Local music

by Bethany M. Dunbar     December 28, 2009

I am continually amazed by the quality and variety of live local music that it is possible to experience in Vermont.  I am no expert, but I do love to dance.  I grew up with the banjo and fiddle contests in Craftsbury.  Relatives of friends would frequently gather in the kitchen or living room for informal jams that lasted late into the night.

So the way things work with weekly newspapers — or at least the Chronicle — is that someone who has an interest can develop that interest by simply going out and covering stuff.  Amazing.  I know that I have attended many more concerts than I ever would have if it didn’t happen to be my job to go see Bill Monroe when he came to play at Fuller Hall in St. Johnsbury.  In the same way it was my job to interview my neighbor and friend Howie Cantor when he made a CD of his folk songs.  I got to write about Viscus when they were getting ready to go on tour a few years ago.  I’ve interviewed Wayne Warner about his music and about his passion to promote adoption for children without families.  Good stuff.

Viscus — not exactly the same group of people but many of the same guys — is playing at Sweet Basil’s on Wednesday, December 30.  Posted below is the story I did about them in 2006.

Now there are so many venues — the Greensboro Blues Jam, Parker Pie music night right here in West Glover on Thursdays, and when we are in Montpelier it’s sort of unbelievable that you can go from place to place and take your pick of music styles.  There’s the Langdon Street Café, the Black Door, Positive Pie, Charlie O’s, and of course if you want to drive to Burlington there’s Higher Ground.  Right over in Morrisville there’s the Bees Knees, and closer to home in the summer there’s the Northeast Kingdom Music Festival, and how cool was the Burke Mountain festival when Grace Potter rocked the mountain?

I have the coolest collection of music ever — my 20-year-old daughter just loaded it all on her ipod; it’s that cool.  I have music by a group of North Country Union High School students who called themselves Precisely Vague.  These guys did jazz to knock your socks off.  I don’t know where they are now, but I’m hanging on to that CD.  That kind of talent doesn’t end at high school.  Those guys are out in the world somewhere, does anyone know where they went?  I’m willing to bet they are making music if not as a group, then in other groups or individually.

Last spring I interviewed Maureen O’Donnell who has made a CD of her music.  Years ago she was part of a band we used to dance to in dance halls long ago burned down.  They were called the BTUs, and yes, they were hot.

That story is posted on the Chronicle’s web site. More recently Ms. O’Donnell had a run-in with emergency services that was described in detail in the Chronicle by my publisher, Chris Braithwaite.  How does her 911 call lead to her in jail, then dropped off in a parking lot in her pajamas?  We covered that story.

Local radio stations have been promoting these musicians forever, and now they have a new friend in the Internet with Free Vermont Radio (or is it Radio Free Vermont?).

So if it’s a decent evening on New Year’s Eve, maybe we can all take advantage of some of the incredible offerings out there to celebrate.

What’s your favorite local or Vermont music?

The Radio Rangers played at Lake Region Union High School's homecoming in 2003. Left to right are Tony Washburn, Mark Strusacker, Dave Rowell, and Danny Coane who also plays with the Starline Rhythm Boys. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Maureen O'Donnell in spring 2009. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Luke Laplant and Derek Campbell of Viscus. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Viscus — a cool hot Northeast Kingdom band heads out on tour

by Bethany M. Dunbar, the Chronicle, February 1, 2006

LYNDONVILLE — Viscus is as cool as a New Orleans summer night, as sweet as a fine dry wine, as dark as the northern lights.  Viscus is a Northeast Kingdom phenomenon.

On Friday night, January 20, at Phat Kats bar, the jazzy-rock-rap-funk group had its CD release party.  The place was stuffed so full of people that there was hardly room to dance, but people found a way.  On Friday, January 27, the group headed south on a nine-state tour for a month in hopes of making connections and getting exposure.

The album is called Merging, and the music is lively, smooth, compositional, sexy, and refreshing.  It fits no category, but has elements of so many that anyone with ears has a pretty good chance to like it.  The talent of these musicians is undeniable.

