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Vermont Music Column



Published August 21, 2013 at 9:38 a.m.

Big Bang Bhangra Brass Band
  • Big Bang Bhangra Brass Band

Another week in Vermont, another music festival. And if there is one festival that really says “Vermont music fest,” it is undoubtedly, um, the Vermont Music Fest.

(Could I chat privately with the VMF folks for a sec? Guys, Dan Bolles here. Seven Days. Look, loving your fest and I’m about to pimp it with some prime column real estate. Top billing, even. Seems like a fun lineup. Nice spot in the country. Good food. Yadda yadda. But we’ve gotta do something about the name. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the directness. And you probably kill it, SEO-wise. But maybe it’s a little too direct, y’know? A good name should inspire some curiosity, or least hint at some degree of creativity, which is doubly important for an arts festival. You wanna leave at least a little something to the imagination. So let’s work on some ideas for next year, OK? I’ll even help…)

Where was I? Ah, yes. The Vermont Music Fest, which runs this Saturday, August 24, at the Lareau Farm in Waitsfield.

For a relatively young festival, the VMF has an interesting history. It started in 2010 as a wedding reception for Jeff and Kelly Mack at the Lareau Farm.

(New Name Idea No. 1: MackFest.)

The modest lineup featured central VT favorites including Tammy Fletcher and Miriam Bernardo, who played for the wedding’s 150-some guests. That is, until the doors were opened to the general public later that night and everyone rocked out to an epic, late-night acoustic campfire jam.

Year two was quite literally a wash, as the festival fell during the peak of Tropical Storm Irene. It was moved to October and doubled as a flood relief benny, featuring music from the likes of Bernardo, Abby Jenne, Phineas Gage and many others.

(New Name Idea No. 2: FloodFest, Irene-aroo, OctoberFest … oh, right.)

In 2012, the festival rebounded, doubling in attendance over the previous year from 500 to 1000 guests and featuring a star-studded, worldly lineup, highlighted by Latin jazz ensemble Afinque and cross-cultural outfit Afri-VT. That was in addition to several other central VT standouts, including the Eames Brothers, Sara Grace, Vorcza and others.

(New Name Idea No. 3: Return of the MackFest.)

Flash to the present, and the Vermont Music Fest seems poised for a breakthrough year. Additions to the festival for 2013 include larger stages and a whole bunch of stuff that has almost nothing to do with music but seems pretty awesome anyway. Like a Wiffle ball tournament, massage booths, ping-pong tables and, most intriguingly, a 50th birthday surprise for Bread & Puppet. Oh, also music.

Spread over two stages, this year’s lineup features 12 bands drawing from all over the state, not just central Vermont. Personally, I’d point you in the direction of Bow Thayer, who is playing with his acoustic trio. Thayer is always excellent and is fresh from hosting his own fest last weekend, the Tweed River Music Festival. Afri-VT should be another highlight, as should the increasingly excellent all-female rocksteady band Steady Betty. More on them later.

But the most intriguing act on the bill is a new ensemble from the Saturn People’s Sound Collective leader Brian Boyes: the Big Bang Bhangra Brass Band.

Given his increasing renown thanks to the mind-blowing radness that is SPSC — and Movement of the People before that — Boyes is approaching a Chorney-ian level of respect. Meaning that, much like his old viperHouse bandmate and friend Michael Chorney, anything Boyes does from here on out will likely inspire genuine curiosity among a growing segment of the local music-listening public. That definitely includes yours truly. When I hear Chorney is involved in some new project, my ears immediately perk up. The same thing is starting to happen with Boyes.

By now you’re probably saying, “Hey, Dan. Shut up and tell us about his friggin’ band already!”

Good idea!

In a recent email, Boyes describes his 11-member ensemble as combining “the rich musical and dance roots of Indian Bhangra, Bollywood, New Orleans brass bands and the 1930s jungle swing of Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway.”

I know, right?

The band itself is like a who’s who of central Vermont instrumental talent and features percussionists Gabe Halberg, Brandon Klarich and PJ Davidian, bassist Giovani Rovetto, guitarist Jay Ekis, flautist and choreographer Simone Labony Labbance, and a horn section of sax players Dan Liptak and Zach Tonnissen, trombonists Lloyd Dugger and Matt Avery, and Boyes on trumpet.

I know, right?

So, yeah. I’d say the BBBBB — B5? — are worth the price of admission on their own. Or they would be if the fest had an admission price. Which it doesn’t.

For more info, visit


In other news, our pals over at Jenke Arts have a pretty slick show coming up this Saturday, August 24, at their Church Street studio. They’ll be hosting up-and-coming Chicago-based rapper Milo, alongside Safari Al and local MC Wombaticus Rex. If you’re a fan of intelligent, thought-provoking hip-hop, check it out. Speaking of Chicago, Windy City/Wisconsin songwriter Dietrich Gosser makes a Queen City stop at Radio Bean this Friday, August 23. Gosser comes recommended by … well, my sister, who lives in Chicago and often alerts me to interesting artists coming our way from the Midwest. She’s yet to steer me wrong, and I don’t foresee that trend ending with Gosser. His new 7-inch, Somewhere in the Night, is beautifully stark and emotive, legitimizing lofty comparisons to the likes of Joe Henry. That’s not exactly a bad thing, y’know?

The Brass Balagan, Burlington’s renegade street band, are looking to recruit some new members. According to a recent press release, they’re specifically looking for percussionists. But anyone with a modicum of instrumental or other performance talent, a taste for social activism and, presumably, a cool red jumpsuit is encouraged to get in touch with Rebecca Mack at [email protected].

Last but not least, happy trails to Christine Mathias, late of local riot grrrls Doll Fight! and the aforementioned Steady Betty. Mathias is leaving for greener concrete pastures at the end of the month: Boston. DF! will play their final show — potential reunion shows notwithstanding — this Wednesday, August 21, at Radio Bean.

In an odd twist of fate, the show will also be the band’s first with new drummer Amanda Astheimer of Hardcore Sallies, who replaces outgoing drummer Jane Boxall. For one show. Er, welcome to the band?

Mathias writes that Astheimer and DF! bassist Kelly Riel are forming a new band in Mathias’ absence. In the meantime, DF!’s first full-length album is finished and available on the band’s Bandcamp page. It features 15 of DF!’s favorite original songs, all with Boxall on skins. Look for a review in the coming weeks.

As for Steady Betty, the band is breaking in a pair of new horn players as we speak — Mathias played sax in that group — and will likely unveil them soon.

Mathias was also instrumental in the creation of Girls Rock VT, the music day camp aimed at encouraging young local girls to indulge their inner Bikini Kill. She assures 7D that the camps will continue on for many summers to come.

Best of luck, Christine.

Listening In

A peek at what was on my iPod, turntable, eight-track player, etc., this week.

Balance and Composure, The Things We Think We’re Missing

Drew Price’s Bermuda Triangle, Friends & Family

SWF, Let It Be Told

Earl Sweatshirt, Doris

Mark Kozalek / Desertshore, Mark Kozalek & Desertshore