Posts Tagged ‘Lake Champlain’

how high’s the water, mama?

May 29, 2011

5/26 - storm over Richmond, VT

The heavy snows we had this winter were followed by epic melting and the wettest April and May in Vermont’s recorded history. The month isn’t over yet, and there is more rain predicted for the next few days.

On May 6th Lake Champlain also topped out at a record-breaking 103.2 – more than a foot above previously recorded highs. By the time the lake crested on that date, it had already been more than two feet above flood stage for a while and flooding all along the lakeshore had already been happening for several weeks.

I live on a large hill and have not personally been afflicted by flooding. The roads I travel have been washed out, crossed by spontaneous min-rivers, and littered with downed trees, branches, and loads of gravel and rocks washed down from nearby hills. Outside of a few hazardous driving experiences I can’t offer much new perspective on the situation that hasn’t already been explored – at least in words – but I can share with you my view of things via some of the photos I’ve taken in the last month or so.

My slideshow is below, I’ll continue to update it as I get around and get more shots.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Keith Vance is a reporter with the Times-Argus, and he’s also put together a nice (to be clear: nice presentation, not subject matter) slideshow of the shots he took in the devastating wake of last Thursday’s storm and immediate flooding:

There is much suffering and loss due to flooding around the entire nation right now, including Vermont. There’s also much that’s unknown about the longer-term effects of the situation. It crossed my mind recently that the annual Burlington Discover Jazz Festival is scheduled to start in a week, and one of its most popular events is the annual Dixieland Jazz Cruise which leaves from the King Street ferry – except that the ferry dock (parking lot, and all surrounding buildings) has been under more than two feet of water for the last month. I wonder how the cruise can happen as planned – will some creative alternate solution be necessary this year?

So it’s hard to imagine today how recovery is going to begin in many of  the areas I’ve seen. Let’s see how things look later this summer, if/when the lake level begins to subside and the extent of the damage can start to be guaged.

Here’s Vermont Public Radio’s flood page, with stories, photos, videos, road closure information, and resources for flood victims.

spring is coming

March 19, 2011

Saturday morning, catching up on life. It’s been a busy week here recovering from being out of town last week at the annual PRMC (public radio music conference) in NY City. It was a great trip, the conference was sponsored by AMPPR (Assoc. of Music Personnel in Public Radio – unwieldy, that’s why we just call it the PRMC) and held in the Greene Space at the WNYC studios.

I met with composers Paul Moravec and Aaron Jay Kernis, and had good conversations with Performance Today host Fred Child along with many other friends and colleagues. Quotable quote came from Montreal-based violinst Angèle Dubeau, who also leads the all-female ensemble she founded, La Pietà. She was talking about Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, one of the subjects of her new ‘Portraits’ series of recordings: “For me, the music of Arvo Pärt is like a cathedral. It’s that big.”

What’s the buzz among public radio music personnel these days? Community engagement. ‘Radio’ relevance in a Pandora world. Creating meaningful partnerships with area arts organizations. Social media. Web presence. In essence: connecting. The same thing that radio has always tried to do but now we’re doing it in different ways (many of which have little to do with traditional ‘radio’ at all), and we’re doing it in a time where there’s a lot more competition for people’s attention. It’s worth talking about. A lot.

cool old radios in Mystic, CT

I came back to Vermont to discover the big snow on March 13th/14th had melted down a few inches, and the first bare ground of the year is now visible in the yard. This morning a new inch or so of snow is covering everything and a few flakes are still falling through sunlight as I write this. A late afternoon visit to South Hero revealed the Lake beginning to break up. (It was stunning.) First day of spring is tomorrow. Besides March Madness, another sure sign of the changing season is yesterday’s opening of the annual Green Mountain Film Festival. (More on that later  – this year’s festival features interesting films on many musical subjects including Mozart’s sister Nannerl, Leonard Cohen, local musician James Harvey, and composer David Amram.) It’s also open house weekend at Vermont maple sugar houses – the sap is running!

beautiful melting Lake Champlain, 3/14

Libyan artist Ibn Thabit has been busy too, with two new videos responding to developing events in his country. And, in breaking news today – check out this extraordinary series of shots from AFP/Getty Images photographer Patrick Baz. He was on the ground in Libya this morning when a fighter jet was shot down. It’s been less than a day since day since the UN declared a no-fly zone over Libya. CNN is reporting that the jet photographed here belonged to Libyan rebels.


