Soundbites: Omicron Closes Clubs, Jazz Generation, and the Doug Perkins House Fire | Music News + Views | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Soundbites: Omicron Closes Clubs, Jazz Generation, and the Doug Perkins House Fire

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Published January 12, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.


Alex Stewart - COURTESY OF LUKE AWTRY PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Courtesy Of Luke Awtry Photography
  • Alex Stewart

Well, it's never a good sign when you greet the New Year with a wince and a "Not in the face!" Indeed, 2022 has started by playing some of 2021's biggest hits, of which I was not a fan.

First, there were the New Year's Eve shows — or what became of them, at least. Right as I was finishing my last column of 2021 on what to do on NYE, other editors, with perhaps more foresight, gently reminded me to include a COVID-19 disclaimer. It bummed me out to list all those fun shows, only to follow up with: Listen, you and I both know a bunch of this shit is getting canceled.

Good thing we did, though. First, Burlington's Highlight festival moved its indoor entertainment to outdoor stages and/or streaming. Shortly after, Zenbarn in Waterbury Center postponed its NYE show with Wu-Tang Clan's Inspectah Deck and Cappadonna. In Montpelier, Ursa and the Major Key called off their NYE set at Charlie-O's World Famous. Hell, even Phish took a pass on their Madison Square Garden gig in New York City.

Now comes phase two of the suck: clubs closing — for January, at least.

Saturday's Barbacoa and DJ Taka sets ended up being the last at Burlington's Radio Bean for a while. Owner Lee Anderson announced on the club's social media accounts that doors would be closed starting on January 9 and that "we'll reopen when it makes sense." Other clubs such as Montpelier's Bent Nails Bistro have also shut down live music for January.

Vermont Comedy Club in Burlington has tweaked its schedule. According to its social media, all weekday shows at the club have been canceled. Weekend shows are still on for now, but at reduced capacity. They can also be streamed from the venue's website. Additionally, VCC will issue refunds to ticket holders who stay home because they're sick.

Burlington's ArtsRiot and South Burlington's Higher Ground still have mostly intact calendars. However, Brett Hughes let me know that he is mothballing Grass/Roots Sundays, the weekly country and roots music night at ArtsRiot. The residency featured bands like Wild Leek River and Beg Steal or Borrow, as well as guests such as Lowell Thompson and Steve Hadeka. Hughes is hopeful it will return in the spring.

I'm sure more of the same will continue in the next few weeks, what with the record-high levels of COVID-19 ravaging the state. That said, January always seems like the worst month to see live music anyway. It's freezing, you have to wear seven layers to the club and somehow figure out where to put them, and then some jerk takes your coat "on accident." At least the number of drunk people busting their asses on the ice will surely go down, right? Silver linings, people.

My other hope is that, with the break, February won't look as dire. I have no idea whether that will be what happens. All I know is that the thought of watching Robert Fripp and his wife, Toyah Willcox, doing more livestreamed covers from their kitchen causes me anxiety. God in heaven, what if Gal Gadot decides to do another "Imagine" cover?

Looking at Vermont's numbers makes me think that soon the only live show anyone will be able to see is the inevitable Van Morrison and Eric Clapton tour, at which they'll play to ever-dwindling audiences. One by one, ambulances will whisk the unvaccinated away to take up more hospital beds, just as Clapton plays "Wonderful Tonight."

Woof, that got dark.

Talking About Jazz Generation

Fortunately, we do have some good news regarding live performances. University of Vermont jazz professor Alex Stewart has been running a weekly jazz series on Thursday nights at the 126 in downtown Burlington. While the speakeasy-style bar has long been a hotbed of jazz in the Queen City, what Stewart is putting together in conjunction with his former student Rob Duguay is something a little more unique.

Duguay, who graduated from UVM in '05 with a business degree, founded the nonprofit Jazz Generation eight years ago in NYC. The initiative's goal is to provide education and opportunities to jazz students and gigging musicians. One of the organization's programs is Keyed Up!, which acts as a liaison between clubs and performers.

