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February 2012

February 24, 2012

Grazing: Kick-Ass Québec Beer, All in One (Dark) Place

DarkbeerAles brewed with beets. Saisons that taste like apricots. Black IPA aged in casks. Last night in Montréal, the annual three-day L'Hivernale des Brasseurs (Winter Warmer Montreal) beer fête began got into swing inside the Thèâter Plaza, part of the Montreal et Lumiere arts and culinary festival that continues through this weekend. I drove up last night to check it out, stumbling into a room of three bars (on two levels) exuberantly poured beguiling, unusual beers from the province and beyond, some of which hardly ever see the public eye.

For a $95 ticket, participants were given a tiny, tulip-shaped glass and invited to drink all they wanted, as well as nosh on circling plates of ribs, gougeres and pastries topped with pea-shoot puree. Though the glasses were small, it didn't keep bartenders from filling them to the brim and toasting along with you. It was like a garden of paradise for the serious beer lover, which in this case seemed to be primarily (and usually bearded) men.

Continue reading "Grazing: Kick-Ass Québec Beer, All in One (Dark) Place" »

Movies You Missed 27: Blank City

BlankCity_06This week in movies you missed: Take a trip back to lower Manhattan, late 1970s. Rents are cheap, rats are plentiful, hippie optimism is over, Talking Heads are playing CBGB, and a bunch of young arty types are experimenting with skinny jeans, pills and movie cameras.

What You Missed

If you think ultra-cheap DIY filmmaking started with the digital age and YouTube, or even with VHS, you're wrong. Back in the 1970s and early '80s, in a low-rent, crime-ridden New York that no longer exists, a bunch of young people grabbed Super 8 and 16-millimeter cameras and started filming their neighborhoods and friends. Many of them were also musicians and artists, and icons of the scene such as Debbie Harry and Lydia Lunch appeared in their films. Some of them called it the "No Wave" movement.

First-time feature director Celine Danhier explores the scene with clips from the films and interviews with the participants, who include (at least tangentially) such famous figures as Jim Jarmusch, Steve Buscemi, Thurston Moore and John Waters.

Continue reading "Movies You Missed 27: Blank City" »

In Health Care Vote, Wright Sides With Dems

As we reported earlier this week, Kurt Wright has styled his campaign for mayor of Burlington as a post-partisan affair, despite a reliably Republican record representing the New North End in Montpelier.

Last night, Wright’s post-partisan cred was put to the test as the Vermont House voted almost entirely along party lines in a preliminary vote to establish a state-run health insurance exchange.

Mayor graphicI say ‘almost entirely’ because there was one Republican who bucked his party and voted with the Democrats: Kurt Wright.

“I think, like most people do think, the system that we have does have to be reformed. We do have a broken system that’s very expensive for employers and employees,” Wright explained Friday. “I think, overall, the bill helps a lot of middle and lower income people get insurance and, if they have insurance, get better insurance.”

Wright’s Republican colleagues disagreed. They argued that the Democrat-designed exchange — an online marketplace for health insurance plans — would limit consumers’ and small business’ ability to choose affordable plans outside of the system.

To be fair, Wright voted against a key element of the plan before he voted for it.

An amendment offered by Rep. Mark Higley (R-Lowell) would have allowed businesses to opt out of the exchange. Wright voted in favor of the Republican amendment, which failed by a vote of 57 to 80.

“To me what [the Higley amendment] did was it spoke to concerns a lot of small business people had. I think it was worth giving them some level of comfort with this,” Wright said. “I thought that should start out being an optional choice. Even without that amendment passing, I thought [the overall bill] was a net plus.”

"Will Wright's vote help or hurt his chances in March? Why?"Post your answer below

Wright missed a vote on an earlier amendment offered by Rep. Oliver Olsen (R-Jamaica) that would have allowed businesses to opt out of the exchange if premiums became too expensive. Wright missed the vote because he was participating in a mayoral forum on the arts at the Flynn Space in Burlington and didn't expect votes at that time. He said he would have to review the language of the amendment before taking a position on it. The amendment failed by a vote of 45-88.

