Current project

vermont music far & wide exhibit

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Introduction 

Vermont’s music spans genres and generations and reminds us how creative and diverse we are as a people in our past and the present. Many industries are joined together through music. Handcraft, industrial manufacturing, and other art forms like photography are near the top of this list. Music has also provided experiences that bring people together and make Vermont’s communities stronger. That happens for people of all ages, sharing excitement or poignant moments at a concert and thoughts about music and its messages after a show.

This exhibit was curated by the volunteers of Big Heavy World to show a few examples of how music contributes to Vermont’s character and uniqueness. We reflect on how music is an art form, a catalyst for community-building, and also a contributor to the state’s economy. People are — and have been — making music of all kinds across the state, deserving to be heard and celebrated. Their passion for music gives Vermont depth that we can only begin to explore with this exhibit. Welcome to a tiny window to the infinite world of Vermont’s music and the community that made it.

Vermont Music Far & Wide is showing at the Vermont Historical Society Museum, 109 State Street, Montpelier through July 25, 2019, then returning to permanent installation at Big Heavy World, 4 Howard Street, #A-8, Burlington.

Vermont Music Far & Wide was made possible with support from The Vermont Humanities Council; the Lake Champlain Basin Program and Lake Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership; the City of Burlington and the Burlington Community and Economic Development Office; the Vermont Community Foundation; Seven Days; the Vermont Folklife Center; and Vermont Community Access Media. The exhibit is presented with special thanks to Chico Lager; Eva Sollberger; Creston Lea; Andy Kolovos; Neale Lunderville; Will Clavelle; Pete Gershon; Robert Hooker; and Justin Crowther.

The Local History Gallery is a wonderful chance to showcase unique and intriguing stories from Vermont’s over 200 cultural organizations at our museum. We are so excited to feature this exhibit from Big Heavy World, demonstrating the importance of talking about 20th century history, as well as the vital and creative role music plays in our state.
— Eileen Corcoran, Vermont Historical Society Community Outreach & Media Coordinator
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Yankee Traditional Music

Beginning with Edith Sturgis and Robert Hughes’s 1919 book, Songs from the Hills of Vermont, the 20th century was rich in efforts to document English language folk song in Vermont. Sturgis and Hughes were followed by Helen Hartness Flanders who recorded folk song and music here from 1930-1960, publishing numerous books and creating the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection at Middlebury College. In the early 1960s Flanders passed the mantle of Vermont Songcatcher to Marlboro folk singer Margaret MacArthur, who traveled the state throughout that decade recording friends and neighbors. In the 1970s many young musicians and song scholars began making field recordings of traditional music around the state, including Mark Greenberg, Steve Green, Lisa Ornstein, Jane Beck and others.

‘Songs from the Hills of Vermont’

Edith Sturgis and Robert Hughes, 1919
Collection of the Vermont Folklife Center Archive

One of the first published collections of Vermont folk song, Edith Sturgis and Robert Hughes documented the repertoire of the Atwood family of West Dover, VT. In the early 1960s Margaret MacArthur, taking inspiration from Sturgis and Hughes, located and recorded surviving Atwood family member, Fred. In 2009 musicians Tony Barrand and Keith Murphy drew on both the book and MacArthur’s field recordings for their album of Atwood family songs, On the Banks of Coldbrook.

‘The New Green Mountain Songster: Traditional Songs of Vermont’

Helen Hartness Flanders, Elizabeth Flanders Ballard, George Brown and Phillips Barry, 1939
Collection of the Vermont Folklife Center Archive.

Helen Hartness Flanders’ fourth collection of Vermont folk song bears a title inspired by the exceedingly rare 1823 volume, The Green Mountain Songster, compiled by a “Revolutionary soldier of Sandgate, Vermont.”

This copy of New Green Mountain Songster belonged to Margaret MacArthur and is inscribed to her by Helen Hartness Flanders.

