Vermont will likely never be known as a comedic hotbed. Sure, we’ve got funny folks such as actors William H. Macy and Luis Guzman taking up part-time residence in our fair state. And of course, there’s the Green Mountains’ answer to Jeff Foxworthy: Rusty DeWees. But the chances that we’ll ever be able to support a vibrant comedy scene on par with, say, the improv circuit in Chicago, or the stand-up clubs of New York City and Los Angeles are pretty slim. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to laugh about here in the People’s Republic. I mean, just look at all the trust-fund hippies driving SUVs. That’s still pretty funny. Maybe not ha-ha funny, but I digress.
When we parted ways last week, I not so tactfully alluded to the fact that I had been asked to judge the final rounds of last weekend’s Higher Ground Comedy Battle. What qualifies a music critic to pass judgment on the efforts of stand-up comics? Absolutely nothing. But that’s hardly the point.
The evening featured 11 of the area’s finest comedy acts and, lo and behold, they were really good. And I don’t mean that they were good “for Vermont.” These guys and gals were genuinely funny and, for the most part, had the Ballroom’s standing-room crowd rolling in the aisles.
Taking the top prize — $200 and consideration for opening slots when big-name comics swing through town — was 20-year-old Johnson State College student Roger Miller. Displaying the easy delivery and confident stage presence of a seasoned professional, the creative-writing major “killed,” as they say in the biz. Witty and original, he was certainly deserving of the crown.
Also of note was Burlington comedian Alex Nief, whom Seven Days readers may remember from a 2005 story written by Ken Picard entitled “Exile on Church Street.” Brash and energetic, Nief was eerily reminiscent of Dane Cook, only, you know, funny.
Other finalists included dry-witted and wedding gown-clad Tracie Spencer, 16-year-old Mike Thomas — who was slightly derailed by the heckling of a particularly drunk woman in the front row — and Sam Kinison-reincarnate Pierre “The Beast” Vachon.
The evening was not without its low points, however. The so-called “Big Kahuna” of local comedy, Kevin Colacchio, after promising not to make any Heath Ledger jokes, promptly made one — something along the ingeniously clever lines of “Broke-ass Mountain,” I believe. Seriously, dude? Too soon. And, frankly, too dumb.
Lowbrow one-liners aside, it was a great night. Consider my funny bone tickled.
OPEN IT BACK UP
Last December, we reported that Montpelier’s Langdon Street Café had, to borrow a phrase from Buck Owens, “closed up the honky-tonk” and bid a fond farewell to Mark LeGrand’s popular “Honky-Tonk Happy Hour” series. Ensuing reports of cheatin’ hearts, broken-down pickup trucks and runaway dogs, though widespread, remain unconfirmed. However, it can be fairly assumed that more than a few tears wound up in more than a few beers following the cancellation of the Friday night capital-city staple.
Sadly, the heralded country troubadour has parted ways with long-time backing band The Lovesick Bandits, which is largely why the kissin’ cousin of Radio Bean’s “Honky-Tonk Tuesday” is no more. But when God closes a door, he opens a bottle of moonshine, and on Wednesday, February 6, he’ll probably need a whole jug. ’Cause that’s when LeGrand and friends — new and old, I imagine — debut “Honky-Tonk Hump Day.”
What happens when you play a country song backwards? Your truck starts, your dog and your woman come home and Mark LeGrand returns to play honky-tonk at Montpeculiar’s quirkiest live music haunt. Can I get a yee-haw?
KICKIN’ IT OLD-TIME
Speaking of Langdon Street, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the perfect pickin’ storm a-brewin’ in the shadow of the Golden Dome.
Burlington bluegrass stalwarts The Cleary Brothers have been relatively quiet lately. Perhaps they’ve been busy spawning more children to add to the ever-growing legion of musical Clearys running amok in the Green Mountains and beyond. If I were a von Trapp, I’d be very concerned.
Anyway, this Saturday the estimable bros team up at the cozy capital café with two of the region’s — if not the country’s — finest players: Smokin’ Grass guitarist Doug Perkins and mandolin marvel Jamie Masefield, creator of The Jazz Mandolin Project. Also joining in the fun will be an unnamed bassist whose name rhymes with “Byler Tolles” and is absolutely not related to a certain local music critic whose column you are currently reading . . . Ahem. Curse this small town!
Any of these folks would be well worth the price of admission on their own — in this case a donation. Give generously, dammit! The meeting of musical minds and fingers of this caliber is cause for a hoedown. Or is it a hootenanny?
R.I.P. ANDY PALACIO
It’s never a good thing to close on a sad note. So it is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of a truly inspiring musical figure, Belizean singer Andy Palacio.
Palacio was Garifuna. Described as “a nation across borders,” the culture is descended from shipwrecked African slaves who settled and mixed with Caribs along the eastern coast and islands of Central America. Palacio, a national icon in his native Belize, devoted the latter part of his prodigious career to preserving the rapidly vanishing music and traditions of his people. Most notably, his final album Watína was a stunning celebration of Garifuna roots music and was widely heralded as one of the finest world-music releases of 2007.
His was a daunting and thankless task. But the success of Watína sparked renewed interest among Garifuna youth, many of whom may never have had the desire to explore their rich ancestry.
Like the Garifuna themselves, the grief inspired by Palacio’s death extends well beyond the borders of Belize. Watína was released on Charlotte-based record label Cumbancha, founded by Jacob Edgar, the former vice president of A&R at world-music giant Putumayo. Additionally, Palacio was the first performer in the ongoing Putumayo & Cumbancha World Music Series at Higher Ground.
In a recent email, Edgar mourned Palacio’s passing more eloquently than any music scribe ever could. He writes: “In the Garifuna culture, the death of a loved one is an opportunity to celebrate their memory and rejoice in having been blessed to have had them in your life. We feel so fortunate to have known this incredible individual and we mourn the loss of truly great man.” Indeed.
Andy Palacio was 47.