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24 posts categorized "Champlain 400"

July 15, 2009

Born from Bureaus -- "Aurelia's Oratorio"

You would think that by the end of a 12-day festival of music, dance, theater and culture celebrating Sam D. Champ's little canoe trip 400 years ago that this kid wouldn't have anything left in the tank. Oh, how wrong you would be. While some people might have felt they have been entertained to within an inch of their lives over these last two weeks (my editrix, for one), I feel like I could go on for weeks, months even.

Truthfully, I couldn't really go on much longer, which is good, since I have run out of underwear and there are fruit flies hovering over my dirty dishes. I blame Jay Craven, the impresario behind the festivities, for my slovenliness of the past two weeks. Of course, all good things must come to an end, including the waterfront festival, which rolled to a stop last night with the final presentation of "Aurelia's Oratorio," a dreamlike opus of whimsy and elan that felt like being stuck headfirst in a champagne flute full of effervescence. Or so said the event guidebook. Or so I paraphrased it.

539w

This is what having no bones looks like.

Continue reading "Born from Bureaus -- "Aurelia's Oratorio"" »

July 12, 2009

It Rained on Our Parade

 P1160751_2 At about 5 p.m. today, a novel assortment of people crammed themselves into the Edmunds Middle School gym. There were people wearing silver streamers and fish on their heads. Fife players dressed in Revolutionary War-era stockings and breeches. On the stage, a ensemble in velvety full Elizabethan attire — the Renaissonics — was performing a stately dance. Outside in the hallway, some shirtless young men were conversing in loud, Québecois-accented French.

Lightning was cracking in the skies outside, and the Quadricentennial parade had been postponed. But not for long.

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July 10, 2009

Wampum Belts and French Champagne

IMG_2959 Today, I had the good fortune of attending a reception at Shelburne Museum with loads of fancy dignitary types. I am not a fancy dignitary, but I am tres importante member of the media and thus I got an invitation to the la fete exclusif aboard the dry-docked, land-locked Ticonderoga. The reception marked the opening of the Wampum Belts from Chartres Cathedral Treasury, an exhibit of two Abenaki and Huron wampum belts that have been hanging out in France for the past 300 years.

The wampum belts are extremely rare and date back to the late 17th century. I asked if I could wear one for a little bit, but the museum folks weren't into that. The belts are a loaner prezzie to the museum in celebration of the Quadricentennial. In a month, they'll get packed up and shipped back to the Musee des Beaux-Art de Chartres where they live. The belts ended up across the pond after they were given to some French Jesuits in recognition of their relationship with the native peoples.

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Following Suit

This Friday morning Seven Days intern Mike DiBiasio and I went down to the Burlington Waterfront and found ourselves following a small herd of men in suits. That's how we knew we were going to the right place, and event: a bilingual dedication ceremony for a sculpture given to us--that is, Vermont--by those nice people from Quebec. Actually, they were reciprocating for a stone monument the nice people of Vermont gave to Quebec City for its quadricentennial last year. Of course, we are both beholden to Samuel de Champlain, without whom a college, a chocolate company, a convenience-store chain, a dental laboratory and our lake would have to be called something else.

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Bettye: Breathtaking! Buddy? You Tell Me...

Bette Quick quiz: Which of these things would you be doing during an indoor concert to show your respect to an amazing artist who is singing her heart out, and to your fellow concertgoers who have paid $35-40 to see the show? A) Talking constantly. B) Texting. C) Smoking cigarettes and cigars. If you answered D) "I'm not a boor who would do any of the above," you are correct! Unfortunately, A-C surrounded me last night as I tried to soak in Bettye LaVette's terrific performance at the Quad's Waterfront Stage in Burlington. It was the first night of glorious weather in what seemed like forever, perfect for enjoying music as the sun--remember the sun?--started to recline over the Adirondacks. I did my best to tune out the rude texting and talking, but after sucking down half a steroid inhaler, I decided staying for Buddy Guy wasn't in the cards. Note to nicotine addicts: Some of us really are allergic.