It’s good to be back. And, while this is something that is much bigger than just Vermont -when you’re out tonight remember to look up, the moon will be at its closest point to Earth since 1993.

Tripoli Calling

Libyan Warrior Song

trading fours: as local as it gets

August 1, 2009

Another week passed by, with another fairly random stream of tunes running through it. You too?

This week might have been less random than some, mostly for lack of time to actively pick out an assortment of listening material.

Didn’t get to hear any live music this week either, though Peter Hedlund‘s nyckelharpa gig at the Black Door was a heartbreaker to have to miss on Thursday night. Could it be that as July ends, it takes with it the frenzy of early summer’s festivals, parades, and crazy-abundant live music? I hope not.

What the week did hold was a few recordings that floated my way related to an ongoing work project. And that’s where this week’s installment of “Trading Fours” comes in:

#1 – Robert Resnik & Marty Morrissey’s “Songs of Lake Champlain” – Newly written and traditional songs, including the “A to Zs” of the Lake; a catchy tune about lamprey, zebra mussels, and other invasive species; and, an ode to the last steamship, “Ticonderoga” (now dry-docked at the Shelburne Museum).

#2 – Deb Flanders’ “Mother Make My Bed” – Beautiful, traditional songs from the vast collection of Deb’s Great Aunt, Vermont song collector Helen Hartness Flanders.

#3 – Alan Greenleaf’s “Songs From Lost Mountain” – What happens when a farmer writes music? – Tunes and stories as rich and earthy as the land that inspires them. Poignant observations on gentrification, the great flood of 1927, and the snowy hills of a New England winter.

#4 – La Bottine Souriante’s “Anthologie II, 1976-2005” – Including tunes from the late ’70s when French-Canadian fiddler Lisa Ornstein was with the group (which is why I was listening to it – doing a little research on Lisa), this collection is a fullblown dancing, tempo-shifting great time from one of the best groups in the French-Canadian fiddle band tradition.

The offer stands for Trading Fours – send me your top four picks along with a quick explanation of the theme that holds them together, and I’ll post them here. Pass on the tradition of learning about music from friend.

Cheers to Friday night – and the weekend!

on the waterfront

July 10, 2009
Champlain sunset

Champlain sunset

Not the Brando film. At least, not last night. “On the waterfront” would be the Burlington waterfront, sitting here at the Northeastern shore of Lake Champlain. Site of the Festival that began last week in celebration of Samuel de Champlain’s 1609 arrival at the Lake.

I was actually in Montreal when the whole thing started last week, but I came home to find there’s still plenty left to go as the Festival continues for several more days: a visual art tent, puppet theatres, Abenacki and other native American cultural activities, Francophone poetry readings, French/American dance performances, a solo piano recital with the theme of  “Water Music”…I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now. (I often feel like that about life in VT, truthfully, but this time there’s actually a reason for it.)

It doesn’t stop there. Along with the full schedule of local performers, the Festival is also bringing in big names like Tony Bennett, Steve Earle, Aimee Mann and – last night, “The Great Lady of Soul” Bettye LaVette with Buddy Guy and the Damn Right Blues Band. (Might just be the best band name. Ever.)

Bettye is elegant, dynamic, and about the only thing that gives away her 64 years (48 if those as a professional entertainer!) is the depth of experience

Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette

that fuels her songs. She can sing it because she’s lived it. She did the encore acapella, and poured everything she had into the powerful bluesy gospel, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. A lot of today’s younger singers can take a lesson from Bettye in messages like that one, delivered with 100%  of everything she offers as an entertainer: longevity is earned, cultivated carefully through a combination of artistic excellence and consistency. If you’re still headlining and singing to audiences of thousands when you’re 64 (especially as a woman – it’s true, unfortunately) – it’s not because that’s a given part of success.

And Buddy Guy, well. One of his favorite lines is “I’m gonna play something so funky you can SMELL it!” He plays fewer individually distinct sets or ‘tunes’ than he keeps a rolling dialogue going from the stage combining music, ongoing interaction with the audience and the band, and searing guitar riffs on everything from Mustang Sally and Skin Deep (title track from his latest recording) to knock-down imitations of Eric Clapton and John Lee Hooker. All in good fun, and he knows it too. Another Buddy quote: “You got me feeling so good I’m liable to say anything.” (Promptly launching into some juicy howling guitar licks, as he sings “It must be jelly ’cause jam don’t shake like that.”) OooooEEE!

