Soundbites: David Rovics, Nicholas Cassarino, Paddy Reagan, Greg Davis
Winooski's Monkey House gets its activism on this Thursday with a benefit for the Vermont Workers' Center featuring "peace poet" and singer-songwriter David Rovics. Also appearing are Sweet Justice & the Wildcat Strikers, a band featuring members of the VWC.
Rovics has been championed as "the musical version of PBS — that is, if PBS had more cojones," by The Lone Star Iconoclast, a progressive magazine based in our Commander-in-Chief's hometown of Crawford, Texas. Rovics has also received a glowing endorsement from one of the Bush administration's least favorite individuals, Iraq war dissenter Cindy Sheehan. She calls him "the troubadour for our time," and for good reason.
Rovics trades in simple folk ditties with a relaxed charm that belies his provocative social and political message. Like greats Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs, he plays unvarnished music with a lack of intellectual posturing. His song "Operation Iraqi Liberation" — a playby-play of our current misadventures in Mesopotamia — would be comical, were it not so chillingly accurate. "We'll lie about the missiles and the nuclear research / We'll lie about uranium / We'll build military bases and smile for reporters / While we give away bubblegum," Rovics sings in a chipper tenor. The tried 'n' true chord progression only underscores the plainspoken frankness of his lyrics.
An old-fashioned protest songwriter is a great choice to headline a benefit for workers' rights. According to organizer James Haslam, the VWC got its start nearly a decade ago, when a handful of lowwage employees decided to take up the cause. "Over the past several years, we've worked with thousands of nurses, teachers, utility, restaurant, retail and construction workers, state and university employees, bus drivers and many others," says Haslam. The organization — which is more accurately a coalition of more than 40 unions and groups — also runs a toll-free Workers' Rights Hotline that Vermonters can call if they've been treated unjustly by an employer.
The show takes place at 8 p.m.; tickets are $10 in advance, $15 day of show. For more info on the concert or the VWC, visit http://www.WorkersCenter.org .
Burlington's jazz guitar hero Nicholas Cassarino is in the midst of a residency at Red Square, where he tears it up alongside drummer Gabe Jarrett and bassist Robinson Morse each Wednesday in March.
These guys are some of the finest players in the area, and pretty much any one of their gigs is guaranteed to rule you. But Cassarino & co. have a little something special lined up for Wednesday, March 14. That night, they'll transition into a gospel-soul-reggae-African revue, with help from Jennifer Hartswick, Kate Paradise and the axe man's mom, Tracie Cassarino. The three talented ladies will join the group as backup singers for the second set, making an already sizzling ensemble that much hotter.
Cassarino's Square shows typically kick off at 9 p.m. and run until early morning, so you might wanna rest up for this one.
SOUL POWER PART II — LATIN PRIDE
For the next three weeks, Radio Bean's Friday Soul Sessions will be transformed into a Latin-themed event, according to soulman- about-town Paddy Reagan. The RB jams coincide with a four-week talk & performance series featuring DJ and Cuban music authority Toni Basanta, which take place each Thursday in the Flynn Center's Tarrant Gallery.
But let's get back to the Bean. Says Reagan, "The Latin Soul Sessions will feature most of our regular players, including members of Guagua, Guarana and Sambatucada. We wanted to spice up the sessions with some of the Latin culture that seems to be budding in Burlington. And it's just in time for spring." That last bit seems overly optimistic, but I'm down with the sentiment.
The whole enchilada — including the Flynn stuff — is sponsored by the Vermont Institute on the Caribbean, which, according to the organization's website, works to support education, public health, cultural exchange, historic preservation and community development in the region.
A wrap party of sorts takes place at Euro Gourmet on March 30, with local "psychotropical" act Guagua. Visit http://www.FlynnCenter.org  or see our weekly calendar for more info.
Fans of "out-sounds,"rejoice — local avant-garde musician Greg Davis is bringing another experimental show to Green Door Studio on 20 Howard St. in Burlington on Sunday, March 11.
This particular performance features Jason Kahn and Jon Mueller, two improvisational percussionists currently on tour in support of their recent collaborative CD, Supershells.
Kahn, a sound and visual artist who makes his home in Zurich, Switzerland, incorporates real-time electronic manipulation into his sets. He's collaborated with numerous artists, and his drawing and sound installations have been exhibited at galleries around the world. Word is, he'll perform using analog synth and sundry percussion for the Burlington show.
Mueller, who began playing drums at age 15, has studied jazz, film and creative writing. In addition to his musical activities, he also pens the occasional novella. Like Kahn, Mueller has collaborated with countless experimentally minded bands and artists, including Pele and ex-Swans banshee Jarboe.
I've listened to Supershells several times, and have heard a completely different record with each play-through. Not sure what that bodes for Sunday's performance, but chances are it, too, will be unique. The all-ages event takes place at 8 p.m. and costs $5. For more info on the show, visit http://www.AutumnRecords.net/burlington .
Last weekend, I got to see the first episode of Showtime network's "This American Life," the TV translation of Ira Glass' syndicated radio program of the same name. The boob-tube version doesn't officially air until the end of the month, but I caught it early through the miracle of cable-on-demand.
Why am I mentioning it here? Well, you may recall that local indie rockers Ghosts of Pasha were filmed for the series last year. TAL specializes in quirky, real-life stories, and GOP certainly had a tale to tell regarding a bizarre performance in the Big Apple.
You've probably heard about it by now, but here's a quick summary: On April 10, 2005, GOP were pranked by a "guerrilla theater" troupe called Improv Everywhere. The band was set to play a Sunday night gig at the Mercury Lounge, which seemed destined to be a non-event. That is, until 30 IE "agents" arrived, decked in homemade GOP gear and mouthing all the words to the songs. Suffice it to say, the dudes onstage got caught up in the moment, and truly had their "Best Gig Ever."
Well, until they found out it was all a farce, anyway. I don't want to spoil it, but I will say the band's segment on TAL is extremely well put together and beyond entertaining. You get lots of face time with GOP members Chris Partyka and Milo Finch, who come across as articulate and thoughtful individuals, despite the soul-crushing letdown they experienced.
If you don't already have Showtime (which means you're also missing "Weeds"), you might wanna get on it before "This American Life" debuts on March 22 at 10:30 p.m. Trust me, it's worth it.