That aside, I'm still glad I got to hear Bettye LaVette sing live. This grande dame of soul has so much color, texture and dimension to her voice--qualities that can't possibly be captured fully on a recording. (Although I admit I'm headed over to iTunes and Amazon after I've finished my work this weekend to treat myself! Nothing like a little scientific study of the subject, right?) LaVette's stage presence is also remarkable. She powered through her 55-minute set with the vigor of a woman half her age (63), moving and grooving on uptempo numbers--wearing an impressive pair of high heels. She also had to perform while facing directly into unshaded sunlight, which was still pretty strong at 7 p.m. "I wish the sun was shining on y'all instead of me," she joked early in the show. 

Continue reading "Bettye: Breathtaking! Buddy? You Tell Me..." »

July 08, 2009

All About Cheese

Here's a follow-up on the "Cheese Nun":

Mother Noella Marcellino followed in the footsteps of Samuel de Champlain on Wednesday morning, paying homage to the explorer and, more importantly, to his homeland where she spent three years learning the craft of cheesemaking. Having landed a Fulbright Scholarship, the Benedictine nun wandered the valleys and cheese caves of rural France, paying close attention to the local microorganisms that make regional cheeses unique. Wednesday morning, she shared that journey with her audience of cheesemakers and cheese eaters at a seminar hosted by UVM's Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheese. It was called, appropriately, the Taste of Champlain.

Mother Noella's story is one of twists and turns; some might call it serependity, while to others it smacks of divine intervention. A "suburban girl from Massachusetts," she visited the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, CT, and fell in love with the community, entering the convent in 1973. Four years later, the agriculturally minded abbess encouraged her to take up cheesemaking, using the milk from the abbey's handful of Dutch-belted cows.

Long story short, she got a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Connecticut, a degree that explains her expertise in the organisms that create the idiosyncratic flavors and textures of various raw-milk cheeses — the French call it "terroir," which has to do with the unique ecosystems that sustain the animals that are milked to make cheese. And so it goes.

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Steve & Aimee

It's official: Due to relentless rain, the Waterfront is too soggy to support a concert even if--if!--the sun comes out today. Steve Earle and Aimee Mann will be at Memorial Auditorium tonight. And we're still going to love it!

Tony, Tony, Tony!

So, I may have to redo that Facebook quiz on the "Top Five Concerts I've Ever Seen," because Tony Bennett just killed at the Flynn last night. Was there anybody else in the sold-out house? Because it felt like he was singing just for me.

My musical tastes are pretty eclectic. I suppress a smirk when someone takes pains to explain a rock reference to me, thinking the classical music girl doesn't know her Fuel from a fugue. Well, maybe it's better that my rebel-without-a-clue phase is a well-guarded secret.

Hearing the Great Crooners is another secret love. I guess I fell for their music--the old American songbook standards--in college, where we were immersed in Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and the Gershwins. A cappella singing groups belted out their tunes on practically every street corner, and a dozen film societies constantly screened old movie musicals. Fred and Ginger in Top Hat (1935) beat a long night in the library every time.

Over the years, I've been lucky enough to catch live performances by some of the greats--Frank Sinatra, Mel Tormé--and other amazing singers you wouldn't exactly classify as "crooners," such as Ray Charles, Harry Belafonte and B.B. King. When I found out I was going to be able to see Tony Bennett last night, I couldn't wait to share the awesome news with my friends. Their reactions ranged from "Who?" to "That old guy?" and "Why are you so damn excited?" Only my dad expressed enthusiasm. His chipper reply to my text: "Enjoy the show, and let me know how it goes!" (Dad, 69, is getting into texting lately.)

Well, the vast majority of the Flynn crowd appeared to be my dad's age--and up. But I didn't care. I also didn't care that my last-minute press pass meant that I had to stand at the back of the house for the whole show. Bennett blew me away. Just a month shy of his 83rd birthday, he is one of the most energetic, engaging and enthusiastic performers I've ever seen. He's been doing this for 60 years, folks! And he still seemed delighted--privileged, even--to be singing for us. 

