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106.7FM WIZN's Music Director waxes philosophic and remembers his favorite bands throughout his many years on the Burlington music scene.
I was talking to Jim Lockridge the other night about a potential CD collection of Burlington's rock classics, a sort of "best of" Burlington. Jim knew that Andrew had been dreaming of a Burlington's Greatest Hits CD, and had even started working on it on the Good Citizen Radio Hour a few years back. One conversation with Andrew later, and here I am writing a column about my favorite local music throughout my years on the scene.
I got into the Burlington music scene in a big way, right away. My first weekend at Saint Michael's College there was a dance with a band called the Decentz. I remember only vague impressions of the show, but I distinctly remember being surprised when I found out that they were from Burlington. A week later, Pinhead came to campus. They were great, too, and again, they were local! Both of these bands moved me with their music and turned me into a local music fan.
And so, my subjective history of Burlington's music scene starts here; these two shows, two great bands, two great local bands within a week of each other that made a great impression on me. At that early date, I had no idea that I had discovered a "scene." Actually, I don't think I really knew what a "scene" was.
I soon joined WWPV, the campus radio station, and it was there that I discovered the Wards' blue vinyl 45 called Weapons Factory. It was so sparse, so weird, so cool and all about the local GE plant! The other great 45 there was the N-Zones Burlingtown Records single of "Killer Bee Bop" and "Ain't Got You," a fine dose of the N-Zones gritty blues rock. My first year at the radio station, I would play one of those sides almost every show, along with future classics from Pinhead's Don't Dance vinyl EP.
When I finally turned 18, I could go see the bands in their natural habitat: the bars of Burlington. Downtown! Bars, bars and more bars: and they all had bands playing in them! When the state of Vermont raised the drinking age from 18 to 21, it did more damage to the local music industry than any other single act. Half the audience who was into local music was now barred from seeing the bands they loved. Things got bleak. Bars closed, bands broke up. There have been many peaks and valleys in the years I've been into the music scene here, but 1986 was the lowest.
But Burlington is stubborn! The best part of being a part of this scene for so long is watching it bounce back time and time again. Occasionally, someone will wonder out loud if the Burlington music scene is dead - it makes for great press, I guess. When they ask me what I think, I measure it against that period ten years ago, and it's never as bad as it was then, and if it could bounce back from that storm of bar-closings, it can survive anything.
Even without places to play, the bands in this area kept making music and they kept finding new places to play. We at WWPV and the folks at WRUV played plenty of local music and with far fewer commercial stations on the air at that time, we enjoyed a pretty broad audience, and they liked local music!
As my four years at St. Mikes passed, bands I'd loved disappeared or dissolved, but more always appeared to take their places. Pinhead and the Decentz passed on, but bands like the Cuts arrived to take the scene to new heights. I remember seeing the Cuts (and their dream machine) at the venue then called "Upstairs at Nectar's." What a weird vibe that place was: blank walls with strange chandeliers and very few people. I remember a Cuts show there when the audience was Joe Egan and myself. Bands like Screaming Broccoli and the Hollywood Indians took over, and "Upstairs at Nectar's" became a club called Border. Screaming Broccoli's "Let's Bury Bob" was a big hit at WWPV and I even wrote a column for the St. Mike's paper that told off the social directors of the college for passing over local talent in favor of big city bands and bigger names.
Burlington just breeds great bands, I'm convinced. There's something about this town that allows magic to happen. And that magic made me stay here after I graduated from college. It wasn't just the music, mind you, the whole town entranced me, but the music played a major part. And that was even before I got into a local group that became one of my favorite all-time bands: a band called Phish.
Phish grew into such a great influence for me that they really deserve their own chapter. But back to the Burlington's Greatest Hits CD. I guess I'm already up to including the N-Zones songs and the Wards' "Weapons Factory." Maybe "Architecture" by the Cuts, without a doubt "Let's Bury Bob" by Screaming Broccoli. Gotta have Pinhead, the Decentz too. Almost seven tunes, and just from a four-year period. Those are songs that spring immediately to mind, and they're my favorites. What are yours?
This Burlington's Greatest Hits thing could get well out of hand. Sure speaks well for the scene. We'd really like to hear your memories and favorite songs from the Burlington music scene that you remember. Please write to us at Good Citizen, PO Box 5373, Burlington, Vermont 05402. Tell us your nominees for Burl-ington's Greatest Hits. ~GC~
Mike Luoma is music director at WIZN in Burlington and a long-time fan of the Burlington music scene. And he's still trying to get a date.
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