Tag Archives: VT Cynic

Music Making for the Masses

 

It is genuinely hard to find someone who doesn’t enjoy listening to music. It’s quite a bit easier to find someone who doesn’t play music.

While factors such as lack of interest or time might play a part in this gap, the disconnect between listening and playing music is surely due to the difference in difficulty between listening and playing music.

Playing a guitar is hard, and there are infinitely wrong ways to do it. Listening to music is easy as can be as there’s no “wrong” way to hear an album. While the difficulty of learning to play an instrument, such as guitar, discourages a lot of people from trying to learn, others choose to embrace the challenge.

Holden Jaffe, a NYC-based singer-songwriter and frontman for the indie band Del Water Gap is one of these people.

He started his musical journey by learning how to play drums at age 12. His focus eventually shifted to guitar while spending his junior year of high school abroad in Zaragoza, Spain.

Upon moving to a big city for the first time, he knew he would have to part ways with his beloved space-robbing drums.

“I had brought my guitar, and I spent a lot of time that year sitting in my room, getting better at playing and writing songs.” Jaffe said; “then I kinda caught that bug and continued through my senior year of high school.”

DEL WATER GAP. The band performing at Stone Studio in Lakeville, Connecticut.

While playing the guitar had logistical beginnings, as Jaffe became more interested in writing, it made more sense for him to play a melodic instrument he said.

Up until the early ‘70s, the only music making method was Jaffe’s instrument-based method. Anyone unwilling to put in the time and effort to buy and learn an instrument was relegated to simply listening to music rather than playing it.

That was until one album—Sly and the Family Stone’s 1971 masterpiece There’s a Riot Goin On—exposed the world to the then-primitive technology of drum machines. Interestingly enough, Sly’s motive for using a drum machine for the first time was not some genius attempt to re-invent the music industry; it was simply a logistical reaction to his drummer quitting the group due to a souring relationship.

Digital music technology has come a long way since the first drum machine, the Chamberlin Rhythmate, was released in 1957. Drum machines, synths and MIDI controllers are now becoming commonplace in most college dorms and apartments.

Be honest — everybody knows someone who “makes sick beats.” While over-confident, under-talented people such as these may contribute to the impression that increased accessibility of music-making is an awful thing, real musicians tend to disagree.

That change in accessibility is the biggest change to music—both the industry and the art form—in the history of recorded music, Jaffe said.

“I think it’s great; I’ve gotten so many opportunities to create content and meet new people, and to have a career I wouldn’t have otherwise,” he said.

Jaffe also shrugged off the common misconception that making music digitally is “easy as pie.”

“People treat these Digital Audio Workstations like instruments –they have to practice them and get to know them like instruments,” he said. “There’s no difference there.”

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. Del Water Gap performing in Burlington.

Jaffe has also noticed this increase in the accessibility of making music digitally. “A lot of friends are now moving in that direction,” he said, “and a couple of my most consistent collaborators are now in that world.”

Things are no different in Burlington, as every year there are more and more people digitally producing music.

One of those people is junior Mike Garrett (aka Mike G), who takes an old-school approach to production.

Mike G’s main instrument is an MPC-2000 XL, a storied drum machine and sampler that’s been the tool of choice for countless hip-hop legends over the years, like J Dilla, Nujabes, DJ Premier and many more.

“This machine is indirectly responsible for hip-hop, so I felt I had to get one at some point,” he said, “and I’m using the same thing my favorite producers did, so I can sort of put myself in their shoes and think, ‘this is what it’s like when Pete Rock makes music.’”

Garrett also took the old-school route of buying an MPC made in 2000 due to his self-proclaimed affection for old machinery.

“I love old electronics; they have cool little quirks to them that new things don’t,” Garrett said, “and the quirks are your friends.”

Even as someone who is passionate about producing the hard way on now-defunct technology, Garrett shares Jaffe’s opinion that the increased accessibility and ease of making music is a great thing.

“If you make music, I don’t think you can actually have a problem with more people making music, or that you can think of making music as an exclusive thing,” he said.

Garrett also commented on how advancements in production technology are beneficial even to old souls such as himself.

