Arts & Leisure

The Grift: Rockin’ for 20 years

CLINT BIERMAN AND his wife, Lauren Bierman (a.k.a Rhonda Jean), sing together at Mad River Glen five years ago during The Grift’s 15th anniversary concert in 2014. Catch The Grift on Saturday, Aug. 31, at Mad River Glen, where they’ll celebrate 20 years of making music. Photo by Benjamin Bloom

MIDDLEBURY — Everyone gets it when two Middlebury College kids graduate, move to Boulder, Colo., and decide to start a rock band — they’re just enjoying their 20s and will get “real” jobs in a couple of years. But, for Clint Bierman (’97) and Jeff Vallone (’98.5) punching a clock and working a daily grind was just not in the cards.
“When we first started, we thought we’d only be doing this for a second,” said Bierman, who now lives with his wife and two sons in Bridport. “I mean, there’s no way to be a local musician — the money just isn’t there — but we did it and we are doing it.”
Maybe you’ve heard of them: The Grift. Now 20 years strong, The Grift will celebrate their second decade together with an all-out rager at Mad River Glen on Saturday, Aug. 31; gates open at 4 p.m.
“We’re gonna party like it’s 1999,” Bierman said.
The turn of the millennium was, of course, the first year of The Grift; back when Bierman and Vallone played with Neil Matthews (the Neil from the former pizza joint in Middlebury Neil & Otto’s). The trio moved back to Vermont in 2002, and Peter Day (also a Middlebury College grad, ’01) joined in 2003 and never left.
“It started as let’s be rock stars and let’s only play original music and only do our visions,” Bierman remembered. “Then we played a few Spring Breaks in Jamaica — they flew us down, first class, for three weeks and we played one-hour shows for two days. It was awesome. We only played covers to thousands of college kids, and, man, did we party.”
When The Grift returned from those few weeks in the islands, they started playing wedding receptions.
“We knew all the right songs because of those Spring Break tours,” Bierman explained. “We probably learned 40 songs, but those are like the 40 greatest songs of all time.”
Now, The Grift fields over 100 wedding requests a year; they only accept 30-35. That makes up about 30 percent of the roughly 110 gigs they do in a year. The band brought in a quarter-million in revenue last year, which pays for the four band members (Bierman, Vallone, Day and Andrew Moroz), plus a sound guy and a manager.
“We do a lot of backyard, private parties also,” Bierman said. “Then we do a bunch of public events, and we tour when we want to… It’s completely on our terms.”
And that’s just the way these three guys like it.
“I’ve spent a lot of time recently reflecting on the past 20 years and just how grateful we are that we’ve gotten to meet so many great people, play with so many great musicians, and see so many places here and abroad,” said Vallone, who lives in Essex Junction. “We very much enjoy what we do and that comes across on stage whether we’re playing cover shows or originals, to 20 people or 2,000.”
Next Saturday’s live show will be a tribute to some of the many musicians that have played with The Grift. Throughout their history, The Grift has included 18 players. Five years ago, 12 of these musicians reunited on the very same stage for a 15-year celebration. The current configuration of Bierman (guitar), Day (bass), Vallone (drums), and keyboardist Moroz has been in place for four years.  This year you can expect at least 12 members, but possibly more, to appear on stage to celebrate The Grift’s 20th year as a working band.
“People have been asking what I think the key to our longevity has been and I feel that a big part has been our learned ability to adapt to many different musical environments,” Vallone reflected. “All while being the best we can be at our craft, being professional, and truly enjoying playing music with each other.”
“You just keep getting better through the years,” Bierman added. “Now that we’re ‘old’ we don’t remember things as well, but we have more tricks up our sleeves and more experience to handle things as they come up… Plus, how many people can say that they work with their best friends? We’re just psyched.”
Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 day-of, and are available at thegrift.com or General Stark’s Pub at Mad River Glen. Kids under 12 are free.  Limited number of VIP tickets provide special access to VIP viewing and beverage areas (must be 21+).   VIP tickets are available at townhalltheater.org.

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