Wright also bucked his party yesterday by voting against an amendment that would move forward the date by which Gov. Peter Shumlin’s administration would have to outline how it would finance the exchange and a proposed single-payer health care system. That amendment, which failed by a vote of 49 to 86, has become a political football in Shumlin’s re-election fight, with Republicans arguing the decision should be made before the November election.

Wright said, “Republicans wanted more information and they wanted it before the election. My understanding is there will not be accurate information before the election. It’s not going to be timely. It’s just a matter of that. Would I like it to be? Sure.”

Last year Wright voted against the creation of a panel charged with designing a single-payer health care system in Vermont.

Vermont Democratic Party chairman Jake Perkinson sees political motives in yesterday’s votes.

“The timing is interesting,” Perkinson said. “I'm glad Kurt voted for this much-needed health care legislation, but it is 11 days before the election and everyone in Burlington is watching. I don't think he really could have voted another way and explained it to the voters."

Wright acknowledges the political scrutiny he faces this close to the election.

“The interesting thing here is if I voted against this, people would be saying it was a Republican vote. If I voted the other way, they say he’s voting for political expediency,” he said. “So you can’t win.”

February 23, 2012

Burlington's Decidedly Un-arty Mayoral Candidates Speechify About the Arts

-1The last time I sat in the audience at Burlington's FlynnSpace, I was riveted by Jane Comfort's wild and inventive dancers (including one in a Superman suit) as they brought Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie to life.

This afternoon's FlynnSpace offering was considerably less inspiring.

Mayoral candidates Miro Weinberger, Wanda Hines and Kurt Wright gathered for a "conversation on the arts" sponsored by the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, Burlington City Arts and the South End Arts and Business Association. It was the only event on the campaign trail, Miro said, that was devoted to the arts.

So what did I learn?

Here's where I admit this was my first Burlington mayoral debate. My first mayoral anything. (I live in Winooski, OK?) In fact, I don't think I've ever seen Miro, Kurt or Wanda in person. I'm much more familiar with the caricatures in the Marc Nadel illustrations we've been using since the race began.

So here's the takeaway: All three are pretty satisfied with the art community's "status quo," and nobody wants (or would admit to wanting) to slash the city's art funding (duh). Miro's really into development and boosting the creative economy on a larger scale. Kurt repeatedly invoked his decision last year to redirect money from the city council account, rather than pit the city's art against its library budgets. Wanda spent most of the hour and a half shifting the questions back to the audience ("I want to hear what you want") and reminiscing about a collage she made in 1975.

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As Free Press Adopts Pay Wall, Vermont Media Landscape Shifts

In a move that’s sure to shift the media landscape in Vermont, the state’s largest daily newspaper, the Burlington Free Press, announced Thursday that it would start charging readers for online content later this year.

The Free Press’ parent company, Gannett, announced at an investor meeting Wednesday that all 80 of its community newspapers — but not its flagship property, USA Today — will limit readers’ access to between five and 15 articles per month, unless they purchase an online or print subscription.

“It’s a decision companywide, but you know it’s time we begin to charge for our content online,” Free Press publisher Jim Fogler said Thursday. “We’ve been giving it away for free. We should have done this a while ago.”

The pay wall is part of a “Triple Crown” of changes coming to 191 College Street, according to a company press release. The paper is rebuilding its 45-year-old printing press to the tune of $2.4 million, and it is shifting from a broadsheet format to a narrower, tabloid format. Fogler said he expects the new subscription model will launch when the press work is scheduled for completion this June.

“We’ve made a $2.4 million commitment to our community,” Fogler said. “We’re not going anywhere.

In an effort to bolster its online offerings, the Free Press purchased 18 iPhones for its reporters last week. Fogler hopes to turn Free Press reporters into “mobile journalists” — or “Mo-Jos,” as he calls them. At the same time, employees each have been forced to take one-week, unpaid furloughs this quarter, as they did last year.

“I will tell you, I’d much rather take a furlough, including myself, than to go through a round of layoffs,” Fogler said.