Tony's daughter, Antonia--a budding jazz singer herself--opened the concert with three numbers, backed by her dad's musicians. Her cool, breathy rendition of "The Nearness of You" set the evening's magical tone. These old standards captivate you. They take you back to a simpler time. Maybe it's a time that never existed. But, damn...it's one that should have!

"The old songs are better than the new songs," Tony said as he introduced the 1926 Gershwin tune, "Who Cares."  "It's amazing how relevant it is," he added with a smile and shake of his head. And the audience laughed at the opening lines: "Let it rain and thunder!/Let a million firms go under!/I'm not concerned with/The stocks and bonds that I've been burned with...Who cares what the public chatters? Love's the only thing that matters!"

And over the course of about two dozen numbers, Bennett proved his case about how great the old standards really are. Bennett brought out the sweet simplicity of the lyrics, for example, on the Kurt Weill/Ogden Nash tune, "Speak Low," with a soft, introspective rendition. "Love is a spark, lost in the dark, too soon, too soon." Uptempo numbers were vigorous, with Tony shaking his groove thing quite delightfully as his musicians displayed their virtuosic chops on their frequent featured solos. (Sadly, there were NO program notes giving us their names and bios.) I've heard Porter's "I Got Rhythm" a million times, and I'm sure Bennett and company have played it a zillion. But they launched into the number with such gleeful abandon (and at such a breakneck tempo!) that it made me feel like I was hearing it for the first time.

With every song, Bennett connected with the crowd. Several times, he brought the house lights up at the end of a number so he could acknowledge the audience, and applaud back at his fans. Standing O's were frequent, but I've never seen a performer who responded to them quite the way he did. Not a glint of ego in his eye. Even after six decades of performing, he seemed genuinely filled with gratitude, joy and humility to be up on stage, doing what he loved. Maybe that's why so many contemporary artists have been hooking up with Bennett in recent years for duets and other projects. He sang a beautiful version of "For Once in My Life" last night, a song that had been a solo hit back in the late '60s for both him and Stevie Wonder. In 2006, their duo version won a Grammy.

One quiet number was the most moving for me. Just the guitarist accompanied Tony for most of Jerome Kern's "The Way You Look Tonight," a tender love song. Even in the large hall, across the sea of people, the words sailed straight to me: "Some day, when I'm awfully low/When the world is cold/I will feel a glow..." For the seniors in the crowd, these lyrics may have made them look back. But for me, a hopeless romantic in an era when romance seems truly dead and hopeless...well, Tony: Thanks for the private concert. And for the reminder to hope.

July 06, 2009

Illadelph on the Waterfront

IMG_2909 I imagine Jay Craven is breathing a very heavy sigh of relief today. Last night, the first show of the Queen City Concert Series — Philadelphia's proud hip-hop purveyors The Roots — went off with nary a hitch. The weather cooperated, the talent put on a great show, and most concert-goers managed to keep it together. No one teetered into the lake and no major brawls erupted. And thank golly for that. I didn't want to have to use my fearsome karate moves on any jerks who got out of line, and I sure as heck didn't want to go diving into the lake to pull out some hapless drunk. 

But seriously, the whole event was pretty seamless. The venue, with the stage facing the lake, allowed people to celebrate Champlain (the lake, not the dude) in their own way — by dancing badly lakeside while belting out hip-hop lyrics. Well, at least that's what I was doing.

I have to give it to the organizers. The stage looked pro, the sound was crisp (unless you were in front of those monster hanging speakers, in which case all you could hear was the sound of your own auditory system breaking down), the vending options were tasty, the beer lines were short, and, luckily for all the oldsters in attendance, the riff-raffery was kept to a minimum.

The scene was something, and I'm not just saying that because I'm feeling bereft of adjectives today. It really was interesting. There were floppy-haired young professionals in Nantucket reds and boating shoes weaving in between crowds of dready, barefoot white kids and the occasional person of color. Predictably, the crowd was mostly college-aged folks of no color. And that's cool. Because I was once a college-aged folk of no color pumping my fists at hip-hop shows (Blackalicious and the Pharcyde, anyone?). Even my old boss at Camp Free Press was there last night. Who knew Midwestern newspaper publishers were into the Roots? Takes all kinds.

