In my younger days, I did a lot of traveling to see live music. Not so much anymore. Back in the day, it was surprisingly affordable. Tickets to shows were in the $20 range, travel and accommodations were affordable, and, at shows with a traveling fan base, you could make money on the lot before the show selling, well, whatever ... grilled cheese, burritos, etc.
I remember a particular time in Chicago where my partner and I rolled into the windy city with around $30. Within a few hours, we had $600 (and scored “miracle” tickets, meaning they were given to us for free). Ah, the good ol’ days.
I rarely do this type of traveling to shows these days; I generally like a smaller venue and don’t think most acts are worth the exorbitant ticket price, but there are exceptions. Last Sunday, I took a road trip down to Port Chester, New York, to the historic Capitol Theatre to see one of the only bands I will pay $65 a ticket and do the traveling for: Ween. Most people are not familiar with this amazing, genre-bending, weird and wonderful rock band. Often I am asked, “What kind of music is Ween?” That’s a perplexing question, but you can pretty much take any tradition or style of music, and Ween takes the theme and structure of that particular style and puts it through their own rock ‘n’ roll supercollider. They also can do tender ballads and write beautiful love songs, a seriously underrated part of their game that sometimes might get lost among the face-melting guitar solos. I had an absolute blast, and only wish I could afford to do this a bit more often.
As far as the local scene goes, there are much more affordable options for live music out there, ranging from modest fees to free.
Speaking of free, Charlie O’s on Main Street in the heart of Montpelier has free music multiple nights per week. On Friday night, you can get your heavy metal on with Lightcrusher, Concillium, Hell Priest and Sachem (metal bands often have some strange, mysterious names). The genre is quite popular at O’s, so expect this one to be well attended by the leather-wearing, vest-patch laden crowd starting at 9 p.m. Z-jazz plays the early slot at 6 p.m. On Saturday night, O’s switches gears when they host longtime local bluegrass band The Mad Mountain Scramblers, once again at 9 p.m.
Another place that always has free music is The Whammy Bar, nestled into the cozy confines of the back of the Maple Corner Store in the heart of the charmingly bucolic village of Calais. You can catch open mic there tonight starting at 7 p.m. On Friday night, you can check out bluegrass act Papa’s Porch starting at 7:30 p.m.
On Saturday night, local gal Liz Beatty brings in her band The Alternates for a night of blues and soul. Besides being a super-cool woman, Liz is a heck of a soul singer who can really belt it out with an obvious love for the sounds of New Orleans. Should be a good one, once again starting at 7:30 p.m.
Another similar venue is nestled into Harry’s Hardware Store in the heart of the village of Cabot. The Den at Harry’s Hardware features a bar and space for live music. On Saturday night, they’ll host local dude Papa G for a night of piano bar sing-along, holiday-style revelry. Get your cheer on starting at 7 p.m. Oh, and though the music is once again free, both Harry’s and the Whammy accept donations for musicians, so, in the spirit of the holiday season, be generous if you enjoy the music.
Free music is all well and good, but the old maxim “you get what you pay for” often applies. To that end, some things are worth paying for, especially when you get world-class musicianship for only $5. Such will be the case Friday night at Positive Pie II on State Street in the Capital. Soule Monde is an instrumental funk power-duo featuring Trey Anastasio Band veterans Ray Paczkowski (keys) and Russ Lawton (drums). Their syncopated avant-funk sound is crafted for the dance floor, but is a heady enough mixture for any fan of complex, consummately played instrumental music. The exceedingly affordable fun starts at 10 p.m.
Another place you’ll get more than what you pay for this weekend is Zen Barn, where another Trey Band vet will be playing in a duo. Vermont-bred trumpeter/vocalist Jennifer Hartswick will be joined by fellow Vermonter Nick Cassarino on guitar and vocals. These two are heavy hitters, and their careers have taken them well beyond our Green Mountain State, but after over 20 years of collaboration, their musical bond is undeniable. This one looks to be a great show and gets my pick of the week. It happens on Sunday starting at 9 p.m. for $12 in advance and $15 at the door. For tickets and more information, visit www.zenbarnvt.com.
That will wrap up this week. Until next week, when I’ll be previewing what’s going on for New Year’s Eve, travel safe, have a great holiday, and go see live music.
Ed DuFresne has produced concerts and events (which he prefers to call shows) in and around central and northeastern Vermont since the late ‘90s. He is grateful to live in Montpelier with an exemplary Renaissance man as a housemate.