Margaret MacArthur Collection. Vermont Folklife Center Archive

Eight Traditional British-American Ballads from Helen Hartness Flanders Collection, Middlebury College Middlebury, VT. New England Folksong Series No. 1. Middlebury College. 1953

LP curated by Helen Hartness Flanders and released by Middlebury College highlighting selections from the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection.

Franco-American Traditional Music

Often overlooked by early song collectors, the vital musical traditions of Franco-Americans have long history in Vermont. And with nearly a quarter of Vermonters (22.3%) tracing their families to French Canada, the cultural heritage of Franco-Americans is undeniably a fundamental element of the contemporary identity and culture of the state. Important ambassadors for Vermont Franco-American culture are the Beaudoin family of Burlington, who rose to national prominence in the 1970s. Rooted in the duo of brothers Louis (fiddle) and Willie (guitar), the group gradually expanded to include their children and grandchildren, many of whom still perform today.

La Famille Beaudoin/The Beaudoin Family. Philo Records. 1976.

Important recording of the extended Beaudoin family, La Famille Beaudoin is a cornerstone of New England Franco-American music.

Philo Records Collection, Vermont Folklife Center Archive.

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“Sarah Ryan B-Bender” Creston electric guitar & unassembled electric guitar

Creston Lea, Sarah Ryan, & Gene Parsons
Burlington, Vermont
Courtesy Creston Lea

Hand crafted, hand painted electric guitar. 1-pc sugar pine body, maple/Brazilian rosewood neck, clay dots, Lollar LEA-90 bridge pickup, Lollar 1950’s wind neck pickup, 4-way switching and push-pull phase reversal, a long-throw B-bender with a titanium hub.

For fifteen years, Vermont luthier Creston Lea has created approximately 850 made-to-order electric guitars according to the specifications of the client and his own expertise. Each aspect of a guitar can change the entire sound and feel of the instrument from the shape, size, scale length, and electronics used. For this guitar, Gene Parsons built and installed a device called a B-bender that bends the B string without any help from the player. Vermont artist Sarah Ryan creates designs she custom paints onto many of the guitars, including this one.

The unassembled pieces are a sugar pine body, maple neck, Indian rosewood fretboard. Hand Cut and/or cut with Creston Electric Guitars’ acoustic counterpart, Circle Strings’ CNC machine. The pieces were ultimately unused due to practically imperceptible imperfections. Can you believe that these pieces were almost identical to the pieces used in the electric guitar beside them?

Creston Lea is one of the impressive craftspersons living and working in the state. Businesses like Creston Electric Guitars demonstrate the excellence found in Vermont’s instrument-making tradition.

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Video “Wood & Wire”

Filmmaker Bill Simmon
Courtesy Vermont Community Access Media

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Hunt’s menu, list of performers, & tickets

Fred “Chico” Lager
Burlington, Vermont
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Courtesy Fred ‘Chico’ Lager

Hunt’s was a prolific music venue in Burlington from 1977 to 1987, hosting myriad talents from members of The Byrds, Tom Paxton, Taj Mahal, B.B. King, Livingston Taylor, and more. For a decade, Hunt’s brought in hundreds of people each night for their unique experience. Other music venues were equally known for their dining or bar scene, whereas Hunt’s was a place where the music came first, always staying steady while other venues rode the discotheque wave.

Hunt’s was one of the key players in the music culture so deeply ingrained in Vermont, helping to put Burlington on the map for musicians around the country. It became a destination not only for artists but for the people of Vermont, and it inspired more recent venues into creation such as Higher Ground.

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Photographs of Vermont music personalities with audio interpretation, 1990-2000

Matthew Thorsen (1967-2019)

This exhibit of black and white photography titled ‘Sound Proof’ celebrates the work of Matthew Thorsen, the go-to photographer for Burlington-area bands during the 1990s. Thorsen took thousands of portrait, newspaper and magazine photos, chronicling the music scene of the era. He was well-known for his work as a photojournalist for Seven Days Newspaper and Good Citizen Magazine and had a vibrant creative career as an artist with his personal photography as well. The photographs of Sound Proof were taken at a time when Thorsen was still working with film, before he turned to digital photography as that new technology emerged.

