Lost in the star-spangled hubbub of Independence Day (Eve) is that July 3 has quietly become a pretty awesome day to be a music fan in Burlington. While most folks will flock to various locales along the waterfront for a good vantage point to witness simulated bombs bursting in air, savvy locals know there are plenty of quality rock-centric alternatives, most of which don’t involve navigating hordes of be-fanny-packed tourists or getting run down by the stroller set. And 2013 should prove to be no exception, with a wealth of options this Wednesday, July 3.
Starting at the top of the hill, local pop radio station Planet 96.7 is hosting its annual Planet in the Park concert at Battery Park. The daylong showcase features a bunch of up-and-coming radio-ready acts, including Florida rapper Jake Miller, R&B singer Jadagrace, Sri Lankan rapper DeLon, NYC-based rockers Honor Society, Nova Scotia-based rapper Classified and Canadian pop-rockers Beyond the Sun — the last of whom honestly claim Creed as an influence, which, to be honest, I can in no way endorse save for the voyeuristic value of watching a band who genuinely take cues from “With Arms Wide Open.” On the plus side, local turntablists DJ Haitian and Craig Mitchell will kick things off with a good old-fashioned DJ mix battle, which should be pretty epic. And while freedom may not be free, this show is.
(As an aside, here is my annual plug for the Burlington Concert Band, the community orchestra that plays Battery Park every Sunday in the summer — and have for about 150 years, by the way. If you’ve never been, it’s about as wholesome a good time as one can have. No, the band isn’t likely to wow you with symphonic magic, but they seem to get better every year. And there is just something inherently pleasant about relaxing on the grass with the smell of Beansie’s lingering in the warm evening air while taking in a quality John Williams medley.)
Moving on, Speaking Volumes on Pine Street is once again hosting its annual July 3rd party. Now in its seventh year, the bash has become a yearly staple, not the least in part because it’s actually a great spot to catch the fireworks away from the madness of Waterfront Park. Oh, and the music kicks ass, too. This year’s lineup includes the ever-ascendant Heloise and the Savoir Faire — see the nifty cartoon — suspender fusionistas the Vermont Joy Parade and one of Burlington’s more underrated but wildly entertaining acts, sci-fi punks Wave of the Future. (Imagine if Griff Tannen’s gang from “Back to the Future II” started a dance-punk band and you’re in the neighborhood.)
Finally, once the last sulphur-y clouds of smoke have dissipated into the night sky following the fireworks, I’d suggest hoofing it over to Signal Kitchen for their fireworks after-party to take in the indie-rock awesomeness that is Here We Go Magic. I’ve been digging their 2012 record A Different Ship for a while now. And the band’s most recent single, the ’80s-tinged “You Get More Done When You’re Happy,” is a summer anthem if ever I’ve heard one.
In last week’s column, I opined that the recent trend of artists branding fundraising gigs as “album benefit” shows was an unseemly marketing tactic and needed to stop. I suggested that the term “benefit” implies charity, and should be reserved for those who genuinely require outside financial assistance to overcome whatever misfortune had befallen them, and that while trying to make a living playing music is undoubtedly an uphill battle, simply being a cash-poor artist didn’t qualify. Care to guess how that went over?
Unsurprisingly, that bit generated a decent amount of reader feedback, much of it of the “You suck, Dan Bolles” variety. The arguments for self-benefitting tended to be pretty similar and predictable — decent-paying gigs are increasingly rare, recording costs are huge, ya gotta do what ya gotta do, “You suck, Dan Bolles,” etc.
Of all the arguments made in favor of bands throwing self-benefit shows, local musician Sean Witters made the most reasoned — and civil — points. Commenting on a thread on my public Facebook page, Witters explained that he has been discouraged by gigs that don’t pay any more than they did 20 years ago, and that he sees an increasing sense of apathy and entitlement from audiences, which compounds the problem. He went on to argue that, given the increasingly competitive climate in both clubs and online, bands need to find creative ways of engaging their audiences — and loosening their purse strings.
You know what? He’s right.
I still think designating a fundraising gig as an album-benefit show is tacky. However, I suspect being out of the working-musician game for several years now has me less in touch with how challenging conditions are on the ground. Bands have been grumbling about low pay forever. But I wonder if maybe there’s more validity to those complaints than there used to be.
Recently, an old band of mine has been rehearsing for some reunion-ish gigs. I won’t mention which band. But back in the day we were modestly successful on a local level and could generally count on pulling in a decent guarantee from clubs, especially during the peak of our popularity. We’re not a working band anymore, so money isn’t a big deal. We’re just playing for fun now. That said, I have been shocked by how comically low the compensation offers have been for some of the gigs we’ve looked into. I can’t say with authority that those offers are representative of the current situation at clubs in the area — and frankly, we’re probably not a big draw anymore, so it’s unfair to expect much. But if they are indicative of what bands can expect to get paid now … sweet baby Jesus, it’s worse than I thought. Being a musician has always been akin to taking a vow of poverty. But I’m not sure why anyone would try to make it in music anymore if the going rate is basically sub-minimum wage.
So go ahead, bands, benefit away. I still maintain that supposedly creative people should be able to come up with more inventive fundraising ideas than essentially holding their hands out. But I won’t begrudge you if you do. And good luck out there.
We close this week’s column with the news that the renovations at the Skinny Pancake in Burlington are complete and the creperie/juke joint will reopen its newly expanded digs this Saturday, July 6, with a blowout bash they’re dubbing “the Grandest of Reopenings.”
In a recent email, SP co-owner Jonny Adler writes that the restaurant’s capacity has roughly tripled, from 70-some to 233 people. The expansion, which doubles SP’s footprint, includes a completely new stage, lighting and sound system. That will eventually mean a heightened strategy for booking music that will likely see some bigger names pass through.
At the helm is local soul man Josh Panda, who in addition to holding down a popular Wednesday residency at the Skinny Pancake, has signed on as the venue’s music manager. Panda will also front a local all-star band this Saturday to christen the new stage, BTW.
Adler stresses that SP is not trying to become Nectar’s or Signal Kitchen. Instead, he views the bulked-up music slate as a natural complement to their primary mission: the local food movement. “We believe local music is another pillar of local culture,” writes Adler.
Adler adds that Panda won’t be beholden to curating music on a set schedule every week, meaning that he can focus on bringing in acts that fit the atmosphere, rather than having to shoehorn bands in because there is a hole in the calendar. He also notes that SP will be employing a new model for compensating bands that seems like it has some promise. I won’t bore you with details, but it will be worth watching to see if it works. Just as it will be interesting and exciting to see how music at the Skinny Pancake evolves into its new space.
A peek at what was on my iPod, turntable, eight-track player, etc., this week. Dog Party, Lost Control Beady Eye, BE Coke Weed, Back to Soft Mac Miller, Watching Movies With the Sound Off Father John Misty, Fear Fun