Sugar Shack Celebrates Syrup

It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, and 30 to fuel Misery Loves Company’s springtime Sugar Shack event.

That figure doesn’t factor in the four gallons of syrup that chefs Nathaniel Wade and Aaron Josinsky also used in preparation for the ticketed private dinner, which spanned 11 courses and contained numerous nods to traditional Quebecois food while retaining, and at times topping, the typical Misery supper menu’s no­-holds-­barred experimental charm.

“When you go to southern Quebec,” bartender Mike Dunn said, “If you go to the sugar houses there around this time of year, they do dinners like this, where it’s a celebration of maple, and there are consistent flows of food … always way too much.”

Vermont shares Quebec’s enthusiasm for maple­­, but the Quebecois, having inherited a storied feasting tradition from local fur trappers and the Abenaki before them, generally have us outpaced in terms of sheer, gleeful gluttony.

IMG_7761 copy
RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: The introductory course; house-made pickles and rolls served with whipped lard, fresh butter, maple syrup and coarse mustard

 

Not so at Sugar Shack. The meal began with a couple of yeasty, deliciously plush rolls; these were accompanied by mixed pickled vegetables, mustard, maple syrup and both kosher butter and a slightly smoky whipped lardo.

 That plate was quickly followed by one bearing chicharrones, o​r fried pork skins, dusted with espelette pepper; buttery, dense foie gras truffles; and thin slices of remarkably tender, well ­balanced ham that my photographer and I were told had come from a very young pig named Ladybug.

Next came a small glass of maple sap reduced by 50 percent, which we were encouraged to sip before consuming pale peach­-colored cups of a sea urchin panna cotta to which some sap reduction had also been added.

The urchins’ creaminess and delicate briny edge were smoothed together by soft­spoken maple undertones. More seafood soon appeared; as the “Superfly” s​oundtrack played overhead, we were given wild yeast b​lini​ topped with cured salmon, trout roe and maple creme fraiche.

It was then that Sugar Shack began in earnest. Slices of t​ourtiere, ​a hearty Quebecois pork pie whose deeply browned lard pastry had come from the nearby Misery Loves Co. Bakeshop, arrived alongside a slaw of turnips, red cabbage and beets tossed with hot maple vinaigrette. Both were delicious, but the slaw proved particularly helpful as more meats appeared.

Two home­made maple sausages, poached in sap and tasting gently of pork liver, paired deliciously with a porridge of Abenaki corn from Butterworks Farm in Westfield, Vermont.

Double-­fried quail, whose preparation I’d been watching eagerly from our kitchen side table, was terrifically crisp and made for excellent finger food. The tiny birds came dressed with a maple shoyu sauce whose smokily salty flavor was edged with a resonant sweetness.

IMG_7810 copy
RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: The whole suckling pig before being carved into slices for hungry patrons.

 

Bakeshop employee Logan Bouchard, who had temporarily resumed his past position as a server for the event, said that his favorite dish was either the quail or the wonderfully debauched pig’s trotter dish that followed it.

 For the record, that delicious dish consisted of trotters that had been disassembled and reconstructed around liverwurst stuffing, then seared and served over maple baked beans with ham broth and blood sausage.

“Aaron makes amazing liverwurst. It doesn’t have that metallic minerality that a lot of liverwurst does. And the trotter, there’s so much collagen in there that you can put anything in it and seal it back together, and it doesn’t look any different,” said Bouchard.

Speaking of collagen: the meat of young pigs is simply brimming with the stuff. It makes for a juicy, almost gelatinous cooked product. For the next and final meat course, Josinsky and Wade had removed the bones from a suckling pig’s body and rolled the meat into an approximate cylinder with the pig’s intact head at one end.

They had then roasted the pig until its skin, which crackled loudly under Wade’s carving knife, had reached a golden sheen. The resulting pork, complemented by a clove­-scented stuffing, was impeccably tender.

To announce the roast pig, Josinsky began banging a saucepan with a wooden spoon and strode into the dining room. He was greeted by applause.

