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WIZN's assistant program director Mike Luoma looks a little deeper into his mind and comes up with all kinds of stuff on his personal tour of the Burlington music scene.
Today, I am feeling old. I couldn't go to Lemonwheel, a friend of mine got married and I wanted to be there, and they weren't into getting married in Maine....
So no phishing trips this summer and I am bummed about missing what was almost a tradition -- I had gone to The Clifford Ball in Plattsburgh, made it to Limestone last year for The Great Went -- now all I could do was read media reports about the festival. Old. Reminiscing for this installment of this foggy series of recollections -- old. I haven't even gone out for a week or two... maybe that's the problem!
Music keeps me young, makes me feel rejuvenated, shatters the grips of time. Music at its best always has the power to transcend time, propel your spirit into timeless spaces, making age immaterial. So many times I've been so transported here in Burlington -- so much music at it's best. I've gotten to tell my tales of music in this town through 1992 so far. Now on through 1993 and 1994.
The end of 1992 seemed a little bleak on the music scene -- but there were good things gestating underground.
I had become WIZN's Music Director in early '92 and for a short time had this intern working for me by the name of Brad Searles. Brad was a music-crazy guy who had started working for my predecessor, Tom Van Sant, but was coming in less and less. Seems he had other stuff going on... a basement party turned record label he called "Club Fub." As 1993 began, his band Hover was taking off, he was the local champion for transplanted quirk rockers, Guppyboy... and he wasn't my intern anymore.
Throughout 1993 and 1994 Brad became almost ubiquitous on the Burlington scene, almost single handedly boosting a local scene which had lapsed into the doldrums, back into vitality. As I look back through collected press releases and memorabilia, I have to dub Brad and "Club Fub" the first fax-king of Burlington - a title he'd lose one day to one Andrew Smith and his band, Chin Ho! But if it weren't for all the faxes and other stuff I kept, I couldn't remember half of this stuff!
So things had been mellow on the scene, but were now heating up with the help of Brad and a few other active pushers of the Burlington scene.
Phish were even kind of out of the scene, on the road. They came back in July to play the Stowe Mountain Performing Arts Center.
They had opened for Santana the year before. This time they were on their own... but, unfortunately, the sky opened up for them.
We got poured on as we tried to watch the two-set show - the rain seemed to hold through the first set, but during intermission and on through the second set, it just kept pelting down, soaking us all to the skin and turning the mountainside into a giant mudslide. The band did their job the best they could, but the rain definitely dampend the energy of the evening.
This was the next phase in Phish's development - to an older fan like me, the crowd seemed younger and stranger - it wasn't until the party after the show that you saw all the old familiar faces. That's the way it's been since as well -- half the fun of getting passes for a Phish show is seeing all the old familiar faces which have followed Phish since the early days, backstage after the show.
Anyway, that summer Brad and his Club Fub Recordings paid tribute to Guppyboy, the Burlington band that had moved to Chicago. My personal interaction with Guppyboy had been meeting a couple of the guys in the band the year before on the roof of the radio station.
We were on the roof watching the fireworks on the Burlington Waterfront, and a couple of the guys knew WIZN part-timer Eric "The Kidd" Koval, so he bought them up to see the fireworks. Later, they sent me a cassette of their stuff which they had said "probably wasn't right for WIZN," but they hoped I liked it anyway... and I did. Their warbled harmonies and quirky grooves were addictive.
I could understand the drive which propelled Brad to compile a tribute album to Burlington's unsung heroes. When he brought me Hover's version of Guppyboy's "North Hyde Park," I loved it-- and we got him on "What's New" to play the song and promote the upcoming album and show. Spray Nine was on the cassette -- those guys are now in The Red Telephone. Jesse Sargeant was on there, too -- his band Invisible Jet is still a vital force on the scene.
