[ GOOD CITIZEN HOME | BIG HEAVY WORLD HOME ]
Mike Luoma's History of Burlington Music
Our friend from WIZN takes us on a personalized tour of Burlington Music History
WIZN's Assitant Program Director Mike Luoma has been reviewing his memories of the Burlington music scene for Good Citizen. His "final" column, which began in Issue #11, was so damned long that we had to break it into three pieces. This is the second piece, and the third piece will run in Good Citizen #13. Good Citizen #13 will come out whenever the hell we feel like putting it out.
In early '95 I was given a cassette release by a Burlington band I didn't know, Daisy Glaze. With all the CDs coming out, I had kind of put it aside until Bill Rogers, one of the band's singers/guitarists, gave me a call to ask me if I'd heard it. I hadn't, had to be honest. I'm so glad he called! He'd starred the tracks "Window" and "I Love to Ride"(the title cut) as potentially airplay-worthy. As I talked to Bill, I noticed they had a song called "Let's Live" on the cassette. Years earlier when I was at St. Mike's, I'd loved checking out a band at Nectar's called The Trees, who had a cool song with the same name. I asked Bill about it, and it turned out that he and Sean Hutton, who wrote the songs and sang most lead vocals, had both also led The Trees! It was a neat connection to the past. And it made me listen to the cassette, both sides, all the way through. And then again. And again. Then I put it in my car stereo, where it was perfect! (It was called "I Love to Ride"...). "I Love To Ride" is raw-edged and rough yet strangely silken and beautiful at the same time, reaching for grandeur and scope, longing for the stars from the slimy back alley of a pizza joint. Sean's brother Matt led Envy, and both had a talent for writing great pop-rock. But where Matt's tunes were dirgier, more Psychedelic Fur-ry, Sean's tunes owed more to Brian Wilson and Roger McGuinn, through a jaded-faded nineties filter. And his tunes rocked my world! It had been a while since I had gotten this excited about a band. And I knew I had to get "Serenade" on the radio! I fought to get that tune airplay. "Serenade" is a perfect example of Daisy Glaze at their best, and one of my favorite tunes ever. EVER! The line "I'm your Eddie Vedder, Baby," is immortal, and pre-dated that other "Eddie Vedder" tune by a couple years. "My jaded angst is so profound..." "Serenade" was the tune that got this column started, actually, starting the conversation that led to me writing about the scene and suggesting tracks for a hypothetical Burlington Greatest Hits CD...all because I told Jim Lockridge if I were putting together such a CD, I'd have to include Daisy Glaze's "Serenade." The conversation, and this column, took off from there. Daisy Glaze didn't play out that often, and sort of fell apart by '96, so I only got to see them a few times live.
Their performances weren't always technically stellar (and, man, did Sean love to crank up that Rickenbacher!), but the feeling was there, and the strength of the songs still shone through; well-crafted, angst-filled paens of lost longing and desire, with just a little hope, a little light in the dark, a slight chance for redemption. I rarely removed their cassette from my car's deck, riding around with my windows down, listening to Daisy Glaze all summer.
Phish returned to the area during the summer of '95, playing two outdoor shows at Sugarbush July 2nd and 3rd. I loved the music but the traffic and the crowds sucked. I was left seriously asking myself if it was still worth it going to shows, if traffic was such a hassle, and if the whole time during the shows I was getting pushed, shoved and jostled by people moving through the crowd. I'm spoiled when it comes to Phish shows, I'll admit it, having seen so many smaller shows. I always love going along for the ride when they create their communal dreamstate in performance, but it's hard to enjoy the ride when you're constantly being impinged upon, bumped and assaulted. And, quite simply, that ain't the idea! I just wanted to grab these kids and shout "Why aren't you listening to the music!" But that ain't the idea either. The grabbing, shouting part, I mean.
