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Friday, January 1, 2010

2009 Year in Review

I'll admit, it's not exactly correct to write a Year in Review post when this blog hasn't even be active for that long, but neither did it seem right to simply let 2009 end without a word. It's been a busy year for me, one that included some significant changes, and I wanted to share some of my favorite discoveries from the past 12 months. In a sense, this is my "Year's Best" list, though I'll say up front that not everything on this list was new in 2009 - simply new to me.

So here they are, in strange and random categories. The Year's Best...

Chocolate. This one is actually a tie. Back in July, I visited Laughing Moon chocolates in Stowe, and was soon introduced to the delights of Chipotle and Cinnamon dark chocolate. Not to be outdone, a friend of mine gifted me with Vosges Japanese Matcha Green Tea deep milk chocolate. Both are amazing, though Laughing Moon earns points for being Vermont based (while Vosges is based out of Chicago).

Wine Event. Hands down, this goes to the Wednesday Wine Down, every Wednesday from 4:30-8:00 at Drink (hosted by The Burlington Wine Shop). For $10, you get four tastings paired with artisan cheeses and chocolates (from Laughing Moon, in fact). It's a fantastic deal, and hardly a week goes by that I don't find some new wine to love and take home.

Concert. The Decemberists concert at the Flynn was absolutely mind-blowing. The Neko Case concert (also at the Flynn) was a close second.

This year also went a long way toward confirming my dislike of Higher Ground as a venue. While I did go to one really fantastic seated show (Myra Flynn and Gregory Douglass), I think what sums HG up best is something a friend of mine said: "The shows you see in the main auditorium have to be so energetic or so mind-blowing that you can forget that you're standing on a concrete floor for two-plus hours". I would also add that straining to hear the music over the endless chatter of other ticket-holders doesn't improve the experience. (On a personal note, having a knee-cap with two screws holding it together does make the two-hours standing on concrete a bit more difficult to ignore.)

Local Music. This is a tough one. I saw a lot of great local acts this year, quite a bit more than in previous years. I guess there are two events that stand out for me: the first was an Inauguration Party show at Half Lounge way back in January. It was my first introduction to Andrew Parker-Renga (who I wrote about in my last post) and Zach duPont - and inspired me to catch many of their performances since. The second event that really comes to mind was Myra Flynn's release party for her CD Crooked Measures, held at the FlynnSpace back in June, and featuring some great performances by Myra herself, Justin Levinson, and Julia Brown.

Food Experience. This one goes to Bluebird Tavern. Whether you love or hate their eclectic style of food, it will certainly leave an impression on you.

Charity Event. The Red Ribbon Rally in September. I joined a crowed of people in red t-shirts that formed a giant red ribbon (see photos here). All proceeds to Vermont CARES.

Haunted Something. The Haunted Trail in Grand Isle. It's $5 and it's amazing. Also, you should read the story behind its inception. This is actually my second year going, but I felt it deserved this award anyway.

Place to Escape Vermont in Winter. Tuscon, Arizona. I went in March and, barring the black widow spider bite, it was actually a phenomenal and inexpensive trip. (Incidentally, the "Worst of 2009" award definitely goes to black widow spiders...)

Sporting Events That Don't Get Much Press. As a hockey fan, I ought to be priveleged to live in Vermont and see the UVM team play...except the tickets are expensive and difficult to get, not to mention that the traffic associated with parking at Gutterson is a nightmare. So this year, I paid a mere $5 per ticket to go see the St. Michael's College men's team play at Cairn's Arena on Dorset Street in South Burlington. For a fraction of the UVM ticket cost, I was able to happily sip hot chocolate and watch one of my favorite sports.

Hopefully 2010 will bring even more new experiences for me around the Burlington area, and my New Year's resolution is to be more diligent about sharing those experiences here!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Music Review: Andrew Parker-Renga

Apologies are in order for the long break in posts; I've been in the midst of moving, a process that culminated in ten solid hours of loading up my roommate's belongings yesterday and seeing her off to Massachusetts. I then celebrated the end of an era by going down to Nectar's for some live music from Justin Levinson and Andrew Parker-Renga.

A few initial thoughts:

1. If you go to see Justin's shows, I suggest requesting the song "Daisy May". Just do it.
2. The true test of a musician is making him sing quiet indie folk to a bar full of partying rugby players.
3. Drunk guys trying to take pictures on their cell phones should make sure they don't nearly sit on the singer's fiance when she's trying to watch the show. Seriously, drunk guys of Burlington, just try to watch where you're going.

Now down to details:

I first saw Andrew play last January, at an Inauguration party at the Half Lounge with Zach duPont, and I was pretty much instantly hooked on his sound. More than that, it was while watching Andrew play that I was finally able to define what I love most about live music; Andrew is an expressive musician, and watching him play made me realize that a great artist holds nothing back in their art form. On stage, you can see someone's true passion expressed without regret or apology. Too few people find that passion in their lives, and even fewer have the courage to let it out.

