Category Archives: Lifestyle/Culture

Behind Burlington’s Creative Social Network

It’s no secret that Burlington is a creative community — this much can be understood by simply looking at jackets and backpacks Burlingtonians  embellish with the Grateful Dead logo.

In an attempt to better understand Burlington’s artistic spirit, I reached out to a number of local artists and creators to get their insights on what makes Burlington’s art scene so special.

Creativity is displayed on every corner of this little city, which is home to a thriving, diverse and constantly evolving artistic community.

“What has remained the same over the last 30 years is that there’s always been this naive excitement, artists have been excited to create,” said Christy Mitchell, the south end’s S.P.A.C.E Gallery owner and founder.     

During our interview,  I found myself schmoozing with Mitchell in a conversation that felt more like a friendly chat over lunch than an interview.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the twelve studio spaces in the gallery where there lay a barely-organized cornucopia of brushes, paints, and papers.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. A studio belonging to artist Peter Richards at Burlington’s S.P.A.C.E. Gallery.

They were scattered around a desk that was surrounded on all sides by massive, in-progress works of art.

Mitchell’s inclusion of artist studios in her gallery was in response to an epidemic of Burlington gallery closings due to of financial troubles.

Her solution to this problem was to use the rent she collected from the studio spaces to cover the overhead costs of keeping the gallery open.

“The art scene in Burlington seems positive and inclusive; I think the only problem is people not knowing about things going on,” Mitchell said.   

With this model, her space is one that can stick around regardless of art sales, Mitchell said.

Local artist and sculptor, Beth Robinson, a self-proclaimed fan of the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery,  praised Mitchell’s unique business model. Robinson has been exhibiting and working at the gallery since its beginnings in 2009, she said.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. Owner and Creative Director of the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery, Christy Mitchell.

“Christy’s answer to the financial problems of a gallery was brilliant, it means she doesn’t need to display only commercially-viable art which opens up a lot more possibilities for people to express themselves,” Robinson said.

Her relationship with the S.P.A.C.E. became more unique during her second year at the gallery, when she began to curate an annual Halloween show.  

Robinson’s first Halloween show consisted only of friends who were “dark artists,” a title she gave to others whose art explored horrific themes.

During her second year, Robinson opened the show up to submissions from the public, and received over 200 entries. The show grew in size and popularity each year, and is now consistently one of the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery’s most successful and lucrative events.

“It’s insane how excited people get about it,” Robinson said.

Another huge name in Burlington is the Burlington City Arts Center, a central institution in the community for artists and exhibitionists alike.

To get an insider’s perspective on the world of BCA, I sat down with local painter and UVM art professor Cami Davis.

“The community has exploded since I returned from graduate school in the early ‘80s,” Davis said. “Once upon a time, all the artists knew each other, it was such a small community.”

Davis’s view of the Burlington scene contrasted with the view of newer Burlingtonians.

They described the community as small and tight-knit. While described she said she thought of it as more of a large, creative, and diverse community.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. Gallery space at Burlington City Arts.

I then asked Davis about her experience with exhibiting at BCA, a topic she seemed ecstatic to discuss.

“I found it to be one of the most interesting venues that I’ve ever participated in, mainly because it had such a sense of community,” she said of her recent installation at BCA: “Airs, Waters, Soils (Places).”

The installation displayed a series of  jars filled with water, soil, stone and plant samples taken from Lake Champlain and its tributaries in an attempt to explore “issues pertaining to clean water in the Lake Champlain Basin,” according to Davis’ website.

The jars were accompanied by large, expansive paintings that used a color palette of earth and water tones in order to connect and interact with the water samples.

“To me, BCA is so effective in connecting artists to the community,” Davis said. After hearing such a favorable view of BCA, I met with the director and head curator of the gallery — Heather Ferrell — to see how she views BCA’s place in the Burlington community.

While exhibiting my power of terrible timing, I managed to meet with Ferrell three hours before her first ever opening reception for her exhibition.

Despite having tons of little things to fix before the big opening, she still made time to chat about her gallery and its place in Burlington’s tight-knit artistic community.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. A gallery opening at Burlington City Arts.

