Well, folks. It’s official. We’re in the period of the calendar I’ve come to refer to as the Winter Doldrums. That’s the time from roughly mid-January until, say, Valentine’s Day — St. Patrick’s Day in some years — when there just ain’t a whole hell of a lot going on in the local music scene. Oh, sure, there are some highlights here and there. Phosphorescent at ArtsRiot this Monday, February 3, comes to mind. (See my piece on the band for more about that.) But because the weather makes going out frequently a tough sell, truly notable shows are few. And because many artists use this time of the year to write and record, the stream of great new local albums tends to slow to a trickle.
However, the Winter Doldrums also affords us a chance to engage in one of my favorite down-time activities: fucking around. So on that note, I present a scatterbrained and scattershot edition of Soundbites, only partially inspired by my creeping cabin fever. Buckle up.
Last Friday, January 24, Grace Potter announced via Twitter that she would be singing the national anthem at this year’s Pro Bowl, the NFL’s all-star exhibition that took place Sunday, January 26, in Honolulu. Even being an avid sports fan, I never, ever watch the Pro Bowl. And I confess that, even given the local angle, I skipped it this year. (Look, I’ve spent the past 19 Sundays — and occasional Thursdays and Mondays — watching football. And I’m still bummed about my beloved Patriots losing in the playoffs last week. It’s just … too soon. Also, The Godfather: Part II was on. I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart.)
Anyway, I did catch her performance on YouTube the next day. And I gotta say, Grace did a commendable rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” That’s a tough, tough song to sing. For one thing, it requires a range of one and a half octaves — for the theory illiterate, that’s a lot — including some gnarly interval jumps. Also, because it’s so often sung as a prelude to huge national events, it’s become an opportunity for egocentric singers to show off, most often leading to endless, cringe-worthy caterwauling at the climactic finish. So much so that one of the most heavily wagered prop bets for the Super Bowl is the over/under on how long the national anthem will be.
To her credit, Potter clocked in at just under two minutes, which is about average. By comparison, Alicia Keys broke the fabled 2:30 mark at last year’s Super Bowl, which was sort of like Roger Bannister running the first sub-four-minute mile: astonishing. And Grace kept the histrionics to a minimum, save for some tasteful ornamental wails. I’d say she done Vermont proud. Also, it was kinda fun to see Saints quarterback Drew Brees mouthing the lyrics with Potter’s voice coming out.
Continuing on the national beat: we wuz robbed. Sort of.
Much like the Pro Bowl, I almost never watch the Grammys, which also took place Sunday. I don’t much care about most of the artists nominated, and I usually find the voting by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences to be a bit out of touch — though I’ll admit they’ve been getting incrementally better on that score in recent years.
Anyway, two Vermont-ish acts were nominated for shiny little statues this year: Neko Case for Best Alternative Music Album and Della Mae — fronted by VT expat Celia Woodsmith — for Best Bluegrass Album. Sadly, neither won.
Case lost to Vampire Weekend. I’ve never been a big VW fan, but even I’ll admit that Modern Vampires of the City was a great record. I thought Case’s The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You, while depressing as all hell, was better. But I get the decision. Meanwhile, Della Mae came up short against the Del McCoury Band, who are, well, the fucking Del McCoury Band. No shame there.
My only other real Grammy quibble — nonlocal division — is with Darius “Hootie” Rucker winning the Best Country Solo Performance for his version of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel.” Not so much because I think it was undeserving. Rucker gave that song all the Blowfishian cheesiness it deserves. It’s more because “Wagon Wheel” has become the crutch of every pandering, hacky Americana band on the planet. (“OK, guys! We’re gonna need a little help from the crowd on this one!”) It needs to stop.
So, by the power vested in me, I hereby decree that it shall henceforth be unlawful in any Vermont performing space, public or otherwise, to perform “Wagon Wheel,” or any part thereof, unless you actually are Old Crow Medicine Show or, I suppose, Darius Rucker.
Closer to home, the folks at Signal Kitchen announced via press release last week that the club/studio will be reopening its doors to live shows in the coming weeks. Recently, the venue has diverted its efforts to booking in partnership with the ever-ascendant ArtsRiot while it renovated its basement space. The release was short on specifics except to say, “We’ve changed a ton.” Good to know!
Look for more details on that in next week’s column. In the meantime, mark your calendars for the club’s grand reopening weekend with a pair of free shows. On Friday, February 7, catch Caroline Rose, Plato Ears and Safar!. On Saturday, February 8, it’s DJ Rashad, Bless the Child and Principal Dean.
Meanwhile, in Montpelier, here’s a show that might fly under most folks’ radars. This Sunday, February 2, local trio Bramblewood will play a rare gig at the Montpeculiar Skinny Pancake. For the unfamiliar, the group features three of the area’s top Americana talents, including award-winning songwriter Carol Hausner, multi-instrumentalist and recording engineer extraordinaire Colin McCaffrey, and Danny Coane, who, in addition to fronting rockabilly stalwarts the Starline Rhythm Boys, is widely regarded as one of Vermont’s finest bluegrass banjo players. Like you really wanted to watch the Super Bowl anyway.
Last but not least, this Saturday, February 1, Club Metronome in Burlington plays host to the third annual Rock Lotto. The show is a benefit for Girl’s Rock Vermont, a weeklong summer day camp aimed at teaching aspiring young female rockers to channel their inner Ann Wilson. And just what the hell is a rock lotto, exactly? Glad you asked!
That morning, the names of 25 local musicians, regardless of gender identity, will be tossed in a hat and then drawn at random to create new, never-before-seen bands. Those bands will then scurry away to work on a four-song set to be performed at the Metronome showcase that night. The results will be … well, totally unpredictable, which is the whole point. There could be train wrecks, there could be transcendent performances. Either way, it should be a fun show, and you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better local cause.
A peek at what was on my iPod, turntable, eight-track player, etc., this week.
Dave Van Ronk, Down in Washington Square: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection
Bill Callahan, Have Fun With God
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything
Nick Drake, Tuck Box
Dum Dum Girls, Too True
The original print version of this article was headlined "Star Spangled Soundbites"