Beats over Burlington

On the edge of Lake Champlain, Burlington sits as a musical oasis between the hipster scene of New York City and the Indie rock of Montreal. With dozens of venues and clubs, it’s home to a very diverse, active music scene that leaves little to be desired. Burlington delivers live music every night, accommodating every ear, every listener, and every genre of music. From reggae, to rock, to rap, B-town has the very best. On Main Street an iconic neon sign spins slowly over one of the city’s best-known venues: Nectar’s. Nectar Rorris’ club has been hosting local and national acts for thirty-three years, since 1975. You can hear any genre on any given night at Nectar’s, and on top of that it was THE original host of one of Vermont’s most successful and well-known acts. For most college kids, the first two things that come to mind when they think of Vermont are “pot” and “Phish.” The latter of the two, of course, is the group that put Vermont on the map in the musical world when this jam band from UVM blew up in the ’80s. Phish has continued to be wildly popular, even after having broken up, and members of the band still sit in on jam sessions in Burlington clubs from time to time. Even though the state’s best known band is finished, there are still some exciting things going on musically in Burlington. There’s live music to be found every night, with a number of up-and-coming local, regional and national acts to fill the void created when Phish bowed out in 2004. Mike Gordon, bass player for the now defunct group, pointed out that there are still plenty of shows to see. “I go out a lot, almost every night to check out the music. Red Square, Nectar’s, wherever there’s something going on.” Gordon himself sits in on a weekly jam known as Honky Tonk Tuesday at the Radio Bean. Fronted by Brett Hughes on guitar and vocals, it is one of the many things The Bean is well known for. The café’s small size and good vibes offer an intimate setting for “epic shows” as freshman Daniel Sturnick put it. The Radio Bean has been especially important to the music scene in Burlington because it offers a starting point for many local acts. Lee Anderson, owner of the café, explains that, “hundreds of bands have had their first shows at The Bean.” The artists and musicians don’t perform at The Bean to make money, but because they love performing. The Bean caters to all audiences and features all genres of music. What Hughes, the leader of Honky Tonk Tuesday, loves about the Radio Bean is that, “you see regulars here, you’ll see some guy drinking a coffee, and then he’ll be up there playing these great songs.” If it’s a hip, upbeat scene you’re looking for, where the artists are sincere and love what they’re doing, check out the Radio Bean. Nectar’s and the Radio Bean are only two venues on a long list. Some other important spots include Club Metronome above Nectar’s, Higher Ground, the Red Square and the Flynn Space. Between those, it’s practically impossible to find a night on the calendar in which there isn’t anything going on. Each spot has its own feel, but all share the common goal of supplying the Burlington area with great music. It would be an impossible task to try to tell all the tales of all the venues in town. There have been thousands of shows, with thousands of stories, and as the WRUV DJ Jah Red pointed out, the shows start to “all blur together.” He explained his memory of the Burlington scene as having “a lot of fog.” “Maybe it’s because there’s so much booze and pot in Burlington,” Cassie McCarthy suggested, trying to explain why the shows blur into one. “I’ve been to a lot of shows, and I can think right now of at least two acts that have even talked on stage about how great the weed is.” She was of course referring to Wu-Tang Clan, who came here this past week, and Devin the Dude with the Coughee Brothaz who were here in past months. Wu Tang, in between “really pro stage dives,” as McCarthy described, lit up a joint before starting their next song. This of course brings into the spotlight a big issue right now for many college students involved in the Burlington scene. Higher Ground on Williston Road, known for bringing in larger regional and national acts, has become notorious for throwing intoxicated students out. Their no tolerance policy has many students bummed that they can’t show up at the show with a “pleasant buzz.” Whether they suspect a patron is drunk or high, they’ll give them the boot. One student, who asked to remain anonymous, was kicked out of Higher Ground for “suspected drinking,” when there was no beverage in hand. The security guard explained, “This is my club, so get out.” The new policy has been putting a lot of people off, but Higher Ground does bring in the larger acts, so there’s little to be done. The scene of course isn’t all wrapped up in drugs and booze, but many students have to stop and think for a moment before recalling much about the shows they’ve seen. At most clubs and venues there aren’t any issues, Higher Ground being the strictest and most vigilant. So past the drugs and alcohol, what are some of the larger acts that Higher Ground has brought in recently? In the past few months, some of the recent favorites amongst students have been Wu- Tang, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, George Clinton and P-Funk, just to name a few. One local, WRUV DJ Jah Red, loves the fact that, “Burlington has a great reggae community, maybe even better than Montreal.” Some of his favorite moments have been at clubs when the show just clicks and everyone is rocking together. “It’s just a good crowd, everyone’s there to see a good show, everyone wants to be part of the music,” he said. Another fond memory was the Radio Bean’s last annual birthday bash. “It was crazy, they had something like 50 bands in one day!” From 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., 53 bands, as confirmed by Anderson, played in celebration. Standing outside of Higher Ground in line, Charles Winkle?man was glad that, “there are so many shows that are 18+ or all ages instead of 21+. It sucks when there’s a show you’re dying to see and they’ll just toss you out because you’re underage,” he said. Red Square, Nectar’s and Higher Ground sometimes host shows with a 21+ rule, but there are always good alternatives like The Bean, Flynn Space, and Metronome. The Burlington scene truly is accommodating to everyone, and it’s impossible to not find live music if you look for it. Whatever your style, whatever your genre, whatever your age, you can find good music in Burlington on any given night. New York City is great, and Montreal is always a blast for music, but here you can catch a great show in the comfort of your own little college town.