Higher Ground, the Sequel
State of the Arts
Finally, the announcement we've all been waiting for: Higher Ground is making its move... to South Burlington. Since the popular nightclub closed its doors in Winooski last April -- making way for the Onion City's revitalization project -- music fans have speculated where the place would relocate. And if.
Meanwhile, Higher Ground owners have been talking amongst themselves, not to mention with city officials of both Burlington and South Burlington, debating the merits and demerits of the Sh-Na-Na's building versus Merrill's Showcase. Downtown Burlington, along with the rest of the club scene? Or in a renovated movie theater on the strip-like thoroughfare of Williston Road?
"We were treated really well by Burlington and South Burlington," says Higher Ground General Manager Kevin Statesir. "Both cities really welcomed us. It just came down to what we felt was most like we had in Winooski." That is, proximity to an interstate exit and plenty of parking. "Parking is key," Statesir emphasizes. "We can put big trucks and tour busses in there."
No question load-in would be more of a challenge at 101 Main Street -- although the legendary Hunt's nightclub managed it for years. And then there's the fire-gutted structure. Still, Statesir admits they "would have preferred, in some ways, to be part of the Burlington downtown revival, but," he says, "it's not that far from downtown -- just over the highway." More to the point, the place is within easy walking distance for UVM students. And for those late or too-cold nights, Statesir says, "We're looking at shuttle service from campus."
So what's the ETA for Higher Ground 2? Statesir is hesitant to get specific, saying only that they hope to "get part of October, because it's a big performance month." That's not much time, really, for the transformation of a five-theater moviehouse into a nightclub with a ballroom, a smaller showcase room, a full kitchen, two sets of bathrooms and a lobby.
Showcase owner Merrill Jarvis is quickly getting out of the way. After this week, the 32-year-old cinema on Williston Road is going dark. To celebrate, on Friday only Jarvis is lowering movie admission to $3 and selling popcorn and soda for $1 each. It may be the last "cheap seats" we see in a long, long time.
Running for cover?
Nectar's has had a "no cover" policy since time immemorial -- until a few weeks ago, that is, when the Burlington nightclub quietly started charging a few bucks to get in on Friday and Saturday nights. It's a new arrangement, says owner Damon Brink, that is meant to offset the cost of continuing the club's long tradition of hosting bands every night: "We've found the cost of providing live, local music is really high," says Brink, noting the club has spent "tens of thousands of dollars" maintaining the music, improving the place and keeping it all accessible. To that end, he's issuing get-into-Nectar's-free membership cards to some regulars. Everybody else can still see local bands Sunday through Thursday without paying. But regional acts on Friday and Saturday nights will have a small fee attached. Larger ticketed acts, like the Samples, may be pricier yet. A recent show with Jennifer Hartswell and Seth Yacovone had an eight-dollar price tag. "We couldn't have produced it otherwise," says Brink, noting he plans to produce "bigger and bigger shows. In some cases, we'll be booking national acts." Move over, Higher Ground. Oh, whoops, they already did that.
Entrances and exits
Vermont actor Ethan Bowen has a new role: producer and artistic director of Bald Mountain Stage. After appearances with St. Michael's Playhouse, Lost Nation and Vermont Stage, the Rochester resident decided to start his own theater company -- presumably, so he could stay closer to home. But he's created a touring troupe that aims to "go to the people instead of having them come to us," Bowen says, noting he's targeting audiences in Woodstock, Brandon, Norwich, Randolph and Vergennes. The company's inaugural play is the easily transportable Stones in His Pockets, a two-man comic-drama about a couple of hapless Irish extras swept up in the filming of the Hollywood movie, Far and Away. Bowen and Jeff Allin both play multiple characters in the road show . . . The Wolcott Children's Ballet is all about outreach. Larissa Sintsova and Kennet Oberly have been running the remarkable rural dance school since its much-loved founder died in the mid-'90s. Sintsova was a dancer in the Estonian State Ballet; Oberly with the Stuttgart and Boston ballets. Now they, too, are moving on to run a ballet school in Ohio. The husband-and-wife team -- she dances to his choreography -- will give a final performance next Sunday, August 8, at the Craftsbury Academy Gymnasium. Figments From Imagination is set to 15 sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. No two Vermont artists have better earned an ovation.