It was on UVM's Earth Day that I first saw Invisible Jet, formerly Wonder Woman's Invisible Jet. Wide Wail played there too. Both bands impressed me then, and still do. So much of what's going on in Burlington now started back then in 1993. And it was back then Jesse first told me they were recording something I might play on the radio. It wasn't until earlier this year that Invisible Jet actually released a CD -- a long time coming!
It became almost an ongoing joke -- everytime I'd run into Jesse in the next couple of years, he'd say: "We'll have something for you soon!" The first Invisible Jet tune came out on a Good Citizen release -- but I'm getting all ahead of myself. Back in mid 1993, Jesse played solo on the GuppyLove tribute album.
By the end of 1993, the scene was beginning to enjoy another resurgence. August saw the release of a new CD from Chin Ho!, Recovery. I began playing "Always Monica" on WIZN-- (a song which suddenly has new meaning-- you guys ever think about redoing it?). I've always loved that song.
We got behind another local band in 1993 -- The Spring Heeled Jacks, out of the Swanton/St. Albans area. They were playing straight ahead rock, which we loved at WIZN. Their CD Penny Dreadful Experience came out in late 1993, and we were playing "Rooftop Jack" in rotation. I always felt these guys had the potential to be big -- but it never materialized ... you never really know... you know?
Phish finished '93 with four shows culminating in their New Year's Eve show, this year at the Centrum -- quite a step up! They also renamed their newsletter: "Doniac Schvice" debuted in the fall of '93, told of the holiday shows, and gave some tasty hints about Phish's new album, due out in the Spring of 1994.
I also got mail from the Jalapeno Brothers-- Glen Schweitzer had become a friend of mine and another musician promising a new album yet to materialize. WIZN had advance tapes -- we had been playing the Jalapeno Brothers' "Breakfast in Bed." He began sending me postcards from the road -- in late 1993 I got two from him, one detailing a southern U.S swing and the early December swing through the Virgin Islands -- which lead up to an annual spring swing that went up through this year! I'd always hoped to go see them there...
As 1994 dawned, the scene was again on the upswing. Some new bands had appeared on the scene. One of my new favorites was Strung Out. They had first entered my radar in the late summer of 1993 -- I remember wandering into Nectar's to check them out -- seeing all the acoustic instruments -- including the drum kit! And then they came out and played -- and they were great! It didn't hurt that much that they had a beautiful (if crazy) woman named Emily sawing away on the violin. She had some unique energy and the rest of the band was also gifted -- I was hooked!
Phish was continuing their ascendance in 1994 -- they came out with Hoist in early 1994 and returned to play the Flynn Theatre for what we thought would be their last time. Phish bought out the Uptown Country Horns for an amazing show that highlighted the brassier arrangements on Hoist. I enjoyed the show myself from about the fifth row. I remember it really freaked me out to tell Fishman that I really enjoyed the show and he said: "I know you did -- I just saw you out there dancing!" I had never thought about the performers watching the audience during a show -- what a concept!
"Sounds Around" was a one sheet fanzine that came out in 1994. It was mostly a listing of what bands were playing around, what kind of music they played and where they were playing, along with some in-depth coverage of a band and local music news. Colin Clary, now with Vox, also got in on the 'zine thing, pushing his band, The Madelines, among others. Looking at an old "Sounds Around," I'm struck by all the bands I've already mentioned, and others like: Snowplow, Born That Way, Chad and Jeff, D. Jarvis Band, Daisy Glaze, The Pants, Famous Potato, Hiplock, Slush and Uncle Juice.
And then, as like now, "Sounds Around" reminds me of these bands and just highlights the fact that so many people were making such great music. For 1994, "Sounds Around" also put on the first "Burlingtonitis" indie rock festival and released the amazing Sounds Around Burlington compilation CD. One of my favorite all time songs is on that disc, which finally came out in October of 1994, David Kamm's "I Hold You." David was known for his work with Famous Potato and, now, Construction Joe, but this was simple solo tune, recorded live to two-track in the Rock Point School Chapel, is one of the most haunting, sweetest and authentic songs I've ever heard. I don't know David, but I always loved his work. He was playing with Invisible Jet in 1994 too, and he brought his certain-extra-something to Jet's groove for a long time.
