Playing outside the box: Outdoor dream venues

Stone Crusher in Pine Hill Park

[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 8/4/11]

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about outdoor music venues in Rutland. Certainly, we have some great indoor ones — The Paramount, Merchants Hall, cafés, barrooms (of varying acoustic quality) — but we’re decidedly lacking in dedicated outdoor ones.

Sure, there’s Main Street Park. In the downtown, Friday Night Live brings a stage to Center Street, but that’s a short-lived treat.

As I look around Rutland, I see a few sites that would not only be well suited for a show, but also a blast to play in. I knew I couldn’t be alone so I asked some other local musicians what their top picks for an outdoor venue would be.

Singer/songwriter Phil Henry put a unique spin on my top venue: the downtown transit center. Recently, I professed my love for this sizeable yet overlooked downtown structure. The views from there are some of the best on the city, and the space is well suited to safely accommodate crowds.

But whereas I have my eye on the top floor, Phil wants to be inside. “I have a song that takes place in the bus station on West Street,” he said. “It’s been in the back of my mind to do a live video recording there, awash in cement reverb.”

While the facility may be owned by the state, it’s my understanding that under the right conditions the space could be used for entertainment purposes. So maybe Phil will get his wish one day.

Nearby Center Street Alley is an old-school option. While next year’s renovations will once again make this area a viable public space, its current state makes for a rustic backdrop that still has appeal for local bands. Indeed, Rick Redington recently played a noontime set there to celebrate the release of his latest album.

Caitlin Canty checked in with a venue that I had never considered, but now would be interested to see realized.

“I would love to play on the football field at Rutland High School,” she said. Think about it, the basic infrastructure necessary for a concert is there, and it’s the closest thing Rutland would get its own Wembley Stadium-style show.

Speaking of iconic venues, across town Michael Smith is working hard to create Rutland’s version of Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheater in Pine Hill Park. Over the last year, Smith and other volunteers have been clearing rocks, trees and brush to open up the 1920s rock quarry that lies along the park’s vast trail network.

According to Smith, the quarry is a natural amphitheater. And people are lining up to get in. Recently, the Rutland Youth Theater performed “The Merchant of Venice” there.

“The acoustics are impeccable up there,” said Smith. “I’ve been through there on more than a few occasions and found some lone guitarist picking away on his instrument . It really is a great place.”

And Smith is just getting started: “We are going to backhoe out a nice bank for people to sit along and lay down some topsoil so that we can plant grass. We are also going to be building an outdoor pizza oven to offer some fresh pizzas up there during events.”

Down the line, Smith thinks the site could serve an ideal outdoor summer concert venue.

No to be neglected any longer, the long abandoned, “post-apocalyptic” Stone Crusher — cited by local axeman Casey Grant as his dream venue — which sits close by, also figures into Smith’s plans.

On Oct. 1, the site will be basecamp for Lunar Quarry 12, a 12-hour night mountain bike relay. Grant, along with a number of other musicians, will provide entertainment from atop the unusual structure. (Find out more at http://www.lunar-quarry12.com.)

While Grant gets the prize for most creative venue — “I’d like to play in a shopping cart, and have Jeff (Poremski) push me around” — Duane Carleton takes it for spookiest and most intriguing with New Boston, a long-gone town near the Chittenden reservoir that failed during the colonization of Vermont.

“It snowed all through the summer one year and the inhabitants couldn’t survive,” he said. “All that is left are the cellar holes.”

Spooky, indeed, and a fine fit for a late-night Halloween show, if you ask me.

Sure, some of these venues are more viable than others, but all are unique and would make for an exciting evening of music.

While I have my picks, I’ll leave the final suggestion to the one and only Jeff Poremski, who channeled rapper T-Pain with his vote for Lake Bomoseen — “on a BOAT!”

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