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2009: The Year in Review

Recounting the year’s top local music stories


This was an unusually remarkable year in Vermont music. Beyond even the unprecedented summer of marquee talent that made its way through the state — Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, Buddy Guy, Ween et al. — several stories will likely be remembered long after we turn the calendar.

We’re Gettin’ the Band Back Together!

Love them or not, there simply was not a bigger music story — local or otherwise, perhaps — in 2009 than the return of Phish. In fact, there might not have been a bigger story in 2008, either, as rampant speculation concerning the Phab Phour’s reunion had reached a fevered pitch by that year’s end. But in March, anticipation gave way to elation as the band triumphantly returned for three sold-out nights in Hampton Beach, Va., setting the stage for summer and fall tours, a critically acclaimed new album, Joy, a four-night New Year’s Eve run in Miami, and a brisk nitrous trade outside arenas around the country. It’s like they never left!

Druggy digs aside, even among the band’s notoriously finicky phan base, the overwhelming sentiment suggests that not only is the band back, they’re as good as ever, if not better. What’s more, their return signaled the advent of a somewhat dubious technological advancement: Tweeting live concerts.

Unhappy Trails

Were it not for Anastasio and company hogging all the headlines, the split between Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and longtime bassist Bryan Dondero might have been this year’s most compelling — and messy — local music story. Dondero left the band in March, and it was hardly an amicable split. In the immediate aftermath, he somewhat cryptically revealed reasons for his exit in interviews with both Seven Days and the Burlington Free Press. But the story didn’t end there.

In July, Dondero unburdened himself further with an unflinching tell-all post on his blog, BryanDondero.com. In it he accused Potter of forcing him out of the band. The post caused an uproar in the blogosphere, prompting Dondero to remove it several days later. GPN’s management responded with an official statement, taking issue with several of Dondero’s claims and expressing frustration with “Bryan’s recent display of public disdain.”

So where are they now? Let’s just say Potter and Dondero probably didn’t exchange Christmas cards this year. GPN replaced Dondero with bassist Catherine Popper (Hem, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals), and also added Blues and Lasers guitarist Benny Yurco. Meanwhile, Dondero enjoyed a brief stint with local outfit Farm and has been playing semiregularly with various folks around town, most notably Joshua Panda. He will marry The Leaves’ front woman Aya Inoue in June 2010.

Copy That

If the Dondero-GPN saga was the messiest story of 2009, the fracas between Lendway and Ghosts of Pasha might have been the ugliest. Or at least the most convoluted. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

In September, Lendway released Lights Disappear in Yellow Smoke, a follow-up EP to their 2008 debut, The Low Red End. By most accounts, it was a solid sophomore effort, highlighted by the song, “New York, New York.” The only problem? Technically, it wasn’t their tune. A version of the song had appeared on a 2004 release by GOP, who own the tune’s copyright.

Following a 7D review of the EP, GOP founder Milo Finch alleged Lendway had used “New York, New York” without permission and without crediting its original songwriters. Now, here’s where things get really sticky.

Lendway front man Michael Clifford was briefly a member of GOP in 2002. By all accounts, he was involved in the initial “New York, New York” songwriting sessions. But how much input he actually had is disputed. GOP did not include Clifford as a songwriter when they registered ownership of the copyright with ASCAP. But the case could be made that they should have. As ex-GOP member Ezra Oklan said in a September 23 story in Seven Days, “Mike had a lot to do with that first session.”

Ultimately, Lendway agreed to remove the song from subsequent pressings and to shelve the remaining copies of the original EP, thereby avoiding potential legal action threatened by the remaining members of GOP. Still, it was an unfortunately handled situation by all parties. And one that probably could have been resolved with a simple phone call.

The moral of the story: Know your (copy)rights.

Other noteworthy events of 2009: Lowell Thompson and Crown Pilot were featured in Rolling Stone. Sort of. The band scored some serendipitous national love when their eponymous 2009 disc charted at Pure Pop Records the same week RS happened to choose the B-town indie shop for its regular “Local Favorites” feature. What’s that saying about timing? Screen-printing, indie-rock impresarios Tick Tick called it quits. The Queen City’s arbiters of awesome ceased music-booking operations in April, citing a perhaps inevitable burnout. Art director Graham Keegan maintained the screen-printing biz through the summer but has since moved to Los Angeles. Phish wasn’t the only big-name VT act to reunite. Back in action after a decade apart, heralded acid-jazz ensemble Belizbeha rocked this year’s Discover Jazz Fest. Oddly enough, it was the first (and last) Flynn MainStage performance of their storied career. The Jazz Guys said goodbye. After nearly a decade, the Queen City’s crown princes of pop hung ’em up in December. Finally! The Radio Bean’s expansion — rumored virtually since it opened nine years ago — came to fruition in the form of adjoining restaurant ¡Duino! (Duende), ushering in a new era at Burlington’s artistic epicenter. Da mus-ee-cal scene, indeed.