This past Saturday’s 10th-anniversary bash for beloved Burlington café Radio Bean was quite the shindig. Free coffee, a packed house from the early morning to, well, the really early morning and 100 — count ’em! — bands playing throughout the day. True to form, Bean owner Lee Anderson doesn’t half-ass anything … well, except maybe this one teensy little thing.
Though the mood in the jam-packed java joint was largely celebratory, there was a nervous tension in the air, stemming from something disturbing written in “the” Seven Days. And, no, for once I didn’t write it. Ahem.
Anderson placed a small ad in last week’s issue (page 22), essentially asking Burlingtonians to dig deep and make a financial contribution to help keep his business afloat. As he puts it in the typewritten ad, “The Bean is under unprecedented financial stress (a.k.a. in deep shit).”
Sadly, he ain’t kidding.
In addition to the financial pressures of expanding and opening ¡Duino! (Duende), the now legendary manner in which Anderson was forced to open the Bean — maxing out credit cards to the tune of $45K — seems to be catching up with the little café that could. Credit cards, of course, are fucking evil, and, especially when you’re young and have no credit history — as Anderson did not at the time — typically carry absurd interest rates. In the last decade, the Bean’s credit-card debt has nearly doubled. While $85K might not be a crippling sum to certain businesses, it certainly is to tiny hipster haunts that cater to musicians, writers and artists.
This isn’t the first time the Bean has felt a fiscal pinch, but it could be the most dire. Anderson says he’s had offers for silent partners over the years but has been reluctant to agree for fear of compromising the Bean’s autonomy. So his solution was to appeal to the community.
“I’m fighting to have Radio Bean be what it is without having to take on a partnership with money that, the way I see it, could only negatively affect us,” he says. “There would inevitably be stipulations about how the place is run. I feel that the profit motive would eventually trump the people motive.
“We’re not a nonprofit,” he continues, “but it’s an investment in something that I would choose to keep doing for years. I just don’t know how to without the benevolence of people I know can’t afford it.”
The kicker is that Radio Bean, according to Anderson, actually makes money and is a successful business. But the looming weight of those high-interest credit cards is potentially fatal, leaving the prospect of another anniversary bash 10 years from now — or even a year from now — very much in question.
“I feel like Radio Bean is a gift that I’ve given Burlington, in a lot of ways,” he says. “And Burlington has given me the gift of itself. It’s an exchange that I’m really happy to be involved in.”
Judging by the scene at the Bean last Saturday, the feeling is mutual, Lee.
- Perhaps due to our largely rural environs, or maybe our often depressing weather, Vermont suffers no shortage of quality Americana and singer-songwriter acts. Recently, the state’s rustic roots cred has received something of a shot in the arm thanks to newbie promo company Bluebird Productions. The Colchester-based PR outfit reps, or has worked with, a number of notable local singer-songwriter types, including Aaron Flinn, Gregory Douglass and Edie Carey. Bluebird also recently released a nice little sampler CD, Vicissitudes, Vol. 2: Vermont Americana, that was distributed at the recent Americana Music Association conference in Nashville. The disc features choice tunes from the likes of Diane Zeigler, Colin McCaffrey, Lowell Thompson and Douglass — not sure when he became “Americana,” but whatever. This Sunday at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge, Bluebird is spreading its wings a bit more with a Vermont Americana showcase featuring songwriters Patrick Fitzsimmons, Amber deLaurentis, Justin Levinson, Lisa Piccirillo and a few as-yet-unnamed special guests. Yee-haw.
- Speaking of Vermont Americana, longtime and long underappreciated alt-country tunesmith Bow Thayer has seen his star ascend of late. Most recently, he and his band Perfect Trainwreck were invited to appear at “Imagine There’s No Hunger,” a charity event hosted by Ringo Starr in celebration of John Lennon’s music. The show, held on Tuesday, November 2, at the Hard Rock Café in Los Angeles, featured a slew of living music legends, including Joe Walsh and Booker T. Jones. I’m guessing Thayer will have a story or two to tell about the evening when his outfit drops by the Tupelo Music Hall later this month — presumably without any Beatles in tow.
- Band Name of the Week: Pet Ghost Project. This Brooklyn-based experimental indie-rock outfit has received a decent amount of attention on the Interwebs for its unusual approach to composition, anchoring unwieldy sonic shenanigans to tightly wound pop songcraft. They’ve got two VT dates this weekend: Friday at Radio Bean with local indie darlings Villanelles, and Saturday at the Monkey House with Hello Shark, Sean Hood and Valleys.
- Speaking of Hello Shark, they fucking rock. That is all.
- Welcome back, Phil Yates. The songwriter, who got his start playing open mics at the Rhombus Gallery in Burlington back in 1999, recently returned to the Queen City after living in LA, Chicago and Charleston, S.C. He’s got a new band, Phil Yates & the Affiliates, with the Dirtminers’ Raph Worrick, Bad Suit’s Kevin Stevens and fellow recent BTV transplant, Dev Jana. Check ’em out along with openers Sunshine Slevth, this Monday at the Monkey House. And, a word to the wise should you go: I highly recommend you request they play “Ninjas vs. Zombies (Let’s Keep Our Heads).” You’ll thank me later.
- While we’re at it, welcome back, Joshua Panda. The travelin’ soul man plays his first local shows since this summer’s Lake Champlain Maritime Festival — and last until New Year’s Eve — this Friday at Two Brothers Tavern in Middlebury and this Saturday at Parima, with ES Guthrie opening.
- Among all the locally produced albums I’ve listened to in 2010, Get a Life by the Crack Up has earned a special place in my heart and in my iPod rotation. It’s one of those records that reveals new layers just when you think you’ve got it figured out. But I guess that’s what happens when you set a bunch of improv-jazz players loose on some boozy indie rock. Live performances from these cats are rare, so do yourself a solid and catch them at the Monkey House this Friday with Communipaw and Son of the Sun.
- This next show is near and dear to my heart for a few reasons. One, it features the lovely and talented Anaïs Mitchell, which is always a good thing, as far as I’m concerned. Two, our very own righteous babe will be joined by Horse Feathers, who played one of the first shows I ever “officially” reviewed for 7D — and was also where I met the super-cool kids from late, great booking collective Tick Tick. I really miss those guys. Anyway, HF have gone on to become a personal favorite indie-folk outfit, not to mention something of a national success. Those two things are probably not related … Anyway, swing by the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge on Wednesday, November 10. Locals Paper Castles open — another good thing!
- Last but not least, Nectar’s Bluegrass Thursdays series has been a smashing success, packing the joint on a weekly basis with an assortment of top local and regional picking talent. This week, the House That Phish Built raises the bar even higher with noted grass-kicking road warriors Cornmeal, who, over the last decade, have established themselves as one of the country’s finest progressive-grass bands.
And once again, this week’s totally self-indulgent column segment, in which I share a random sampling of what was on my iPod, turntable, CD player, 8-track player, etc. this week.