“The art scene is a thriving and vibrant hotbed of activity that’s very impressive for a city this size,” Ferrell said, “it’s one of the things that attracted me to this position and relocating my family here to Burlington.”

BCA makes numerous efforts to aid local artists and the community as a whole, she said.

“BCA helps artists with presenting exhibitions, supporting artists financially, helping sell their work, organizing off-site exhibitions and connecting artists and community,” Ferrell said.

Considering she is making so many efforts to help out other people in the community, it’s no surprise Ferrell said she felt the community feel made the art better.

“I don’t see this as a competitive environment, I see it as one that’s environmentally rich,” she said.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. Burlington City Arts Director and Head Curator, Heather Ferrell, with her daughter.

Upon arriving at the show that night, I saw just how tight-knit the Burlington arts community was.

On the first floor was a photography exhibition on the American South by Shane Lavalette entitled “One Sun, One Shadow.”

In the corner, I saw Lavalette discussing his work with a group of locals.

Wylie Sofia Garcia’s “With My Voice, I Am Calling You Home,” a painting exhibit that focused on themes of domesticity, meditation, and personal place-making occupied the gallery’s second floor.

A group of strangers were comparing the use of diverse arrays of color palettes throughout the paintings.

In the mixed-media show on the gallery’s top floor entitled “The Past Present” by Molly Bosley and Athena Petra Tasiopoulos, artists sought to explore humanity and its relationship with history.  

Passionate discussions about the pieces and their possible meanings continued, and I ran into Mitchell, a pleasantly surprising crossing-of-paths that further illustrated just how tight-knit and interconnected the Burlington art community is.

After speaking with so many vital and active members of the Burlington arts community, attending a major artistic function and exploring a number gallery spaces I had never seen before, I can say with some confidence that the Burlington art community is truly as warm, inviting, tight-knit, and ambitious as everyone said.

Not once did any person I talked to mention ever feeling ostracized, intimidated, or unwelcome among their fellow artists.

Time and time again, I heard stories of being welcomed without question, consistently receiving support from fellow artists, and never sensing the slightest bit of competitive nature.

Our artistic community is not only something Burlingtonians should feel proud of, it’s a community we should give back to, a community we should support, and a community we should all strive to join.

The Anti-Sport

     Skateboarding is set to be in the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo. I’m confused. The Olympics are for usually for sports, and skateboarding can’t be a sport. Seeing skateboarding in the olympics is akin to McDonald’s offering dry cleaning. Skateboarding can’t be a sport, sports have clear objectives and points. In a basketball game, everyone knows what they should be doing: trying their darndest to get the ball in the net. When they do, they don’t wonder what happens next, they know they will get points for it.

   Skateboarding is nothing like that. Skateboards don’t come with instructions. Some people choose to use a skateboard purely as transportation. Some people decide to ride huge boards exclusively down steep hills. Some people aim only to flip their board in complex ways. Some people strive to hop down huge sets of stairs. The only wrong way to approach skateboarding is to not approach it.

    There are no points in skateboarding. When I landed my first ollie, there wasn’t a scoreboard flashing numbers at me. There’s no way to score skateboarding. Some people can naturally do things without trying, while it might take someone else years to learn. That one guy at the skatepark that’s struggling to kickflip may turn around and do something twice as hard.

   Sports encourage competition. Competition encourages animosity and hostility amongst competitors. Every time a team celebrates scoring a goal, there’s another team that hates them for doing it. Skateboarding is the opposite: it encourages camaraderie and friendship. When I see someone do some trick I’ve always wanted to do, I can’t be mad at them, I can only be excited for them.

   Calling skateboarding a sport is like calling a grilled cheese a burger. Or calling high heels tennis shoes. Or calling 9 hours of sleep a nap. While they may share some minor similarities,the connection is not quite there. I propose a new word, something to signify an activity that requires physical exertion and developed skills, but does not contain an inherent goal or point system. How about ‘hobby’? Skateboarding is a hobby. I’m all for making an Olympics of hobbies, but I’d like to keep skateboarding out of the current hyper-jockish, athlete-childhood-extinguishing Olympic culture.

