After months of speculation and whispers that it was struggling financially, the official word came down this week that Vermont’s first/best/only comedy club, Levity, is going under. Owner Ryan Kriger and manager Carmen Lagala confirm that the tiny joke joint on Center Street in Burlington will close at the end of March, ending a roughly 18-month experiment in the viability of a laugh-centric venue in the Queen City.
If you’re a fan of local comedy, your reaction may be somewhat akin to my own, which was, essentially, “Ah, fuck.” I get a little weepy every time one of our local venues closes — see Parima, the Black Door, Lamb Abbey, Langdon Street Café, the Black Door again, etc. What can I say? I’m a sentimental softie. But there may be a bright side.
While Levity’s impending closure is undoubtedly a bummer, it’s hardly evidence that Burlington is unable or unwilling to support a thriving comedy scene. In fact, the Levity experiment may suggest just the contrary.
Lagala, a fine comedian in her own right, writes that in many respects, Levity was a success. She says that the club’s weekly open-mic nights are typically overbooked with would-be standups wanting to cut their teeth, or hone their chops, and that the weekend showcases routinely sell out. But therein lies the rub.
Levity’s capacity is about 40 people. Combine that with the cost of maintaining a prime downtown location, and the math starts to look a little, well, funny.
“The overhead costs and unchangeable low capacity are what did us in,” Lagala writes.
Still, for the local comedy community, having a place to call home has had significant impact.
“I think the quality of comedy in general has improved, in part because of the stage time we were able to offer,” writes Kriger.
Agreed. You can become a good singer-songwriter wailing away for your cat in your bedroom. But in standup comedy to you have to practice in front of a crowd to get better. It’s just one of the rules. Levity opened a door for countless aspiring local comics during its short run and presented a legitimate outlet for experienced comedians to fine-tune their acts on a regular basis. That’s important.
Lagala writes that she intends to continue booking comedy shows at different — that is, larger — venues around town and hopes to take advantage of a wealth of up-and-coming regional comics, many of whom are simply too costly to book in the diminutive confines of Levity. Stay tuned.
It’s likely that other factions of the local comedy scene will chip in to help offset the void left by Levity’s closure. Spark Arts and Vermont Comedy Club cofounder Nathan Hartswick writes that he’s planning to “ramp up” comedic offerings at Nectar’s and Club Metronome, where he’s been hosting a popular weekly comedy open mic on Wednesdays. That’s in addition to a slate of new regular comedy nights at select small rooms around the state, including the Bee’s Knees in Morrisville and Two Brothers Tavern in Middlebury. Hartswick adds that planning for the next Green Mountain Comedy Festival in late May is well underway.
As for Kriger, the guess here is that he’ll be all right. If you’ll recall, Levity opened with an Irene benefit show on October 16, 2011, at which the comic and then-recent NYC transplant performed. In the crowd was another NYC escapee, Erin Palmer. Palmer and Kriger went on their first date a few weeks after the show. Then, in May last year, at the end of one of his sets at Levity, Kriger proposed.
“We’ll be married in June,” he writes. “So I’m pretty happy I opened Levity.”
(Segue alert!) Speaking of love…
As most of you know, this Thursday, February 14, is Valentine’s Day. If you didn’t know that, or don’t care, you are most likely happily single. Congrats. If, however, you’re in a relationship and still didn’t know V-Day is this Thursday, you might be unhappily single by, say, Friday. Sorry, dude.
Regardless of your relationship status, there are numerous ways to observe the impending Hallmark holiday, musically speaking.
If you’re irked by seemingly countless couples smugly celebrating their love, I’d suggest dropping by Radio Bean, where Michael Chorney and Maryse Smith will commiserate, er, collaborate for the first time in public. Chorney writes that the duo is planning a set of “blown-apart broken-heart songs,” adding that it will be “a great night for the devastated.” Smith concurs, writing in to caution that their set is “Maybe not a Valentine’s Day show for people in love.” Duly noted.
On the other hand, if you’re in one of those aforementioned happy couples, Montpelier’s swingingest hepcat, Lewis Franco, will be leading a Valentine’s Day show as his alter ego, Red Lavender, at the Whammy Bar in Maple Corner. Franco writes that audience members are encouraged to step to the stage and serenade their sweetheart — or perhaps future sweetheart … wink, wink — with him backing on guitar. The schmaltzier the better.
And finally, if you’re in between relationships but not emotionally incapacitated by that fact, I’d suggest finding your way to Charlie O’s in Montpelier, where a trusty crew of Capital City tunesmiths will gather to share their favorite love songs. Slated to appear are Dan Zura, Jay Ekis, Ben Roy and Emily Warner, and Scott Baker. Baker’s one-time First Crush band mate, Robyn Joy Pierce Garesi, will lend her vocal chops to several of those acts, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she and Baker reprise a few FC favorites. Also, there will be cupcakes.
Staying in Montpelier, the Skinny Pancake has scored something of a coup by booking Grammy-nominated cellist Rushad Eggleston, aka Rushadicus, on Monday, February 18. Eggleston was a founding member of alt-bluegrass favorites Crooked Still and is renowned for his progressive approach to the cello as well as absurdly energetic live shows. He also has a tendency to write songs in Sneth, a language he invented. So there’s that…
If Americana is more your speed than Sneth, you could do worse than to spend a couple of hours with Mark Spencer and Jimmy Ryan, who host a workshop at the Unitarian Church in Montpelier this Saturday, February 16, to benefit the Summit School of traditional music and culture. Spencer and Ryan are two of the bigger musical names to ever call Vermont home. Following their stints with BTV bands Pinhead and the Decentz, respectively, they went on to form the seminal alt-country band Blood Oranges. In the years since, Ryan has continued to rank among the most highly regarded mandolin players in the country, while Spencer has carved out a nice career playing guitar alongside Jay Farrar in Son Volt.
Local punk band Rough Francis are set to release their highly anticipated new album this weekend. The sons of Death will drop by Charlie O’s in Montpelier this Friday, February 15, before their official release party at the ArtsRiot studio in Burlington on Saturday, February 16. I haven’t heard the album yet, even though RF front man Bobby Hackney works as a designer at Seven Days and probably laid out this very page. (Hi, Bobby!)
Finally, speaking of new records — and Montpelier — I’m told local blues-rock duo Lake Superior are hard at work on their full-length debut. You can ask them all about it when they play alongside Anders Parker Cloud Badge and Anachronist at Positive Pie 2 this Friday, February 15.
The third season of Seven Days’ music podcast “Tour Date with DJ Llu” continues this Wednesday, February 13, when Llu sits down with the Indigo Girls. You should tune in for a variety of reasons — for starters, it’s a great episode — but this time you can actually win tickets to see the Indigo Girls’ show at the Flynn MainStage on February 22. To find out how, check out 7d.blogs.com/tour_date.