After a brief post­-pork lull, dessert service got under way. The first and most substantial dish was a creamy maple sugar pie, a nod once more to Quebecois tradition.

IMG_7960 copy
RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: A chef lays out rows of puff pastries to be filled with maple crème for the dessert course.

 

After that came a plate of cream puffs, hard candy and fudge, all maple-­based and deeply satisfying.

Sugar Shack’s final course, appropriately enough, was sugar on snow. Our server brought us a bowl of shaved ice and poured hot maple sugar, thickened just past the point at which it could have been called syrup, on top. The combination was simple, straightforward and refreshing.

The event’s syrup and sap came from Al Bushey at Brigham Hill Maple in Essex Junction, Vermont, Wade said.

After dinner, Bouchard and I chatted about upcoming Misery Loves Co. events amidst the slow, churning riffs of stoner metal band Sleep’s monolithic smog opera “Dopesmoker.” Those who missed out on Sugar Shack will be pleased to hear that, “probably sometime in early May,” MLC will bring back its Café Corretto evenings at the Misery Loves Co. Bakeshop in Winooski. This time around, in addition to cheese, charcuterie, baked goods and amari, there will be a focus on increased raw bar offerings as part of a collaboration with seafood distributor Wood Mountain Fish.

MLC will also be participating in Winooski’s art and music festival Waking Windows, which will take place May 1­3.

In the meantime, they’re open for brunch, lunch and dinner. Check them out sometime at 46 Main St. Winooski, VT .

Sugar Shack Celebrates Syrup

 

[dropcap style=”normal or inverse or boxed”]I[/dropcap]t takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, and 30 to fuel Misery Loves Company’s springtime Sugar Shack event.

That figure doesn’t factor in the four gallons of syrup that chefs Nathaniel Wade and Aaron Josinsky also used in preparation for the ticketed private dinner, which spanned 11 courses and contained numerous nods to traditional Quebecois food while retaining, and at times topping, the typical Misery supper menu’s no­-holds-­barred experimental charm.

“When you go to southern Quebec,” bartender Mike Dunn said, “If you go to the sugar houses there around this time of year, they do dinners like this, where it’s a celebration of maple, and there are consistent flows of food … always way too much.”

Vermont shares Quebec’s enthusiasm for maple­­, but the Quebecois, having inherited a storied feasting tradition from local fur trappers and the Abenaki before them, generally have us outpaced in terms of sheer, gleeful gluttony.

IMG_7761 copy
RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: The introductory course; house-made pickles and rolls served with whipped lard, fresh butter, maple syrup and coarse mustard

 

[dropcap style=”normal or inverse or boxed”]N[/dropcap]ot so at Sugar Shack. The meal began with a couple of yeasty, deliciously plush rolls; these were accompanied by mixed pickled vegetables, mustard, maple syrup and both kosher butter and a slightly smoky whipped lardo.

 That plate was quickly followed by one bearing chicharrones, o​r fried pork skins, dusted with espelette pepper; buttery, dense foie gras truffles; and thin slices of remarkably tender, well ­balanced ham that my photographer and I were told had come from a very young pig named Ladybug.

Next came a small glass of maple sap reduced by 50 percent, which we were encouraged to sip before consuming pale peach­-colored cups of a sea urchin panna cotta to which some sap reduction had also been added.

The urchins’ creaminess and delicate briny edge were smoothed together by soft­spoken maple undertones. More seafood soon appeared; as the “Superfly” s​oundtrack played overhead, we were given wild yeast b​lini​ topped with cured salmon, trout roe and maple creme fraiche.

It was then that Sugar Shack began in earnest. Slices of t​ourtiere, ​a hearty Quebecois pork pie whose deeply browned lard pastry had come from the nearby Misery Loves Co. Bakeshop, arrived alongside a slaw of turnips, red cabbage and beets tossed with hot maple vinaigrette. Both were delicious, but the slaw proved particularly helpful as more meats appeared.

Two home­made maple sausages, poached in sap and tasting gently of pork liver, paired deliciously with a porridge of Abenaki corn from Butterworks Farm in Westfield, Vermont.

