by Dan Bolles
Man, oh man. I always forget just how much I enjoy Jazz Fest. To be perfectly blunt, it's really easy in this job to get bogged down by the nuts and bolts of trying to cover it — extra listings, researching spotlights, jazz hand exercises, etc. By the time the fest actually comes along, there is a part of me that just wants to run screaming into the woods and listen to death metal at unspeakable volumes in my underwear while drinking PBR tallboys. And I don't even really like death metal.
The reality, of course, is that I couldn't do that, even if I really wanted to. And as much as I may dream about it in my weaker moments, when it comes time to get down to business, it never fails to surprise me how much fun the Jazz Fest really is. Maybe that shouldn't be so surprising, given that my "business" primarily involves wandering around town and listening to music. But still, it is. And when it isn't, it will probably be time to hang 'em up, as they say. But the thing that sticks with me isn't so much any one individual performance. Rather, I'm always taken by the atmosphere around the city. And Friday night was a great example.
The entire downtown district — can we really call it a "district?" — was simply electric. Throngs upon throngs of revelers milled about the Marketplace, almost as if they were just, um, discovering it for the first time — maybe surprise isn't so unique to me, after all. Without cheating and looking it up, I couldn't even tell you who I saw that night. And really, it doesn't matter. Opening night is almost as much about the experience as it is the artists themselves. (OK, I sort of take that back. I completely fell in love with a ska/rocksteady band from Upstate NY called The Big Takeover. But of course, I'm a sucker for ska.)
Saturday night, however, was all about one band, and one band only: Belizbeha. And sweet holy hell, they rocked. I'll admit that they weren't my favorite as a young buck coming up in the 1990s Burlington rock scene. Back then, my tastes leaned more towards The Pants, The Fags and Envy. But I certainly caught them live on more than a few occasions — most memorably an outdoor show at UVM, circa 1997. Were they as tight as they were in their heyday? Probably not. After ten years, who would be? But they had the Flynn bumping like I hadn't seen at least since a Cubanismo show when I was in high school — and maybe not even then.
A few things struck me about the evening that will like standout in my mind regardless of how the rest of the festival goes. In no particular order:
1. Fattie B is a dynamo. We dont get to see him as a front man very often anymore. I wish we did. Maybe if (when) he hangs up his headphones at Retronome?
2. It's too bad DJ A-Dog doesn't have more opportunities to showcase his chops behind the turntables. Dude was nasty. I doubt anyone who saw him cut with Belizbeha that night would be so quick to call him DJ A-Pod.
3. The 1990s were more fun than you probably remember.
4. I could totally have been imagining this, but I'm pretty sure I got my first ever Flynn stage shout-out during "Catch the Flow."
5. I still have a huge crush on Kadiatou Sibi.
6. Why doesn't Craig Mitchell sing more often?
7. I grossly underestimated how much fun this reunion stuff is. Someone needs to throw a huge 1990s Burlington rock scene reunion and invite every band from the era to play — since half of them had interchangeable members anyway, it couldn't possibly be too hard, right?