Soundbites: What a Long, Strange, Stupid Effing Trip It's Been
Thursday, June 24, 2010 — a date that will live in infamy — Vermont music fans were suddenly and deliberately attacked by … well, a bunch of skittish ninnies.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, happened to be away for the weekend or recently awoke from a coma, the Concerts on the Green show scheduled for Shelburne Museum  on Monday, July 5, featuring Grateful Dead cash cow, er, legacy band Furthur  was abruptly and unceremoniously canceled last Thursday.
Sadly, space is at a premium in this column. But here’s the Reader’s Digest version of how it all went down. (For a more thorough retelling, visit our staff blog, Blurt — 7d.blogs.com/blurt —  which features the blow-by-blow account as well as scads of anonymous, inflammatory commentary in the comments section. Ain’t the Internet grand?)
Thursday, Furthur announced, via their website, that “local authorities” (the man) had pulled the plug on the show, citing security concerns over an influx of “ticketless fans” (goddamn dirty hippies), “traffic concerns” (in veggie-oil-powered microbuses) and “other issues” (duuuuuuude).
As it turns out, local and state authorities, including the Town of Shelburne and the Department of Public Safety — the latter being the only “authorities” with authority to cancel the show — had no idea it had been canceled and found out about it the same way everyone else did: online.
Friday afternoon, following rampant outrage, speculation and paranoia across the blogosphere, Tweetscape and Facebook, the folks at Shelburne Museum set the record straight, once and for all, dagnabbit, with an “official” statement. Here’s the whole thing:
“We regret that the July 5 Furthur concert at Shelburne Museum had to be canceled. We could not host this show without an adequate security plan from the concert’s organizers in place. We did not have that and so made the difficult decision to withdraw as the concert’s venue.”
Somehow, that explanation didn’t quite sate the mellow-harshed masses, who responded with a collective, and I quote, “What the fuck?”
Later that day, Higher Ground Presents , the promoter for Concerts on the Green for the last seven years, issued its own, much longer and more emotional account of the proceedings in a counter statement. To paraphrase, it read, “What the fuck?”
Essentially, HG claims it had been working with the museum, and state and town officials, to ensure an adequate security plan, and believed it had one in place. Shelburne Museum officials disagreed, so they took their round barn, er, ball and went home. Game over. Thanks for playing.
With the information on hand, it’s hard not to paint museum staff as the villains here. But was this really all a case of hippie profiling by nebbish killjoys?
The museum hasn’t exactly helped its cause, issuing a string of stern “No comment” replies to any and all inquiries on the topic. Furthurmore (sorry), an interview with director Stephan Jost that aired last Friday during the noon WCAX newscast  really muddies the picture. In it, Jost, downplaying potential security concerns on the day the concert sold out on Friday, March 5, says, “I’ve never heard of them, but we sold out in six minutes … And, that said, security will be extraordinarily tight.”
No kidding. No one’s getting in that sucker. Good work.
But, seriously, Mr. Jost? “I’ve never heard of them, but we sold out in six minutes.” Do you mean to say that the guy entrusted with guarding one of the state’s historical treasures couldn’t read up on who he was agreeing to let hang out on its lawn? I’m pretty sure my high school madrigal choir endured a more thorough background check when we gave Christmas concerts at the museum. But I digress.
While it’s easy — and kinda fun — to cast blame on the Shelburne Museum, it is not necessarily justified. There seems to be plenty o’ blame to go around. And you could reasonably argue that Higher Ground was misguided to think this kind of show, with all its attendant baggy-age — perceived or otherwise — could go off without a hitch in the well-heeled shire of Shelburne. And it would be further (I did it!) naive to think the images of Highgate and Coventry aren’t still ingrained in Vermonters’ collective memory. Granted, the Furthur show is on a far smaller scale than either of those jamtastrophes. But the museum is also an exponentially more valuable property and, presumably, far less equipped to deal with gate-crashers, beefed up security or not. I’ll go out on a limb to suggest that reports from recent Furthur shows  that were beset by unsavory shenanigans — drugs and gate-crashers and … um, more drugs, oh my! — didn’t exactly ease the minds of museum officials.
Unfortunately, as of this writing, no one from either camp is talking beyond limp press releases. So it is entirely possible — likely, even — that we will never really know the answers to some key questions. For example: Why did the museum turn chicken now, four months after the show was announced? What kind of security did HG actually have in place, and how much more was the museum requiring? Where does this leave the future of the Concerts on the Green series? And did anyone take up Yankee Tattoo on the “Will tattoo for Furthur tickets” sign they’ve had hanging in the window of their Burlington storefront for months? (Actually, no one did. I checked. Phew!)
The bottom line is that, regardless of how this unfolds, no one wins. It sucks for everyone involved. First and foremost, the fans get screwed — especially if they bought scalped tickets online, which were going for as much as $350. I’m guessing there’s no refund on those.
Obviously, Higher Ground is losing out on a huge chunk of change — $41 multiplied by the venue’s 3500 capacity equals: ouch. And you’d think HG might have some serious reservations about the museum as a venue moving forward.
This is a blow to the museum, too. No, really. Financially, and in terms of publicity, they’re taking a hit here. Even if it turns out they made the right call — which, again, we may never know — the court of public opinion has already handed down its verdict. It really is a no-win situation.
In fact, I can think of only two groups for whom the Furthur cancellation could possibly be perceived as a good thing: the boys from local Grateful Dead acolytes Dead Sessions  and up-and-coming Jerry Garcia Band tributeers Cats Under the Stars . Even so, I’m sure they’d all rather be seeing Furthur. Still, those bands will play a Dead celebration/mourning/consolation prize at Higher Ground this Monday. And if you’ve got a receipt or ticket stub for the forcibly hiatused show, admission is half price. Such a deal.