“In my research of trying to make a full analog studio setup, I’ve found it’s ridiculously expensive and requires a truly amazing amount of hardware,” he said, “but now your computer can do the same things all that hardware would do, so now it’s just so much less expensive to make music.”

A love for hip-hop, though, doesn’t attract everyone to the expensive and sometimes-frustrating world of dealing with decades-old analog electronics, and there are different paths to digitally producing music.

UVM junior N’Kosi Edwards has taken one of these alternative paths, choosing to produce with a modern MIDI controller – the AKAI MPK Mini 2 – and a Digital Audio Workstation, Logic Pro.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side.

“[Producing] is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while,” Edwards said, “and once I saw young producers like Young Chop getting big I thought, ‘maybe I should start making beats, that looks kinda fun.’”

For Edwards, the desire to produce came hand-in-hand with his love of rapping. “I’ve always been infatuated with how people could twist words in hip-hop,” he said, “which is why artists like BIG Krit were always an inspiration, because he made his own music and rapped over it.”

The increased accessibility and popularity of making music has not gone unnoticed for Edwards. “I know a lot of people that rap and make music,” he said, “like my friend Louis that got signed to a record label. I get a lot of inspiration from people like him, that are just doing their own thing.”

Edwards also shares the opinion that the more accessible music is, the better.

“If it wasn’t for that I probably wouldn’t be making beats, so I have to give thanks that it’s so much more accessible now,” he said.

Edwards’s use of only one MIDI controller is something he surely couldn’t imagine before he got started producing. “Back in the day, when I didn’t know much about it, I thought I would need a whole bunch of equipment,” he said.

The only downside that Edwards could see with increased accessibility is that “it has definitely given people the ability to mass produce a lot of crappy music, but who’s to even say that? People might say my music is crappy,” he said.

Digital music production has come an unspeakably long way since that first Chamberlin Rhythmate went on sale in 1957, and there’s certainly no end in sight. Digital music tech has gone from that ancient Rhythmate with only 14 drum patterns, to Digital Audio Workstations with thousands of samples built in, with the ability to download an almost infinite number of additional sounds.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. N’kosi Edwards making music.

It’s gone from the first digital sampler—the Linn LM-1 Drum Computer—costing $5,000 upon its release in 1980, to MIDI controllers like N’Kosi Edwards’s AKAI MPK Mini 2, which costs as little as $100 on eBay.

It’s gone from expensive analog tape recorders that added unwanted white noise with every recording, to programs like GarageBand, offering a far superior recording experience for free on any Mac computer.

In short, it’s easy to see why digital music production has become so much more common and accessible in the last few years: it’s more intuitive, cheap and advanced than it has ever been before.

And with that, there’s more music available now than there has ever been. And even if that means there’s now more crappy music out there than ever before, statistically there has to also be more great music out there than ever before, right?
In order to enrich your life by checking out the amazing music these great artists make, I strongly encourage you to check out their respective online libraries. For some soul-touching, emotionally-rich indie grooves, listen to Holden Jaffe’s super-group Del Water Gap on Spotify, iTunes, or Bandcamp (https://delwatergap.bandcamp.com/), and be on the lookout for their upcoming EP! For some futuristic yet old-school raps and instrumentals, check out N’Kosi Edwards on Soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/nkosi11. Unfortunately, Mike G’s music is yet to be published online, but be on the lookout for his gritty, 90s hip-hop greatness hitting the internet’s airwaves in the near future.

Kendrick and Kanye: Artistry versus Ego

Kendrick Lamar just released a new record, “untitled unmastered,” and it is a great listen. The quality of the music onboard the LP is astonishingly layered: every instrumental lavish and fleshed out and every lyric codified to mean three things at the same time. Even though it was drafted from B-sides and incomplete song sketches, the album feels remarkably filled in and complete as an experience.

From his debut record to last year’s multiple-Grammy-nominated “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Lamar has been consistent in just how, well, consistent in the amount of time and effort he appears to place into the music.

The interludes and spoken-word mantras of “Butterfly” become celebratory shout segments on “untitled,” with every appearance of Kendrick hooting “Pimp pimp, hooray!” serving as a reminder of dedication to craft and thought toward how the music feels for the listener.

The album has already received accolades from Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Consequence of Sound and other outlets for its impeccable musical quality. It is terrific.