Double-­fried quail, whose preparation I’d been watching eagerly from our kitchen side table, was terrifically crisp and made for excellent finger food. The tiny birds came dressed with a maple shoyu sauce whose smokily salty flavor was edged with a resonant sweetness.

IMG_7810 copy
RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: The whole suckling pig before being carved into slices for hungry patrons.

 

[dropcap style=”normal or inverse or boxed”]B[/dropcap]akeshop employee Logan Bouchard, who had temporarily resumed his past position as a server for the event, said that his favorite dish was either the quail or the wonderfully debauched pig’s trotter dish that followed it.

 For the record, that delicious dish consisted of trotters that had been disassembled and reconstructed around liverwurst stuffing, then seared and served over maple baked beans with ham broth and blood sausage.

“Aaron makes amazing liverwurst. It doesn’t have that metallic minerality that a lot of liverwurst does. And the trotter, there’s so much collagen in there that you can put anything in it and seal it back together, and it doesn’t look any different,” said Bouchard.

Speaking of collagen: the meat of young pigs is simply brimming with the stuff. It makes for a juicy, almost gelatinous cooked product. For the next and final meat course, Josinsky and Wade had removed the bones from a suckling pig’s body and rolled the meat into an approximate cylinder with the pig’s intact head at one end.

They had then roasted the pig until its skin, which crackled loudly under Wade’s carving knife, had reached a golden sheen. The resulting pork, complemented by a clove­-scented stuffing, was impeccably tender.

To announce the roast pig, Josinsky began banging a saucepan with a wooden spoon and strode into the dining room. He was greeted by applause.

After a brief post­-pork lull, dessert service got under way. The first and most substantial dish was a creamy maple sugar pie, a nod once more to Quebecois tradition.

IMG_7960 copy
RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: A chef lays out rows of puff pastries to be filled with maple crème for the dessert course.

 

[dropcap style=”normal or inverse or boxed”]A[/dropcap]fter that came a plate of cream puffs, hard candy and fudge, all maple-­based and deeply satisfying.

Sugar Shack’s final course, appropriately enough, was sugar on snow. Our server brought us a bowl of shaved ice and poured hot maple sugar, thickened just past the point at which it could have been called syrup, on top. The combination was simple, straightforward and refreshing.

The event’s syrup and sap came from Al Bushey at Brigham Hill Maple in Essex Junction, Vermont, Wade said.

After dinner, Bouchard and I chatted about upcoming Misery Loves Co. events amidst the slow, churning riffs of stoner metal band Sleep’s monolithic smog opera “Dopesmoker.” Those who missed out on Sugar Shack will be pleased to hear that, “probably sometime in early May,” MLC will bring back its Café Corretto evenings at the Misery Loves Co. Bakeshop in Winooski. This time around, in addition to cheese, charcuterie, baked goods and amari, there will be a focus on increased raw bar offerings as part of a collaboration with seafood distributor Wood Mountain Fish.

MLC will also be participating in Winooski’s art and music festival Waking Windows, which will take place May 1­3.

In the meantime, they’re open for brunch, lunch and dinner. Check them out sometime at 46 Main St. Winooski, VT .

(Leather)Bound for Glory

Local indie-folk band The Leatherbound Books played a show March 15 at Higher Ground, their largest venue yet. With new music out and plans to get back in the studio to record, 2015 is shaping up to be a milestone year in the band’s career.

Two nights earlier, the band and I walked into Downtown Threads to do some shopping and talk about their first EP, “Tender My Hopes,” which came out early February.

2015-03-13 18.23.24
Drummer Charlie Smyrks and Vocalist/Guitarist Eric Daniels shop at Downtown Threads. The Leatherbound Books are a Burlington based indie folk group.

 The clerk eyed us as we tried to make small talk clustered around a clothes rack in the center of the thrift store. The shop was empty except for our motley group: guitarist and lead singer Eric Daniels, bassist and singer Jackie Buttolph, fiddler Tuck Hanson, drummer Charlie Smyrk and me.

