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Sounds Good

Local Music 101


Published August 25, 2008 at 6:17 p.m.

Mile for mile, few college towns can match Burlington in terms of sheer musical talent. And thanks to the next wave of future dropouts currently descending upon our fair hamlet, the next great band is but a failed poly sci class away. In the meantime, you’d be well advised to get acquainted with some of the area’s better acts. Hey, it beats studying, right?

What follows is a sampling of the myriad musical options B-town has to offer. It’s by no means comprehensive; half the fun of seeing live music in and around Burlington is taking a flier on a band you’ve never heard of and using those experiences to connect your own dots. So use this guide as a starting point on your road to musical discovery and sleeping through 8 a.m. classes. And welcome to Burlington Rock City.


The Aztext

Vermont’s vibrant hip-hop scene may defy demographic logic. But you’ll find the Green Mountains are full of surprises. Hip-hop is alive and well in the 802 and features a dazzling array of turntablists, MCs, graffiti artists and B-boys. And the cream of the crop is undoubtedly The Aztext. Pro, Learic and DJ Kig Kat comprise the area’s most formidable freestyling trio and have graced the Seven Days annual Top Ten Album list for the last two years running. And that’s what’s up.


(recommended if you like)

Tribe Called Quest, Black Sheep, oversized clothing

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The Vanderpolls

Few live acts match the intensity and sheer sophomoric tomfoolery of The Vanderpolls (formerly “The Jazz Guys”), a longtime staple of the Burlington rock scene. From witty, audience-deprecating banter and hysterical film shorts to outlandish onstage hi-jinx, a night with this rollicking quartet is not just a show; it’s an event. But to dismiss Herb, Max, Frank and Maarten — he’s the shy one — as a mere gimmick would be a mistake. These hepcats have claws. And loud guitars. And tight pants. Really tight pants.


Supergrass, The MC 5, men in tight pants

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Japhy Ryder

For better or worse, Burlington music will always be synonymous with Phish and groove-oriented jams. Though the Phab Phour is no more, they left behind a breeding pool teeming with heady acts — and hyphenated genre labels — eager to elevate minds and shake behinds. Of the numerous auditory options available, few are as entrenched in the scene as Burlington’s Japhy Ryder. The band’s 2008 sophomore release No Consequences solidified their place as the reigning jesters of jam in the Queen City, and their live shows are quickly becoming legendary throughout the Northeast. Jam on, indeed.


Umphree’s McGee, moe., dank headies

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The Cush

In recent years, Burlington’s indie-rock and experimental music scene has arguably become the city’s sonic calling card. Of all the bands delighting the black-rim bespectacled hipster set, none is so revered as the mind-bending space-rock outfit The Cush. Fueled by the husband-and-wife songwriting team of Burette and Gabrielle Douglas, this arty trio trades in beautifully expansive soundscapes rooted in immaculate, hook-laden pop song craft. Whether as a full electrified ensemble or a more intimate acoustic duo, this band is simply one of Burlington’s finest.


My Bloody Valentine, Mojave 3, black-rimmed glasses

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Lowell Thompson

Alt-country troubadour Lowell Thompson might be the hardest-working songwriter in Vermont. Whether he’s at the Higher Ground Ballroom or playing more intimate settings such as the cozy 1/2 Lounge, hardly a week goes by that this gifted crooner isn’t breaking hearts in one local honky-tonk or another. Over the years, he has crafted a shimmering, high-lonesome sound rooted in classic 1970s country-rock, peppered with healthy nods to modern torchbearers such as The Jayhawks and Old 97’s. Whiskey is highly recommended.


Gram Parsons, Ryan Adams, a tear in your beer

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