It’s a big week for bands that don’t exist anymore, as two prominent, defunct local acts make their glorious return to Burlington stages. Frankly, it’s got me feeling all nostalgic an’ stuff. (Cue dreamy harp strums and a wavy fade to the late 1980s.)
The year was 1988. George H.W. Bush was elected president of the United States. Sonny Bono was elected mayor of Palm Springs, Calif. Enzo Ferrari, John Holmes and Roy Orbison died. Michael Cera, Adele and Kevin Durant were born. And in Vermont, a band called Breakaway was about to embark on a 13-year career that would see them become one of the most successful bluegrass acts in the state’s history and launch the careers of several notable players.
Breakaway got their start as the house band at a weekly bluegrass residency at Sneakers in Winooski. (Raise your hand if you remember when Sneakers had live music … congrats. You’re old.) It was a hot little ensemble that counted among its original members bassist Pete Riley, guitarist Andy Greene, mando player Andy Sacher and some guy named Gordon Stone on banjo. Wonder what ever happened to him…
Anyway, what began as a casual jam session between friends evolved into a serious band. Eventually, fiddler Gene White Jr. joined the group, and they were off. In their decade-plus together, Breakaway released three acclaimed records, toured throughout the Northeast and were twice nominated as the “upcoming band of the year” by the prestigious International Bluegrass Music Association. That seems a little fishy to me, though. Wouldn’t that be like winning a rookie of the year award more than once? But I digress.
As all things do, the band eventually met its end. Stone left in 1996 and was replaced by Scott Hopkins. Greene called it quits in 1999, Sacher the following year, leaving the band utterly Andy-less. Breakaway officially disbanded in 2001.
In the years since, the musicians forged nice little individual careers. Greene is a member of the Modern Grass Quintet and Fairview Avenue — the latter with Hopkins. Sacher plays with Bob Degree & the Bluegrass Storm. Riley rocks out with the X-Rays, the Woedoggies and Elisabeth von Trapp. White is a fixture in the Bluegrass Gospel Project. And Gordon Stone is, well, Gordon Fucking Stone.
This Saturday, October 15, Breakaway will reunite for the first time in a decade at Studio Three in South Burlington. Fans can expect healthy helpings of tunes from their three-album catalog, some fiery picking and sweet high harmonies from Riley, Sacher and Greene. Welcome back, boys!
In other reunion news, impossibly adorable Americana duo Avi & Celia — Avi Salloway and Celia Woodsmith — will join forces again this week as their rocking-er alter-ego, Hey Mama, for the first time since way back in … um, December 2010. OK, so maybe it’s not as dramatic as a decade apart. But it’s still pretty cool, right?
If you’ll recall, the band played its farewell show late last year, as Salloway prepared to spend time in the Middle East and Woodsmith embarked on a career in women’s health. In a recent email, Salloway writes that his experience was transformative. He spent time working with Arab and Jewish artists trying to foster understanding and peace through music. He says it was a heavy endeavor, but worthwhile. In fact, the organization he works with, Heartbeat Jerusalem, is planning a stateside tour soon. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, Hey Mama’s fans will undoubtedly be delighted to reacquaint themselves with the band when it plays Nectar’s this Saturday with local bluegrass outfit Something With Strings.
Continuing on a theme, the Spin Doctors are (apparently) still at it. The band celebrates its 20th anniversary at the Higher Ground Ballroom this Sunday, October 16, and reportedly will play Pocket Full of Kryptonite in its entirety. OK, now I feel old.
Following up on last week’s lead column item, just a reminder that Burlington’s brand-spankin’-new comedy club, Levity — formerly Patra Café — throws its debut showcase this Friday, October 14. It’s a benefit for Revitalize Waterbury and features local comedians Kit Rivers, Kyle Gagnon, Oliver Barkley, Colin Ryan, and club co-owners Ryan Kriger and Carmen Lagala — the last of whose mother recently wrote a very flattering letter to the editor about yours truly. Thanks, Carmen Lagala’s mom. But your talented daughter and her funny pals make it really easy to write nice things about local comedy. By the way, as of press time, tickets for the inaugural show were almost sold out. Good thing they’ll have shows every Friday, eh?
Local indie-rock band the Crack Up return to the stage after a short layoff this Friday, October 14, with Villanelles at Manhattan Pizza & Pub in Burlington. Word is they’re armed with some new, more rockin’ material. Color me intrigued. As a semi-ironic side note, the Crack Up’s return will coincide with what is likely to be the last Villanelles show for a while, as that band prepares to take a hiatus to, um, do some grownup stuff. Good luck, gents.
Happy trails, Myra Flynn! The neo-soul siren is heading for greener concrete pastures and moving to New York City at the end of the month, where she’ll be working as a songwriter for — wait for it — Universal Records. Flynn plays her farewell show at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge this Saturday, October 15, opening for her longtime musical partner and mentor, Gregory Douglass. Predictably, she’ll be going out in style, having enlisted a number of “special guests” to send her off, good and proper. (Full disclosure: I’m one of them. Flynn dared me to come out of retirement for one song — though I don’t think either of us expected me to say yes. But, please, don’t let that stop you from going. The other guests truly are special.) Best of luck, Myra.
Band Name of the Week: The Four Legged Faithful. This quartet from Haverhill, Mass., trades in pretty acoustic folk and pop, wrapped in a rugged bluegrass aesthetic. And they like dogs, apparently. They’ll be at the Skinny Pancake in Burlington on Friday, October 14, and Radio Bean the following night, Saturday, October 15.
Last but not least, rest in peace, Mikey Welsh. The troubled ex-Weezer bassist and Burlington-based visual artist was found dead in a Chicago hotel room this past Sunday. He was 40. Welsh struggled with personal demons for most of his adult life, including drug addiction and mental breakdowns. But it seemed he had turned a corner in Burlington, thanks at least in part to immersing himself in his art. It’s too early to know if there is any validity to widespread rumors of an overdose — toxicology reports take weeks, as Amy Winehouse fans know. Regardless of the cause, Welsh is gone too soon. Wherever you are, Mikey, I hope you’ve found peace.
Once again, this week’s totally self-indulgent column segment, in which I share a random sampling of what was on my iPod, turntable, CD player, 8-track player, etc., this week.
We Were Promised Jetpacks, In the Pit of the Stomach
North Mississippi Allstars, Keys to the Kingdom
Annie Williams, Midnight Window
Weezer, Weezer (aka The Green Album)