I watched the band tease each other and try on pairs of ridiculous sunglasses. Hanson pulled a traffic-cone orange shirt from the rack and asked us if we thought he should dye his hair to match. His bandmates were less enthusiastic about the idea than he was.

 I asked them what thrift-store essential best represented the spirit of The Leatherbound Books.

“We’re kind of like a cardigan band,” Buttolph answered. “Frumpy and comfortable.”

 

2015-03-13 18.38.03
Fiddler and vocalist Tuck Hanson looking fly at Downtown Threads. The group’s EP was released to praise from Seven Days, The Burlington Free Press, and the Rutland Herald

Hanson described recording their first EP as a learning experience. They often had to deal with conflicting schedules, the depressing Vermont winter and what Buttolph called “the catch-22 of the Burlington music scene.”

The catch is this: to get gigs, you have to have a product to showcase to venues, but to have the funds to record and produce music, you have to be making money by performing.

Despite this challenge inherent in their line of work, the band has been doing better than ever. Daniels said that he’s excited to see how their sound will change when they get back in the studio.

“This is the stuff we’ll diverge from,” he said of the new EP as we browsed through the store’s collection of denim leotards.

Smyrk summed up the band’s vibe best when he called them “darkly optimistic.” Although this seems contradictory, it’s an apt description of the band’s grim humor that coexists with their relentless, inspiring hopefulness.

2015-03-13 18.26.26
Guitarist Jackie Buttolph eyes a denim leotard with disgust. The band was started by the group of friends in Burlington.

“Tender My Hopes,” a folksy and lyrically complex collection of songs, showcases this contradiction through Daniels’ vocals — reminiscent of the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle’s — and lyrics influenced by the clever wordplay of artists like Andrew Bird.

 “If the fruits that they give you are rotten, make wine,” he sings on the EP.

 “What if they give you rotten lemons?” Hanson asked.

 As she paid for a blue tunic bedazzled with gold jewels and puffy paint, Buttolph was quick to reply.

“Then you throw them out and buy a six pack,” she said.

 

 

[bandcamp width=100% height=42 album=648828523 size=small bgcol=333333 linkcol=ffffff]

 

Eat a Real Donut: Ren Wiener at Scout & Co

Nicksmithsig[dropcap style=”normal or inverse or boxed”]D[/dropcap]o you ever find yourself dwelling on cartoon depictions of ordinary food items, taking in their eye-popping colors and lushly plump contours and wishing that they’d leap into your hand from the television screen? More specifically, have you sympathized with Homer Simpson’s opinion of the doughnut as rendered by Matt Groening, but been unable to find a suitable, tangible equivalent? The typical real-life doughnut has nothing on those bewitching pink-topped things.

Luckily, the word typical needn’t apply to your doughnut intake if you live in the Burlington area. Just head over to cult coffee shop Scout & Co, in the North End. There’s a Winooski, Vermont location too, but you’ll really want to visit the original spot if you have doughnuts on the brain.

 

3
RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: A successful vegan adaptation of the popular Girl Scout cookie, the Samoa, into doughnut form.

[dropcap style=”normal or inverse or boxed”]E[/dropcap]very Saturday, the Winooski-area pastry expert and all-around culinary marvel Ren Weiner delivers four varieties of doughnuts to Scout. These doughnuts are a throwback to her time at Misery Loves Co., a Winooski eatery where Scout owners Tom Green and Andrew Burke have also worked in the past.

Since setting out on her own several months ago as the one-woman baking company Miss Weinerz, Weiner has had plenty of opportunities to experiment and refine her recipes. “Doughnuts are awesome. Everyone knows what a doughnut is. With doughnuts as a base I can play with new fillings, flavors and techniques but still have a product that is approachable.”

That approachability helps Weiner’s donuts stand out among equally delicious but higher-concept offerings like Scout’s fingerling potatoes with oyster mayonnaise, pickled mustard seeds, pine oil and sumac.

 

 

4
RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: The perfect topping for this fresh blueberry frosted doughnut. Weiner hand-cuts every rainbow sprinkle to the proper size.