However, we’re not here to talk about Lamar as a stand-alone. Instead, his latest effort is an important point of reference, to break down how creativity and ego can come together to make or break a work of art. King Kendrick masterfully avoids what could only be called Kanye-Sickness: the illness which occurs when artistry is overtaken by Artistry (the attempt to look like an artist).

Kanye West. EVA BARTELS . B-Side.
Kanye West. EVA BARTELS . B-Side.

Kanye West is someone dealing with an awful lot of Kanye-Sickness. His newest record, “The Life of Pablo,” was released about one month before Lamar’s, is a hodge-podge of multiple ideas. Where “untitled” carries an intentional improvisational looseness, “Pablo” does not carry much feeling of forethought.

The album received numerous name changes before its release and was put out exclusively on Tidal, a streaming service he owns. You cannot buy it.

Not only that, but he’s said he hasn’t even finished the album, and is still mixing some of the songs and replacing them for streaming (for example, the mix on Taylor Swift-dissing track “Famous”).

The album comes at the tail-end of a songwriting peak for West. Just like Lamar, he has walked a golden path of critically-acclaimed records, from “The College Dropout” to “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” All of this success was built atop a wave of bold and brash confidence, creating a much-lauded portrait of a brilliant, misunderstood iconoclast. This act of projection went to such lengths that Kanye implying he was a Christ figure wasn’t far enough – he had to literally name an album, “Yeezus.”

And, like one would expect from a structure put together on a wave, eventually it crashes with it. This is where Kanye-Sickness comes in.

Let’s define this disease: the absolute intersection of egoism and brilliance. When an artist goes far enough into the self and loses sight of their creative process, they are dealing with a lot of Kanye-Sickness (see: Kanye West’s Twitter feed).

If one exhibits too much creativity and not enough confidence, that person is cured of Kanye-Sickness altogether. For reference, think of what kind of music white bread would play if it was human, or a Kings of Leon album.

Kanye is too Kanye-Sick now – but he’s not alone, and lately the disease is hitting some of the music industry’s finest.

Kid Cudi’s latest output, “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven,” is a stark reminder that the man once responsible for such radio smashes as “Day n’ Night” and “Pursuit of Happiness” is now making slow moans over Nirvana-lite grunge guitar with a metronome plinking in the background.

Kid Cudi. EVA BARTELS. B-Side.
Kid Cudi. EVA BARTELS. B-Side.

Just like Kanye, Cudi built his position in the rap canon as a unique “loner,” a misunderstood figure with a kinda-okay singing voice when he wanted to use it. He is always the “man on the moon,” isolating himself from the outside world.

Cudi’s early music showed promise through its artistic portrayal of this figure, but now there is no distance – he’s gone so far away from who he’s playing to that it seems he doesn’t care how the music sounds.

From his first rock album, “WZRD,” he’s shown no signs of slowing down his descent into blandness by way of strongly wanting to be Frank Black of the Pixies.  

Elsewhere, Miley Cyrus is recording sex-themed psychedelic-trap tunes with The Flaming Lips under the name the “Dead Petz,” releasing songs satiated with cheap reverb-laden synths and cringe-worthy lyrics (see: “f**k me so you stop baby talkin’”).

She and her Petz are an active rebuttal to her Hannah Montana days. Their public debut was on the MTV Music Choice Awards, playing a song with the opening phrase, “Yeah, I smoke pot.” The only reason this music seems to exist appears to be to contribute to Cyrus’ own public image.

Even Jay Z’s last record, “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” made his legendary rap career feel like a memory How does he describe his wife, one of the most envied and successful women in pop music? “Sleeping every night next to Mona Lisa/The modern day version with better features” – poetics! Jay took mediocre raps over trap beats and tried to pass it off as Artistry, and even co-opted Maria Abramovic (“The Artist is Present”) to make “Picasso Baby” seem like a statement.

The only statement made was as empty and hollow as a Donald Trump tweet: all bluster and no higher thought. Ultimately, the determining factor as to whether an artist can resist Kanye-Sickness enough to make a masterful song, while carrying enough ego-blessed confidence to have resonance with an audience, is effort.

