appeared to be newbies. And they received quite an introduction to what Burlington has to offer.
Cannon Fodder — with the estimable Brett Hughes playing the role of Kelly Ravin on drums — kicked things off upstairs with a delightfully laid-back set of twang-tinged rock. For the uninitiated, the group is something of a revolving collective. And while they have a significant catalog of originals, they're perhaps best known for serving as the backing band for a host of local and nationally touring solo artists at The Monkey House. On this night, frequent collaborator Maryse Smith joined the band. I had never experienced Ms. Smith's music in person prior — MySpace never does an artist justice, I'm afraid. But I found myself thoroughly engrossed. She has a subtly engaging delivery and a slyly cool approach to melody. She's the sort of singer that people actually stop to listen to — that's a quality my high school chorus teacher would love: when you want people to pay attention, get softer. Make them work.
Scene stalwarts Swale followed. It had been a long time since I'd seen them — they've been a little busy starting a family and shows have been few and far between of late. I had (almost) forgotten how much I love that band. It was kind of like running into an old friend — who is now married and has a kid. Long my favorite female B-town vocalist, Amanda Gustafson sounded as brilliant and commanding as ever. Welcome back, guys.
Husbands A.K.A. — don't call them fourth wave — was up next and inspired a (semi)genuine pit near the front of the stage. The last time I saw these guys, they were a little on the ragged side. But oh, what a difference six months makes. Tight and energetic, they delivered blistering set of ska-punk that kinda makes me wish I hadn't hung up my pork pie hat and skinny ties. Their new album is hotly anticipated.
I was sort of shackled to the festivities upstairs as the de facto"stage manager." Basically, I was responsible for making sure we keptto the schedule — which of course, we didn't, really. However, I was able to sneak downstairs and catch a good chunk of The Aztext, who may have been my personal highlight of the evening. And I'm not alone — on more than one occasion during their 30-minute throwdown, I heard the following bewildered sentiment uttered: "These guys are local?" Yup. And they more than lived up to their growing reputation as the area's premier hip-hop outfit.
Zipping back upstairs — duty calls! — I caught the last half of In Memory of Pluto's set. Much like Husbands, they've seriously cleaned up their act, which was already pretty tidy to begin with. Standing next to Radiator co-founder Lee Anderson — who'd just arrived from playing a Cccome? show at Higher Ground — I remarked that IMOP might be my guiltiest local pleasure. They're sooo pop-a-licious. But so damn good at it. He seemed to agree, saying that Burlington needs a band like this. In a scene teeming with sonically challenging groups — like, for example, Cccome? — more universally accessible groups like IMOP play an important role in raising the entire scene's profile. Pop is not a four letter word, dammit.
The Vanderpolls closed out the night upstairs, taking the stage shortly after one in the morning. Unfortunately, a typically immaculate performance was wasted as much of the crowd had begun to filter out. As the guy in charge of the schedule, I'll take the blame on that one. I haven't played a show in a while and I suppose I'd forgotten than "headlining" on a Thursday in Burlington can often be a kiss of death. But crowd or no, the band exhibited admirable professionalism. And they really did rock.
Sadly, I missed most of the show downstairs. But I'm told by reliable ears that Lowell Thompson was his typically swoon-inducing self, Japhy Ryder brought some serious jazz-prog to the proceedings and Greyspoke more than filled the evening's jammy-jam quota. And Nectar's was pretty much packed from start to finish. All told, it was an excellent evening, and hopefully provided a healthy sampling for the next generation of Burlington music fans.
So no, Burlington's music scene ain't dying. Far from it. It's changing, sure. But it always does. And like it or not, this is a college town. In fact, it's a safe bet that current college students will form the next wave of Burlington bands — and music critics, for that matter. There is no "mold" that the scene is trying to break. It's just doing what any healthy scene does. Which is to say it's evolving — and on both sides of the stage, no less.