Grand Point North Celebrates Burlington

With summer officially coming to an end next week, Grand Point North music festival serves not only as the perfect ode to warmer weather, but also as a celebration of all things Vermont music, art and food.

        Years ago, Grace Potter approached promoter Alex Crothers with a vision of a Burlington music festival that would revolve around the local bands that inspired her as well as her and her friends’ smaller, up-and-coming bands. In its sixth year, Potter and her brainchild, Grand Point North, have grown beyond the bounds of Burlington to national success.

RICK LEVINSON PHOTOGRAPHY, Grand Point North 2016.
RICK LEVINSON PHOTOGRAPHY, Grand Point North 2016.

        Potter’s constantly growing fan-base attracts people from all around the country, with people from out of state  making up about 50 percent of ticket-buyers. Crothers describes the event as the “mecca for Grace Potter fans,” as it’s an intimate performance in her hometown, where she will be surrounded by family and lifelong friends. Music fans from all different parts of Vermont will make up the other half of attendees, shipping up to Vermont’s biggest city to enjoy the capstone music event of the summer.

Support for the burgeoning Burlington and New England music scene will bring great diversity of sound to the stage, from punk to Americana to funk to rock and beyond.

        The same goes for food. With Skinny Pancake as the chief caterer of Grand Point Local, the festival’s culinary component, Crothers says the they will offer local food for everyone. Pingala offers vegan eats for veggie lovers, while Southern Smoke BBQ offers Cajun and Caribbean barbeque for meat fanatics. Farmers & Foragers and Green Pasture Meats offer wholesome farm-to-table meals, while Duino Duende and Caja Madera offer flavorful tacos.

RICK LEVINSON PHOTOGRAPHY, Grace Potter at Grand Point North 2016.
RICK LEVINSON PHOTOGRAPHY, Grace Potter at Grand Point North 2016.

        In addition to music and food, Crothers says attendees can check out the “visual eye candy” at Grand Point Weird, the art installation located on the festival grounds. Professional glass artist and sister of Grace, Charlotte Potter, will feature an “intensive collaborative project” between Brooklyn-based painter Esteban del Valle and artists from Vermont Governor’s Institute of the Arts.

        Before festival gates open, yoga instructor Taraleigh Weathers will lead hour-long free classes at noon on the Great Lawn. With live music and yoga mats provided, the lessons will offer an ideal environment for anyone wanting to try out yoga for the first time, and for expert yogis looking for a fun, laid-back experience.       

RICK LEVINSON PHOTOGRAPHY, Grand Point North 2016.
RICK LEVINSON PHOTOGRAPHY, Grand Point North 2016.

Crothers describes the festival as “convivial,” with a fun and art-driven atmosphere. Though it’s conveniently located in the heart of Burlington on the lake, the festival will feel far from chaotic, with short and quick lines. The festival emphasizes the importance of community through maintaining a family-friendly atmosphere, kids 12 and under are free, making the crowds welcoming to everyone. As the final outdoor event of the year, Grand Point North encourages all to soak in the last moments of summer in the ultimate celebration of Burlington.

Cricket Blue Haunts with Ethereal Folk

    Cricket Blue makes exactly the kind of music you would expect when you hear their name.

    The folk duo is comprised of Middlebury College alumni Laura Heaberlin and Taylor Smith, who play what they have deemed “botanical, spooky, umbilically-resonant folk.” With soft vocal harmonies and carefully constructed guitar rhythms, Heaberlin and Smith craft a fine balance of eerie mystery and intriguing warmth that engulfs listeners.

      Cricket Blue’s allusive and poetic folk music is rooted in Heaberlin and Smith’s long-standing love of writing. Poetry was Heaberlin’s main focus at Middlebury, with a book of poems serving as her final thesis. Poetry, for her, started “as a tortured unrequited love,” said Heaberlin, which evolved into a fascination with the art.

laura and taylor
Taylor Smith and Laura Heaberlin of Cricket Blue. SAM HELLER. The Vermont Cynic.