Many of the band members are known already from playing with other groups.  Viscus started out about four years ago as a trio, including Micah Carbonneau, who was a member of nine different bands at once as recently as this summer.  Mr. Carbonneau plays bass for Viscus, but also plays guitar and drums.

A graduate of North Country Union High School, Mr. Carbonneau has managed to make his living with music lately, but will give up six of these other bands in order to participate in the tour with Viscus.

“I did have a roofing and painting business for quite a while,” he said, but he decided to drop that in favor of chances to play music.  He is still playing with a duo and with the New Gypsy Swing Quintet.

Mr. Carbonneau said he knows that this work demands commitment, and he’s committed to Viscus.  It was not hard to choose which band he wanted to concentrate on.

“My heart soared every time I was with these guys.  It felt like art,” he said.

Ira Friedman, who grew up in Sutton, stopped working for the Old School Builders — at least for the winter — to go where Viscus might take him.  Mr. Friedman plays keyboard and wrote most of the songs Viscus plays.

Mr. Friedman has been writing songs ever since he was in high school.  Sometimes he thinks of lyrics first, and other times the music comes first.

“It happens every possible way really,” he said.  “I just try to grab it when I get the chance.”

He often carries a tape recorder.  If it’s not handy he has been known to write on a napkin while driving down the road.

Both Luke Laplant and Mr. Friedman have studied at William Paterson University in New Jersey.

The first gig Viscus ever had was in Portland, Maine.  The group was Mr. Friedman, Mr. Carbonneau and Mr. Laplant, who plays baritone saxophone.  They had not found a name, and the morning after their gig they went out to breakfast.  Excited about their first appearance, they were talking with the waitress about their music and asked what she thought their band name should be.

She thought about it for a while, came back to their table and said, “What do you guys think about liquid?”

They said they thought liquid was quite fine, and then the waitress, whose name was Rose, said maybe they should consider the name Viscus.

The word viscus has more than one meaning.  Webster’s dictionary defines it as the singular form of viscera, or intestines.  There is also the word viscous, which is a substance made from mistletoe berries or, as an adjective, means having a “sticky fluid consistency.”  There is also viscose, a syrup-like solution used in making fabrics like rayon.  Mr. Carbonneau likes to point out that in Latin the word means the first of the five stages of lovemaking — “the gaze.”

Clearly all this lack of definition is more than acceptable to this band.  Derek Campbell, who plays guitar and sings, has been calling bars all over the southeastern United States to line up gigs for their tour.  He said he had to try to describe the music to people in bars who had never heard Viscus, and he usually ends up saying it’s kind of funky jazz rock.

He told this to the owner of a bar in West Virginia called the Jammin’ Crab, and the owner said, “Really?  Because I was going to change the name of this place to Funky Jazz Rock.”

Needless to say, they got a gig.

The tour will start just outside New York City.  Viscus will hit Key West, Florida, Charleston, South Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia, and Nashville, Tennessee, among other cities. It’s not the first time Viscus has gone out of state.  The band traveled not long ago to New York City to play at a place called Pianos.

The tour actually started on Wednesday, January 25, at Sweet Basil’s in Lyndonville.  Whenever the Viscus band members are in town, they play there on Wednesday nights.

Mr. Campbell lined up the tour through sheer persistence.  He went on the Internet and found lists of possible venues.  He called all the likely prospects.  Sometimes in order to catch the right person who could make a decision he had to call back 16 times.  When he found someone who was willing to listen to the band’s original demo CD, he sent a copy and then called back a week later to see what they thought.

Mr. Campbell is a cartoonist, a glass blower, a writer, a husband and father, and he has a recording studio in his house.  He has recorded three of his own albums, including one called Freak Party.  He said he used to listen to nothing but classic rock, but his tastes have shifted toward funk.  On Wednesdays from noon to 3 p.m. he does a show at the radio station at Lyndon State College, 91.5, the Impulse.  On his show he plays mostly local music and funk.  Through that job he gets to hear all kinds of demo CDs from literally everywhere.  This includes African, Latin, and Scandinavian folk music.  Plus all kinds of local music.

