Area Codes

Area Codes: 802 – Burlington, VT

Given that everyone in Vermont has the same area code — the state’s population is only 600,000, after all — I could have easily copped out of spotlighting a single city in Vermont; the small state’s fraught with interesting, tight-knit scenes like Brattleboro’s punk nucleus and Bennington’s folksier inclinations (shouts Mountain Man). But, Burlington, for its size (40,000, good enough to be the biggest city in the state), is Vermont’s unnaturally dense music hub; best known for launching Phish into the world, Burlington’s maintained a robust music atmosphere since well before they got big, thanks to the constantly refreshing youth culture provided by the town’s several college (the University Of Vermont being the biggest).

“Burlington is tiny. That’s what people don’t often get. Burlington is 40,000 proper and it’s the biggest city in Vermont. I try to put it in perspective for people because Burlington is often mentioned in the same breath as Portland, Oregon and Austin and Asheville,” says Alex Crothers, who founded scene-fulcrum venue Higher Ground in 1998 and promotes big-ticket artists like Wilco and also owns the Portland, Maine’s State Theatre with some of the Bowery people. “You have to put Burlington in perspective with all those other places. We’re honored to be mentioned in the same breath as those other cities, but our scale is so much different. With only 40,000 people –- again that’s the largest city in the state of Vermont -– it doesn’t give us much depth as a population. I’m always shocked and stunned that, per capita, how supportive of the arts and music and culture we are as a community.”

And, despite the town’s (and the state’s, for that matter) notoriety for “crunchiness” and all the requisite stereotypes accompanying Phish, there was always opposite forces in motion as well. “They sort of put Burlington on the map for the hippie jam band culture part of the world,” Crothers says. “But there was this great indie rock undercurrent going on at the time with bands like the the Pants and Wide Wail and Construction Joe and the Fags [which features a pre-Gogol Bordello Eugene Hutz]. It was sort of like an endless parade of these bands that we pinned high hopes on coming out of Burlington, but none of ‘em really ever caught on fire like Phish.”

One of the people stoking the enthusiasm for new sounds is Nick Mavodones, who works alongside Crothers at Higher Ground as well as running his own media/booking company called Angioplasty Media. “When I first moved here it was the jam acts and slowly it’s gotten more electronic, or rock-oriented,” says Mavodones. “There’s a wealth of young people interested. It’s definitely gone from the jam to the rock-oriented, hip-hop. I think over the last few years, there’s been some people that have also started doing events not at the venues or not at the larger venues. There seems to be a pretty good experimental scene here. My roommate (Toby Aronson) has a tape label, NNA Tapes (Laurel Halo, Co La, Oneohtrix Point Never), they put out some stuff in the noise scene, electronic pop stuff.”

The town’s rural, natural vibe and reputation for artist friendliness hasn’t gone unnoticed. “We did Jeff Mangum’s first show back, it was in Downtown Burlington. It’s like, why the hell did he pick Downtown Burlington? But we were like, whoa, that’s cool,” Mavodones says. “People are at least entertaining the idea of coming through and that just has to do a lot with how it’s grown and how folks present a show here.”

Vermont is still a vastly rural state, where there’s unfettered access to the outdoors and where the snowmobile tracks outnumber the roads. According to Crothers, something like one in three Vermonters owns a gun. But Downtown Burlington and its pedestrian Church Street constitute an unusual enclave, where everyone’s supportive of everybody else, and bands like Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are received alongside the more synth-heavy explorations of artists like Harmonizer, Tooth Ache and Ryan Power.

It gets cold though, but it’s not that big of a deal.

“Since everything is so centrally located, I think that brings up the mood in the winter,” Mavodones says. “Because everybody’s still around.”






Harmonizer – “Landline”

Lawrence Welks And Our Bear to Cross – “Psalm 39″

Ryan Power – “Is It Happening?”

The Vacant Lots – “Confusion”

The Villanelles – “Cereal Killer Whale”


Hello Shark – “My Life”

Maryse Smith

Paper Castles – “Naked Musicians”

Parmaga – “Anything At All”

Rough Francis – “Not A Nice Guy” (Interesting note: Three members of Rough Francis are sons of Bobby Hackney from DEATH)

Several Burlington outfits (Chamberlain, Rough Francis) playing a Hurricane Irene Benefit at Higher Ground

Tooth Ache – “Skin”


View AREA CODES: Burlington, VT in a larger map