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- File: Luke Awtry
- Burlington Discover Jazz Fest in 2022
As '80s hair metal outfit Cinderella will tell you, you don't know what you got 'til it's gone. If being a part of the Burlington music scene has taught me anything these past few decades, it's that permanence has no place here. It doesn't matter whether it's an incredible band, a killer venue, a unique festival or even a dingy basement for secret DIY punk shows — nothing lasts forever.
Sure, I'm being a bit maudlin, but I think it's forgivable right now. It's been a rough stretch of time for lovers of local music, this "post"-pandemic — or whatever we're calling the current phase. After a few years of being stuck inside watching live-streamed performances from people's living rooms, most of us were champing at the bit to see an actual concert. As joyous as the return to live music has been, let's be honest: The scene we returned to is a much, much different beast from the one we left in 2020.
Local music luminaries, from DJ Craig Mitchell to Flynn director of programming Matt Rogers, have pointed out recently that our scene is woefully short on venues. So many places to catch live music in Burlington have disappeared in recent years, including ArtsRiot, Signal Kitchen and SideBar. But the real area of concern is our festivals.
Grace Potter's Grand Point North has been moribund since the pandemic, with no sign that the weekend event typically held at Burlington's Waterfront Park will return. As I discussed in this column recently, Waking Windows is taking the year off, possibly for good. (That one still hurts to type.)
Last week's news about the 2023 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, to be guest curated by saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, reminded us again how much the topography of the live music scene has changed. As opposed to the 10-day throwdown of all things jazz that we usually get from the Flynn, this year's jazz fest will run for only five days, from June 7 to 11 — an event cut in half on its 40th anniversary, no less.
You can read Flynn executive director Jay Wahl's comments on downsizing the fest online or in last week's issue. Essentially, he points the finger at the post-pandemic festival landscape and the difficulty of putting together big events. Artists are finding it more and more expensive to tour, given such factors as soaring fuel prices, venues or labels taking cuts of merchandise sales, and the vampiric pricing models of entities like Ticketmaster. That makes it more difficult than ever to book a large assortment of artists during a set period like a festival.
So we know that the Flynn had plenty of reasons to cut jazz fest in half this year. Do we have to like it, though?
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- File: Luke Awtry
- Marty Fogel
"I definitely have an opinion," Colchester-based musician Marty Fogel wrote to me. The saxophonist, who has played with Lou Reed and Don Cherry, didn't hold back when I asked what he thought of the new jazz fest format: "I think it SUCKS."
Fogel is hardly alone in that opinion. Other local jazz musicians have reached out to me over the past week to offer their takes — many preferring to stay off the record, since they hope that the shortened festival will still include local jazz. But their overall fear seems to be that Burlington's jazz scene might not be super involved in the fest this year. Or, as one musician put it, "I'm fucking pissed."
While I understand the anxiety about the shortened festival, a few things are worth remembering. For one, it's early: Only three artists have even been announced so far. Traditionally, many of the local acts aren't revealed until the final lineup announcement, which wasn't released last year until May, a month before the festival.
For another thing, of the three artists who have been announced, one is singer-songwriter Myra Flynn. A mainstay of our local scene celebrating the release of her new album on the Flynn Main Stage is hardly a sign of a lack of faith in Vermont talent.
That said, fewer days in the festival means fewer opportunities for locals to play at what is traditionally the biggest jazz showcase of the year. It's easy to understand the artists' concerns.
Regardless of how this year's jazz fest turns out, I know this: We can't take our festivals for granted — or live music in general. Yes, Burlington's jazz fest has changed — and in some ways, perhaps not for the better. But it lives. And maybe (fingers crossed) what we're seeing is an evolution rather than a reduction. Time will tell.