 

[dropcap style=”normal or inverse or boxed”]W[/dropcap]hen I arrived at Scout & Co, the doughnuts available were Blueberry Joy, with picturesque icing that lent a slight, dark tartness to the yeasty pastry, and cheerfully bright sprinkles hand-rolled and cut into charming pieces by Wiener herself; Orange Cream, an almost impossibly bright-tasting confection bursting with orange zest and coated with coarse sugar for a hypnotic textural contrast; Vegan Samoa, which managed to surpass both its Girl Scout-distributed namesake and the expectations of this non-vegan; and finally, Boozy Irish Cream, which lived up deliciously to every aspect of its name.

 

Of all these flavors, I was perhaps happiest to see Orange Cream, which I’d been fiending for ever since Weiner still made them for Misery Loves Co. Bakeshop. I was afraid that they’d disappeared for good when she left there, and was profoundly relieved to learn that this doughnut flavor was still available.

1
RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: The orange cream-filled doughnut is coated with granulated sugar and a pinch of orange zest.

 

[dropcap style=”normal or inverse or boxed”]T[/dropcap]he numerous hip parents who brought their children into Scout for doughnuts that Saturday morning must have been relieved, too, to discover a somewhat less guilt-inducing treat. Weiner said she prides herself on using the most sustainable ingredients she can source.

“[I use] cultured butters and fresh fruits, local and organic milk and eggs,” Weiner said. “The dough itself [is] made with natural yeasts and set slowly to rise over a two-day fermentation cycle.”

The benefits of this cycle, Weiner said, are significant.

“Because of [the fermentation process], my dough uses less sugar than most other recipes and has an amazing texture.”

 

 

5 copy
RYAN THORNTON The Vermont Cynic: The boozy irish cream filled doughnut, for those who want their after-dinner coffee in the morning. Topped with a light dusting of powdered sugar.

 

 

If you’re interested in seeing some more great photos of Weiner’s work and want an up-to-the-moment heads-up as to what her latest creations are, check her out on Instagram. She has gained a strong following on the site, which she said is like “having a cheerleading squad in your pocket.”

Join the squad. Track down a doughnut. You won’t regret it.

 

http://www.missweinerz.com/Scout O.N.E.

237 North Ave, Burlington, VT 05401

Open Monday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Tuesday – Friday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.. Doughnuts are delivered at 11 a.m. Saturday, and served as supplies last.

Argonaut & Wasp Reach Higher Ground

We’re the first generation to experience a world connected by the Internet, which has significant consequences for the music industry. A result is the over-saturation of music online. In a place where anyone can post a song, how can new bands make their music stand out?

argonaut&wasp seem to have found a way. Their recent release, “Higher Ground,” has found its way to 73,000 ears in only 18 days.

Read the full story here.

Winter Carnival

 

 

All floors of the Davis Center were popping with student-oriented activities during the University Program Board’s Winter Carnival.

 

The frigid temperatures outside attracted skiers and snowboarders for the Rail Jam, a freestyle competition where  students showed off their sweet skills on a man-made slope outside of the Bailey/Howe Library.

 

For those who prefer the indoors on a cold night, there were plenty of activities in the Davis Center. The second floor hosted  a chili cook-off and a DIY craft space where  students could make their own stuffed animals.

 

“We saw this and we were like, got to  go there. I loved stuffed animals when I was little,” first-year Liz Barrett said.

 

Students on the first floor were dancing and chatting while participating in carnival activities.

 

tudents were especially enthusiastic about the games.

 

“I’ve been winning hats and chewing gum, but unfortunately I’m all out of gum,” first-year Christian DeKett said.

 

Free food was also on the first floor for all students.

 

“I haven’t had a hot dog yet, but I don’t deserve a hot dog yet, cause I haven’t won a hat,” first-year Jack Lynch said.

 

“Winter can be depressing and this boosts my mood substantially, exponentially to be frank,” Lynch said.