    Despite their seemingly similar natures, Heaberlin insists that poetry and songwriting are not as connected as they may seem. Poetry tends to be “more abstract with more room for free-writing,” she said, while lyrics tend to come from more of an “emotional base.” In fact, Heaberlin’s career as a songwriter didn’t begin until after her graduation from Middlebury in 2012.  

        While it’s not uncommon for Heaberlin to draw upon her free-writing notebook for inspiration after figuring out the instrumental elements, the opposite is true for Smith. Most of the time, the words come to him before the melody. Sometimes, however, the two come together as a package.

       “There is something special about the marriage of words and music,” Smith said. While poetry tends to be “static,” with words on a page, the melody “makes the words more active,” he said. Both Heaberlin and Smith agree that poetry and songwriting occupy, as Smith said, “different parts of the brain.”

        Regardless of how the duo writes the lyrics, it’s clear from their self-titled EP that they are well-versed in literature. Their songs make allusions to mythology, and explore themes such as  “love, wishes, disappointment, friendship, potential future and the ends of things,” according to Cricket Blue’s Bandcamp bio.

      With lyrics like “Forsooth, forsythia! Yellow and sad / You lost all your blossoms in May / But take it from me – a forsythia tree – / our love comes the strongest too late,” Cricket Blue manages to convey through fictional imagery a strong sense of relatable remorse, with a melody that matches.  

Taylor Smith. SAM HELLER. The Vermont Cynic.
Taylor Smith. SAM HELLER. The Vermont Cynic.

        For Smith and Heaberlin, writing is always a personal matter, and can’t be done together. Instead, they present songs to one another once the songs are 75 percent complete; never less and never more. A certain creative balance between Smith and Heaberlin makes the song writing and editing process easier. Smith, who said he feels “energized by meeting new people and discovering new places,” practices improvisation and experiences “rapid bursts of inspiration.” However, Heaberlin, who “likes to go home at the end of the night,” leans towards quietude and takes her time on each word when songwriting.

        Perhaps the combination of extroversion and introversion is why they work so well together. Even after many long car rides they “still find new things to talk about,” Smith said, in part because they both enjoy exploring and observing the quirks of the towns they perform in. In fact, they’ve created an excel sheet with random observations to base judgement off of. For example, a small town in Pennsylvania was especially memorable because “parking was cheap and everyone in the coffee shop was having a deep conversation,” Heaberlin said.

        Given that they do what they do so well, it’s surprising to learn they experiment with different sounds in their free time. Smith describes his earlier music as more raw, loud and “complaining,” truly epitomizing teenage angst.

Today Smith remains dedicated to the Cricket Blue project, but also plays saxophone in four alternative bands on the side, including Abbie Morin, The Peasant Dramatic and Grundlefunk. Heaberlin said she feels less of a need to play around with different genres. When Smith is touring with his other bands, Heaberlin often plays solo shows performing Cricket Blue’s music.

        It’s evident from the logistical standpoint that Cricket Blue is on the rise. Their first and only EP was recorded at home on a laptop. Their second up-and-coming EP, which has no release date yet, was recorded with the record label Beehive at a studio in Saranac Lake, where Smith and Heaberlin perform separately. However, there hasn’t been one specific breakthrough moment for them; the progression has felt gradual, Smith said.

        Part of this is because they can foresee the next big thing, such as an EP release or an exciting show, and they worked hard to achieve their milestones, Smith said. The pursuit of success is not always as glamorous as it may seem. Even though they have no doubt that they’re living their dreams, the reality is that they “still have to write emails,” said Smith.

“More time is spent on the business side and driving than actually performing the music,” Heaberlin said.

        Both Heaberlin and Smith celebrate every little step. For example, Cricket Blue has started to get “a lot of cool junk mail, like watches to sell at shows,” said Heaberlin. The band now also has its own bank account, further proving the band is growing up.

        What makes a Cricket Blue listener?

      “A genuine love for lyrics and wordplay,”  Heaberlin said.

   “People who like stories, ideas, and feeling a little melancholy,” Smith said.

     Heaberlin and Smith said they have a lot of respect and gratitude for their listeners, as they got the band to where they are today. This is one of the reasons why they veer away from the word “fan” in general, which implies a “weird power structure,” Smith said. In the end, nothing means more to them than people truly paying attention to their music.