This is the first time (of many) seeing Buddy Guy in concert when he didn’t bring his big white guitar down into the audience to play around. And he didn’t feature a second guitarist this time, either, which is something I’ve come to expect in his shows. I’ve noticed in the past he’s been very generous with the time he gives his band in the spotlight, doing their own thing, and I usually look forward to hearing whatever young guitarist he’s playing with. It’s been different every time, but always good.

This show was about Buddy, up front with no exceptions. Just fine by me.

Check out the rest of the Burlington Waterfront Festival listings here, it’s going to be a busy weekend!

music and then some

June 20, 2009

2009-Jun18-OnTheAirThe week started in downtown Burlington with the last sweet notes of this year’s Discover Jazz Festival, and it ended just as nicely: with Thursday evening’s recording session featuring music of Lake Champlain, and last night’s red-hot set of standards with Ray Vega’s new Quartet at the bakery in Richmond.

No doubt: I am very fortunate that both the professional and personal areas of my life are so frequently filled with music, and usually such different kinds. A day that starts with two hours on the air hosting beautiful classical music often continues in the afternoon as I listen to new world music in the barn while working in the Cumbancha/Putumayo database, and concludes later that same evening by catching live music somwehere: classical, jazz, world, or any variety of local performers. Very fortunate.

Both Thursday and Friday this week were days like that: hosting classical music on the air in the morning (commemorating “Juneteenth” on yesterday’s show); working at Cumbancha/Putumayo in the afternoon, and then enjoying live music in the evening.

On Thursday eve around 7,  the forces gathered in the VPR performance studio to record the last artist we’ll be including in the Champlain 400 music showcase. (The program is scheduled to air later this summer, as part of the station’s and the region’s wider Quadricentennial celebrations. You may remember my mentioning it here when the first showcase recording session took place over Memorial Day weekend, included the French Canadian fiddler/guitar duo of Lisa Ornstein and André Marchand, and singer/songwriter Alan Greenleaf. What a day that was!)

Robert & Deb recording in the VPR studio

Robert & Deb recording in the VPR studio

Singer, songwriter and historian Deb Flanders stopped by to share an intimate set of traditional and original songs largely reflecting the personal stories of the Lake’s Anglo settlers. Found and lost love, distant love, struggle and survival and despair and optimism…the 9,000+ songs and ballads that comprise the extensive collection of Deb’s great-Aunt, Helen Hartness Flanders represent a comprehensive narrative of  the collective and individual immigrant experiences. From the haunting ballad of The Butcher Boy to Deb’s original additions to the archive, Thursday evening’s music offered a quietly poignant, very personal cross-section of that vast experience.

Last night’s live music was a nothing short of a mainline into the other end of the intro/extroverted energy spectrum. Late in the week I found out that Ray Vega was going to be bringing his Quartet to Richmond’s On the Rise bakery. Having seen Ray just a couple of weeks ago with the new UVM Jazz Collective, I was ready for more and eager to hear him in a smaller ensemble setting.

The only complicating factor? I work on the Burlington side of the Richmond Bridge (where On the Rise is), but I live on “the other side” of it.

March, 2009: taking the backroads home

March, 2009 - at your own risk: taking the VT backroads home in mud season

A little history: in early March (yes, the start of ‘mud season’ here), the Bridge closed for structural repairs, necessitating any number of creative alternate routes around it on dirt roads for anyone living on ‘the other’ side. That is, anyone – like me – living at the southern end of Chittenden County and dependent on the Huntington Main Road (and the Richmond Bridge) to be connected to the rest of the county. Besides adding another 10 min. (minimum: that’s without school buses or heavy weather or excessive mud) to the daily commute to/from Burlington, the temporary closure effectively bifurcated the Richmond business district and severed the main route through town. The Bridge was scheduled to reopen in time for the annual 4th of July parade to pass through, but I read that the contractors  also had a tiered scale of financial incentives available to them to encourage an earlier completion.

So: back to last night. In considering whether or not I  would go to the bakery to see Ray Vega’s Quartet for their 8pm set, I also had to think seriously about driving home afterward – without the benefit of the Bridge – tired, through the winding (deer, fox, beaver and moose-filled) backroads to get home. It’s funny, I admit it. But a little less so when dodging the wildlife very late at night in the pitch dark. I decided to do it anyway and just be extra vigilant and careful on the drive home afterward. This is just something I never had to think about when I lived in LA, where heading home meant leaving the wild life behind.

