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Forever Live

Local luminaries recall their favorite concerts


Published October 20, 2004 at 4:00 a.m.

For music lovers, live concerts are like oxygen. That's why we rounded up some Vermont audio aficionados to wax rhapsodic about the best show they've ever attended. Read on... and wish you'd been there.

Patrick Mullikin, owner, Riverwalk Records, Montpelier:

The Strawberry Alarm Clock

The Strawberry Alarm Clock shared a bill in late 1967 at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium with a handful of groups I can't recall 37 years later. They were riding on the crest of what would be the band's only hit record, Incense and Peppermints, and the concert was MC'd by the venerable Casey Kasem. When it was the Strawberry Alarm Clock's turn to perform, the lights were dimmed, and each band member was borne aloft on the shoulders of pajama-clad servants while seated on huge silk pillows. They were paraded through the crowd Grand Poobah-style before being deposited on stage. Bongo-banging drummer Randy Seol had Bunsen-burner-like attachments on the back of each hand. Unfortunately, the flames would go out while playing; he spent most his stage time relighting the burners. The psychedelic era had arrived -- on the coattails of vaudeville!

Melo Grant, WRUV DJ, Burlington: Gang of Four

Most people would expect me to talk about a hip-hop show, since that's what I'm known for spinning, but I'm going to go with the Gang of Four circa 1979 or '80. I was a junior in high school in New York City, and one late night I was listening to a subversive radio station and the DJ played their entire album Entertain-ment. It was the first time that I became aware of the social and political messages that music can bring forth, as opposed to just shaking my ass in a club.

When the Gang of Four got added to a series of concerts sponsored by Pepsi on the pier in lower Manhattan, I was there. It was an amazing show, and the crowd was the most intense I've ever been in. The band did two encores and then the lights came up, but the crowd didn't leave. After they'd been screaming for 15 to 20 more minutes, lead singer John King came out, walked up to the mike and said, "Shut the fuck up!" The crowd got even louder -- I was yelling at the top of my lungs. They played one more tune, then I went home.

I lost my voice for about three days after that.

DANNY COANE, singer/guitarist, Starline Rhythm Boys, Montpelier: Red Smiley & the Bluegrass Cut-Ups

Oh, man -- my favorite concert ever? So many come to mind from way back, like The Osborne Brothers Trio at Thunder Road, The Supremes at Memorial Auditorium, Jerry Lee Lewis at the Flynn, the Everly Brothers at SPAC, Roy Orbison at Hunt's... For me, the list is long and it's hard to choose.

But one neat, small show has always stayed with me: Red Smiley & the Blue-grass Cut-Ups at the Williston School in '67 or '68. I had listened to them the night before on the "WWVA Jamboree," and they said they were coming up to Vermont. There were probably under a hundred people in the audience, but they were right there on that little stage just pickin' and singin' some of the most original bluegrass ever. Their show and presentation was totally pro all the way around. I can remember it like it was yesterday.

PETE GERSHON, editor, Signal to Noise magazine, Winooski: The Pants

The edgy pop rock of The Pants and the casual atmosphere of Club Toast were two of the best things about Burlington's music scene in the 1990s. Bidding a simultaneous farewell to both on New Year's Eve '98 in the company of great friends easily stands out as my most memorable concert experience.

The band roared and rampaged through some 40 songs over three long sets (plus a mini-set by James Kochalka Superstar) that lasted well past legal last call and into the wee hours of a frosty winter morning, as club owner Dennis Wygmans surfed above the happy hands of the capacity crowd, and as all libations remaining behind the bar were simply given away.

TROY PETERS, conductor, Vermont Youth Orchestra, Colchester: Prince

Specific sounds from great performances linger in my memory, months or even years later -- the wonderful brutality of Yo-Yo Ma playing Shostakovich or the final chord of an incendiary Brahms symphony on a cold night in Montreal. But one performance shines as the most vividly memorable: Prince at the Spectrum in Philadelphia in 1988. For most of the night, he strutted and screamed. But during a quiet, soulful reading of "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore," with the band offstage and Prince alone at the piano, everyone there lived the sorrow in his voice.

SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY, Washington, D.C.: Harry Chapin

We are blessed that so many talented artists love Vermont as much as we do, and among them are some of the finest people you'd ever want to know. They have given performances that I will never forget...

One such night that captured the union of artistry and humanity in a uniquely Vermont setting was an unforgettable concert in the late 1970s. It was a cold and snowy winter night near the holidays, and Harry Chapin had a very, very bad cold to boot.

Marcelle and I drove through the snowstorm to Rutland where Harry and his brother Tom were to perform a small benefit concert for the rescue services of the Killington Ski Patrol. Harry was at the top of his career and at the top of the charts, with songs like "Taxi" and "Cat's in the Cradle."