Taylor Smith of Cricket Blue. SAM HELLER. The Vermont Cynic.
Taylor Smith of Cricket Blue. SAM HELLER. The Vermont Cynic.

    Afterall, having “four people really listening to the music is more meaningful than having 70 people talking,” Heaberlin said.

   “One person really liking it makes all the difference,” Smith said.

    Smith said he often feels inspired by songs where “one line can just hit you.” The irony is that with lyrics like “I’ve loved you for years—glad to finally meet” and  “I wanna give in, I wanna make waves,” Cricket Blue essentially creates exactly these kinds of songs.

    When addressing the Burlington music scene, Smith said it is a “fantastic scene that differs from our sound.” Performing frequently in the local area at venues like The Skinny Pancake and Radio Bean, Cricket Blue is in high demand and seems to have captured the hearts of music lovers throughout Burlington.

Vermont Burlesque Festival

Were you aware, readers, that Vermont is home to a thriving burlesque scene? No? Neither was I.

Imagine my surprise upon arriving at the Vermont Burlesque Festival, an annual multi-day event where in which performers from all over the state and the country, gather to apply makeup, strut, gyrate and belt out jazz standards to an audience of fans eager for a distraction from dreary mid-January and a reminder that the warmly bundled human form’s winter shapelessness is but a temporary phenomenon.

A conversation with the VBF’s executive producer and creator, Cory Royer, helped to illustrate two key themes in Vermont’s role as a burlesque hot spot –– human sexual diversity and community involvement.

 

Royer explained that money raised by the festival is donated to the UVM the University of Vermont Cancer Center, as well as the Health and Wellness program at Pride Center of Vermont, an LGBTQ community center.

 

“What we love about that, is that burlesque doesn’t discriminate,” he said. “It’s all shapes, sizes, colors, races, genders… and that’s what the LGBTQ community’s all about.”

 

Royer said noted that this union seems unique to Vermont, noting that “in Las Vegas, where he runs a similar festival,  “they just don’t want to have anything to do with burlesque.”

 

In addition to the other two charitable missions, the festival aims to “warm up Vermont” with a clothing drive.; Tthe idea is that audiences, like performers, will shed their clothes for a good cause (but in a more symbolic, less theatrical fashion).

 

Headlining the VBF Vermont Burlesque Festival this year were Green Mountain Cabaret, a Burlington-based enterprise with a show at Club Metronome on the last Saturday of each month; Spielpalast Cabaret, a German-influenced troupe, also hailing from Burlington, which typically performs a yearly series of shows in May; ARTS fest, from Brattleboro, who perform throughout New England at various intervals; and Peep Show Vermont, an outfit specializing in queer and drag burlesque with regular shows at The Monkey House in Winooski.

 

The first night of the festival took place at Venue Nightclub in South Burlington on Jan. 22. Venue’s atmosphere was distinctly casual; bassy beats throbbed as patrons milled around on the dance floor, and bluish lights wound around several large, illuminated Cîroc bottle replicas.

 

A woman stood patiently onstage as a black corset was painted matter-of-factly on her naked torso.

The emcee, Leif Peepers, delivered his introductions in an untied green bow tie, ushering in a succession of performers.

 

Feathered headdresses and pale pink fur coats gave way to a comedienne who discussed the accidental acquisition of a giant dildo and the problem with naming one’s ice cream truck “Mister Dingaling.”

 

A shimmering electronic score framed fluid hoop tricks; next, an exploration of food scales as the best way to gauge breast weight, and lesbian dating in the online realm, then on to vampy, glam-inflected, gender-bending exploits, which segued into another comedienne’s routine on the topic of over-sharing and loneliness in Vermont.

 

Entertainers from Montpelier and Montreal walked blue lines of rope, blew up balloons, and played with chain-linked metal rings.

 

Portland-based Russell Bruner, “the Vaudevillian with the Biggest Schtick,” came onstage in handlebar moustache and retro getup, gyrating stiff-leggedly and permitting an audience member to remove one of his arm garters with her teeth.