I arrived in Richmond yesterday evening around 6 for a pre-concert pizza at the Bridge Street Café, and noticed right away the unusual amount of traffic at the top of the Street. Was the Quartet drawing all the traffic? Or the Friday afternoon Farmer’s Market? Or…?

Turns out the Bridge had just reopened! Two weeks early! I learned when I got to the bakery that when the day’s construction ended (at 6pm), there had been a brief ceremony and the Bridge reopened for business. Great news.

Then the music began. I was just thinking as the Quartet launched into their opener, Cedar Walton’s hard-driving Bolivia, that even if I had the longer (dark, beaverous) drive home to look forward to afterward, it would have been worth it.  They play for keeps, whether straight-ahead grooving or lingering over the delicious notes of a ballad like Tom Jones’ What’s New Pussycat? (the tune Ray dedicated to his wife, sitting at a table right in front: “This one’s for you honey.” And then, as an aside to the rest of the room: “Now I’ll really play the blues! ”  Love his humor. And his fluglehorn sound.)

Ray Vega Quartet at On the Rise bakery

The Quartet: Ray Vega (trumpet & fluglehorn), Tom Cleary (piano), John Rivers (bass) and Jeff Salisbury (drums)

They ended the set with a tribute to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, in its 50th anniversary year: All Blues.

My week ended with smiles, friends, great coffee and a sunset-lit table in the corner, enjoying the Quartet. And a short, quick drive home thanks to the reopened Bridge.

In other words: anything but the blues.

BDJ Festival, day 2: rock, paper, scissors

June 8, 2009
a Firehouse floor socket, only one in the whole place that was empty!

a Firehouse floor socket, only one in the whole place that was empty!

Yesterday evening’s performance at Burlington’s Firehouse Gallery was just the kind of thing I usually try to seek out at the Discover Jazz festival: the unusual performances that define the edges of the art, as much as the headliners aim squarely for the populist center. A complete festival needs (and attracts) both kinds of experiences.

A few days ago I found out banjo legend Paul Metzger was coming to town. While not technically an event sponsored by the Discover Jazz Festival, his appearance in Burlington was timed perfectly to offer that alternative musical performance perspective. He’s touring with with Elaine Evans (amplified violin and pocket trumpet), Amen Dunes (guitar/vocals), the Paper Hats (self-described “experimentalists”) and Eric Carbonara, who plays fine flamenco-style acoustic guitar and an unusual guitar/sitar hybrid called a “Chaturangui”.  They each played an individual set, and the order of performances was decided in the back of the room just before the music started. It was a very involved process: a heated bout of rock/paper/scissors. (Those crazy experimental musicians!)

Paul doesn’t have the high profile of other banjo greats – folks like Bela Fleck and Earl Scruggs – though it’s a safe bet they sure know who he is. He doesn’t seem to be too bothered with all of that. I talked with him a little before the show and I got the feeling that the mainstream isn’t where an artist like him can operate, and still have the latitude they need to to develop their vision. Paul’s career has been defined by breaking every banjo rule and rediscovering the instrument from the ground up, including how it’s played, and expectations of how it “should” sound.

Paul tuning his modified banjo

Paul tuning his modified banjo

While Paul is reinventing an established instrument, guitarist Eric Carbonara is exploring new realms with a recently invented one. He helped design the instrument with his teacher, Indian slide guitar master Debashish Bhattacharya. The “Chaturangui” fuses an acoustic guitar and a sitar onto a single body and sounds like an entire metallic orchestra of guitars and sitars all playing simultaneously. The sound is big, and impressive. On the way home last night I listened to one of Eric’s CDs I had picked up at the show. It contains two tracks: each is over 10 min. long, unfolding and developing patiently, building in complexity, much like ragas in their form and feel. Loved it.

Eric and the Chaturangui

Eric and the Chaturanguia

The concert reminded me of something I read recently in Kyle Gann’s excellent collection of essays on contemporary music, Music Downtown: “Music is a language to the extent that it has syntax, rules that govern its continuation, a level of predictability with which events happen. But that’s the formulaic, ‘yang’ side of music. Rules don’t govern everything, and some passages take even the composer by surprise. In the hullaballoo about language, music’s less describable side – image – has suffered neglect, in both composition and discourse.”

