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Tha Return of Tha VT Union 

Soundbites

click to enlarge Tha VT Union
  • Tha VT Union

Though relatively short-lived, hip-hop collective Tha VT Union left an indelible imprint on the local scene and helped legitimize organically grown, free-range Green Mountain hip-hop. They weren’t the originators of hip-hop in the 802. But it’s safe to say the local rural-urban landscape would be vastly different if not for their contributions. Next Wednesday, February 6, at Nectar’s, the group will reunite for the first time since calling it quits in 2010. The show is a benefit for VT Union’s original turntablist, DJ A-Dog, who is battling leukemia, and will feature the group’s original MC lineup of Nastee, Dakota, Manus and MC B-Free. DJ Russell will fill in for A-Dog on the wheels of steel.

To understand just how VT Union advanced the cause of local hip-hop, it’s helpful to understand some recent fundamental history of the genre in VT. At least in some respects, the current iteration of Vermont hip-hop traces its roots to an unlikely source, saxophonist Dave Grippo. In the late 1990s, Grippo held down a weekly residency at Red Square. Every Monday, the area’s finest players and singers would join the high school band teacher-cum-funk maven for a freewheeling jam session that went late into the evening — this was back when Red Square had live music until closing time … ah, memories.

A certain young local fan by the name of Andy Williams, aka DJ A-Dog, was a regular in the crowd at those sessions. As he told me for a story I wrote about VT hip-hop in 2007, Williams was as big a fan of funk as he was of hip-hop. So he approached Grippo about sitting in.

“I basically forced myself on them,” Williams said in 2007.

The musical connection was immediate, and Monday night at Red Square become as popular as Friday or Saturday. A-Dog’s hip-hop influence on those sessions soon drew the interest of local MCs, including Konflik and Belizbeha’s Fattie B, who also began sitting in, rhyming over James Brown classics and the like. Those collaborations eventually begat a new trio, Eye Oh You, who started their own Red Square residency on Thursdays. Eye Oh You begat Three the Hard Way, a collaboration between Fattie B, A-Dog, and newcomers Nastee and Manus, which eventually grew into Tha VT Union. Those two groups were contemporaries of early-to-mid-2000s BTV hip-hop acts such as the Loyalists and the Aztext, the latter of whom are still active locally and now viewed as practically elder statesmen in Vermont hip-hop. (I mean, they are like, in their thirties.)

Along with the Aztext, various Fattie B projects, BURNTmd and others, Tha VT Union helped usher in an era of hip-hop that has flourished in Vermont since the mid-2000s. By promoting the hell out of local hip-hop and helping to centralize a splintered scene — and also, by being really good — they helped turn audiences skeptical about the quality and legitimacy of Vermont hip-hop into eager fans. And they opened the door for the wave of local hip-hop acts that have graced our scene since.

Would hip-hop have found a home in Vermont if a 23-year-old DJ A-Dog hadn’t pestered Dave Grippo into letting him sit in on those funk jams in the late 1990s? Of course it would have. Music, like life, always finds a way. But it just so happens that he did, and helped to change the course of the state’s hip-hop history, which includes one of his better projects, Tha VT Union.

BiteTorrent

Speaking of local-music history, Tha VT Union aren’t the only area act reuniting this week. On Wednesday, February 6 — of course it would have to be the same night — Phish drummer Jon Fishman’s bluesy country-rock side project, Pork Tornado, takes the stage at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge. If you’re unfamiliar, the band formed in 1997 and also featured cofounder Dan Archer, sax man Joe Moore, bassist Aaron Hersey and keyboardist Phil Abair. After releasing and touring behind their lone album in 2002, they called it quits, and Pork Tornado haven’t been heard from since. No idea why they’re getting back on the horse now, but, having mostly missed their run in the late 1990s, I’m curious to check ’em out.

I’d just like to point out I made it through that whole bit without making a snarky Phish joke.

I had a lot of fun at Darkness on the Edge of Winooski, the local all-star tribute to Bruce Springsteen at the Monkey House last Friday. There were some very good performances (Lowell Thompson, Vedora, Maryse Smith); some very interesting performances (Paddy Reagan’s iPad karaoke version of “Streets of Philadelphia”); and some, er, other performances. But I think the highlight of the night might well have been the duet between Alexandria Hall (tooth ache.) and Andre Welks of Lawrence Welks and Our Bear to Cross. The duo played deconstructed electro-pop versions of “Dancing in the Dark” and “I’m on Fire” that were unlike anything else served up that night. It was also fascinating simply to watch Welks hammer away on the vibraphone, which I had no idea he could play, let alone play well. Who knew? My only suggestion for future such concerts is to organize what bands will play which songs. While hearing a few different versions of certain songs was interesting, the fifth time we were treated to “Atlantic City” was probably more than enough.

Last but not least, Potterheads, take note. Grace and her merry band of insomniacs were guests on the Monday, January 28, Daytrotter session at Daytrotter.com, marking the band’s third appearance on the web concert series. I haven’t had a chance to tune in yet — this column was written earlier — so I’ve no critical insight, except to say that the drawing that accompanies each Daytrotter episode is certain to be a more flattering likeness than Potter’s visage on the Church Street Marketplace mural.

Dept. of Corrections

Last week’s fond farewell to Mushpost founder and all-around solid dude Nick Concklin contained a minor but regrettable goof. Namely, in the last few mentions of the brainy EDM auteur, I misspelled his name as “Conklin,” instead of “Concklin.”

In a way, it’s actually sort of appropriate that I dropped the second “C” from Nick’s surname, because I’ve managed to do so roughly every single time I’ve written about the guy over the last two-ish years. It’s sort of become a running joke between us: I write something marginally clever about some show Mushpost is producing, Nick writes in to say, “Thanks for the mention! It was (funny/offensive/smart/set the cause of EDM back 20 years)! Also, you spelled my name wrong. Again.” We all have a good chuckle, and I promise never to do it again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

So you see, it really couldn’t have ended any other way. Still, I apologize. And I swear I’ll never drop another “C” from Concklin’s name again. Best of luck, Nik!

This Week on Tour Date with DJ Llu

The third season of Seven Days’ music podcast “Tour Date with DJ Llu” kicks off this Wednesday, January 30. This week, Llu’s guest is Dave Gutter, the lead singer of Maine’s Rustic Overtones, who play Signal Kitchen in Burlington this Saturday, February 2, with Dr. Green and Kinky Creature. Tune in at 7d.blogs.com/tour_date.

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Dan Bolles

Dan Bolles

Bio:
Dan Bolles is the Seven Days music editor. His column "Soundbites" appears weekly.

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