Continue reading "As Free Press Adopts Pay Wall, Vermont Media Landscape Shifts" »

February 22, 2012

Dems Ask Attorney General to Investigate Campaign For Vermont for Violating Election Laws

LismanThe Vermont Democratic Party has filed a complaint with the attorney general's office accusing the right-leaning adovcacy group Campaign For Vermont of violating campaign finance laws by running radio ads attacking Gov. Peter Shumlin.

In a letter dated February 21, Democratic Party executive director Jesse Bragg asks Attorney General William Sorrell, a Democrat, to investigate the group and its founder, retired Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman (pictured), for failing to register as a political committee while running ads meant to influence the 2012 governor's race.

Campaign For Vermont, which calls itself a nonpartisan coalition advocating for a more prosperous Vermont, has been saturating local talk radio stations with ads narrated by Lisman that call for lower taxes and criticize Shumlin's plans for establishing a statewide universal health care program.

The Dems have scheduled a Statehouse press conference for 10:15 a.m. tomorrow to discuss the complaint. Download the complaint letter.

Ironically, the Democrats are using a relatively recent court ruling that went against them to make the case that Lisman's group has run afoul of the law. Bragg writes that Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford's decision in Vermont v. Green Mountain Future "essentially held that an advertisement, costing more than $500 and ran within a year of the election, that reasonably refers to a candidate triggers political committee status. Clearly, the hypercritical and inaccurate declarations contained in the Campaign for Vermont radio advertisement are directed at candidate Shumlin as opposed to merely Governor Shumlin's legislative agenda."

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Dems Accuse Wright of "Borrowing" Campaign Plan... But From Whom?

-1The Vermont Democratic Party on Wednesday accused Republican mayoral candidate Kurt Wright of “borrowing language” in a recent campaign plan from the Washington state attorney general.

In a press release, the party takes Wright to task for failing to offer Burlington voters specific proposals and says a 22-page government transparency plan the Wright campaign released yesterday “falls short.” Then it pulls the pin on this choice hand grenade:

“While most of the plan still utilizes the vague platitudes that have been a hallmark of Wright’s three campaigns for mayor, the beginning of his plan looks pretty familiar: borrowing language directly from the website of Republican Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Washington.”

As evidence, the party cites the following sentence from page four of Wright’s “A.C.T.I.O.N.” plan:

“Government accountability means that officials both elected and unelected, have a duty to explain their decisions and actions to the public.”

Then it pulls this from Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna’s website:

“Government accountability means that public officials — elected and un-elected — have an obligation to explain their decisions and actions to the citizens.” 

The release ends with a quotation from party chairman Jake Perkinson saying, “I think it is a shame that barely two weeks before voters go to the polls, Kurt released a plan long on platitudes, including those borrowed from his fellow Republicans, and short on solutions.”

According to John Ewing, a co-chair of the Wright campaign, the party’s allegation of borrowing is “obviously incorrect.”

“If they’re talking about the definition of transparency, that’s the classic description you’d find anywhere. I’m positive that what they claimed is incorrect,” he said. “I think the party is overreacting because it’s an issue that they would prefer to be out front on instead of Kurt.”

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American Original: More From This Week's Q&A With Anaïs Mitchell

So many words, such tiny word counts.

The interview with Anaïs Mitchell that appears in this week's Seven Days ("American Original") was but a snippet of a longer conversation we recently had with the local songwriter about her new record, Young Man in America. What follows is more from that chat, in which we cover reconnecting with Todd Sickafoose — her producer on Hadestown — how you make something sound both tribal and British, and working with Chris Thile from the Punch Brothers  — who are playing the Higher Ground Ballroom this Saturday, BTW. We also asked about her departure from Rightous Babe Records and her new label, Wilderland Records. (One thing we should have asked: Does this mean we have to stop referring to Mitchell as "Vermont's favorite Righteous Babe"? We sincerely hope not.)

Anais-1mb-Hi-Res-950x632SEVEN DAYS: You worked with producer Todd Sickafoose again on this record. After working together on Hadestown, I imagine there must be a good comfort level there.