The sold-out concert started at 10 p.m. in the Grand Maple Ballroom, where Kat Wright and the Indomitable Soul Band opened for New York-based indie-pop band, MisterWives.

 

“I really like Kat Wright and the Indomitable Soul Band and I just know one or two songs of MisterWives,” first-year Louisa Jerome said.

 

Kat Wright and the Indomitable Soul Band are a local band that has made appearances at venues around Burlington including Radio Bean and Higher Ground. They are known for their strong instrumentals and soulful lead singer.

 

MisterWives are relatively new to the music scene, but are making strides to a larger fan base. They will be touring the country soon for their debut album “Our Own House.”

Their indie-pop songs paired with the lead singer’s energetic stage presence and funky bandmates, made for a great concert.

 

Vermont Burlesque Festival

Were you aware, readers, that Vermont is home to a thriving burlesque scene? No? Neither was I.

Imagine my surprise upon arriving at the Vermont Burlesque Festival, an annual multi-day event where in which performers from all over the state and the country, gather to apply makeup, strut, gyrate and belt out jazz standards to an audience of fans eager for a distraction from dreary mid-January and a reminder that the warmly bundled human form’s winter shapelessness is but a temporary phenomenon.

A conversation with the VBF’s executive producer and creator, Cory Royer, helped to illustrate two key themes in Vermont’s role as a burlesque hot spot –– human sexual diversity and community involvement.

 

Royer explained that money raised by the festival is donated to the UVM the University of Vermont Cancer Center, as well as the Health and Wellness program at Pride Center of Vermont, an LGBTQ community center.

 

“What we love about that, is that burlesque doesn’t discriminate,” he said. “It’s all shapes, sizes, colors, races, genders… and that’s what the LGBTQ community’s all about.”

 

Royer said noted that this union seems unique to Vermont, noting that “in Las Vegas, where he runs a similar festival,  “they just don’t want to have anything to do with burlesque.”

 

In addition to the other two charitable missions, the festival aims to “warm up Vermont” with a clothing drive.; Tthe idea is that audiences, like performers, will shed their clothes for a good cause (but in a more symbolic, less theatrical fashion).

 

Headlining the VBF Vermont Burlesque Festival this year were Green Mountain Cabaret, a Burlington-based enterprise with a show at Club Metronome on the last Saturday of each month; Spielpalast Cabaret, a German-influenced troupe, also hailing from Burlington, which typically performs a yearly series of shows in May; ARTS fest, from Brattleboro, who perform throughout New England at various intervals; and Peep Show Vermont, an outfit specializing in queer and drag burlesque with regular shows at The Monkey House in Winooski.

 

The first night of the festival took place at Venue Nightclub in South Burlington on Jan. 22. Venue’s atmosphere was distinctly casual; bassy beats throbbed as patrons milled around on the dance floor, and bluish lights wound around several large, illuminated Cîroc bottle replicas.

 

A woman stood patiently onstage as a black corset was painted matter-of-factly on her naked torso.

The emcee, Leif Peepers, delivered his introductions in an untied green bow tie, ushering in a succession of performers.

 

Feathered headdresses and pale pink fur coats gave way to a comedienne who discussed the accidental acquisition of a giant dildo and the problem with naming one’s ice cream truck “Mister Dingaling.”

 

A shimmering electronic score framed fluid hoop tricks; next, an exploration of food scales as the best way to gauge breast weight, and lesbian dating in the online realm, then on to vampy, glam-inflected, gender-bending exploits, which segued into another comedienne’s routine on the topic of over-sharing and loneliness in Vermont.

 

Entertainers from Montpelier and Montreal walked blue lines of rope, blew up balloons, and played with chain-linked metal rings.

 

Portland-based Russell Bruner, “the Vaudevillian with the Biggest Schtick,” came onstage in handlebar moustache and retro getup, gyrating stiff-leggedly and permitting an audience member to remove one of his arm garters with her teeth.

 

He ended his routine on a comically dexterous note, whisking away his starched cotton shirtfront to reveal an expertly executed Buffalo Bill-style dick tuck underneath.