So it's a treat to discover local artists who can deliver that kind of experience, and Andrew is one of them. With his current album, Emily, recently out and highly recommended by this writer, I was psyched to hear some new tunes at Nectar's last night (particularly "Drawing Dead", which I hope Andrew will put up on his MySpace soon! Hint.) Sadly, there was no beat-boxing; if you are truly lucky, you will hear Andrew beat-box during a show. But there were plenty of the soulful vocals I've come to expect of him, and even a little extra spice on some of his staple songs (particularly the Work Song). The show was well worth both overcoming my exhaustion and crowding in with the rugby party.

Andrew will be touring later this fall, so be sure to catch his next local show September 26th at The Skinny Pancake. For more info, show dates, and songs, check out his MySpace page at

Photo by Reid Crosby.

Friday, August 7, 2009


The first time I ever went to the Flynn Theater, I was five years old. It was just before Christmas, and my mother took me to see the Nutcracker Ballet. I recall loving the music and being traumatized by the giant rat costumes. But I also recall being in absolute awe of the theater itself; the size, grandeur, and the whiff of nostalgia.

The Flynn opened in 1930, to provide the residents of Burlington a venue for vaudeville acts and also to keep with the times and showcase the up-and-coming "talkies" that were fast gaining popularity. The original program cover is pure Art Deco bliss, and the designs inside the theater, to this day, continue that trend.

You can't watch "talkies" there anymore, but you can still see some incredible live acts. From plays, to dance performances, to live musical acts, the Flynn features a varied line-up every fall. Live performances have become under-appreciated in my view. Don't get me wrong, I love movies as much as anyone - but a film remains the same each time you view it. A live performance is an organic entity, filled with unique moments (both subtle and major), and provides an intimacy with the performers that you can't get off of a screen.

As a music venue, it's my favorite in Burlington. I've mentioned before, if I'm going to a music performance, I'm going to listen; and this is especially true if I've dropped money on a ticket. From that point of view, I am not a fan of Higher Ground, which in my experience is little better than a bar in terms of the musical acts competing with general noise. (In addition, I appreciate seated venues immensely, having wrecked my knee in a mountain biking accident when I was fifteen...but that's a totally personal issue.)

In addition to loving the space itself, I've seen some of my favorite musicians play at the Flynn, including Feist, Loreena McKennitt, and (just recently) Neko Case. In terms of dance, which I'm also a huge fan of, the Flynn appears to alternate every year with performances from sister companies Pilobolus and Momix (both highly recommended) and last season featured a truly incredible show from Cirque Eloise.

Don't let any of the traditional hang-ups about legitimate theater put you off. The dress code is casual. You see everything from jeans and t-shirts, to adorable elderly couples in their best finery; I feel like I can go comfy or play dress-up, as the mood suits me. Tickets range in price, depending on the act, and you can go ground floor or balconey (personally, I like the balconey front row - it gives you an encompassing view of the entire stage).

The current Flynn schedule can be found on their website: Treat yourself!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Out of the Ordinary Eating

It's probably due to all the Lucy Knisley I've been reading lately, but I've found myself on a kick for new, interesting food. Tired of my own cooking, which is limited and revolves almost entirely around cheese, I've explored a few new restaurants of late, and I'm going to share my experiences with Bluebird Tavern, the new place that opened up in Tortilla Flat's old space on Riverside Drive.

From what I've heard and read, Bluebird has been getting mixed reviews since it opened, but I'm not one to let others' opinions influence me in matters of eating. I've been to Bluebird Tavern twice now, and have had great experiences both times. Service is prompt and friendly, the food is phenomenal, the beer list includes Allagash White (which is a huge plus right there), and the atmosphere is pleasant and cozy.

I'll say from the start, it's a pricier venue than most. But sometimes you actually do get what you pay for, and I feel like this is one of those cases. All of the meats are house-smoked and cured, or so the waitress informed me, and the Butcher Board is phenomenal. I also enjoy the flatbread, which changes daily (I had the mushroom flatbread - quite wonderful). In fact, the menu is set fresh every day, with a few regular staples and lots of daily specials and choices. Though I'm not a vegetarian, I did notice that there are quite a few vegetarian options. They also get HUGE props from me for being able to make their dishes to order - I have a nasty allergy to tree nuts, and they were happy to make a Butcher Board that was Me-Safe.

This is not your steak-and-potatoes style tavern; the menu is more eclectic and adventurous. The Butcher Board I ordered at my last visit contained liver tureen, orange and fennel sausage, veal tongue, and Whipped Lardo (which sounds like what you'd get if the Pillsbury Doughboy got himself into a domineering relationship, but is actually an incredibly delicious spread.) Not your average fare, and well worth a try.