The difference between Lamar’s “untitled” and West’s “Life of Pablo,” both being altogether unfinished works, is the amount of time and care placed into making the album whole and the art complete and satisfying. The former was produced through the creative process as odds-and-ends – as Lamar put it on Twitter, the songs are “demos.”

Yet the project uses interludes and field recordings to carry a solid listen the whole way through. By contrast, “Pablo” is still incomplete according to West himself, existing in an ooze state, as semi-complete musical plasma.

This could easily be attributable to the idea of “Kanye being Kanye,” in the same vein that fans make excuses for other artists to take nosedives into Kanye-Sickness denial. After “WZRD,” I must have had the notion of “Cudi being Cudi” go through my mind at least ten times. The Cyrus-Lips collaboration sounded cool on paper, but once my headphones began to play its material form, I lost hope: Miley was just being Miley.

“X being X” in turn is the colloquial form of Kanye-Sickness. It is not art as exemplified through an artist’s personality, but instead the opposite. It is an artist’s personality exemplified through artistic expression…and that’s not worth much praise.

To compare: if you overheard someone saying the loved a Nickelback album because it was “Nickelback being Nickelback,” you’d question their taste in music, as well as probably everything else. You would not laud Nickelback for “truly channeling the persona of Nickelback in an incredible, fluid fashion,” or something similarly pretentious.

When an album comes out that throws a full frontal assault of an individual’s artistry at the listener and avoids the pothole of self-indulgence – that is when we should give high praise out of our pockets.

Graveyard Shift: A Night at WRUV

Because of the WRUV graveyard shifts, the Davis Center is the UVM facility that never sleeps.

The graveyards, late night shifts reserved for new and training DJ’s,  are a mixture of scary and fun, said first-year Ashley Claude.

Though being in the Davis Center late at night can be a bit daunting, especially for a student who knows how lively and active the place typically is, there is a sense of liberty that comes along with the experience, said junior Wren Tuten, who has just recently completed her last graveyard shift.

WRUV station. FRANCES KING. B-Side.
WRUV station. FRANCES KING. B-Side.

“You’re alone with the music at an intimate time,” Tuten said.

Claude has been long done with her graveyard requirements, but still has a soft spot for the private, early-morning hours at Davis. “I loved having my own space to blare my own music and be able to dance and sing in the booth without various onlookers,” Claude said.

But there’s no denying the freaky factor. “When you’re incredibly tired, you start thinking you hear or see things,” she said.

First-year Jack Lustig, whose show “How Much Art” airs every Wednesday from midnight to 2 a.m., doesn’t mind the time.

WRUV DJ Jack Lustig. FRANCES KING. B-Side.
WRUV DJ Jack Lustig. FRANCES KING. B-Side.

“I get to be more liberal with what I play because I know not a lot of people tune in,” Lustig said. “It also cuts out the stress of having to answer the phone.”

The late night factor, however, doesn’t stop friends and family of the DJs from listening.

“It means more when people tune in at this time, like calls from my mom listening next to my dad snoring in bed,” Tuten said.

Her brother, works late nights as a restaurant manager in Key West, and often calls in or gives feedback. “It makes the whole experience much more personal and special,” she said.

Similarly, Claude said her biggest and most dedicated fan is her grandfather, who “usually wakes up in the middle of the night anyway.” On top of that, Claude’s friends and family in different timezones often listen, sometimes using WRUV’s “Chat the DJ” messaging feature to mess around with her.

Lustig’s friends from his hometown of Washington, D.C. often call in, and it’s not uncommon for him to put them on air to tell a joke. During songs, he’ll even FaceTime with people to fill the silence.

Even if the phone lines are quiet, filling the time isn’t a problem.

WRUV station controls. FRANCES KING. B-Side.
WRUV station controls. FRANCES KING. B-Side.

“I always dance to the songs I play, with my boyfriend or by myself,” Tuten said.

Looking for facts to share during the on-air segments also keeps her awake. “You know I like the gross facts,” she said to her listeners. The facts Tuten shares range from strange biological nuances to the odds of getting struck by lightning while driving.

“I just love having a conversation with all of Burlington,” Tuten said. Having a show late at night or early in the morning means she can have her conversation without a script or unnecessary stress. This is likely why she said her personality shines through so clearly.

“What can I say? I love to talk!” she said.

