In the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, one small consolation has been watching how the world has come together to lend a hand. Virtually every Westernized country on the planet has sent aid in one form or another. Even traditional adversaries are working side by side. Hell, just last week, President Barack Obama tasked ex-presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush with … doing whatever it is such figureheads do in a time of crisis. In any event, we’re fairly certain that pain will be sympathized with and brush will be cleared. Closer to home, the reaction in the music scene has been equally swift, as several relief benefit concerts have come together, with still more in the works. And, yes, I really wanted to call this section of the column “Friends With Benefits.” Moving on…
In the news biz, the mantra is always “first is best.” For that reason, we begin with “Honk If You Love Haiti” this Saturday at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge. Event organizer Raph Worrick of The Dirtminers was ahead of the pack as he reached out mere days after the tragic quake, saying only that he had something big in mind, was working with Higher Ground and that he’d keep me posted. I responded the only way I could: by offering dumb name suggestions for the show. For example: “Rush Limbaugh Can Suck It: A Benefit for Haiti and Human Decency” and “Really? We’re Sending Dubya? … Like, Really? A Benefit for Haiti.”
Flash to the end of last week when Worrick — reportedly with a considerable assist from honky-tonk hero Brett Hughes — unveiled the details of a monster showcase featuring a slew of local all-stars, with all proceeds going to benefit Doctors Without Borders to aid in their relief efforts. As of press time, the lineup includes Blowtorch, The Honky Tonk Tuesday Band, Swale, The Dirtminers, Waylon Speed, Patrick Fitzsimmons, Marie Claire and Lowell Thompson. But wait, there’s more! In addition to the rockin’, you can also indulge in a game of Pin the Tail on Pat Robertson. That alone should be worth the price of admission, if not more. Actually, it’s most certainly worth more. So, donate more. Ahem.
Also, Club Metronome has just announced preliminary details of a similarly impressive Haiti benefit scheduled for Thursday, February 4. Confirmed acts include the incomparable Gordon Stone Band, funk upstarts Bearquarium and songwriter Stuart Peyton, with at least two more acts yet to be named. Check in next week for the full rundown.
We tend to focus on the “big” events in this little music news (and views) column. What can I say? Big names move free newspapers, right? However, sometimes it really is the little things happening in overlooked corners of the state that make writing — and, I hope, reading — this column worthwhile.
A few months ago, local songwriter Andy Lugo moved his family to the mean streets of Rutland. (Note to Rutland readers: I don’t really think your streets are mean. It just sounds cooler that way.) Upon his arrival, he noticed a significant difference in the city’s music culture, particularly in comparison to what he had left behind in Burlington. (Note to Burlington readers: I hear this a lot when people leave the Queen City. Don’t take our little scene for granted, OK?) Specifically, he found that the thriving open-mic community that exists in Burlington was virtually nonexistent in Rut Vegas, save for a handful of bars. That’s fine and dandy for grown-up types. But what about the whippersnappers for whom open mic nights are often a critical creative outlet? Not so much.
You can say what you’d like about open mics. Yes, sometimes they are downright painful to experience. But they are also a vital piece of the foundation for any healthy music scene. In short, they are a proving ground. Almost without exception, the songwriters you listen to now got their starts playing seven-minute sets at places like Radio Bean and Langdon Street Café. Few know this better than Lugo, who, in addition to fronting longtime rebel-folk hip-hop outfit Second Agenda, has been running a popular Wednesday night open mic at Burlington’s Manhattan Pizza for several years.
This Saturday, Lugo hopes to channel some of the success he’s built in Burlington with the first in a monthly series of open mic nights at Rutland coffeehouse Clem’s Café. “I come from the school of Radio Bean,” writes Lugo in a recent email. “Business is important, but community comes first. And I’d like to see if a non-alcoholic, all-ages open mic can make a difference in Rutland.”
Given how similar opportunities have helped shape the music scenes in Burlington and Montpelier, I’d bet the answer is yes.
Before we move into the rapid-fire section of the column, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge Poultney songwriter John Gillette, the recipient of the 2009 White Light Fund Scholarship. The $1000 prize is awarded each year in memory of late Vermont songwriter Rachel Bissex. I was a judge this year and was honored to take part. This year’s field was stacked — finalists included Justin Levinson, Mia Adams, Bow Thayer and Sara Grace, among others. But Gillette was clearly a standout, earning marks not only for a stellar performance, but for truly embodying the spirit of the award. Congrats, John.
Doldrums, schmoldrums. The Monkey House is at it again with a stellar weekend of music, highlighted by a Saturday night homecoming of sorts with Queen City ex-pats Pretty & Nice. Do yourself a favor and get there early to catch sets by fellow Beantown indie rockers You Can Be a Wesley and Big Big Bucks. Speaking of indie fun, tristate favorites — I’ll let you guess which three states — The Mathematicians make a welcome VT return with a Friday night exam at Nectar’s. Sticking with Nectar’s, Ray Paczkowski and Russ Lawton wish to apologize to anyone who showed up to catch their final Monday night residency last week, which I had mentioned in this column. The estimable duo double booked and had to cancel. Something about practicing with a guy named Trey… As always, gotta love seeing local openers for big shows, especially when said shows are sold out. So if you have a ticket for Paper Tongues at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge this Friday, make a point to get there on time and catch local indie rockers The Fifth Business. This just in from our old friends The Powder Kegs, who once lived here, then moved to Brooklyn and now reside in Philly: You can check out tracks from their brand new Empty Side EP on their MySpace page (myspace.com/thepowderkegs). The Kegs have been a personal favorite since they pissed off their jamgrass fan base a few years back by pulling a “Dylan at Newport” and morphing into a straight-up rock band with a now pseudo-legendary show at The Monkey House. Mellows were most definitely harshed that night. But ultimately, the trio has found its true calling, as evidenced by this latest batch of tunes. Highly recommended. Last but not least, thanks to everyone for the genuinely surprising outpouring of support regarding last week’s column bit about quitting smoking. I guess certain topics just really resonate. Anyway, your kind words, not to mention often hilarious suggestions and tips, have been greatly appreciated. Thank you.