Interpretive audio accompanies most of the photographs—Thorsen speaks about taking each photo, and many bands welcome you to hear their songs following his comments. Thorsen passed in January, 2019, leaving fond memories of his joyful, inquisitive personality and contributing an important cultural legacy to current and future Vermonters.

The Sound Proof exhibit was produced by Big Heavy World with Matthew Thorsen and presented by Seven Days with generous support from Creative Habitat, a 2010 Champlain Quadricentennial Legacy Grant from the Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership, the Vermont Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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Big Heavy World sends a big 'Thank you!" out to volunteer programmer Christina Hamilton and the Code for BTV organization for creating the interactive audio-visual kiosk for the Sound Proof exhibit within Vermont Music Far & Wide.

About 100 band portraits by Thorsen now have corresponding audio and music from many of the artists portrayed. The audio includes his impressions, the story of taking the photos, and anecdotes and music history that is special to hear in his own voice. Many bands allowed their music to be included, so exhibit-goers can see and hear a decade-long slice of Vermont’s music history.

Hamilton's custom HTML and Java code was loaded with Thorsen's images and audio files onto an Apple iPad and accessed with the Kiosk Pro app. The iPad was installed in a protective floor stand contributed by LeZot Camera. Christina is a volunteer for Code for BTV, a group of civic technologists based at Big Heavy World who code projects to benefit the community. Christina’s kiosk project code will be shared as open source via the Code for BTV GitHub repository for others to adapt for their own audio-visual interpretative display projects.

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Burlington Record Plant: The stages of vinyl record manufacturing, 2019

Justin Crowther
Burlington, Vermont
Courtesy Burlington Record Plant

1. Electroplated lacquer discs called stampers, negatives of the master audio, are placed in a hydraulic press as top and bottom inserts.

2. Vinyl pellets are extruded into a preform (glob of vinyl) which gets a label compressed onto it before it is pressed with the stampers.

3. The compression molded record goes to the trimmer to remove excess vinyl, then stacked in tens to cure for 24 hours before packaging.

In 2014, Justin Crowther had a dream to open up the first record plant in Vermont — specifically in Burlington — and he made it happen. Family owned and operated, Burlington Record Plant produces around 130,000 records per year for major and independent labels in the United States and worldwide. The plant uses the same pressing process developed in the 1940’s—with some of their equipment dating back to 1967—to manufacture high quality custom vinyl records.

The Burlington Record Plant is a prime example of the entrepreneurial, musical, and ethically conscious spirit of Vermont. The plant believes in the preservation of vinyls due to their cultural significance as well as auditory and visual aesthetic value. The facility is energy efficient, uses clean vinyl recycling practices, and recyclable shipping materials.

Video “Rough Francis at Burlington Record Plant [SIV425]”

Eva Sollberger
Courtesy ‘Stuck in Vermont’ and Seven Days Newspaper

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242 Main interior office door, 1986-2016

Burlington, Vermont
Metal
Loaned by City of Burlington

242 Main Street was an all-ages teen center and live music venue created by the youth office of the mid-1980s mayoral administration of Bernie Sanders. Located in Memorial Auditorium on Main Street in Burlington, this youth-organized community center was known for its inclusivity and civic engagement. It was a creative and social outlet that empowered young adults to stand up for what they believe in and respect one another, and was a rare cultural outlet for marginalized youth. It operated for more than 30 years until it was closed in 2016 due to deteriorated building conditions.

Over 30-plus years, 242 Main Street had a deep impact on shaping the youth of Burlington. Music was the glue that brought its young people together and they created a subculture of acceptance and conscientiousness in the surprising context of punk rock expression.