Brad also became a scene scribe to the greater public, as the Burlington Free Press tagged him to write a local music column "Scene and Heard." He never seemed comfortable in his role as writer/critic though, always anguishing over his own bruises as a musician and a scene-maker, writing about what he was helping to create. I'm sure he loved to be able to spread the word, but one of Brad's charms is his gift of low-key promotion -- he always seemed to feel guilty that he was asking you to listen to him!
Well, thank God (or whatever deity you prefer) for Brad. He nearly single-handedly rescued the scene in late 1993 and 1994 -- and by the summer of '94, Burlington was rocking again! There some who were quick to dismiss the scene during the downswing -- I remember Vermont Times editor and contributor Dwight Garner even wrote a piece for the Boston Globe declaring our scene dead! But Brad was an incredible force for positive thinking.
I tried to do my part as well -- Brad's example was inspiring. WIZN and the newly opened Club Toast got together for a Battle of the Bands in early 1994, trying to pick up where the Rumble at the Front had left off. We could have called it the Backlash of the Bands though. Many of the major bands on the local scene either refused to play or did so only grudgingly -- no one wanted to compete with each other!
There were some great bands playing those Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights (May 3rd, 4th and 5th). It was the first time I saw Strangefolk play-- they showed promise, but lacked polish (a funny aside, and I promise, Luke, this is the last time I'll mention this-- Strangefolk's drummer Luke Smith applied to be an intern of mine at WIZN -- but he never could make it in to work -- his band got too busy! There, last time). Strung Out and the Spring Heeled Jacks also played. Venus Envy was also interesting, with a female rhythm section, backing up two guys singing and playing guitar.
The Venus Envy guitar guys, Matt Hutton and Sean Toohey, came from Spray Nine, and each had done solo tracks on the Sounds Around compilation. They're great rock/pop grungy songwriters and I loved their tunes, but I really, well, enjoyed watching Melanie Nunnink play bass... and Ann Mindell was a great, pounding drummer, too. Venus Envy became just Envy and then... well, I'll save that for the next installment.
There were other fine bands in the Battle like Wide Wail, Uncle Juice, Hiplock, surprises like Mr. Dooley... out of control party music! Rina Bijou did what they did so well (but I'm not sure what it was...) It was the first time I saw Rocketsled and Wickerman -- heaviosity! Tokyo Storm Warning made some waves as well, and so did Belizbeha. The Battle was a great springboard for many bands.
But Chin Ho! wouldn't play.
Motel Brown wouldn't play it.
They didn't want to be in that situation where you do your art to beat another artist. Very noble, very laudible... but it was kind of a pain in the ass at the time!
Man, so much went on in 1994 -- as I look back now it was a banner year! There were a bunch of great benefits and festivals... Vermont Jam '94, the Vermont Reggae Fest, Vermont Cares Benefit Weekend, 24/7 at Toast... WOW! And I've already mentioned Burlingtonitus and Sounds Around... an embarrassment of riches!
There were others figuring out the self-promotional ways of Brad Searles as 1994 rolled on. Dave Jarvis and Tim Lewis started Permanent Records and Permanent Records Review... both of which weren't permanant at all, but they did bring out some great music. Andrew Smith of Chin Ho! began faxing me in 1994, and soon took the fax-king title from Brad.
Brad and Andrew began collaborating on projects, too. After the Vermont Cares offices were destroyed by an arson in early June, brad's Club Fub and Chin Ho!'s Monastery Records got together to rush out a cassette of six Chin Ho! songs to benefit Vermont Cares. The best thing about this cassette was the debut of what, in my humble opinion, is the best Chin Ho! song ever -- "Jan Michael Vincent" (with Jan Tofferi of Hover [and now Starlight Conspiracy] providing exquisite, ethereal vocals on the tune -- yum!) Just great music and put out for a great cause.