Though Lustig chooses to limit his on-air time as much as possible, he manages to make the most out of it. On top of sharing local weather and the most recently played songs, Lustig broadcasts a wide variety of news stories, like updates on the baby panda at the National Zoo and information about the latest maple syrup crisis in Vermont.

Because the Davis Center closes at midnight, few souls wander past the studio. But between 1:30 and 2:30 a.m., the cleaning staff  passes by while cleaning the floor.

“We wave,” Tuten said.

She also said the is quiet in an eerie but also peaceful manner.

WRUV station. FRANCES KING. B-Side.
WRUV station. FRANCES KING. B-Side.

“It makes me think clearly,” Tuten said.

For some, the late night factor definitely has an influence on what is played.

“My immediate interest was always to play something soft and chill because I was so tired, but I would end up playing more rock heavy stuff to avoid falling asleep,” Claude said.

Lustig’s set gradually turns more hardcore as the night goes on.

“If I aired in the afternoon, I probably would play less metal,” he said.

Tuten said she loves to play dance and sentimental music, but not with the intention of keeping her awake. She said her set will most likely be the same once she plays afternoon slots.

“The music I play depends more on the mood I’m in, not so much time,” Tuten said. But she can’t deny that there will be more stress involved, considering more people will be listening.

DJing late at night affects the whole day leading up to it. Lustig relies on caffeine, whether in the form of coffee or Earl Grey tea.

“Honestly, I’m not sure what percentage of my blood is still blood at this point,” he said.

Tuten and Claude both prefer taking naps before their shifts. “I definitely tried to plan my day around the graveyard a little bit, and usually went to bed sort of early so I could wake up a few hours later,” Claude said.

It can be difficult to imagine who tunes in at such late hours, but Tuten said she imagines it is most likely a combination of truck drivers, insomniacs who turn on the radio as a last resort to fall asleep, and her mom.

There are aspects of the graveyard shift Claude misses.

“Although it was very difficult to get out of bed at two in the morning and bike in the rain to the Davis Center, I kind of miss the adventure of it,” she said. “It was the kind of miserable you could laugh about.”

Although Tuten has only just recently ended her graveyard shifts, she anticipates missing the intimacy. Plus, listeners are more accepting of mistakes at 2 a.m. than 2 p.m., which makes the experience feel “safer and more fun,” Claude said.

But as she is studying to be a nurse during the night shift, Tuten said she knows there is no escaping the time slot, but this is a reality she is okay with.

Sanders’ Tie-Dyed Primary

     The first thing I notice as I cross the parking lot are the men in suits. It’s thirty degrees—a clear day in Rindge, New Hampshire—but the men in suits don’t seem to notice. They have ear pieces that crawl out of their stiff collars like skin tone worms and one of them is wearing a black windbreaker that has “Secret Service” in blocky white letters across the back. They stand with their arms crossed in pairs of two, eyes quietly probing the pedestrians who stroll by in front of them.

    A bus with “Franklin Pierce University” stenciled in black on its white sides stops noisily in front of the building. The vendors occupying foldable tables in front of the gymnasium call to the passengers as they exit, waving t-shirts and pins in an array of colors and sizes, and the men in suits chew gum and scan the crowd. I check my watch. Bernie comes on in thirty minutes.

    It’s 72 hours until the New Hampshire Primary; the eleventh hour for last-minute campaign events. Bernie Sanders announced this rally only two days earlier, but the gymnasium at Franklin Pierce is still bustling with activity when my friends and I arrive at eleven o’clock.

     We follow signs that lead us past a line of large white news trucks and blacked out SUVs and enter through the front door of the gym, which funnels into a corridor whose path is blocked by two large metal detectors. Behind them stands an imposing man in a bulletproof vest strapped with an array of dangerous-looking objects.

     His thumbs are hooked in the shoulder straps of his vest and his eyes scan each person probingly as they enter. At the far end of the hallway two men hold large german shepherds on tight leashes. An old bearded man in a tie dye shirt helps his disabled son through the entrance in front of me. His shirt says “Feel the Bern.”

      As we enter the gym a woman materializes from the shadows holding a clipboard and steps in front of us, grinning broadly. She asks if we want to sign up to be part of a phone call campaign to increase voter turnout in New Hampshire. She tells me I’ll get a sticker that means no other people with clipboards will approach me. I accept quickly.