Though it's certainly possible to have a less-than-satisfactory experience anywhere, my feeling on some of the lukewarm reviews Bluebird has recieved is that they're based on peoples' expectations. Bluebird defies the traditional definition of "tavern", and stretches beyond the burgers and fries fare that we've come to expect of a pub. In my opinion, Bluebird adds a dash of sophisticated eating to Riverside, and it's a welcome addition.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Play Ball!

Don't let the excessive amounts of rain we've been having fool you; it is, in fact summer in Vermont. That being the case, I am obligated to write about baseball, the national pastime and a summer staple.

Let's say you want to take your friends and/or family our for a night of baseball, but don't want to drive 3.5 hours down to Boston and drop $80 a person on a Red Sox ticket. Let's also say you've noticed those really bright lights blasting into the sky from time to time over near the hospital. Hopefully, if you didn't already know, you're starting to suspect that there's a ball field right here in Burlington, where for less than the price of a movie ticket, you can take in a game.

Enough dramatic lead up. I'm talking about Centennial Field, one of the nation's oldest ballparks and one of the city's historic gems. It first opened in 1906 (though the grandstand wasn't built until 1922), and was originally used by the University of Vermont. Over the years, it has hosted not only the (now discontinued) UVM baseball team, but a variety of minor league teams including:

-The Burlington Cardinals (Class D Northern League) from 1935-1941
-The Burlington Athletics (Class C Provincial League) for one season in 1955
-The Vermont Reds (Double A Eastern League) from 1984 until 1987, when they became the Vermont Mariners.
-The Vermont Expos from 1994 until 2006, when the name was changed to the Vermont Lake Monsters (short season Class A, New York-Penn League).

Centennial has also been home to several well-known players on their way to the Majors, such as Ken Griffey Jr., Orlando Cabrera, Paul O'Neill, Chris Sabo, and Jason Bay. That's the great thing about minor league baseball: you never know when one of those young players you're watching will one day be headed toward the Hall of Fame.

Here's the details: tickets are $7 for a bleacher seat (for which you will want to bring a cushion) or $8 for a grandstand seat (highly reccommended). Home games usually start at 7:05 p.m. (or 5:00 on Sundays) and run about two and a half to three hours. Between innings, while sipping beer and enjoying your hot dogs, you'll be entertained by Champ, the Lake Monster's mascot, as he leads the crowd in chants or harasses the visiting team. For me, it never gets old, and never fails to make me feel a little like being a kid again during the summer time.

I have another reason for writing about Centennial though; as you may or may not be aware, there have been grumblings about Centennial's days being numbered. A recent article in the Burlington Free Press revealed news that Major League Baseball has some issues with the field that need to be addressed if it is to continue hosting professional teams. With UVM having axed
its baseball team, it's unclear who's going to foot the bill for upgrades.

Without pointing fingers, I'm going to simply say that it would be a huge loss for Burlington if Centennial went under. The upgrades could attract more fans, higher class franchises, and prolong the life of a historic landmark; not to mention continue to provide great local entertainment for Vermont baseball fans.

For more info, including game schedules, check out:


Friday, July 10, 2009

Music Review: Myra Flynn

I should have warned any readers from the beginning: many of my entries are going to be about music. I will try to keep it local, however much I may want to rant about other widespread interests. I devote entirely too much time to strange musical ideas (like how much I'd love to see a modern artist take on and update some old Doc Watson songs...particularly if Jenny Lewis ever got the itch to attempt that...)

Ahem. Back on task.

The past few years have seen a dramatic increase in my attendance of musical live acts around town. While that includes some of the famous bands that visit the area, more often I'm catching some of B-town's homegrown artists. There are a few gems that I would highly encourage the local folks to see, and I'm going to start with the one I try to catch most often: Myra Flynn.

Myra has been getting a lot of local press recently, in part because her CD release party was last month at FlynnSpace (and was an awesome show with great guest appearances). I first saw Myra play at the Half Lounge on Church Street, and this remains my favorite venue for her. Half, for those of you who've never been, boasts what is possibly the world's smallest stage for a musical performer. That being the case, it provides a very up close and personal listening experience; as in, do not come expecting to have a loud and rowdy conversation with your friends. This atmosphere is more for those who really want to pipe down and enjoy the music.

Myra's style is "neo-soul", and her original songs are beautiful, as are her covers of such tunes as "Volcano" (a favorite of mine, though I prefer BellX1's version over Damien Rice's solo. Yeah, sue me.), "Wild Horses", and "Breathe Me". Myra is a breath of fresh air if, like me, you've grown tired of trite, stereotypical lyrics. Myra's songs are poetry put to music (and she has at least one spoken word piece that she performs from time to time), and the energy of her live performances is nearly unmatched.

Among many other venues, you can check out Myra's tunes backed by a full band when she plays at Red Square or Nectars, or opt for her duo Quiet Songs (with guitarist and back-up vocalist Paul Boffa) at the Half Lounge. You won't be disappointed. As for me, I'll be at Half Lounge this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. to catch Myra and Paul. Feel free to come up and say Hi - just not while the music's playing.

For more info, go to