I can't say enough about the Roots' performance. I'm no music critic or anything, but I've been to my share of shows, so I feel comfortable offering my assessment of the show. And here it is: They had me at the sousaphone. They could have been playing polka and I would have loved it for the simple fact that they incorporated a sousaphone into their live show. And not just any sousaphone, but a sousaphone played by the exuberant "Tuba Gooding Jr.," who could get his serious step dance on with this mammoth piece of brass hanging over his shoulder and torso. 

If I had to sum up the Roots in one made-up compound musical adjective, I'd call them "jamhop." Not that they sound like a masturbatory jam band, but because they play without stopping. Normally I stop listening to a song after four or five minutes. If you can't get your point across in that amount of time, it's probably not a point I'm interested in digesting. But the Roots flowed from one song to the next in what amounted to a two-hour medley. They played everything from Michael Jackson to Fela Kuti, Black Sabbath to Guns 'n Roses, Led Zeppelin to George Thoroughgood. And they played plenty of their own original songs.

The highlight of the evening had to be when ?uestlove, the rotund and slightly menacing drummer and DJ for the band, trundled out on stage and started throwing autographed drumsticks into the audience. Now, I never catch anything thrown from a stage. I actually repel stuff like that. But this time, ?uestlove looked right at me and with his mind told me he was going to pitch me a stick. I readied myself for the booty. As it flew in the air, I reached up and grasped. The stick bounced out of my sweaty mitts and onto the ground. I immediately dropped to my knees to pounce on the stick, as did my two other friends standing next to me. Some dude reached out his big sneaker and covered the stick with his foot as the three of us got our hands on it. The littlest among us gave the besneakered fellow a gentle shove and we came up with the bounty. The wee one, it was decided, should keep the drumstick because she showed the most courage in retrieving the flipping thing.

After the drumstick melee of 2009, Jay Craven, decked out in a sport coat and loafers, took the mic and thanked the "famous" Roots and the crowd and plugged the next show — Tony Bennett at the Flynn Theater. By that time, everyone was making their way out of the park, and those who were still milling about were scratching their heads, saying, "Tony who?"  One show down, six to go. Good luck and godspeed.

Flying Blind

It's a good thing Samuel de Champlain didn't "discover" Burlington by plane. The map-making explorer would have been sorely disappointed — like I am, every time I fly — to find today's pilots have totally abandoned the tradition of identifying the nation's most distinctive geographical features. On a recent Delta flight from Atlanta to Burlington, there was not a word from the flight deck until we were about to land. Weather? Wind conditions? Temperature? The voice on the P.A. joked about our destination with a reference to Sasquatch — did he mean Champ? Did they even know where we were going? No one else on the plane seemed to care.

I'm the annoying passenger who doesn't lower her window shade when they start the Jennifer Aniston movie. That's because I'm looking down on America's farms, forests, suburbs and strip mines — in amazement. Admittedly, it helps me get through the anxiety of being trapped in a tin can at 35,000 feet. But I also really like geography; I'd drive these distances if I had the choice. I settle for the map at the back of the in-flight magazine and, with crude calculation, try to identify major landmarks such as New York, the Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River, Mt. Hood and the Continental Divide. A pilot used to come on to corroborate the big stuff — the Grand Canyon, for example — but now the flight deck is strangely silent.

Is it an anti-terrorist thing? Or did too many passengers complain about interruptions to the in-flight entertainment? It's no wonder Americans can't find Iraq on a map. Or anything else, for that matter.

Learning about Champlain and his adventures has made us all a little more aware of our unique geography in Vermont. For him, keen observation was a matter of life and death. I think we could all learn a lesson from this dude who discovered the place. Wendell Berry said it so well that Chris Bohjalian quoted him recently in a Free Press column. "If you don't know where you are, you don't know who you are." Delta Uniform Hotel.

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