    The gym is mostly full, with a stage set up on one end of the court and a blocked-off press section on the other. Near half court is a platform filled with expensive-looking TV cameras and worried people with headsets talking on cell phones. A man in a suit stands quietly by each exit. “Rockin’ in the Free World” plays loudly through the PA system.

    As I stand near the center of the room scanning the crowd, a woman taps me on the shoulder and when I turn around she asks if I might give a quick interview for Belgian National Radio. As it turns out, this is the first of five interviews, most of them before Bernie takes the stage: CNN Politics, a girl doing a school project, and two reporters all ask for quotes.

   One man, however, draws more attention from the journalists than any other: a tall, denim clad man with a cowboy hat and a jacket which proclaims in bold font across the back: “Ask Me Why Cops Support Marijuana.” Reporters swarm to take him up on the offer.

     Bernie takes the stage shortly before noon. As he shuffles into view the crowd roars and those in the bleacher section on stage jump to their feet and wave signs that say “A Future To Believe In.” He’s dressed in a blazer covering a blue sweater and a light blue dress shirt, and as he takes the podium he leans forward and rests his weight on his hands. The reporters recede to better vantage points. Once the commotion has quieted, Bernie talks for roughly 45 minutes.

    He addresses the need for campaign finance reform, discusses the Koch brothers and the power of Wall Street and Big Pharma, and reiterates the need for strong voter turnout. As he speaks, two thick men in suits with cropped hair walk quietly in front of me, watching the faces of the onlookers, and as they whisper to each other one of them fumbles with his earpiece and the fat gold ring on his finger. Bernie shakes his fist as he discusses income inequality and a broken political system.

     And then, about halfway through, between bursts of applause, Bernie hits his stride. In the middle of an impassioned speech, he pulls off his jacket and tosses it ceremoniously to a young man standing behind him in the bleachers. The crowd is in love. The gym erupts in cheers as the wide-eyed young man raises the jacket triumphantly and Bernie, turning back to the podium with a shy smile, declares “I feel like a rock-and-roll star!”

     If the near-frenzied enthusiasm of the room had not been palpable, it was now unmistakable. Bernie speaks for another twenty minutes, interrupted often by whoops and cheers—and one woman who interjects with a short tirade about Wal Mart, which he listens to earnestly before resuming. As he finishes his speech and steps down from the stage, the crowd flocks to him in a dense throng of commotion. My friends and I decide it isn’t worth the trouble, and exit the way we came. Men in suits scan us blankly as we step outside into the cold, bright day.

    As we walk back to the car, vendors call to us with more t-shirts, sweatshirts, socks, hats and buttons. I wonder what the men in suits might look like in tie dye as a shuttle pulls away from the entrance in a cloud of steam and exhaust. People are laughing and calling to each other, and two men with a camera set up by the exit ask passing attendees: “are you feeling the Bern?”

    After a short walk we reach the car, and as we’re pulling out of the parking lot a man in uniform steps in front of us and motions for us to wait. He looks up the hill to our left and we follow his eyes as a convoy of black vehicles begins to roll around the corner and down the road in front of us. We watch as they pass, windows tinted black, lights flashing.

   Then, a cheer rises up from the top of the hill. As we watch, a tan SUV rolls down the hill, and passes in front of us. In it, I see Bernie, his forehead against the glass, his hand waving, and a broad and uneven smile stretched across his face. As he passes out of view, I can’t help but admit it: I’m feeling the Bern.

 

Meandering Stowe’s Main Street & Beyond

        Sometimes, you just need to take the day and get out of town. After a long week of running from Colchester to College Street, walking down a different Vermont Main comes as a much-needed change of pace. On a relatively balmy, brilliantly beautiful January afternoon my friend Eva and I headed southeast on I-89 into the mountains to Stowe.

        For skiers and riders, Stowe has an obvious appeal; the resort has 460 acres holding 98 trails and 11 lifts. But for those who prefer to admire the trails snaking down Mount Mansfield from afar, Stowe’s Main Street establishments offer a cozy change of pace from hanging out at Bailey/Howe.

