Arts & Leisure

Live music moves indoors

SCOTT COOK WILL perform for the Ripton Community Coffee House on Oct. 2. Photo by Steven Teeuwsen

Summer COVID-style has been — shall we say it? — almost bearable. Masks have gotten cuter and more comfortable, vaccinations are widely available and six feet feels just fine. Yes, we’ve adapted and have enjoyed outdoor events, gatherings, live music and a restorative sense of community.

However, what happens when sounds of crunching leaves and chilly gusts start to fill our ears? Does a slow dread seep in? Will the winter months be frozen in isolation again?

Say it ain’t so!

Time will tell, but prospects for live music in the Addison County area this fall look great.

The Ripton Community Coffee House and Brandon Music both opened for their first in-person concerts on Sept. 4 with great success.

“Our audience was thrilled to finally be welcomed to the in-person version of their Coffeehouse, and Patti Casey and the Wicked Fine Players were thrilled to play live in front of an enthusiastic audience,” reflected RCCH co-director Beth Duquette and sound engineer Mark Mulqueen, noting that the concert was moved to the Burnham Hall in Lincoln to allow for more social-distancing and better air flow. And, next month’s concert with Scott Cook on Oct. 2 will likely not be in Ripton either (we’ll keep ya posted).

“We reopened on Sept. 4 with Gypsy Reel to an almost full house,” said co-owner of Brandon Music Edna Sutton, adding that tickets for the next show on Sept. 18 with Chelsea Berry are selling very well. “It was just fantastic. Gypsy Reel were really on fire that night. Graham Parker (the leader of the group) said it was just like coming home and there was a tremendous warm buzz in the barn. We welcomed back great supporters whom we regard as friends and many new faces.”

Town Hall Theater, which has been open for in-person events since mid-summer, will host the annual Meet the Singers (Opera Company of Middlebury singers, that is) event at the Unitarian Universalist Society on Sept. 19.

Following that there are in-person concerts at the Mahaney Arts Center at Middlebury College on Sept. 22 with a performance by François S. Clemmons and on Sept. 24 with the Imani Winds and Catalyst Quartet. Both concerts are free and open to the public.

“It’s hard to believe that our last full event before the pandemic was a year and a half ago,” said MAC director Liza Sacheli. “Since then, we’ve actually had plenty of in-person performances, but they’ve been by students, for students. And of course, we put on an entire Performing Arts Series virtually, and for free. We actually ended up averaging more than 500 attendees per event — people logged in from 40 different states, and seven countries. But this fall presents our first chance to welcome on- and off-campus audiences back to the MAC. That’s why we’re using the tagline ‘All Together’ this year.”

Then at the start of October, Oct. 9 to be exact, the Vergennes Opera House will open its doors for a live, in-person concert by The Unknown Blues Band.

“Am I excited? That is an understatement!” exclaimed Gerianne Smart, president of the Vergennes Opera House board of directors. “This was a show that has been in the making for almost two years since we had to cancel last season. We are over the moon with joy now that we are able to welcome people back into the opera house space, safely, to witness our first live concert in many, many months.”

The indoor live music scene is sure off to a good start. And all the venues are taking great care to keep it that way.

Masks and/or proof of vaccination are generally required for Town Hall Theater, MAC, Ripton Community Coffee House, Brandon Music and Vergennes Opera House indoor events. Social distancing, accessibility to hand washing stations and quality air flow are also priorities. (Be sure to double-check requirements before each show.)

“It was and is very important to us that we keep everyone safe — patrons and musicians alike, and our community — so although we were shuttered for 18 months we felt it was the right thing to do,” Sutton explained.

“In order to keep everyone safe, we enforced strict COVID protocols,” added Duquette  when she recounted the RCCH show. “People were grateful for that and told us so. We will keep these in place for as long as necessary.”

For those who still do not feel comfortable venturing indoors to hear these live concerts, don’t fret. Online streaming is still an option.

The Ripton Community Coffee House live streams all their concerts via their Facebook pages. You can find all the old shows there too. MAC will offer streaming for as many events as possible this fall. In most cases, streams will remain available for 48 hours after the performance.

Vergennes Opera House has a stash of five half-hour themed shows, which they rolled out from December 2020 to March 2021. The shows were produced by local actor/artist Bill Carmichael (Walsh), directed by Sue Walsh and edited by me. The shows featured the talent of Bill, Elisa VanDuyne, Jonny Barden and Caitlin Walsh, all accompanied by Scott Nicholas. All the videos are available to view for free at vergennesoperahouse.org/upcoming-events.

As the fall season gets rolling, stay tuned for more digital options from area venues — this is an area of constant innovation. Just ask Town Hall Theater Executive Director Lisa Mitchell.

“The severe limitations of the pandemic ignited our creativity and led us to do things we’d never imagined,” she said. “Doug Anderson produced the zoom play ‘The Beams Are Creaking’ and led a ‘History of the American Musical’ course — both reaching people across the globe. I leaned hard into every outdoor event opportunity and launched our inaugural outdoor season in 2021. In partnership with Courageous Stage, we brought a show to neighborhoods and nursing homes on a mobile stage. We partnered with Middlebury College and the Clemmons Family Farm in Charlotte to put on a play reading of ‘The Agitators.’ New partnerships and pushing the boundaries of our offerings were silver linings.”

Still, the rebound for our arts community is long and slow — and needs your support.

“As the pandemic laid bare,” summarized Mitchell, “we are stronger when we are sharing knowledge and resources. A key to recovery for the arts is supporting one another in every way possible.”

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