Although those summer shows soured me a bit on the Phish concert experience, I was psyched for their concert release, A Live One. I had been dissappointed to find out they wouldn't be doing a studio album (I, um, actually LIKE Phish's studio efforts...), but A Live One was a nice reminder of why I love the band. Recorded over the course of touring the year before, A Live One was credited as being recorded at "The Clifford Ball, 1994." The actual Clifford Ball at the old Plattsburg Air Force Base, Phish's first Giant Summer Concert, actually wouldn't come until the summer of '96. White Crow, the studio where Phish had done much of their early recording, ended up closing in 1995. I had visited them place a couple times. Tom Walters introduced me to Glen Robinson there as he was working with Canadian rockers The Headstones. Glen was very tall, a nice enough guy, kind of quiet at the time. He'd produced some of the local CDs I was into, so we talked about those for a bit. The Headstones were nice guys, played me some of what they'd recorded so far. I never did hear their finished album. The studio space was impressive, great sounding rooms, and they had some serious microphones, so expensive I wouldn't even want to breathe near them. But according to Glen and Tom, record companies weren't paying for bands to use studios like White Crow anymore. Not cost effective, too far off the beaten track and too far away from the suits and their control. Why pay for primo studio time in Burlington, Vermont when you can throw a band into a company studio in NYC for much cheaper?
Other changes were taking place on the scene. Brad Searles decided to give up his weekly local music column, "Scene and Heard" in the Burlington Free Press. They tapped Steve Lemcke, a writer and editor for Good Citizen among other things, to take his place. The Birth of Critic Boy! Actually, whether I've agreed with him or not, I've always respected Steve as both a writer and critic. Brad was like a loving parent writing about a gifted child while Steve was more like a clever sibling willing to point out the flaws in his brothers and sisters art. Sometimes harsh, sometimes a bit mean, but usually true. Burlington is lucky to have a supportive critic with a voice in the mainstream who deals honestly and straightforwardly with the scene.
A major split at The Vermont Times resulted in Seven Days appearance in 1995. Pamela Polston and Paula Routly started Seven Days after out of state interests began taking over and mangling Vermont Times. The local scene gained a new and powerful ally for the arts in Seven Days, which in many ways rekindled the spirit of the long lost Vanguard Press. Much less safe and staid than the Times. What a relief!
Summer '95 also brought outdoor shows to Burlington. The Second Annual Burlington Jamfest was at North Beach. Harlan Frye put it together, as together as it was, and got me involved through WIZN. It was getting confusing, though. First this Burlington Jamfest, then Bobby Hackney was putting together Vermont Jam '95, and The Vermont/New England Music Conference was in the works. It seemed like a little too much, but I was into anything promoting local music. The Jamfest came first. Although Harlan called it the Second "Annual", it wasn't, strictly speaking. The first had been in '93, I think. Unfortunately, it rained for both. Both fests featured Motel Brown, the '95 edition adding Chin Ho! and Davinchi, and Rutland's Sam's Planet opened.
I remember Chin Ho!'s set featured new tunes they wererehearsing for their next CD, remember Sam's Planet as being impressive, but what really stood out was Davinchi. His streetsmart rap/poetry shocked the mellow suburbanites out for a nice day with the kiddies. I remember frightened mothers covering their kid's ears, for real! Four-letter and other colorful words came ripping-rapping off the stage, scandalizing some of the crowd. I loved it. What a juxtaposition! It wasn't what the organizers had in mind, but my inner imp of the perverse enjoyed it. I'm not sure, but there may have been some weird politics behind the whole Burlington Jam Fest, Vermont Jam thing. I am sure there were weird politics going on between the Vermont Jam and the Vermont/New England Music Conference. Many people assumed they were connected, as they happened the same week and weekend. But they weren't. But, then, they were. I think. I was peripherally involved, emceeing a part of the Vermont Jam, and I am still not sure of the connections to this day. I didn't care. As long as people got to hear the music, as long as people were into local music, I was psyched.
It was a great week of music, in spite of any politics involved, and also in spite of small audience numbers. The music conference drew a few participants, some low-level industry types showed up, but it wasn't the gala event its organizers seemed to anticipate. And even though the weather was beautiful, if a little cooler than usual, the weekend jam on the aterfront didn't draw the numbers expected, either. In hindsight, this was when the sweet began to sour, when it was discovered that there were some limitations, but I didn't see it at the time.