IMG_9544
Main Street, Stowe, Vermont. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

        The road to Stowe is predictably gorgeous, from the first 180-degree vista of the Green Mountain peaks near Williston to the cruise up Route 100 snugly situated besides Mount Hunger.

     On either side of the road nestled in pine forests sit local, artisan cheese and wine shops, craft breweries, and outdoor gear outfitters in typical Vermont fashion.   

        As the road snakes into town, it passes snow-coated golf courses etched with Nordic tracks, fly-fishing creeks, and charming saltbox chalets. Downtown Stowe greets visitors with historic inns, white-steeple churches, and general stores stocked with everything from canned tuna to children’s books.  

        Approaching Stowe, you’ll first come up on the Vermont Ski and Snowboard museum housed in a classic white clapboard town hall.  Here, you can learn all about everything from snow bunny fashion to slope maintenance through the years of Vermont ski history.

Make a left turn and you’ll swing up to the sprawling Stowe Resort by way of mountain road as it meanders over covered bridges and past small shops and markets.

Black Cap Coffee, Stowe, Vermont. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.
Black Cap Coffee, Stowe, Vermont. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

        Just down the street, Black Cap Coffee sits warm and welcoming on the corner of Main & School streets. The painted red brick café is homey and bright, filled with paintings and pottery by local artists. Black Cap roasts excellent coffee in-house, and its baristas can whip up a killer maple latte.

        If you’re hungry for some savories, head to Jamie’s on Main. The staff is lovely and so is the food—you can stay and hang out or grab a to-go snack for the mountains.

IMG_9542
Main Street, Stowe, Vermont. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

After we’d had our fill of good coffee and Stowe sightseeing, Eva and I headed a few miles up the road to Putnam State forest. The quiet woods, hidden amongst gorgeous mountain estates and small family farms, are filled with waterfalls, young pine forests, mountain streams and stunning views.

        We got out of the car and tramped along the lowland marsh trail up Moss Glen Falls: snowed-over and frozen, but with clear blue water still rushing underneath. In the summer months, the falls get plenty of visitors but in the middle of winter you’re likely to be alone in the woods.

        Grabbing hold of protruding roots and scooting slowly past ice patches, we reached the top of the waterfall and looked out west. The evergreens frame flawlessly a delicious view of Mansfield’s western slopes and the valley in its shadow.

Putnam State Forest. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.
Putnam State Forest. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

        From the falls, you can wander deep into the forest on a well-kept trail covered in pine needles in the summer, and packed snow in the winter. Or, you can head back down the hill, get in the car and explore the country roads, harmlessly trespassing through some beautiful backyards.

Putnam State Forest. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.
Putnam State Forest. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

        Whether you’re skiing or not, spending a day in Stowe is a treat. It’s just far enough away from the campus routine to feel like an adventure, and there’s plenty to do whether you’re pining for a quiet woodland hike, locally roasted coffee, or a snapshot of smaller-town Vermont life.

           

Extra Spice in the Old North End 

Central Market Taste of Asia. RYAN THORNTON. The Vermont Cynic.
Central Market Taste of Asia. RYAN THORNTON. The Vermont Cynic.

“I’ll do medium spice, just to be safe,” said the server at Central Market Taste of Asia on North Winooski Avenue in Burlington’s North End. I tried again.

“No, I really do want it hot. I liked the curry you made me last time.”

“Are you sure?” she asked. “It has chilies in it.” I continued to emphasize that, yes, this was the level of spice I wanted, and after a fairly lengthy discussion she wrote “Hot” on the order slip and brought it out to the kitchen.

The issues I wanted to address during our discussion concerned whether or not I was doing something unusual. As a white American in a rural state, I realize that members of my demographic had probably come in before and been overwhelmed by spicy dishes— or, suspecting that they might be, had been careful to ask about a dish’s spiciness beforehand. I don’t blame my server, then, for exhibiting a bit of extra caution. Most of those inquiries had probably been followed by requests that the spiciness of an order of shrimp vindaloo or chicken tikka masala be toned down somewhat, to avoid undue discomfort.

On my first and third visits, I had apparently made the mistake of asking that same question. The first time, an otherwise delicious chicken curry arrived completely devoid of the bracing heat I’d anticipated. Its intact flavors were well-balanced and its chunks of chicken thigh were tender, but the lack of fire left me disappointed. I resolved to try again.

