Continuing on a theme, let's talk about Nectar's 40th anniversary. No, I didn't make a colossally embarrassing mistake requiring a nearly full-column-length mea culpa. Judging by the "It's Been  Weeks Since Your Last Major Fuckup" sign hanging over my desk, I think we're good on that front. Rather, this Thursday, December 10, brings the final show in the club's yearlong series of 40-year bashes. And it figures to be a good one.
Back in the day — in this case, the late 1990s and early 2000s — Smokin' Grass were among Vermont's most popular and visible bands. In its heyday, the bluegrass hybrid was a staple of the festival circuit and toured all over the country — it was especially big in eternally jamgrass-friendly states such as California and Colorado. The band's classic iteration featured then-young'uns who would go on to become some of the state's finest players, including dobro player Adam Frehm, guitarist Doug Perkins, bassist Mike Santosusso and drummer Caleb Bronz. That core four will reunite at Nectar's on Thursday, joined by another terrifically talented picker, mando ace Matt Schrag.
In a recent phone call, Frehm and Santosusso sounded positively giddy over the prospect of gettin' the band back together after 10 years apart.
"We've been talking about it for a couple of years," said Santosusso. "And we all play together in other groups. But the chance to really do it was too good to pass up." He credits Nectar's' Brian Mital with providing the impetus — aka "kick in the pants" — to reunite the band.
SG are often lumped in the "jamgrass" strain of bluegrass. But their sound differed from that of many of their contemporaries, such as the String Cheese Incident and Railroad Earth, among others.
"I think we were always more of an acoustic band with rock roots, where a lot of other bands were more rock bands with bluegrass influences," Santosusso explains. "Everybody brought different pieces of the American music history to form what we had."
"I think we had something different from the other bands in the genre at the time," agrees Frehm.
As for what they have in store for the reunion show, expect them to touch on both of their records, 1998's Take Yer Pick and 2001's In the Barn. Frehm notes that there will also be some new songs, "with kind of different grooves." Santosusso adds that they've tried to steer clear of material that members might play in other outfits.
Both Frehm and Santosusso feel that they are all better musicians now than when SG split up.
"I think the time apart was really important," says Frehm. "Sometimes I think you have to step back and breathe, do something else to grow as a person and an artist. So in that sense, I think us breaking up was the best thing for all of us, because we'll bring so much more to the table now."
And, come Thursday, that should be music to the ears of longtime fans.
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One of the most rewarding aspects of my job as an observer of the local music scene is bearing witness to the evolution of sublimely talented musicians. In the eight-plus years I've sat in this chair, I'm hard-pressed to think of an artist whose ascent I've enjoyed more than that of songwriter Maryse Smith. From her homespun 2009 debut, Is Becomes Was, it was clear she was special. You couldn't help but be charmed by her self-conscious humility and easy, winsome croon. In 2012, she began to come into her own on a swaggering, self-titled record. Then, earlier this year, with the aid of Michael Chorney, Smith delivered what, in my opinion, isn't merely one of the best local albums of the year but of the last decade, The Way It Is. In short, Smith has been one of Vermont's most beloved songbirds since the moment she decided to grace us with her songs.
She's also one of the most likable musicians in town. If I had half her talent — at anything — I'd be an insufferable ass. Or more of one. But, much like her music, she moves with a gentle, humble spirit.
Sadly, that spirit will soon take her away. Next week, Smith is moving to Philadelphia, joining a long list of exceptional artists to grow their craft in Vermont and then search out wider recognition in bigger cities. If you're wondering what the least enjoyable part of my job is, saying goodbye to favored musicians is right up there. But such is the nature of music in Vermont.
This Thursday, December 10, Smith will play a farewell show at the Light Club Lamp Shop in Burlington, with songwriters Lowell Thompson, Paddy Reagan and Chorney. If you've been a fan, I strongly urge you to go. For one thing, the Lamp Shop, when arranged as a listening room, is one of the most enjoyable venues for intimate music in town. So it obviously suits Smith perfectly. For another — and more importantly — even in a talent-rich community such as exists in Vermont, songwriters of Smith's caliber don't come around that often. When they do, it's our job as fans to appreciate them while they're here.
Good luck in Philly, Maryse. We'll miss you.
It's a good week to be a fan of all-star jam bands. On Thursday, December 10, the Higher Ground Ballroom plays host to a one-of-a-kind superjam featuring members of Twiddle, Jazz IsDead, On the Spot Trio, Lettuce, Turkuaz, Beau Sasser's Escape Plan and the Trey AnastasioBand. By the way, the members of TAB are Natalie Cressman and VT expat Jen Hartswick.
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Courtesy of Ash LaRose
Kat Wright & the Indomitable Soul Band
But wait, there's more.
On Saturday, December 12, Rusty Nail in Stowe hosts a special incarnation of the local Grateful Dead tribute band Dead Set. The group features Dead Set's Zach Nugent, Bearquarium's Colin Lenox, Luke Smith and Erik Glocker from Strangefolk, Richard James from Pink Talking Fish, and Vinne Amico from moe. Jam on, dudes.
In holiday show news, there's a pretty nifty punk Christmas show at Radio Bean this Friday, December 11. It features locals SOS, CBRASNKE and Reverser. I bring it to your attention for two reasons. One, punk is often underserved when it comes to Xmas shenanigans, musically speaking. Two, this description from the Bean event page: "Tis the seasons in the abyss to get out of step on the Island of the Misfits Toys." Whoever emails me with the correct number of punk references in that sentence wins ... well, a free newspaper.
Speaking of the Bean, this Thursday, December 10, Kat Wright & the Indomitable Soul Band will celebrate their fifth birthday at the weekly Soul Sessions slot they founded five years ago. It will also be the last time they play that residency. No, they're not breaking up. Quite the opposite, in fact.
For the past year, Wright and co. have dropped down to the first Thursday of every month at the Bean, in order to accommodate their increasingly rigorous touring schedule. Additionally, the band is set to enter the studio to lay down their long-overdue full-length debut album. That means that this gig, and their New Year's Eve gig at the Flynn MainStage, will be their last local performances for a while. Remember a few paragraphs back when I wrote about appreciating special local talents while you can? That applies here.
Last but not least, I was saddened to learn of the passing last week of Plattsburgh-based trombonist, composer and bandleader Rick Davies. I never met the man, but I did know his music, which was exceptional. I reviewed his 2012 record Salsa Norteña and named it one of the best local recordings of that year. But that album was a mere sliver of the man's prodigious musical résumé. Over his career he performed with the likes of Tito Puente, JakiByard, Conjunto Libre and Gloria Gaynor. He recorded with Blondie, WyclefJean and Michael Jackson. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. The local music community has lost a giant.
Rest in peace, Rick.
A peek at what was on my iPod, turntable, eight-track player, etc., this week.