Courtesy of Nick Thieneman
I take it all back. Every last friggin’ word. Just please, oh please, don’t close the Langdon Street Café.
Last week, I burned roughly two-thirds of this column espousing the pocket-protector-clad awesomeness that is LSC’s annual Geek Week celebration. In the course of my ramblings, I spared no opportunity to poke fun at geeks, dorks, dweebs and nerds of all stripes because, well, sometimes I’m kind of a jerk like that. And really, my barbs were meant to be good natured.
Monday morning, a truly terrible missive appeared in my email inbox from LSC booking guru Ben T. Matchstick and owner Meg Hammond. The subject heading: “Langdon Street Café is closing.”
Absolutely. But that doesn’t take the sting out of the gist of the letter, which is that on Saturday, May 28, the kooky capital-city arts hub will indeed close its doors for good. And when it does, it will close the book on a remarkable six-and-a-half-year run that revitalized and defined the Montpelier music and arts scene.
(A point of reference for Burlingtonians who’ve never been to LSC: Imagine Burlington music without Radio Bean. Scary, right? And since Mont-p is smaller, the void left by LSC’s closure could be even more profound there than if the Bean were to go belly up here. Wow. Who needs a drink?)
In their letter, Matchstick and Hammond cite, perhaps predictably, financial woes as the primary reason for closing up shop. Over the winter, they had already trimmed down from the live-music schedule seven nights per week to three or four, which was financially motivated. But even as the weather (sort of) warmed, the situation wasn’t improving and debts continued to mount. Last month, they made the decision to hang it up.
I spoke with Matchstick briefly by phone and found him to be in surprisingly high spirits. Though he relayed that he’d a rather teary breakfast that morning at the café with Anaïs Mitchell and her husband, Noah Hahn, the latter of whom was an original founder of the LSC collective.
“We’ve never really made enough money to call it a profitable business,” said Matchstick. “So we chalk it up to being a very successful art project.”
How’s that for perspective?
Matchstick added that this was a particularly hard winter on the café. Between maintaining the building and other increasing operating costs, LSC was becoming unsustainable.
So, what’s next for Matchstick and Hammond?
“Well, instead of going into, like, a really successful business plan, I think we’re going to fall back on being artists,” he said. Matchstick will reinvent himself in Mitchell’s Hadestown project — he was the folk opera’s artistic director. Hammond will continue working for area nonprofits. But first, they’re taking a break.
“We’re going to take it easy for a little while,” said Matchstick. “We’ve been going to the max here.”
And they will continue running at a dead sprint for at least one more month. Matchstick says the entire May calendar will be devoted to celebrating the café with a monthlong send-off that will bring out a veritable cavalcade of local stars, including Strength in Numbers (5/13); Rachael Rice and the Cosmic Americans (5/14); J.P. Harris and the Tough Choices (5/20); Miriam Bernardo (5/27); Mitchell (date TBD); and probably a Michael Chorney ensemble or 12. Matchstick also said that Thursday, May 19, will be Burlington night, when he hopes to lure a few Queen City acts south for the evening. And, on May 28, Boston gypsy outfit Cirkestra will play the last-ever show at Langdon Street Café.
Matchstick said the mood among patrons at the café was somber, and their reactions generally echoed my own, which was, What the fuck?! He said a few disillusioned folks have even threatened to move.
“That seems a little extreme,” he said.
As for whether the LSC model can ultimately work in a town such as Montpelier, Matchstick still belives it could.
“It wasn’t impossible. But it was ambitious,” he said. “The political and cultural mission we had, I think we accomplished it.”
In news that doesn’t totally suck … puppies! This Thursday, the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge hosts “A Dog and a Cat Walk Into a Bar,” a standup-comedy showcase to benefit the Humane Society of Chittenden County. Scheduled to appear are local comics Chad Smith, Pat Lynch, Colin Ryan and Tony Bates. And puppies.
Speaking of benefit shows. And Higher Ground. And Anaïs Mitchell. And Thursday. That very same evening, our favorite Righteous Babe will take to the Ballroom stage with her Hadestown pals to benefit Vermont Works for Women, a nonprofit group that helps women develop the skills and attitudes necessary for achieving financial independence.
The rise of indie booking collectives has been a welcome development on the local scene in recent years. Thanks to outfits such as Angioplasty Media and MSR Presents, Burlington has seen more than its fair share of great underground touring bands of late. It seems we can welcome another crew to the fold: Black Lodge Booking. The indie upstarts have put on a handful of recent shows, but their biggest yet is coming on Wednesday, May 11, at the Monkey House. The lineup features My Disco, Cloudeyes and headliners Young Widows, whose latest album, In and Out of Youth and Lightness, has been in heavy rotation for yours truly.
Band Name of the Week: The Proper. New local-band alert! The Proper are a ska-punk outfit composed of Chris Simard and Daniel Alan, both formerly of Wreckinghorn; Husbands AKA keyboardist Tyson Valyou; and someone named Scott Howard, who reportedly may or may not be a werewolf. I’m confused. Anyway, the band plays its debut show this Sunday at the Monkey House with Deep Dark Woods, the Wandas and Radio Underground. And the fourth wave dances on…
BNOTW (Honorable Mention): Dinosaurscum. Honestly, these guys are virtually un-Google-able, which, given their name, is probably a good thing. Those more curious than I can catch them at Radio Bean this Friday.
If you haven’t been to the Parima Acoustic Lounge, this Saturday’s performance by Ellen Tipper might be a good time to check out the Queen City’s best listening room. The songwriter’s talents would seem to be perfectly suited to the space. Music scribes in her native Maine have been fawning over her latest release, The Juggler, pointing to Tipper’s delicately expressive voice and uncommonly nuanced delivery. Given the chance to spend a little time with the record streaming on her website, I can’t disagree.
Aram Bedrosian is hard at work on his second album. In the meantime, the bass-guitar virtuoso will join his friends Kira Small and Bryan Beller at the Parima Main Stage this Saturday. The married couple is a bluesy soul duo from Nashville. Oh, and Beller is Steve Vai’s bassist. So, I’m guessing he might be pretty good.
Speaking of might be pretty good, did you know the cats (bears?) from Afro-funk outfit Bearquarium play bluegrass, too? True story. Check out Bear Pickins at the Skinny Pancake in Burlington this Thursday.
Last but not least, Craig Bailey, the host of the weekly Pink Floyd radio show “Floydian Slip” — heard on WIZN Sundays at 8 p.m. and online at WBKM.org Saturdays at 10 p.m. — is looking for killer Floyd covers because … well, dude’s really into Floyd. But also because he’s launched a contest called “Surrogate Bands: The Pink Floyd Cover Contest” in an attempt to find the greatest local Floyd cover of all time — as judged by Bailey, of course. Winning entrants will score loot and airplay. So if your band has a killer version of, say, “Money” or “Young Lust,” visit floydianslip.com for full details.
Once again, this week’s totally self-indulgent column segment, in which I share a random sampling of what was on my iPod, turntable, CD player, 8-track player, etc., this week.