Loan of the door was made possible by the City of Burlington and the Burlington Community & Economic Development Office, with special thanks to Neale Lunderville and Will Clavelle. It will be returned to its original location when renovation of Memorial Auditorium is complete.

Interview excerpts, 242 Main documentary film,

2016-2019
Bill Simmon
Video
Courtesy Vermont Community Access Media

This interactive, touch-screen exhibit provides access to brief excerpts from more than 50 full interviews by filmmaker Bill Simmon, for the documentary ‘No Stage Diving: The Story of 242 Main.’ As a glimpse into the first-hand experience of people who went to 242 Main throughout its three decades, the video reveals insights about the meaning of youth-programmed cultural spaces and the innovative municipal policy that let youth create a venue in Vermont that has national historic significance. 242 Main is the longest-running all-ages punk rock venue in the country.

In 2016 242 Main was closed due to the deteriorated condition of the 1928 civic auditorium where it is located. The Burlington community expressed the desire to reinstate 242 Main, with 2,000 petition signatures and ranking “youth music” and “youth-led programming” high on a City-administrated survey in 2018. The City of Burlington has begun to explore repair of the building and current plans display the intention to return youth music and youth-led programming to the legendary 242 Main venue.

Filing cabinet stage prop, circa 2000

chainsaws.and.children
Metal

This metal filing cabinet began life new at a chainsaws.and.children concert in the early 2000’s. The electro-metal band passed a metal baseball bat into the audience at a Club Metronome show in Burlington and audience members bashed the filing cabinet in time to the music, contributing to percussion during the song. ‘CAC,” led by Paul Dickson and Derek Pearson, had an aggressive sound that was used in action sport broadcasts of their era and drew many young people to shows.

Hellbender concert poster and tickets, 2002

Big Heavy World
Paper

In 2002 chainsaws.and.children joined bands of other aggressive genres at the original Higher Ground location in Winooski for a concert featuring wall-sized projections of live networked video gaming and computer-generated video explosions. Radio stations, lifestyle brands, nightclubs and local businesses all continue to support local music in interesting ways to expose the art form in Vermont.

Coffin doors stage prop

Science Fixion
Wood
Courtesy Pete Gershon, Signal to Noise Magazine

Science Fixion was a Burlington-based experimental band that played in the 1990s. In a general sense, Science Fixion was a jazz band, but “jazz” doesn’t quite cover it all. The six members had a range of experience from classical to rock that came together to make one coherent and cosmic experience. Science Fixion’s strange sound proved to be an influential voice in local music and even beyond the Burlington bubble. In 1993, the band did

a short tour in Russia, including Burlington’s sister city, Yaroslavl. These coffin doors appeared with the band onstage, and they are here to represent and honor the stirring musicianship that has and continues to come out of Vermont.

Image: Science Fixion performing at The Pyralisk, Montpelier,

December 1, 1995. Photo courtesy Pete Gershon.

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About the Vermont History Museum

Located at 109 State Street in the heart of Montpelier, the Vermont History Museum opens the door for discovery of the people, places, and events that form the fabric of Vermont’s story. Visitors can enjoy the award-winning “Freedom & Unity” exhibit which features Vermont history from the last ice-age to today; the 50-foot mural “Salute to Vermont” by painter Paul Sample; the Local History Gallery, dedicated to rotating exhibits created by Vermont’s over 190 local historical societies and museums; featured changing exhibits; and the Museum Gift Shop, which sells a fine selection of books, gifts, maps and toys. The museum is located at 109 State Street, Montpelier.

About the Big Heavy World Exhibit Site

The Vermont Music Far & Wide exhibit will move to Big Heavy World, 4 Howard Street #A-8 in Burlington at the end of July and reopen to the public during the 2019 South End Art Hop, September 6-8. Big Heavy World is located inside the historic Howard Space, formerly the 1902 E.B. & A.C. Whiting Building, on the corner of Pine and Howard Streets.