Well, shit. Two weeks ago, we reported on an odd story brewing out of White River Junction that gave rise to speculation that the Tupelo Music Hall may not be long for the world. To jog your memory, our report was based on a story originally published on May 24 by the Valley News [“Tupelo Music Hall Struggling”], which had been sent a press release by the club’s then-marketing-director, Charlie Dent. In it, Dent stated that the club would be forced to close this summer due to financial shortcomings. The only problem was, according to club owner Scott Hayward, that missive was internal and never meant for public eyes.
The day before the Valley News story ran, Hayward sent a letter to customers denying the veracity of the VN piece and Dent’s press release — Dent was subsequently fired — though he acknowledged the club was indeed struggling to remain financially viable and that he was looking for ways to ensure it remained opened — taking on new investors, divine intervention, etc. It was a strange and unsettling string of events that cast uncertainty around the fate of the Upper Valley’s marquee club.
In another letter to customers last week, Heyward confirmed the club will close its doors on Saturday, August 4, after roughly two years of operation. If you’ve never been, you have seven chances between now and then, including a performance by Ben Taylor — James’ son — this Friday, July 13, and songwriter Ana Popovic on Saturday, July 14.
With the closing of Langdon Street Café in Montpelier last year — not to mention Lamb Abbey before that — Tupelo’s impending departure continues a disturbing trend of venues outside Chittenden County being apparently untenable. Obviously, the financial challenges of owning and operating a music venue, regardless of location, are significant. But it’s puzzling that in a statewide community that prides itself on supporting the arts, we continue losing significant venues.
In Tupelo’s case, one could speculate on a number of reasons that led to its demise. Ticket prices generally trended steeper than at other area venues. Even though customers could theoretically save a few bucks thanks to the club’s BYOB policy, it’s fair to suggest sticker shock might be a factor when staring at a $45 tag for, say, Dark Star Orchestra this Tuesday, July 17. By comparison, the Grateful Dead tribute band’s May 7 show at Higher Ground sold for $22 in advance and $25 on the day of the show. That’s not an ideal example since DSO’s upcoming TMH show is, in fact, sold out — perhaps aging hippies in the Upper Valley have more disposable income. But that price disparity was not unusual. And given an economic climate in which people tend to be more frugal with their entertainment dollars, that’s a tough sell.
Another possible factor was that the club’s booking strategy skewed older, presumably to cater to the demographic around WRJ and nearby New Hampshire. Lining up aging folk singers is fine and dandy, but rarely did the venue book shows that might entice younger music fans farther afield to make the trek. That’s a big chunk of the music-loving public to ignore. Then again, LSC catered almost exclusively to a younger crowd and didn’t make it, either. (Note to self: Never buy a nightclub.)
Regardless of the reasons why, it’s a shame Tupelo Music Hall didn’t work out. Armed with a state-of-the-art sound system, it’s one of the best-sounding rooms in Vermont. It’s also unfortunate for a region with comparatively few nighttime entertainment options to lose another one. Bummer.
In his letter to TMH customers, Hayward writes that he’s working with the building’s landlord to find a new tenant, so maybe some brave soul will pick up where Tupelo is leaving off. In the meantime, thanks to Heyward and company for giving it a go.
In lighter news, the cool kids from MSR Presents are throwing a combination fashion show and rock concert at Main Street Landing in Burlington this Saturday, July 14, dubbed Crosswalk: A Fashion Show Styled by Sound. Local sonic stylists including Parmaga, Barbacoa and DJ Disco Phantom will provide the tunes while models strut the catwalk clad in cool duds from local designers. The show is a benefit for COTS, which recently had its day station ravaged by the apocalyptic thunderstorm that blew through on July 4. Apparently, God likes to go bowling on Independence Day. Who knew? Anyway, the show is certainly for a good cause, and a ticket from the gig gets you in free to the rocktastic after-party at Signal Kitchen later that night with Deleted Scenes, the Cave Bees, Persian Claws and Spirit Animal.
If you were to make a list of the most important rock albums of the last 20 years, Nirvana’s Nevermind would have to be at or near the top. The Seattle grunge band’s second studio record was among the most influential albums of its time and remains an all-time classic. This Saturday, July 14, at Nectar’s a local quartet calling itself Lounge Act will pay tribute that monumental record. The band features some notable local rock talent including Rough Francis’ Bobby Hackney Jr., Swale’s Eric Olsen, Blue Button’s Jason Cooley and Heloise & the Savoir Faire’s James Bellizia. The show’s poster might feature the single most disturbing image on a local flyer since Swale’s facial-mashup poster some years back. Also on the bill are Lendway, Swale and Dino Bravo — one of whom simply has to do Weird Al’s “Smells Like Nirvana,” right?
In other news, go fuck yourself, cancer. Fortunately, more courageous folks than I have more helpful ways of combating the disease than lobbing profanities at it. Like Zac Clark, for example. The Burlington-based songwriter is set to release his new album, Young Volcanoes, on Co-Op Records. He’ll be celebrating the release of that album with a show at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge this Thursday, July 12. But get this: Fans who order the album through his page on pledgemusic.com will see 20 percent of their purchase go to the Cancer Patient Support Program, which is, well, exactly what it sounds like. The organization helps cancer patients and their families with everything from financial assistance to counseling to dietary consultation. Clark’s connection is personal — his mother died of cancer 10 years ago — and in a recent email he writes that’s he’s been searching for a way to honor her memory and help similarly affected families since she passed. This seems like an appropriate and awfully touching way to do it.
Michael Chorney’s latest project, Dollar General, is set to release its debut album, Dispensation of the Ordinary. What little I’ve heard of the record sounds like quite a departure from Chorney’s recent efforts. The album’s first single, “Raft,” available at michaelchorney.bandcamp.com, is a sublime slice of atmospheric Americana, with shimmering pedal steel and dovetailing vocal harmonies shading Chorney’s folk-centric musings. I dig it. A lot. The band celebrates the release with a show Saturday at Nutty Steph’s in Middlesex, July 14. It also features Wooden Dinosaur. Oh, and free bacon. Really.
New band alert! The gents from local punk band Y69 have started a new band called Red Clover and the Hermit Thrush. Not very punk sounding, is it? That’s because it’s not a punk band. Rather, the trio boasts a ragged country sound sort of akin to when Social Distortion’s Mike Ness went twangy. It’s country fueled by punk swagger. The band will debut at Radio Bean this Friday, July 13.
Last but not least, the Magic Hat Brewing Company debuts a new summer festival its brewery in South Burlington this Saturday, July 14, called Summer Sessions. The lineup includes Dead Sessions, Wolfman Conspiracy, Jamie Kent and Jeh Kulu. And beer.
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, eight-track player, etc., this week.
Jay Farrar, Anders Parker, Yim Yames and Will Johnson, New Multitudes
Woody Guthrie, This Land Is Your Land: The Asch Recordings Volume 1 (Happy birthday, Woody!)
Deleted Scenes, Young People’s Church of the Air
Patrick Watson, Adventures in Your Own Backyard