Tuesday night of that week I hosted an hour-long, mid-year retrospective we called "Burlington Rocks '95...So Far." Mike Wilhide joined me for a look at the local releases for the year to date. He was trying to do what he could for the harder edged local bands through industry metal show connections, so I wanted to include him and his viewpoints. We played some great music, and the show's still a fun tape to listen to. Wide Wail's "Help Wanted" actually mixes nicely into Slush's "Soil"! We also played Chin Ho!, Envy, The Pants, Strung Out, Daisy Glaze, Bloozotomy, Invisible Jet, Famous Potato and more. It was a fine hour of music. Even listening to it now, the music stands the test of time and shows the strength of the scene at the time.
Good Citizen featured many of those bands when they took over City Hall that Friday night. I got there late, so I only caught a couple of the bands, but Slush, The Pants, Envy, Twelve Times Over, and Rocketsled were all on the bill. Holy Heaviosity in City Hall, Batman! The next day The Vermont Jam began on the waterfront. I emceed early on, figuring I could enjoy the rest of the weekend if I did my responsible stuff early on Saturday. If I remember it right, Spill were the first band on, or at least the first I introduced. The Sandra Wright Band came next, then the Jalapeno Brothers, maybe. I know they played!
By the time they played there was a good crowd, if not the massive numbers Bobby had hoped for. Most of the bands had decent crowds for their sets that weekend, although the earlier the set, the fewer people were in the audience. So many bands played over two days: Blues for Breakfast, Baby's Nickel Bag, Uproot, New Nile Orchestra, Rachel Bissex, Jenni Johnson, Mr. Dooley, Lambsbread, Dysfunkshun, Channel 2 Dub Band and more. I stayed throughout Saturday, getting sunburned and bopping to Chin Ho!, Motel Brown (who just kept getting better) and the rest. I made it down later on Sunday, and it seemed more restrained, even fewer people.
Motel Brown were gigging a lot that summer, with their strongest line-up: Steve Dias on vocals and percussion and Scott Forbes on drums, both in the band from the early days, Justin Rose on bass, Bob Bushnell, former Mighty Loon, on guitar and vocals, Andy Hildebrant on the massive keyboards, Twa Mercer on percussion, and the most recent addition, Max Owre, formerly of Rina Bijou and one of the most inventiveand unique lead guitarists I've ever heard, on guitar and vocals. Max brought an immediate energy to Motel Brown, sharpening the band's edge and giving their reggae-rock a jolt of schizzo energy that shook it up and enlivened the entire band. Motel Brown's CD Too Much Time came out later and features this line up. It's a good document of what those guys were about, but it doesn't quite capture their live energy. And, forgive me, Andy, but the keyboards were mixed way too prominently. Sorry, man. I think that the Dub band was still playing at Toast Wednesday nights that summer, if my memory serves. That was always a good wind-down after work stop for me, when I got out at midnight on those hot, hazy, smoky nights.
That August brought transplanted Burlington band Ninja Custodian back to town. I couldn't wait! They were one of my favorite bands, as I've written here in these pages before. They left for California in '91, went out to L.A. , put a disc out in '94, and had been talking about coming back east on a tour. Since getting the advance release of their CD Shepherd's Pie I had been in and out of touch with Ninja Mike, Mike Billington, drummer and vocalist, and his wife Chanon, whom I hadn't met. They were trying to put a tour together to bring them back to Burlington and Maine, where most of the guys were originally from.The Ninja that came back was a tighter, meaner, darker, more bitter Ninja Custodian. They did two shows, played Toast and Metronome. It was great to hear them play, great to just see the guys, we hung out, reminisced about the old days, kind of. Ninja Mike was pretty bitter over his Burlington experience, it seemed to me, stung by a sense of betrayal, real or imagined, toward everyone who had let Ninja down, who hadn't supported their efforts...and I'm not sure if I was off that hook, either. Their music was still brilliant, and with the anger came a sharper, more biting edge--it was vital, cutting and nasty, but pure, and good. I hear they've broken up since then, so I value those shows
in '95, even if they proved the "you can't go home again" cliche.
Next issue Mike wraps up his history of the Burlington music scene.
Mike Luoma is Assistant Program Director at WIZN 106.7 fm and he hosts the long running night-time radio program Glow in the Dark Radio on the Wizard.
[ TOP OF PAGE ]
GOOD CITIZEN MAGAZINE
P.O. Box 5373
Burlington, Vermont 05402-5373
Phone: (802) 660-8200
Brought to you on the Web by BIG HEAVY WORLD