He played that auditorium against the pain and strain of his aching body; he played from his soul, and he played his heart out. Chapin had us laughing out loud one moment, then crying the next: Everyone -- from the janitors standing in the back to the corporate leaders sitting up front -- was riveted by each word and every chord. His talent, his connection with us, and the wintry setting blended with the richness of his selfless gift to our community -- producing emotions so powerful that they gripped everyone in the room. A rosy glow seemed to settle over each of us, and it stayed with us when we went our separate ways that night. It was, in a word, magic...

Harry and I continued to work together, trying to make a dent in the problem of hunger. He made a difference, and his work lives on through the World Hunger Year Foundation led by his wife Sandy and their daughter Jen -- now a talented musician in her own right.

Harry was taken from us a few short years later, in 1981, well before his time. I have many fond memories of Harry. But that was a concert that I will always remember. And so will the other Vermonters who heard Harry that snowy night in Rutland.

ERIC OLSEN, singer/guitarist for Swale, Led Loco and James Kochalka Superstar at Icebox Records, Burlington: "The metal years," 1983-85

Not one metal concert in particular, but all of them. They've become inseparable -- gloriously quotidian in a Spandex-and-leather sort of way. Ratt, at the Nassau Coliseum: Stephen Percy floors me by hocking a substantial loogie onstage while DiMartini solos beside him. I am changed. Shit, you can do that when you're a rock star... Fastway opens for almost every arena-touring metal band; I see them two dozen times without liking a single song!

Bands we wouldn't see: Van Halen (Eddie pussed-out with the keyboards), Motley Crue (Theater of Pain Tour), W.A.S.P. (friend's mother refused to take us).

At an Iron Maiden concert in 1984, I am initiated. It's my first trip to a metal-show men's room, and there are sweaty, smoky teenage boys packed like cattle, urinating everywhere: Sinks, garbage cans and the floor are all fair game... Lost in a world of wispy mustaches, acrylic pentagrams on denim jackets, and little bottles of Schnapps, things start to go unfocused and I begin to feel faint...

CHRIS JONES, owner/booking agent, Eclipse Theater, Waitsfield: 2003 Telluride Bluegrass Festival

So many things about the 25th anniversary of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2003 conspire to block out memories of other great concerts I have attended in my life. Although many of those shows were equally entertaining on a musical level, Telluride stands apart. Sure, all the new acoustic greats and living legends of Ameri-cana were on the lineup, but it was the peripheral elements that made this particular live musical experience truly memorable.

The whole of Telluride was greater than the sum of its parts: sunshine; starry nights; waking up to a masterful interpretation of Bach's overtures on two mandolins, banjo and cello; 13,000-foot peaks surrounding us; kinship with good-hearted people; and a new love with long, luminous red hair wearing nothing but the Bridal Veil Creek waterfall she was shrouded in. How could I ever forget?

ED BEMIS, WWPV DJ, jazz authority, Burlington: Charles Mingus

I've seen a lot of jazz shows, but one of the highlights was Charlie Mingus in Montreal, 1974. I was teaching a jazz class at UVM, and I liked to take my students up there. Our timing was kind of off -- there was a Daylight Savings situation because of the gas crisis. Mingus went on late, anyway, and then there was a second performance that we stayed for -- we didn't get out of there 'til four in the morning. But it was fantastic, and the students loved it.

The lineup was Mingus on bass, George Adams on tenor sax, Jack Walrath on trumpet and Danny Richmond drumming. It was one of the best Mingus performances I'd ever seen, and I've seen him a lot. The next morning I had to go to work, and I knew something was wrong when I sat down on the john and went to sleep!

PATTI CASEY, singer-songwriter, North Duxbury: Steppin' In It

Thinking back over shows, each one rests in a unique space in my memory, like different flavors. The most surprising and delightful show I've seen recently was in Nashville two years ago. It was an impromptu guerrilla showcase held in an elevator lobby at the Inter-national Folk Alliance. The group was called Steppin' In It -- a four-piece Michigan band with a wild array of instruments. They played dobro, upright bass, percussion, trombone, fiddle and accordion, as well as harmonicas and whistles. It was like stumbling across a highly organized accident. Their music was rootsy and unruly: a mix of blues, calypso, Cajun and Western swing. Their performance made me feel like I was witnessing some sort of heartfelt caricature of Americana music.

KELLY "NINJA" HORAN, booking goddess, The Waiting Room, Burlington: The Beta Band

The very best show that I ever saw was The Beta Band at Higher Ground -- their only Vermont appearance. Their multi-media, art-rock-electronic hybrid was the first I witnessed that truly satisfied me as a "professional" rock show audience member. The video coordination and costumes, as well as the fact that The Beta Band totally kicks musical ass, pushed the entire performance well above and beyond my expectations. I was also "on the list" for the first time in my life, after trading a bootleg copy of Photoshop to an employee at Pure Pop for a ticket!