The big story on the local entertainment front this week is undoubtedly the annual Magic Hat Mardi Gras Parade, set to kick off this Saturday, March 3, in downtown Burlington. The parade, now in its 17th year, has become one of the Queen City’s signature events. Every year, thousands of revelers jam our streets to cheer on the succession of floats, jostle for cheap plastic beads and moon pies, and, of course, get hammered at one of the innumerable Mardi Gras parties happening at venues all over town. [Note from our legal team: Please drink responsibly.]
In short, it’s kind of a big deal.
As such, the parade gets love in this column every year. And why not? It’s for a great cause — HOPE Works, formerly called the Women’s Rape Crisis Center. It delivers a much-needed infusion of late-winter cash into our downtown economy. And, generally speaking, it’s a good time. But, as I’m now entering my fifth year of penning this little corner of the paper — and that following several years in the employ of our local beer barons — I fear I’ve run out of things to say about Mardi Gras.
Sure, I could mention that Sambatucada! will warm up the crowd with pre-parade sets on Church Street in front of City Hall. But you probably already knew that, since the local Afro-Latin percussion ensemble does it every year — with good reason: They’re great. I could point you to the Marketplace top block where local wagon o’ funk, Funkwagon, will get their groove on in the early afternoon. They’re certainly worth your time and put on a hell of a live show. Ditto the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, a deliciously risqué troupe that will perform all along Church Street Saturday afternoon. And I’m sure those of you who are into jammy acoustic pop will enjoy Zach Deputy’s post-parade set on the top block, too.
Or I could go with a different angle and gripe about how the new parade route that runs down Main Street instead of up Church Street saps the event of some of its gleefully claustrophobic energy. I could take the city to task for banning alcohol in the parade staging area. (You know, because God forbid adults of legal drinking age might toss a couple back before, of all things, participating in a Mardi Gras parade sponsored by a beer company in Vermont in early March? Thanks a lot, puritans.) But those are minor complaints that wither when compared to the overall positive impact of the parade.
So … yeah. There’s not much to say about the Magic Hat Mardi Gras Parade that either hasn’t been said before or isn’t considered locally common knowledge. After 17 years, you know what to expect — the (sorta) unexpected. You know it will be crowded and frenzied and fun. You know it supports a good cause. You know parking will be a pain in the ass. You know there will be good music and performance art. And tipsy people — unless they were in the parade … grrr.
I guess the only thing left to say is that it’s pretty amazing how an event that started with but a handful of Magic Hat employees marching up Church Street in funny costumes 17 years ago has become the monster it is now. So much so that columnists like me don’t even need to tell you what’s so great about it. You already know.
Last week, I led with a riff about local comedians tearing up the Funniest Comic in New England Contest at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. To refresh your memories, Vermont comics killed it in the competition’s opening rounds. We advanced five local comedians to the preliminaries. Plus, two other comics with strong VT ties were among those original 20 contestants — out of a field of 200 who auditioned. Three local comedians, Ryan Kriger, Nathan Hartswick and Tony Bates, and VT expat Maya Manion made the semifinal round, held this past weekend. Unfortunately, none of our local funny people made it to the finals. Though in a recent email, Hartswick writes that the winner, Rhode Island’s Craig Boudria, was deserving of the crown. While it’s a bit of a bummer not to see our local favorites in the finals, the mere fact that so many VT comics not only made the competition — a feat in itself — but made such a strong collective showing is impressive. It speaks volumes about the increasing quality and quantity of standup comedy in Vermont.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend in Philadelphia emailed to tell me about a band she thought I’d really like called Toy Soldiers. The quintet has been making waves, both in the City of Brotherly Love and, increasingly, on a national level, warming up stages for the likes of Dr. Dog, Fitz and the Tantrums, the Walkmen, and Justin Townes Earle. The band recently began work on a new record with Dr. Dog producer Bill Moriarty and was kind enough to send along a few advance cuts. I gotta say, my friend was right on the money. I dig ’em — though in fairness, said friend knows I’m a sucker for rowdy, booze-fueled rock with healthy doses of dirty blues twang. If you share that affinity, make a point of catching the band this week. Toy Soldiers have three local shows: Thursday, March 1, at the Monkey House in Winooski; Friday, March 2, at Red Square; and Saturday, March 3, at 1/2 Lounge.
Another week, another Burlington Discover Jazz Festival announcement. BDJF just revealed that vocalist Dianne Reeves will headline the Flynn MainStage on June 9. The four-time Grammy Award winner is considered among the finest jazz vocalists in the world and most recently toured as part of a tribute to Nina Simone called “Sing the Truth,” also featuring Lizz Wright and AngÉlique Kidjo.
If waiting until June to unleash your jazz hands has you feeling antsy, fret not. 51 Main in Middlebury is debuting its own mini jazz fest this week. The weeklong festival features jazzy offerings every night, including the Chris Bakriges Trio on Wednesday, February 29; Yuki Takeda & Friends on Thursday, March 1; 17-piece Middlebury College’s Sound Investment Jazz Ensemble on Friday, March 2; and world guitar master Raphael Groton on Saturday, March 3.
Last but not least, it’s become something of a tradition in this column to announce when notable local musicians make babies. Plus, it helps us keep tabs on who’s gonna be in Burlington’s best new bands in 2030. But this birth announcement has particular significance for yours truly. Last Thursday, February 23, local bassist — and my younger brother — Tyler Bolles and his lovely wife, Kate Lasko, brought their second child, Griffin Bolles, into the world. If you recall, when their first son, Arlo, was born, I gave him his first hip-hop alias, R-Lo, because I thought it only fair his uncle should be the first music journo to write about him. In keeping with tradition, we’ll do the same for Griffin, but with a twist. Every good MC needs a good DJ. So say hello to DJ G-Riff. Welcome to the world, little homie.
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.
Andrew Bird, Break It Yourself
Brett Netson, Simple Work for the Dead
Oberhofer, Time Capsules II
The Lumineers, The Lumineers
Crushed Stars, In the Bright