The second time, I ordered chicken shahi korma, a creamy curry dish with nuts and vegetables. I requested “hot,” without prefacing the request with any sort of question. I was asked to confirm my choice, and said yes with what must have been the right amount of confidence. The shahi korma was, indeed, blazingly hot. Small orange flecks of chili were visible throughout the pale sauce. On its own, the curry would have approached — but not yet reached — an uncomfortable level of heat. Accompanied by papadums, (thin, shatteringly crisp wafers of legume flour), white rice and pleasantly stretchy naan bread, the balance of heat and flavor was wonderful.

My third visit and subsequent order led to the conversation excerpted above. I had arrived with a question in mind, one I’d been mulling over since the first meal: Had my expectations of Nepalese food been skewed unrealistically toward the fiery side of things? The try-hard Westerner who seeks to prove himself by trying a foreign cuisine at its most “other” is a well-known foodie stereotype. He (for this diner is almost invariably male) is closely related to the seasoning-averse lightweight. Neither will appreciate another culture’s food except on their own terms, and neither is something I’d like to be.

veggies
Central Market Taste of Asia. RYAN THORNTON. The Vermont Cynic.

Andy Ricker, a white American restaurateur and Thai food expert known for a nearly unique deference to the culture that created his livelihood, has often suggested asking restaurant staff to “make [a dish] as you would for a Thai person.” He offers a translation of this phrase into Thai; lacking confidence in my off-the-cuff Nepali, I settled for English.

“Would a Nepalese person want this dish to be spicy?” I asked.

“Yes,” my server replied. “Nepalese people like very spicy food.” Whew. Reassured that this order would be the real deal and not just some crass stunt, I thanked her and joined my photographer, Ryan, to look through the shop’s grocery section.

Because we got to Central Market Taste of Asia toward the end of their kitchen’s operating hours, seating was not available and we had to take our order to go. To avoid a similar experience, readers should take note of the fact that Central Market sometimes closes earlier than their sign states (9:00); additionally, the kitchen closes at 8:30 and sometimes before then.

After perusing a burstingly diverse array of pan-Asian produce, packaged foods, and housewares (highlights included coconut-flavored larva-shaped cookies, perfect for Halloween; stark white cans of butane gas labeled with a red and orange explosion graphic and the word “POWER;” and a tall, slim glass bottle of fuchsia-hued “Houston Cowboy” lychee-flavored syrup, product of Thailand, complete with illustrated cartoon namesake– perhaps a placebo substitute for Houston’s better-known purple concoction?), Ryan and I collected our food and ventured outdoors in search of a place to eat.

Central Market Taste of Asia. RYAN THORNTON. The Vermont Cynic.
Central Market Taste of Asia. RYAN THORNTON. The Vermont Cynic.

Tungsten streetlights lent a sleazy glow to the Old North End as we walked, and it soon became apparent that our food would grow cold before we found a table with natural lighting. We sat down to eat on the sidewalk by an African market, in full view of passing cars.

The thali platter I’d ordered included chicken and lamb curries, both assertive and complex, with tender and flavorful meat; lentil soup, whose float of orange chilies gave it a fruity, almost floral lift; the aforementioned pappadum, along with poori (a deep-fried whole-wheat bread puffed from within by steam); the creamy yogurt sauce raita, which was sweeter and thicker than Indian versions I’d had in the past; the ever-present white rice; and gulab jamun, a spherical dessert made of milk solids and soaked in cardamom-scented rosewater syrup. All were terrific. Ryan’s order of onion bhaji was enjoyable as well, although a tad greasy. We used part of the substantial portion to improvise a sort of quasi-Nepalese take on poutine, pouring a small amount of curry over the sweet, battered fried onion. It would probably have been better with some paneer to stand in for the traditional cheese curds.

All in all, I’m mostly pleased with the establishment that has replaced 99 Asian Market at 242 North Winooski Avenue. What was once Burlington’s most underrated bowl of pho has given way to an array of rich, well-spiced stews, as well as a number of noodle dishes I have yet to try. There will be plenty of opportunities in the future; already, Central Market Taste of Asia seems likely to inherit its predecessor’s place as an Old North End standby.