Soundbites: ArtsRiot Throws a Benefit for Ukraine; the Young Guns of VT Hip-Hop Take Their Shot | Music News + Views | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Music » Music News + Views

Soundbites: ArtsRiot Throws a Benefit for Ukraine; the Young Guns of VT Hip-Hop Take Their Shot


  • Courtesy Of Alexandra Defurio Photography
  • Moira Smiley

Other than a certain tangerine-skinned former U.S. president, most of the planet is royally pissed off at Russian President/mob heavy Vladimir "I share a face with Dave Mustaine" Putin. The former KGB spy has really leaned into the current resurgence in '90s pop culture by starting up European land wars — namely, invading Ukraine. (Thanks, asshole. What's next, a new Sugar Ray record?)

Never ones to suffer bullies, Vermont musicians are doing what they can to help the people of Ukraine. This Saturday, March 19, ArtsRiot in Burlington is the scene for a Ukraine benefit show featuring great local music, a raffle and a silent auction.

The lineup is stellar: Barbacoa, Ivamae, Brett Hughes, Moira Smiley and Lowell Thompson are just some of the many Vermont musicians taking the stage. Tickets are $10, though everyone is encouraged to donate more if able. All proceeds go to nonprofits Razom for Ukraine and World Central Kitchen.

Jess Messer, a former human rights worker who owns Savouré, a soda, jam and pickle business in Bristol; and Meg Rupert, a copy editor and speech language pathologist, conceived the benefit. The two friends were restless and felt the need to act rather than just donate and repost things on social media.

"Since I'm not at a point in my life that I can jump on a plane to Kyiv and start making Molotov cocktails," Messer wrote in an email to Seven Days, "I thought, If this was Vermont, who would be the person to co-plan an insurgency? I immediately texted Meg."

Rupert, who, like Messer, has friends in Kyiv, replied all but instantly with a "Hell, yes." The two got right down to putting together a concert, hoping to raise some much-needed cash for humanitarian aid in Ukraine and demonstrate support from Vermont.

"We started by messaging our musician and artist friends," Rupert wrote, also by email. "Within days, we heard from not just the people we had contacted ourselves, but so many other people — businesses, musicians, restaurants, and artists who had heard about the event and wanted to be involved."

The two hope that the combination of ticket sales, donations, auctions and a raffle will not only give Ukrainians financial support but also serve as what Rupert calls a "big love letter from the state of Vermont in support of Ukraine."

"Vermont has an incredible history of welcoming refugees," Messer wrote. "We all have friends, neighbors, and coworkers here who have fled the Putins of the world. We need to stand as a community in solidarity against aggression and tyranny."

Like Rupert said: Hell, yes.

Leaders of the New School

  • Courtesy
  • SSGKobe

One of the first lessons musicians and promoters learn about the local music scene is that if you want to make something special happen, you have to hustle. Don't look at me like I'm Kim Kardashian. I'm just saying: DIY in Burlington is king. You have to fight off the nagging doubts and setbacks that will plague the process. There are oodles of creative people in the area but fewer resources to support big ideas, so force of will plays a huge part.

Regardless of the project, I get excited when I see a crew trying to pull off something big. That's exactly what Kelly Butts-Spirito is doing with his latest Love, Kelly event. The 22-year-old former Burlington High School student and filmmaker has focused his vision on Vermont's young hip-hop artists — many of whom come from his alma mater — and put together a show Butts-Spirito calls "the best hip-hop concert of the year."

I'm not going to wade into a debate about that claim, but there's no doubt Butts-Spirito is bringing a lot of up-and-coming talent to the Higher Ground Ballroom on April 16, with a stacked lineup of young MCs. He's also using the show as a talent search of sorts, utilizing social media to find the best college rappers. (More on that in a minute.)

Headlining the show is Louisiana rapper SSGKobe, whom Butts-Spirito calls "the biggest young superstar in the entire world right now." Obviously, Butts-Spirito, in his zest, has the gift of ... let's call it over-ebullience. But there's no denying that SSGKobe is having a moment. The 18-year-old recently signed with Columbia Records and dropped "thrax," a slice of emo-rap reminiscent of XXXTentacion, with distorted, auto-tuned vocals.

"He is the next star in the industry," Butts-Spirito asserted in an email. "He is truly running the underground right now."

Joining SSGKobe as co-headliner is local kid North Ave Jax, who, fresh from signing with Interscope Records imprint LVRN, just released his latest single and video, "Play Dumb." Rich Amiri rounds out the top billers. He's a Boston rapper whose track "Walk In" went viral, garnering more than 500,000 plays on SoundCloud since it dropped in January.

"That dude will be headlining anywhere he goes by the end of the year," Butts-Spirito wrote.

The Burlington High School connection is strong; joining Butts-Spirito and North Ave Jax are fellow alumni the King Cobras, an all-female hip-hop dance troupe, as well as current students Kami Ok! and HAKIMXOXO.

Also on the bill is local comedian/pundit/musician/Miro Weinberger-hater Jonny Wanzer, who will perform his viral hit "Old North End Anthem." (No word on whether to expect a Horace Wallace sighting.)

Now here's the other intriguing part: The show's opening act has yet to be selected, and Butts-Spirito wants to know what local colleges have for game.

It's fitting that a show dedicated to exposing underground hip-hop comes with its own talent search. Butts-Spirito is asking college artists to submit their music via TikTok and Instagram by tagging either Butts-Spirito, North Ave Jax or SSGKobe at @itslovekelly, @northavejax or @ssgkobe, respectively. Contestants should also add "I am submitting to the Love, Kelly concert" on their posts. Any aspiring MCs who want to kick off the Higher Ground show have until March 21 to throw their hat in the ring. The winner will be chosen by that most 21st century of ways: the will of the online masses.

Butts-Spirito himself will handle host duties for the evening and said he can't wait to showcase the young faces of Vermont hip-hop.

"This show is really a one of a kind event," he wrote.


Let the seriously-what-the-fuck-is-going-on-down-in-Brattleboro mystique continue! The southern Vermont city, launching pad for killer bands over the years such as King Tuff and Barishi, has another feather in its cap with the continued ascent of Thus Love. The post-punk trio recently signed with indie label Captured Tracks, earning it a shout in Rolling Stone a few weeks ago. Though we'll have to wait until the fall for a full-length debut, the band has released a video for its first single, "Inamorato." Landing somewhere between Bauhaus and Sonic Youth, the song is "a tale of refusing to give into dark thoughts, even when facing the grimmest of circumstances," writes the label.

Indie folk act Cricket Blue have released a new single, which is also their submission to NPR's Tiny Desk Contest. In "Supplanter," the duo of Laura Heaberlin and Taylor Smith harmonize voices and guitars throughout a bittersweet lament for the fading memory of love lost. The song goes from pastoral folk to baroque prog in under five minutes, growing in darkness as the tune concludes. It's another starkly beautiful song by the Burlington act. Best of luck in the contest!

There's some hardcore bluegrass going down at the Jericho Café & Tavern on Saturday, March 19. The VT Bluegrass Pioneers bring in special guest Jon "Baltimore Johnny" Glik, who will be in Vermont to record with the band. Glik played fiddle with heavyweights such as Del McCoury, Frank Wakefield, David Grisman and Walter Hensley.