In June, we heard from those LA exiles Ninja Custodian. They'd recorded a CD -- Shepard's Pie, and Ninja Mike sent me a copy with a lonely, psychotic rambling note written in red ink. They promised a tour back east... but we wouldn't see them until 1995. The CD was meaner, crueler than Dancing With The Big Guy, and, I don't know, didn't sound as fresh. I was psyched to have new stuff from Ninja, but a little disappointed too. And there weren't anything I could get into radio rotation, although I did get them on What's New.
Both Andrew and Brad were guests several times throughout 1994 on What's New, the new music show I hosted Tuesday Nights at nine.
They promoted the projects I've already mentioned and debuted their new joint venture, Split Records, on the show. Four split singles came out in 1994, the first with their own bands: Chin Ho! "World"/ Hover "World Within." Then followed singles from Snowplow/ Madelines, Slush/ Dysfunkshun, and the Pants/ James Kolchaka Superstar. Slush were making an impact in '94; they were the first seriously heavy band I could get into in a long time. They should've been able to keep that name... but that's another story for next time.
Uncle Juice were on the show to debut their CD, and East Coast Muscle was on, too. The Burlington CD Project came out, and we played tunes from Mr. Dooley and Belizbeha. Slush's EP got plenty of airplay on Mike Wilhide's "Rock in a Hard Place" show -- and we featured it on What's New, too. It was quite a year!
As the year came to a close, Chin Ho! released Big Crowd, with "Jan Michael Vincent," "World," and three more -- plus, uncredited, the entire Drink album release! I was psyched to have a nice, crisp mix of "Jan Michael Vincent" to play on the radio -- and the song enjoyed a healthy run in rotation on WIZN! Did I mention I love this tune?
As the year wound down, Phish were on the road as always, but Halloween brought them close to home, to Glens Falls Civic Center. I remember riding to the show with these two girls my friend Rob "knew," and the girl driving got all freaked out when we had her take this "shortcut" through the winding backroads around Crown Point, New York -- it seemed to take forever! But we made it -- the scene outside was now just like a mini-Dead show, it was weird.
We knew Phish were going to do an entire album as a "costume" for the second set-- but they kept the secret well. The band had solicited requests through their newsletter and the Phishnet but they didn't announce which album won -- so it would be a surprise.
The lights went down for the second set, then the stage lights came on, and the sound effects from the beginning of Dark Side of the Moon started blaring out of the PA -- but then there was laughter and the sound of a plane and the band launched into "Back In The USSR" -- The Beatles White Album !!! They did the whole thing, with a few Phish-y sort of twists -- even "Revolution #9" -- which ended with Fishman naked (once again), prancing around stage while bubbles floated through the air.
The girls fell asleep during the third set and we left while the band was still playing... at 3:15 am.
Phish finished the year on a big high, selling out Madison Square Garden, playing a sold out-out Boston Garden New Year's Show. They were even on Late Night with David Letterman -- very cool.
Well, 1993 and 1994 provided many different possible additions to our mythical Burlington Greatest Hits CD, which spawned this series of recollections. Yes, primary choice would have to go to Chin Ho! for "Jan Michael Vincent" - simply a great song! David Kamm's "I Hold You" also begs inclusion. Chin Ho!'s "Always Monica" is another deserving track from the band. Hover's cover of Guppyboy's "North Hyde Park" is also a personal favorite. "Rooftop Jack" by the Spring Heeled Jacks also rocked my world in 1993 and 1994.
When I started this installment, I thought I'd cover '93 through '95-- but then I'd remembered how much went on in 1994! And it just gets better, as 1995 brings a CD explosion to the Burlington music scene -- so next time it's 1995 and 1996 -- and I think that'll be it -- at least for this personal recollection business -- but there are certainly more stories than my own to tell about Burlington's music scene... until next time.
Mike Luoma is the Assistant Program Director at WIZN and one hell of a nice guy.
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