“It’s so amazing how much great local music there is around here,” he said.  A lot of it is featured on the band’s web site, lyndonunderground.com.

The band’s drummer is Troy Hubbard, who works as a landscaper and for Village Sports when he’s not playing music.  Viscus is also often joined by Linda Warnaar on Congo drums.  Others join them on the CD, and on Friday at Phat Kats they were joined by some local vocalists and rappers.

Mr. Laplant is a coppersmith for High Beams in Sutton, which makes custom lighting fixtures.  He plays saxophone, clarinet and ewi (electronic wind instrument).

“Originally I wanted to play the flute,” he said.

He grew up in Lyndonville and has been playing music since he was 11 years old.

Mr. Laplant is excited about the professional opportunities the tour offers, but he’s also just psyched to go out on the road with his friends.

“We’re all like best friends too, so it’s a beautiful thing.”


8 responses to “Local music

  1. Hey There,

    just wondering if you’d like to review some of Gordon’s work if you are unfamiliar – I saw you had the Radio Rangers up on your blog – he has played with them before as well as Phish, moe., Strangefolk, Max Creek, and more!

    drop me aline with an address and I will get you some listening material!

    Jen Harwood

    • Hi Jen. I have heard Gordon play, he’s great! I’d love to write about him. Is there a time he might be playing in Orleans County any time soon?


  2. Now I know I’m aging. My best musical memory of my time in The Queendom (sorry all you die-hard patriarchs!) is of dancing to the 10-Mile Shuffle Band. One very cold winter night when the temperature went south — irony intended — to -35 degrees F. , a whole bunch of us hippies arrived at the Osborne Hotel in Island Pond riding in a resurrected-from-the-junkyard stretch-length airport taxicab to hear “our” band. We danced all night and into the early morning hours both to merge with the music and to keep warm. The Osborne was leaky and drafty and the wind was worked up and wild and playing white-out on the roads but that was life and life only way back then before 911 calls, suburban-style road signs, snazzy waterfront urban renewal in Newport and numbered, middle-class-style addresses for homesteads we built with a little help from our friends along unpaved, frozen, deeply-rutted roads way out in the woods or up on the ridgelines. Jimmy Carter was in the White House and Bob Dylan was a White House visitor and President Carter assured the nation that afficionados of a flowering plant abundantly cultivated in Orleans County in the oh-so-brief summertime were not criminals. It was the vanishing edge of a mythic time immediately followed by The Reagan Counter-Revolution which took until 2008 to go dizzingly bust but left 1% of the American people owning and controlling over 50% of the real wealth of the country. Now aristocracy is back, Wall Street has pulled off a coup d’ etat, American families are evicted from their homes every seven minutes and thrown out on the street and our current Commander-in-Chief, who is busy micro-managing the two most violent invasions of sovereign countries on the planet and has just escalated one of them significantly, has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. War is peace. Bust is prosperity. Decline is glory. Madness is in the saddle. Happy New Year everyone!

  3. Madness is in the saddle. I love that line. Thanks Dan. Whatcha gonna do but dance?

  4. Here’s an update on two of those jazz musicians from North Country from someone who misses the live music that use to fill her home (disclaimer: this update from Mom).

    Adam Podd is based in NYC where he is producing, composing, arranging, and performing. Here’s a sample of some of the music he’s been working on

    Matt Podd is finishing up his Masters degree at the Eastman School of Music. Samples of his work as a composer and performer can be found on his web site

    They both performed with Dan Mills this summer at the Haskell Opera House. Dan Mills entire CD is available as a free download at
    Dan Mills is working on some tour dates that might bring them back to Vermont in the spring.

  5. Another notable NEK band that I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying recently also features a North Country alum, Mark Fortin, in Red House. They have a brand new CD out and can be heard live at several NEK venues

  6. Lucie, thank you so much! I will check out those links. I remember Mark too, I wrote about a band he was in in high school called Slow Rider I believe. I just tried to find that CD and can’t seem to put my hands on it. 😦 I will keep an eye out for Red House.


  7. Hey Bethany,

    Hope all is well!
    Didn’t know If I may be able to get your email address?


    Mark Fortin

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