 

After an animated combination of Aerosmith and “The Wizard of Oz”, and a hysterical, androgynous diva who, at the climax of a dance routine set to Alaska Thunderfuck’s “Your Makeup is Terrible” guzzled a bottle of what were hopefully candy pills and whipped off a pair of sunglasses to reveal makeup that was just as bad, Bruner retook the stage with his partner, The Pink Lady, for reciprocal lap dances and a gymnastic joint striptease.

 

I was glad to be able to speak to Bruner on Saturday about his experience as a male burlesque dancer, especially as I’d been all but unaware that they existed. He told me that he’d been swing dancing for a long time, then joined a dance troupe; soon after that, he grew interested in competitions, and in performing in front of others. That led him to vaudeville and circus acrobatics and eventually to burlesque, where he worked his way up from couples dance routines to the more risque aspects of the art.

 

Bruner’s aesthetic, a stylized combination of early 20th century garments, might suggest to some an anachronistic mindset; however, he assured me, he would much prefer to perform in this era than one in which women and minorities (and, at times, men) faced a greater number of social constraints.

 

“I feel like the bar has been set by the pioneers, the women who have brought this forward… and, as the revival came, the women who brought it back were feminists who really wanted to celebrate this style for performance, and do it on their terms.”

 

Bruner finds a similar satisfaction in updating various other elements of his performance, whether by applying rhinestones to a vintage top hat or adapting music and dance from a bygone era.

“I’m nerdy enough to celebrate almost-forgotten jazz styles of yesteryear, so to learn as much as I can from [previous generations of performers], and talk to them personally, and hear their take on musicality and dancing, and carry that forward, is to me… a real blessing. Burlesque gives me a great outlet to keep doing these old, forgotten dance styles and also to perfect them a little more.”

 

It seemed as if the other performers that weekend, at Higher Ground, also had perfection on the brain. While Thursday’s show was certainly enjoyable, Saturday’s was astoundingly polished. The hostess,New Hampshire’s own Bunny Wonderland, was feverishly energetic and just crude enough for the early show.

 

Meredith Tittle, a comedienne and dancer, was perhaps the most entertaining artist of either night. Presented as a timid, frumpy, unassuming housewife, recently divorced and complete with pitch-perfect “Fargo” accent, Tittle delivered a side-splittingly funny monologue before launching (at her therapist’s behest, she said), into a wild dance routine set to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” during which she stripped to reveal a Brillo pad and a jittering array of multicolored car air fresheners, all suggestively placed.

 

After Tittle, there were, to name a few: a terrifically choreographed chair dancing arrangement which concluded in a novel cooperative striptease; a gorgeously well-coordinated dancer in a South American-styled Carmen Miranda-type outfit; an elegant routine set to a bassy, ethereal score, which switched tempo midway through and transitioned into a peacock feather fan tease, and which was performed by an artist described by Wonderland as having had “legs for days, hair like Hilary Swank and an ass like a goddamn fuckin’ car wash;” and, in an appearance that spoke eloquently of the festival’s importance, the storied burlesque pioneer and stateswoman April March.

 

March is considered to be the “First Lady of Burlesque.” She performed from 1952 to 1978, and has come out of retirement for noteworthy events such as this one. She was once used by the U.S. government to deliver a letter to the king of Saudi Arabia, who then tried to take her to Majorca; she was held hostage in a shootout; she has been romantically linked to mafia bosses, actors, singers and Joe Dimaggio; and, once retired, she turned down offers from Broadway, Columbia Pictures and United Artists to continue doing burlesque. Seeing her onstage was the final punctuation for a resoundingly affirmative answer to the question Royer said people ask him when he’s in the Southwest:

 

“There’s burlesque? In Vermont?”

 

Having attended the Vermont Burlesque Festival, I can now give my own, similar response — yes, there is, and it isn’t just limited to a couple of nights a year. It’s a continually active, diverse scene and a hell of a lot of fun. One of these days, you ought to set some time aside to go check it out.

 

-NS

 

The arts, lifestyle and culture blog of the Vermont Cynic