The Middlebury Community Network

Valley Music Scene

 

The Champlain Valley of Vermont abounds with wonderful local music groups, and in this new section on the Community Network, we're going to try to eventually explore them all.  Exactly were to start wasn't an easy choice, for we here at the network enjoy all types of music, from the fine classical pieces done by the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, to the funky tunes of the Hurdy Gurdy .

Beyond the fine music performed by skilled musicians on tapes and CDs, there is a quality in live performance that brings a much larger dimension to the experience.  The interaction of the performers with themselves and with the audience multiplies the enjoyment many times.  We confess a particular fondness for "old time" music, spanning the 19th century tunes of the Civil War up through the development of uniquely American styles like Appalachian tunes and in particular a genre simply known as Bluegrass.  And we've practically become groupies for a local bunch calling themselves Snake Mountain Bluegrass.  In addition to vocal, instrumental, and original songwriting talent, these four have a great sense of humor, and constantly keep us on the edge of our seat wondering what friendly barb will come next from one to the others.

"Know the difference between a banjo and a Chevrolet?"

"No, what is it?"

"You can tune a Chevrolet..."

Here's our read on each of them as individuals, and bear in mind these are our observations, not necessarily their own self-images.

Mike Connor, co-founder of the band, has a fine Irish tenor voice and plays the banjo most of the time - unless he picks up the 6-string guitar for a tune or two - where he shows a fine talent on that instrument, as well.  He's obviously the target of the banjo jokes, but takes it well.  All of the group are talented songwriters, and Mike's beautiful rendition of his original composition, The Road, is a soulful  lament in the classical tradition of haunting lyrics not soon forgotten.  It is one of our personal favorites.

In Mike's other life, he is the owner of Connor Homes, and has gained a national reputation for designing and building Colonial Reproductions in his new facility at the former Standard Register plant.  He pioneered the technique of panelizing the walls, where they can be then be shipped all over the U.S. for erection by local construction crews.

He's a huge talent, both on and off the stage.


Gregg Humphrey, also a co-founder, is the Energizer Bunny of the group.  His robust vocal style, coupled with a high-octane acoustic 6-string guitar, pushes the audience to toe-tapping in synch with the music.  When he breaks for a fast flat-picked guitar lead, the stage shakes and the toe-tapping turns into a room-wide rumble accompanied by cheers of approval from the crowd.  Rumors are that Mike Connor re-wrote one of Gregg's original compositions, to make it more suitable for young audiences, revealing a rowdy side to Gregg's persona, as well.

In his other life, he's a teacher at Middlebury College, with a long and successful career in education.

We've never seen him without a hat, leading us to suspect he's secretly a redhead on top.


Earle Provin is the Renaissance Man in the bunch, a generally quiet sort with a wry and subtle wit and an incredible talent on the mandolin, 6-string guitar, and National Steel - for which his original composition, Lemonade, is always a show stopper.  If you try to match wits with him on the stage, you'll lose every time.  He's a master of the one-line comeback.

On the mandolin, his speed is nothing short of astonishing.  A skilled Luthier, he's not against building his own guitar in a shape hitherto unknown to mankind, and we're wondering if there's anything he can't do.

In his other life, he's a talented graphic artist, who also designs the covers and such for the group's CDs.


Mike Boise plays bass, but no ordinary bass.  His hand-made upright electric may look like a big stick with strings, but it has one of the best sounds we've ever heard from any bass instrument.  He's the perennially quiet one in the bunch, scarcely noticed unless he stops playing momentarily, in which case there is sudden emptiness when one notices that the very foundation of the music has vanished.

He doesn't often take a lead, but when he does, a fine voice comes out with a style that reflects his interest in other genres as well.  His Bluegrass rendition of Mr. Spaceman proves that all "old time" tunes don't necessarily have to be about the girl that walked out on you.

Much of the group's great presence in live performance is due to Mike's other life as an acoustical technician and owner of Union Street Sound in Brandon, Vermont, a recording studio where the group's CDs are produced.  He's responsible for the excellent audio gear on the stage which brings out the best in all the group.

Snake Mountain Bluegrass is one of the more multi-talented groups to be found anywhere, and can be found playing assorted gigs all around the valley.  One of the best places to catch them is in the Briggs Carriage Bookstore, upstairs in the Ball and Chain Cafe, where they perform every 6 weeks or so.  You can check the events section of the bookstore's web site to find out when they'll next appear, or just to learn about of a lot of other nice stuff that goes on there upstairs, as well.

  

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