Momix will perform February 17 at Lyndon Institute

Music, Film and Dance: Think Beyond the Upper Valley

Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Henry Homeyer

There's much to be seen in the North Country

I recently attended a wonderful performance of the Havana Cuba All-Stars, an 11-piece band that rocked the hall in St Johnsbury, Vermont. The house was full and the band got even the most conservative-looking seniors up on their feet and clapping their hands in time to the music by the end of the evening. Three percussionists, 2 fiddles, 2 horns, 2 guitars and 2 vocalists put together a red-hot evening of music.

Havana Cuba All-Stars played recently in St Johnsbury, VT

Granted, it’s a bit of a drive from my home in Cornish Flat, NH to St. Johnsbury – 73 miles, according to Google maps. But the show was worth it, and the drive is right up I-91. What I have discovered is that there is a whole world of music, dance and theater up there in the Northeast Kingdom, and much of it can’t be found here in the Upper Valley.

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For example, Alvin Ailey II, the offshoot of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater of New York, will be performing November 4 at Lyndon Institute. This performance will include Revelations, Ailey’s signature piece, performed by this young troupe that is full of power and verve – dancers training to make the “first team” of Ailey dancers. I have seen both the main company and the younger troupe perform, and both are excellent.

Alvin Ailey II is performing 'Revelations' November 4 in Lyndonville

So how is this all happening? It is largely due to the drive, work and passion of Jay Craven, film-maker and impresario.  I called him recently to discuss his role with two organizations he founded that bring music and more to the North Country: Catamount Arts and Kingdom County Productions.

Since the mid 70’s Jay has been bringing culture to the Northeast Kingdom – from movies played in town halls to blues great BB King (a show I saw at Lyndon State in the early ‘80’s) to Roseanne Cash to the Russian Ballet. He also co-founded Circus Smirkus, Vermont’s own circus school for kids. He brings one Shakespeare play to schools of the area each year. And the list goes on. Jay Craven, now working in a collaboration with the Catamount Arts organization that he founded, has been bringing the arts to the Northeast Kingdom for a long time, and is not slowing down.

Vienna Boys Choir is coming December 9 to St. Johnsbury

Bringing a show like the Havana Cuba All-Stars to St Johnsbury can be a bit of a risk, Jay told me. They’re a group that that usually commands a $30,000 price tag, but he was able to get them for about half that. He brought them in on a Monday night when they had an opening in their schedule, which helped. And because Jay has been doing this for so long, producers trust him to get the advertising done and the logistics right. He can get sponsors as needed, too.

But would enough concert-goers show up? Cuba is still a communist country, and Jay did get a bit of backlash from one or two of the more conservative folks in the community, he told me. Still, he filled the hall - and was able to attract 105 students, in part by offering them free tickets. He told me that they average concert-goers from 93 towns, including people like me who drove over an hour to go to the concert.

So check out Catamount Arts and Kingdom County Productions. Think outside the box. It’s not such a long drive, and the performance halls are intimate. The prices are reasonable and you can have many more opportunities each year than if you restrict your viewing to just local venues in the Upper Valley.

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