Capital Sounds

Dave Keller celebrates an early New Year’s Eve at Montpelier’s Unitarian Church.

Season’s greetings, live music fans, and Happy New Year! Over the past decade or so, I’ve noticed a decline in NYE activities among the many local venues, but it appears the dawn of 2019 has provided a resurgence. There are numerous gigs happening Monday night, and I’ll cover those first before getting to the weekend’s activities. For anyone who can, I highly recommend taking Monday off.

I lucked into an encounter with Ben Dunham the other night, and over beers was able to get an impromptu interview with the producer of The Backline Collective, a who’s who of some of our area’s finest musicians who will be headlining Montpelier’s City Hall NYE celebration. A “backline” is a music term for all the instrumentation and equipment a band needs to perform; the hardware, per se. Ben has applied this concept to the musicians themselves, and in doing so has brought “the back to the front,” basically personifying what a backline can be by “unifying the individual, but (also) giving them a real place to shine.” The music is described as a pastiche of “Americana, roots, folk and rock that showcases the talents of some of Vermont’s most outstanding vocalists.”

As producer of the project, Ben feels “privileged” to work with notable locals like Andy Suits, Sara Grace, Rob Morse, Brandon Klarich, JJ Cyrus and Ira Friedman, to name a few (all quotes are Ben’s). The show is titled “Cohesion” and takes place at Montpelier City Hall on Monday night with the doors opening at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased in advance or at the door. For those and more information, visit

For denizens of the Capital City that find the hour too late despite it being the last day of the year, there’s also a treat of a concert going down at the Unitarian Church at 130 Main St. in the city of the golden dome. Local luminary Dave Keller, whose latest release, “Every Soul’s a Star,” has him garnering rave reviews in blues and soul circles, will play a rare, intimate concert with his longtime keyboard player Ira Friedman on the church’s beautiful piano (note that Ira will be pulling double-duty when he plays with the Backline Collective later on in the evening). I’ve produced a show in the Unitarian Church sanctuary before, and for an intimate, sit-down gig like this, there is no finer sounding room the capital has to offer. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door for the 5:30 p.m. performance, and are available along with more information at

There’s more happening in the capital’s usual suspect venues as well on NYE. Charlie O’s gets down Monday night with funk band The Get Messy starting at 9 p.m. Around the corner at Sweet Melissa’s, it’s a double-bill of some of the most popular acts our fair town has to offer when Mel’s house band Guano Loco is joined by ‘80s rockers Duroc for what should be a wild and well-attended evening at the hotspot on the corner of Elm and Langdon. That one starts at 10 p.m. for what I would expect might be a bit more than the normal nominal cover at the door, which is usually standard for NYE.

There are a number of last-night-of-the-year events taking place outside of the capital proper as well. Zenbarn in Waterbury Center is closing out an outstanding year of programming with Lady Moon and the Eclipse, an act that “(dazzles) with thoughtful lyrics, sophisticated harmonies, and African dance-grounded, ‘60s-inspired choreography” (1NCuration). The show starts at 10 p.m. with tickets $15 in advance and $18 at the door. For those and more info, visit

Out in the capital region’s more rural environs, there is live music to be had on NYE as well. Nestled in the back of Harry’s Hardware in the heart of Cabot, The Den has become a hotspot on the border of the Northeast Kingdom. Monday night will feature lauded singer-songwriter Jenn Grinels for an intimate show on the cozy barroom stage. “Her voice is just absurd. Two artists kept coming to mind — Martin Sexton and Fiona Apple. Sexton because of her vocal focus and control; Fiona Apple because of her tell-off confessional and conversational lyrics, her penchant for complex rhyme schemes, and her powerful, listen-up-buster delivery” ( This is a rare ticketed show for the 9 p.m. performance for $20 in advance, $25 at the door if available, and those and more info can be had by visiting

For those of you that want to start festivities early, you’re in luck, as there is a full weekend of live music at our local venues. On Friday night, Charlie O’s presents manager and bartender extraordinaire’s band Abby Jenne and her Dark Advisers alongside backwoods Americana punk-roots rockers Pariah Beat. Word from both acts is that Abby will also be performing with PB, which in my opinion should be a real treat given their analogous styles. The back of the barroom fun starts at 9 p.m.

There is also, as is usual all year long, live music at Sweet Melissa’s this weekend, culminating with the last live-band karaoke of the year on Sunday night. Could be a doozy unless folks are savin’ it all up for Monday. What should be noted is that if you are looking for live music in the capital, Melissa’s is your most reliable bet — if they are open, which is nearly every night of the week.

That wraps up this week, and 2018. Have a safe and happy new year, dear readers, and I look forward to informing you of your local live music options into 2019. Cheers!

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.

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