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Burlington Discover Jazz Festival Goes Virtual

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Robert Randolph and the Family Band performing at the 2015 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival - COURTESY OF BRIAN MACDONALD
  • Courtesy Of Brian Macdonald
  • Robert Randolph and the Family Band performing at the 2015 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival

ReDiscovery Channel

With which cliché phrase should I start this week's column, the one that's historically all about what to do and who to see at the annual Burlington Discover Jazz Festival? If you'd like me to begin with, "Under normal circumstances...," press 1. If you'd rather read the words, "In simpler times...," press 2. And if you'd prefer, "Before life on Earth became a nightmarish death trap where people had to choose between exercising their right to free speech and staying isolated to avoid infection from a deadly disease that is still very much ravaging all corners of the planet...," press 3. I guess that last one isn't really a cliché, just a grim reality.

As you must know by now, the live, in-person version of the BDJF, which typically kicks off the first weekend of June, was canceled back in April. But the enterprising minds behind the cherished music marathon put their heads together to come up with a solution to carry on the tradition: the Burlington ReDiscover Jazz Festival. The mostly online fest — tagline: 11 Days of Virtual Music and Real Food — runs from Thursday, June 4, through Sunday, June 14. (Food and drink specials offered at various local eateries, of course, are the only elements not happening via TV and the web.)

"I feel good about how everything came together, and we've got solid programming coming up," said BDJF managing director Chelsea Lafayette. She was specifically referring to a series of shows recorded at the Flynn Space during the 2015 and 2016 festivals that are scheduled to air this week on Vermont PBS and comprise the bulk of the digital offerings. Plus, Ray Vega, host of Vermont Public Radio's Friday Night Jazz, lines up several additional days of content centered on artists who have played the festival over the years.

Vermont PBS will air sets from the Aaron Goldberg Trio, the Mimi Jones Band, Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet, Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld, Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio, the Christian McBride Trio, Joe Locke performing his album Love Is a Pendulum, the Ingrid Jensen Quintet, the Marcus Roberts Trio, Jacob Garchik performing his album Ye Olde, the Rodriguez Brothers, the Jimmy Greene Quartet, and the Jenny Scheinman and Myra Melford Duo. Programs are set to air multiple times. Check Facebook and flynncenter.org for a complete schedule.

"I saw every single one of these performances [live]," wrote Flynn artistic director Steve MacQueen in an email. He emphasized that the Flynn Space, with its modest square footage and low ceilings, frequently has the most palpable energy of the festival's many venues: "It's very rare that you'll see someone phone it in during a Flynn Space show."

Statue of Big Joe Burrell - COURTESY OF BRIAN MACDONALD
  • Courtesy Of Brian Macdonald
  • Statue of Big Joe Burrell

MacQueen will host interviews via Zoom with several of the aforementioned artists, including McBride, Roberts, Jensen, Scheinman and Aldana. He noted that, because of the format, the live interviews will be "a bit more casual and off-the-cuff than the onstage-in-front-of-an-audience version" that festival attendees have come to expect.

Also, when pressed for personal recommendations about which broadcasts to check out, MacQueen highlighted some great things about several of this week's televised specials: the sense of joy that McBride brings to his music; Roberts' rendition of the standard "Cherokee"; and Scheinman and Melford's duet, noting that "they play together so telepathically that it's practically like eavesdropping on a conversation."

The festival's hard pivot to virtual events because of the pandemic has led to some in-depth conversations about accessibility, according to Lafayette. She pointed out that financial accessibility has long been a concern, given the hefty ticket price for some of the fest's marquee headliners. That was part of the reason BDJF teamed up with Vermont PBS in 2015 and 2016 to make cost-prohibitive shows available to view via public television. Digital content is also more accessible to people with physical disabilities.

"Accessibility is going to be an interesting topic coming out of this," said Lafayette.

Lafayette also mentioned that she'd personally been digging through the festival archives and that several VHS tapes containing footage from the original 1984 BDJF, as well as the 1989 and 1990 festivals, are currently being converted to streaming video. Look for those on Facebook later this week.

"It's been cool to dive through history and hear people's stories," she said.

The First One Bites the Dust

Well, shit. The inevitable has happened: Revelry Theater, the scrappy, fringy alternative comedy venue in Burlington's South End, has closed indefinitely. As Seven Days' Margaret Grayson reported on Sunday, it's the first local performing arts venue to fully shutter its doors, as opposed to the temporary closures the pandemic has forced on businesses of all kinds.

I've been wondering when the first domino would fall, and I'm sad to say that I expected it to be one of Vermont's smaller venues. (Revelry can only accommodate 35 heads.) But it's particularly painful to see the Howard Street theater go, specifically because of its fearlessly weird and audacious shows.

Pardon the pun, but I reveled in the fact that Burlington's comedy scene had grown so large that it could support not one but two spaces designated solely to merriment — the other being the Vermont Comedy Club.

I don't have any suggestions about how to make sure we don't lose more arts spaces. Give them your money if you can, I guess. I'm just sad.

Strange Folk

Looking for a new quarantine challenge? The Vermont Folklife Center and Middlebury College Special Collections just announced a neat one called the Vermont Folklife Archive Challenge. The ethnographically inclined nonprofit center is asking musicians to delve into its online digital collections of audio recordings to find an inspiring piece. Artists are tasked with re-creating the original in any manner that pleases them. The challenge is based on a similar one spearheaded by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

"We'd love to hear your doom metal versions of ballads like 'Young Charlotte,' your EDM takes on old New England fiddle tunes like 'Crystal Schottische,' or your straight-up renditions of 'C'était une bergère,'" the Vermont Folklife Center's Bob Hooker wrote in a press release.

Once artists have completed their new works, they're tasked with posting them online using the hashtag #vtarchiveschallenge. All of the collections, including Middlebury's Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection, are free to access.

Listening In

If I were a superhero, my superpower would be the ability to get songs stuck in other people's heads. Here are five songs that have been stuck in my head this week. May they also get stuck in yours.

Mark Ronson, "Pretty Green (Featuring Santigold)"

Lady Gaga, "Stupid Love"

Hi-Five, "She's Playing Hard to Get"

From Pete's Dragon, "Brazzle Dazzle Day"

Queens of the Stone Age, "The Way You Used to Do"

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