"Most gigs right now, the best some musicians can get is $50 apiece and maybe a plate of pasta," Duguay told me by phone. "So our idea is, if we can find funding though grants and donors, we can at least double that for the musician and make sure they're paid and fed and get drinks — basically be treated the way they should be."

The benefit for the clubs, Duguay said, is that they can book higher-caliber musicians with money from the Keyed Up! program. The extra dough can be used to bring in special guests or players from out of town — both of which have happened already at the 126 series.

"Our goal is to take the three entities: the venue, the musician and us," said Duguay, who is also a musician. "We want to fuse those three together and help small businesses and musicians at the same time."

With more than 25 venues under its umbrella offering free jazz every week — including in every borough in NYC, New Orleans, Boston and now Burlington — Keyed Up! is taking off. Duguay hopes to expand to Chicago and the West Coast this year.

"It's hard to state just how important a gig like this is," Stewart said. "To have a gig where you know you'll get paid and fed ... it's not as common as you would hope."

Stewart sympathized with the challenges of club owners. "They have to be profitable to stay open," he said. "But there are a lot of clubs across Burlington where the pay is meager, at best."

The 126 was an ideal place to launch Keyed Up! in Burlington, he said.

"It's such a cool-looking club," Stewart raved. "It reminds me of the Village Vanguard, the oldest running jazz club in the world. It just has that perfect vibe to it."

It's also outfitted with a grand piano, an amplifier and a drum set. "So it's ready for us," he said.

Funding from Keyed Up! gives Stewart a broader range to book from, and the saxophonist has brought in a wide assortment of players, friends and guest stars. While many of the usual local heavy hitters such as Ray Vega, Tom Cleary and Dan Ryan all make regular appearances, Stewart has also involved the UVM jazz department.

"The club in general has really benefited my jazz studies students," Stewart said. "I try to rotate the lineups and spread it around the scene, so as to give a lot of musicians a chance. For my students to get to play with some of these guys, it's a big deal."

Like many other Burlington clubs, the 126 is closed for a few weeks. As of press time, the Thursday residency will return on January 27 and feature guest guitarist Steve Blair. Be sure to check it out, along with the club's frankly bonkers cocktails, all while feeling safe in the knowledge that, at least that night, the artists onstage are being properly paid.

Burning Down the (Farm) House

Doug Perkins - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Matthew Thorsen ©️ Seven Days
  • Doug Perkins

Last month, a fire destroyed the Orange County home of guitarist Doug Perkins and his wife, Jill. The veteran guitarist, who has performed with acts such as Smokin' Grass and the late Gordon Stone, said his old farmhouse burned to the ground in 75 minutes flat.

"Old buildings like that, they just go right up and burn quick," Perkins told me by phone.

By the time the conflagration went out, the couple had lost just about everything, from clothes to skis to Perkins' instruments — including his beloved 1969 Martin D-18. Fortunately, none of their pets was harmed. Perkins even found his cat hanging out next to his horse, watching the fire die down.

"I think the cat misses the house the most," Perkins said with a laugh.

Fortunately, he and Jill have a yurt on their property they can stay in for now. Neighbors let them use kitchens to cook, bathrooms to shower and even landlines in case reporters call. (Hey, Orange County, how about some cell service?) The other day, Perkins found a new pair of boots just waiting outside the yurt, though he has no idea who left them.

"What this community has done for us is really just amazing," he said.

Perkins is one of the most talented guitarists in Vermont, a self-taught, flat-picking virtuoso. He often plays in a group with the Jazz Mandolin Project's Jamie Masefield and Rough Francis bassist Tyler Bolles, as well as (occasionally) Phish drummer Jon Fishman. The Thunder Ridge Records recording artist isn't exactly known for self-promotion, though. So it was up to his friend and bandmate, fiddle player Patrick Ross, to start a GoFundMe campaign to help raise some money to get Doug and Jill back on their feet.