- Courtesy Of Luke Awtry Photography
- Matthew Mercury
Part of being in a music scene is dreaming big. It doesn't matter if it's a traditional jazz outfit or a trip-hop collective made up of all furries, just about every artist or promoter I've interacted with over the years seems to have some sort of grand scheme or big idea. (OK, I was making up the whole trip-hop furries thing, but you were totally about to google it.) Hell, that's how things like Waking Windows, the Old North End Ramble and the Radio Bean Birthday Bash got started in the first place.
I remember an idea my band used to scheme about: a musicians-only basketball tournament at Memorial Auditorium — back when such a thing was feasible in the now sadly shuttered civic center. The gist was that bands would play each other in half-court games in a bracket-style tournament. Each losing team had to jump on the stage at the other end of the court and play music for the next game until a champion emerged.
The idea obviously never took off. Aside from the cool music aspect of it, we quickly ascertained that the number of people interested in watching a bunch of local musicians play basketball was somewhere in the vicinity of zero. I do recall that we went as far as working out which bands we'd attack in the post (we would have destroyed Blue Button on the glass!) and whether or not we would attempt a zone defense to cover up our lack of a big man in the middle. The only musician I recall being excited about it other than us was fellow sports dork Dan Ryan.
Fortunately, some of the big ideas do come to fruition. For example, take the Holiday Extravaganza at Foam Brewers in Burlington this Saturday, December 17. Originally conceived in 2017 by Rob Liu and the late, great Noise Ordinance production crew, the show features a ton of Burlington acts all playing their favorite holiday tunes.
The first two jams were held at SideBar in downtown Burlington before the extravaganza moved to ArtsRiot for a single iteration in 2019 — RIP (for now) to both venues. In 2021, Foam Brewers and musician/promoter Dan Kruglak took over the event.
"Rob Liu is one of my closest friends," Kruglak told me in an email. "So when the holiday season came around last year, I asked for his blessing to take the event over to Foam and keep the tradition going."
Kruglak has taken the holiday bash up a notch. This year's show features a record 23 acts playing more than seven hours of holiday music, including traditional favorites and brand-new stuff written for the occasion/season. The lineup is seriously hefty, featuring some of the area's best, such as rockers Matthew Mercury, neo-soul singer-songwriter Ivamae, folk-pop act Troy Millette & the Fire Below, jazz collective the Discussions and many, many more.
While the show sounds like a nightmare to put together, Kruglak insisted the coordination is actually rather easy. He attributed that to a scene of musicians who are accustomed to playing together, sharing gear and communicating ahead of time.
"I try my absolute hardest to not have any repeats being played," Kruglak said, noting that he asks all the acts to send him a list of their planned tunes a few weeks before the show so he can work out who gets which song.
It's a fun night full of great holiday music, but a big part of the appeal to local musicians is getting to actually hang out with each other.
"Many of the people who are playing don't get to go out on weekends and see each other's shows," Kruglak wrote, pointing out that the bands are usually playing simultaneously around town. "So getting a lot of these people under the same roof is kind of like a holiday staff party for the music scene itself!"
It's not all standard tunes, either. For every rendition of "The Little Drummer Boy" or "Christmas in Hollis," there are more creative takes on holiday classics.
Kruglak recalled a few years back when he dressed up as Santa Claus to belt out a cover of Metallica's "Enter Sandman," but rewritten to be Santa-centric — "Enter Santa," of course.
"I was able to get a full band to back me for that," he recalled. "We had some headbanging!"
Attendees also might just catch a band debuting brand-new holiday music, like when Savage Hen unleashed their brutal Christmas concept record, The Red, at the 2018 Extravaganza.
For a full list of acts, pop over to foambrewers.com.
The Saxophone and the Quilt
- Courtesy Of Lafoi Faith Awotho
- Big Joe Burrell exhibit
Some of the state's most important music history is on display at the Vermont Statehouse through the end of January, thanks to Burlington's nonprofit music development organization Big Heavy World.
First up is a saxophone that belonged to blues legend Big Joe Burrell: a 1942 King Zephyr alto sax, to be precise. Last year, Big Heavy World purchased three of Burrell's saxophones to become, as executive director Jim Lockridge described, "public cultural treasures." This included the King Zephyr alto sax, which has the late musician's name engraved on it.
Burrell, a former member of the B.B. King Orchestra, spent more than three decades playing music in Vermont, forming the legendary crew the Unknown Blues Band with Paul Asbell. One of the most popular acts in Vermont during its run, the Unknown Blues Band called it quits in 2002, three years before Big Joe passed away.
- Courtesy Of Luke Awtry Photography
- Commemorative quilt made for UVM Lane Series
Also getting the museum treatment is a commemorative quilt, first started in 1996 and completed in 2000, celebrating almost 70 years of the University of Vermont Lane Series. The long-running music series was established at UVM in 1955 as a memorial to George Bishop Lane, who founded the school newspaper, the Vermont Cynic. While primarily known now as a chamber music series featuring jazz, classical and traditional folk, the series has a storied history of bringing some of the greatest (and biggest) musicians on the planet to Burlington in a wide range of genres.
To celebrate that history, the aforementioned quilt was commissioned and eventually emblazoned with the signatures of some of the most notable musicians to grace the Lane stage. Among the many, many names found scrawled on the fabric are Yo-Yo Ma, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Doc Watson and Wynton Marsalis.
"The quilt shows the depth and breadth of programming that the Lane Series has brought since our founding," wrote Lane Series director Natalie Neuert in a press release, adding that the series "has always been a force in the world of live performance."
Lockridge sees both the saxophone and the quilt as proof of Vermont's broad impact in the arts.
"They illuminate Vermont's status as a cultural crossroads and the wide-reaching appreciation Vermonters have for the performing arts," he wrote.
Fare Thee Well
- Courtesy Of Luke Awtry Photography
- Father Figuer
As reported previously, indie rockers Father Figuer are kissing Burlington goodbye. They've since scheduled a farewell show on Friday, December 30, at Radio Bean in Burlington.
I tend not to get too choked up by Burlington bands flying the coop — it's almost a feature of the scene, really. I always wish them well, and, often enough, we see them again in one form or another.
I'll miss Father Figuer a little more than most, though. The band's last two records, the full-length 2021 album Jack of All Fruits and this year's F F EP, were two of my favorite local releases in the past few years. Between singer and guitarist Erin White's haunting vocals and the band's DIIV-meets-Lush sonic approach, their music was some of the most beautiful and unsettling stuff to come out of Burlington in a long time.
I'll be sad to see them go, but it's always nice to get a farewell show for some closure. See you there!