Last night’s show was all about that side: music’s capacity to evoke images, expressed vividly through the unique language of experimentalism.

Earlier in the day, for some non-jazz festival music, I had stopped by the Fleming Museum to hear organist David Neiweem’s recital on UVM’s 4-stop portative organ in the Museum’s interior Marble Courtyard. It’s a 2001 model, by Dutch builder Henk Klop. The performance was part of the Museum’s new exhibit “A Beckoning Country“, a celebration of art from the Champlain Valley to coincide with the region’s Quadricentennial celebrations this year.

David’s program featured music from the time of Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer who arrived in the area from Québec City and mapped the Lake region in 1609. Who was writing music around that time? Girolamo Frescobaldi and John Blow were. So were Samuel Scheidt, Michele Corrette, and, J.S. Bach. What an interesting idea for a program.

David Neiweem at the Fleming

David Neiweem at the Fleming

Scheidt’s partita on Martin Luther’s Easter chorale Christ lag in Todesbanden was especially lovely, as the light voice of the portative spoke in airy contrast to the weightiness of the chorale.

What a great day of diverse music!

in the studio

May 24, 2009

2009-May24-Champlain400 085[small]

Reel des nouveaux mariés (the 'newlyweds reel')

Staffers know it, so do many listeners. Local musicians definitely know it. The performance space in the heart of Vermont Public Radio’s Colchester offices is one of the acoustically finest recording studios in the state.

I spent today in there, interviewing and hosting several musicians for a showcase we’re producing. It’s part of the station-wide project celebrating this year’s Lake Champlain Quadricentennial anniversary. Not sure when today’s session will air. Possibly in early July. Keep an eye here, I’ll let you know.

The day started off on the right foot (and the left, and the left-right-left!) with Lisa Ornstein and André Marchand, the French-Canadian fiddler and guitarist/singer duo. They’re in town for a concert this evening at UVM but took a little time to stop by and share some of their wide repertoire of chansons, dances, reels and other traditional tunes. They’re great. Lisa has a longstanding connection to this area, as a protégée of the legendary fiddler Louis Beaudoin. Among André’s credits is several years with Quebec’s Juno-winning La Bouttine Souriante. We all got a laugh from Lisa describing her move from Canada back to the family home, after graduating: “It was in Maine. Northern Maine. So far North in fact that when I moved back there I had to go NORTH from Québec City to get there!”

Marty, Robert and me in the studio (ace audio engineer Chris Albertine in the background)

Marty, Robert and me in the studio (ace audio engineer Chris Albertine in the background)

Next up was one of my favorite local acts, the Burlington-based duo of Robert Resnik and Marty Morrissey. With more than 30 instruments and 50 years of experience between them (25 of those years playing together), these two really know how to share some learning, have a great time, and get everyone else involved in the fun too. And why not? There’s a lot to keep a songwriter entertained here: a rich maritime and military history, wildly unpredictable weather, breathtaking natural beauty (every season!), Champ (Lake Champlain’s elusive answer to the Loch Ness monster), farming culture, and…yep, even rock snot. And other invasive species.

After a short break we were joined by singer/songwriter Alan Greenleaf. A farmer himself, fittingly, he had spent the earlier part of the day playing at the opening weekend of a local farmer’s market. He offered a final set of original songs ranging from the whimsical to the poignant, covering everything from the flood of 1927 to the austere landscape of our northern winters, and that hallowed Vermont summertime tradition, the Strolling of the Heifers. Really. Greenleaf likes to describe this as the rare parade that’s not about wars.

This was just one of those days where I feel lucky. Blessed to live where I do, fortunate to be involved in special gatherings like this, and grateful to have the ears and eyes to be able to take it all in.

Thanks to everyone who was part of today’s recording session.

The final words for the day come from Mr. Greenleaf: “I never get tired of looking out the window. This is a beautiful place we live in, Vermont. It’s worth a lot of songs.”

For further exploration:

Robert Resnik & Marty Morrissey’s Old and New Songs of Lake Champlain

Alan Greenleaf: Singer/Songwriter/Farmer

(Lisa Ornstein’s website is currently in development. I’ll add the link here when it’s ready.)

lake bowling

March 1, 2009

Oh yeah, and did I mention (non-musical aside here), it was blistering COLD yesterday? The Lake is frozen solid from shore to breaker wall.

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