Higher Ground certainly deserved to commemorate their anniversary April 15th. The Burlington area Vermont venue, originally housed in a former Denny’s in Winooski strip mall and now in a former movie theater a couple miles away in South Burlington, has made a name for itself over the last decade, alternately nurturing up and coming talent (Derek Trucks, Soulive), welcoming established acts (Gov’t Mule, David Gray, Interpol,The Black Crowes, Sonic Youth, Wilco, John Mayer, Modest Mouse) while providing a regular tourstop for musicians as eclectic as Charlie Hunter and Hot Tuna.
The festivities this spring night were multi-media, but the heart of the event was earthy honest musicianship, the likes of which has always flourished at Higher Ground. Just before midnight, Vermonter Seth Yacovone took the stage to lead a rotating group of local musicians on a roundabout of tunes. The group pounded out The Band’s “Don’t Do It” with authority and caught the crowd by surprise with Black Sabbath’s “Fairies Wear Boots”. Opposite Yacovone stage right, Turkey Bouillon Mafia guitarist and vocalist Bennie Yurco alternately helped ground the group and set them alight. They were joined by Phish archivist Kevin Shapiro on second drumkit, Yacovone, Yurco & Co. bounced their own way through Grateful Dead’s “China Cat Sunflower” into “I Know You Rider.”
It was no surprise that Yacavone and Yurco’s guitar playing meshed effortlessly, as they regularly collaborate on “The Dead Sessions” at Burlington’s Club Metronome each month. Still, when the local embodiment of Americana artist Lowell Thomson took the stage, the improvisational section of “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” would no doubt make the Rolling Stones proud. Certainly Keith Richards would grin at the euphoric rendition of his Exile on Main Street contribution “Happy,” but no more so than the late Lowell George would smile hearing the bittersweet version of “Willin’” that Thompson led.
Higher Ground production manager Chris Friday’s Bob Seger/John Fogerty send-up was an anomaly in this otherwise down-to-earth hour and a half. The quick blues upon which Grace Potter guitarist Scott Tournet played harp continued the string of guest appearances, including RAQ guitarist Chris Michetti, during which time the intimate atmosphere had dissipated as the capacity crowd dwindled. Meantime, the momentum of this lineup of Burlington all-stars had deflated like the balloons yet to drop from the rafters ultimately would.
The party went on for another hour or so, but it must’ve been anti-climactic even given the appearance of Grace Potter and the closing notes of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” For an extended moment prior, that familiar camaraderie between audience and performer so often created within the cozy confines of this club was indeed a celebration in itself.