ANAIS MITCHELL: It was quite different, because with Hadestown we had Michael Chorney's arrangements already. We came to Todd with a lot of stuff fleshed out, but then he really  brought his own sonic stamp to that record, in a major way. He had more of a free hand, I think. Todd is a pretty wild guy. He's very gentle and quiet, but he's very tenacious about his ideas. He gets on a sonic jag and sometimes you don't understand what he's doing. But then you ultimately realize it.  

I remember going into the recording and the only thing I was really lobbying for was that I wanted drums. I had shied away from that with the previous records I had made with Michael [Chorney]. And it's always been tricky for me because I have a lot of words in my songs and sometimes they make their own rhythm and it's hard to get in there. So I wanted a percussive feeling to reflect that "Young Man" energy.

Also, I had this idea about this harmonic chorus. I saw Levon Helm's band at a bunch of festivals this summer. Have you seen them lately? He tours with these women, I think one is his daughter, and then the other is from Ollabelle. It's so  gorgeous. They sing this call-and-response stuff and it sounds really Appalachian, or like work songs, field chants. And there is something about that that felt kind of ritualistic or tribal. And I wanted that. Also, a lot of the songs were influenced by these British ballads I had been listening to. So I said, "Todd, I want it to sound tribal and British."

Then different phases of the record came. Once he told me he was going to do a session with a flute player. I wasn't at the session, so I was like, "Really? Are you sure?" But ultimately that flute sound became really essential to the songs that it's on. Todd works in mysterious ways.

Continue reading "American Original: More From This Week's Q&A With Anaïs Mitchell" »

February 21, 2012

Wright for Progs? Brennan Backs Republican Mayoral Candidate

WrightWithout a candidate of their own to succeed outgoing Mayor Bob Kiss, Burlington Progressives have been mum about whom they might support in next month’s mayor’s race.

But tomorrow, for the first time, a Progressive officeholder will formally endorse one of the candidates. And it might not be who you’d expect.

Progressive City Councilor Vince Brennan, who represents Ward 3, plans to throw his support behind Republican candidate Kurt Wright, with whom he serves on the council.

“The city is in need of a leader that will be able to guide us through the back side of these tough economic times — a leader that is seasoned in the atmosphere of Burlington politics,” Brennan said in a statement to Seven Days. “That is why I will be endorsing Kurt Wright for mayor.”

Brennan’s endorsement may carry some significance, in that it bolsters Wright’s central campaign argument: that he is the one candidate able to rise above party politics and unite the city. It also poses problems for Democratic candidate Miro Weinberger, who has been working to consolidate the support of Progressive voters since his narrow caucus victory over Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P), a darling of Burlington’s Prog crowd.

The Progressive Party has not formally endorsed any of the contenders, though it has continued to dangle the possibility ever since deciding not to field a candidate of its own. Party leaders met separately with Wright, Weinberger and independent candidate Wanda Hines a week ago in order to grill them on Progressive priorities. After the meeting, the party issued a statement saying, “In the coming days and weeks our steering committee will discuss the possibility of an endorsement,” adding that the party would primarily focus on electing its own candidates to the city council.

Wright’s campaign was enthusiastic about Brennan’s nod.

Continue reading "Wright for Progs? Brennan Backs Republican Mayoral Candidate" »

Alice Eats: Flatbread Friday at August First

IMG_3560149 South Champlain St., Burlington, 540-0060

Years ago, when my boyfriend worked at Pizza Hut, the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet there was one of my greatest guilty pleasures. CiCi's Pizza Buffet commercials make me salivate, even though the food is notoriously awful. So is there such a thing as good all-you-can-eat pizza? Actually, yes: every Friday at Burlington's August First.

At 6 p.m. each week, the bakery's staff pushes the tables into three long rows; diners are seated family-style. I had heard that the experience is a raucous free-for-all, but co-owner Jodi Whalen explained that the Wild West ambiance has calmed since they replaced the buffet with table service at the beginning of this year.

IMG_3562The new system works well. Servers deliver breads as they're baked. When your table is done with one variety, you pass it on to the next group. Sometimes lazy diners gum up the works, but as long as you're proactive about it, you shouldn't have any trouble trying around 10 different pizzas in a sitting.

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