 

He ended his routine on a comically dexterous note, whisking away his starched cotton shirtfront to reveal an expertly executed Buffalo Bill-style dick tuck underneath.

 

After an animated combination of Aerosmith and “The Wizard of Oz”, and a hysterical, androgynous diva who, at the climax of a dance routine set to Alaska Thunderfuck’s “Your Makeup is Terrible” guzzled a bottle of what were hopefully candy pills and whipped off a pair of sunglasses to reveal makeup that was just as bad, Bruner retook the stage with his partner, The Pink Lady, for reciprocal lap dances and a gymnastic joint striptease.

 

I was glad to be able to speak to Bruner on Saturday about his experience as a male burlesque dancer, especially as I’d been all but unaware that they existed. He told me that he’d been swing dancing for a long time, then joined a dance troupe; soon after that, he grew interested in competitions, and in performing in front of others. That led him to vaudeville and circus acrobatics and eventually to burlesque, where he worked his way up from couples dance routines to the more risque aspects of the art.

 

Bruner’s aesthetic, a stylized combination of early 20th century garments, might suggest to some an anachronistic mindset; however, he assured me, he would much prefer to perform in this era than one in which women and minorities (and, at times, men) faced a greater number of social constraints.

 

“I feel like the bar has been set by the pioneers, the women who have brought this forward… and, as the revival came, the women who brought it back were feminists who really wanted to celebrate this style for performance, and do it on their terms.”

 

Bruner finds a similar satisfaction in updating various other elements of his performance, whether by applying rhinestones to a vintage top hat or adapting music and dance from a bygone era.

“I’m nerdy enough to celebrate almost-forgotten jazz styles of yesteryear, so to learn as much as I can from [previous generations of performers], and talk to them personally, and hear their take on musicality and dancing, and carry that forward, is to me… a real blessing. Burlesque gives me a great outlet to keep doing these old, forgotten dance styles and also to perfect them a little more.”

 

It seemed as if the other performers that weekend, at Higher Ground, also had perfection on the brain. While Thursday’s show was certainly enjoyable, Saturday’s was astoundingly polished. The hostess,New Hampshire’s own Bunny Wonderland, was feverishly energetic and just crude enough for the early show.

 

Meredith Tittle, a comedienne and dancer, was perhaps the most entertaining artist of either night. Presented as a timid, frumpy, unassuming housewife, recently divorced and complete with pitch-perfect “Fargo” accent, Tittle delivered a side-splittingly funny monologue before launching (at her therapist’s behest, she said), into a wild dance routine set to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” during which she stripped to reveal a Brillo pad and a jittering array of multicolored car air fresheners, all suggestively placed.

 

After Tittle, there were, to name a few: a terrifically choreographed chair dancing arrangement which concluded in a novel cooperative striptease; a gorgeously well-coordinated dancer in a South American-styled Carmen Miranda-type outfit; an elegant routine set to a bassy, ethereal score, which switched tempo midway through and transitioned into a peacock feather fan tease, and which was performed by an artist described by Wonderland as having had “legs for days, hair like Hilary Swank and an ass like a goddamn fuckin’ car wash;” and, in an appearance that spoke eloquently of the festival’s importance, the storied burlesque pioneer and stateswoman April March.

 

March is considered to be the “First Lady of Burlesque.” She performed from 1952 to 1978, and has come out of retirement for noteworthy events such as this one. She was once used by the U.S. government to deliver a letter to the king of Saudi Arabia, who then tried to take her to Majorca; she was held hostage in a shootout; she has been romantically linked to mafia bosses, actors, singers and Joe Dimaggio; and, once retired, she turned down offers from Broadway, Columbia Pictures and United Artists to continue doing burlesque. Seeing her onstage was the final punctuation for a resoundingly affirmative answer to the question Royer said people ask him when he’s in the Southwest:

 

“There’s burlesque? In Vermont?”

 

Having attended the Vermont Burlesque Festival, I can now give my own, similar response — yes, there is, and it isn’t just limited to a couple of nights a year. It’s a continually active, diverse scene and a hell of a lot of fun. One of these days, you ought to set some time aside to go check it out.

 

-NS