You can’t get there from here — and don’t go looking for a sign, either. Billboards have been outlawed in Vermont since the legislature determined “the scattering of outdoor advertising throughout the state is detrimental to the preservation of its scenic resources, and so to the economic base of the state...” The only comfort on a snowy evening in Vermont is offered by tasteful black signs that flash by quicker than you can say “no vacancy.” That leaves the Marlboro Man out in the cold. Unless, of course, he is full of hot air — a billboard blimp. Over the summer at least three inflatable ads have made aerial impressions in Vermont, promoting Bud Light, Tommy Hilfiger and most recently, Hood. No local laws regulate the trend-setting dirigibles, which are free to fly anywhere outside of controlled airspace.
“It’s a gray area,” concedes Vermont Assistant Attorney General John Dunleavy, noting the blimps do not appear to qualify as “billboards” or even “signs,” according to definitions given in the state statutes. The 31-year-old law specifies signs attached to the ground in Vermont cannot exceed 25 feet. If they are attached to a building, the maximum height is 10 feet above the roof. The original legislative findings assert, “the proliferation of outdoor advertising is hazardous to highway users.”
Cut your marketing loose, though, and the sky’s apparently the limit. Citing “federal preemption,” Dunleavy says the Federal Aviation Administration controls Vermont airspace, even when it’s being used to distract drivers from here to Hollywood. He recalls a case of planes trailing messages several years ago as part of an ad campaign. The state official who administrated the sign law “sent off a threatening letter,” Dunleavy recalls, “but it was never resolved...We haven’t had occasion to do a really thorough analysis.” Well, it might be high time.
According to an article on blimps in Smithsonian magazine last year, an increasing number of companies are finding the skies to be much friendlier advertising venues than newspapers, radio and television. Read: “free.” And when they manage to get on national television — at big sporting events — the exposure justifies the expense of a balloon-for-hire. Subtitled “billboards in the sky,” the Smithsonian article estimates it costs about $175,000 a month to lease a blimp, complete with two pilots and accompanying ground crew of a dozen people. “It’s a little more than taking out an ad in the local newspaper,” concedes Lynne Seeley, who has been managing the blimp project for two years at Hood. “We have it fly over New England and upstate New York from May to September ... People love it. We get lots of requests to fly over homes and do all we can to honor them.”
The only complaint she could recall came from a Maine fisherman, who was no doubt surprised to find himself sharing his solitude with a dairy-dealing dirigible. It must have been similar for Ted Riehle when the Tommy Hilfiger blimp drifted over his island home in Lake Champlain this summer. The former state legislator and author of the billboard law thought Tommy Hilfiger was “some local guy. I was expecting to see ‘Happy Birthday’ on the other side of the blimp, but it never turned around.” Informed of the company’s overinflated designs, he concedes, “I guess I’m out of the swing of things.”
Nothing like a little heat to crank up tickets sales for Los Van Van — the most popular dance band in Cuba booked for Burlington on September 30. Its Miami gig was cancelled when city officials, pressured by anti-Castro Cuban exiles, convinced the Dade County Theater to bow out. “It is ironic that we live in a city with a majority of Cubans and we can’t peacefully enjoy a Cuban band,” says Judy Cantor, a music writer at the Miami New Times. “And everyone else all over America can.” Cantor is coming all the way to Vermont to see the show — and her brother, who lives in Glover. Now we know why they pronounce it “Lo’ Ban Ban”.
Cuban-born composer Jorge Martin may not exactly be homegrown, but his piece for the Vermont Symphony Orchestra sure is — all 12 minutes of it. Continuing its “Made in Vermont” tradition of commissioning a local work each fall, the symphony put money on “Romance for Orchestra.” The title is not meant to be ironic, says Addison-based Martin, describing his work for chamber orchestra as “lyrical, dreamy and sweet.” But there is no sango beat in this one, says the award-winning composer of chamber operas, instrumental dances and a saxophone quartet. Forty-year-old Martin left Cuba in 1965, when he was six. He received his music schooling in the United States. His emigre status made him eligible for a “Cintas’’ fellowship — a one-year grant given to creative artists of Cuban lineage living outside that country. “That fit the bill for me,” he says, noting the grant will allow him to devote even more time to his current composing project: a song cycle with baritone Sanford Sylvan to premiere this spring at Middlebury College.