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Hip Hop in Starksboro

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By HARRIETTE BRAINARD

STARKSBORO — Although most of Vermont may not realize it yet, there is a large underground statewide hip-hop movement that is about to burst forth in Starksboro this weekend.

The extent of the influence of that the urban music and cultural phenomenon has had in the Green Mountain State will become apparent on Saturday when Bristol-based Nine37 Productions and Para Bellum Media Group stage a 14-hour hip-hop jam on a farm in Starksboro.

“We’re creating a kind of summit where people can display their skills and make connections with others,” said Josef Shafer, one of the promoters of the Hip Hop in the Hills event. “This is a positive thing for Vermont, we all want to show that it is not just for city and urban areas, this can give everyone a voice — this gives young people a positive voice.”

The homegrown organizers of Saturday’s big show hope the event will be the start of a new tradition of hip-hop and also fuel cross-generational understanding and cultural growth. The outdoor show will not only include more than 20 musical performances, almost all from Vermont with a couple headliners from New York City. It will also feature live mural painting and a breakdance competition judged by Boston-based Lino of the Floorlords.

Emcees will include some local DJs plus underground legend C-Rayz Walz from New York City. Also on the bill is hip-hop personality L.I.F.E. Long.

The people principally responsible for Hip Hop in the Hills are Shafer and Daniel Landolt-Hoene of Nine37 Productions and Rodney Thompson of Para Bellum Media Group. All three grew up in Addison County and have known each other since high school, when they realized that they shared similar interests. Now at age 27, they are beginning to expand their dreams for the music and cultural industry of Vermont.

“We all grew up as punk rockers, then we found hip-hop. This is poetry — it can give you a voice, it is just a different and very important form of expression,” Shafer said. “Hip-hop is a great voice for a new generation as it is so creative and so honest.”

All three men have played music together over the years, along with Starksboro native Alex Connor, whose rap handle is “Minya” and who is also affectionately called “the Son of Godzilla.” The four will perform on Saturday. They are all clearly looking forward to playing together again. Connor lives in Boston now and will be flying in for the show after finishing up a recent tour.

“Connor can play any instrument and is entirely self taught. We all played together in his basement,” Landolt-Hoene said.

Nine37 Productions has been active in the film and music industry for 10 years. It is the organizer and producer of the “Five Town Massive,” an art happening held around New Year’s for the past seven years in Bristol. Last December it featured music, cinema, an art show and slam poetry.

This December’s Five Town Massive, which has grown too big for the traditional one night at Holley Hall, will be spread out over an entire week.

Nine37 Productions has grown in both size and quality since Landolt-Hoene and Shafer formed it at age 17. They have learned through trial by fire, Shafer said.

Shafer spends half of the year in Vermont and half in film production in Brooklyn, where he is currently the camera operator for a BBC reality-based TV show. Landolt-Hoene lives in Portland, Ore., and temporarily moved back to Vermont to assist Thompson the hip-hop festival, which Thompson dreamed up while in the mountains of Starksboro this spring. Thompson bounced the idea off of Jake Denney of the hip-hop group Green Mountain Militia, and then with Shafer and Landolt-Hoene, and it evolved quickly from there.

The three old friends have been working around the clock, taking advantage of late night hours and a wireless zone in front of the library in Bristol to stay in contact with people around the region.

Hip Hop in the Hills will take place at Stark Mountain Farm in Starksboro and run from 10 a.m. to midnight, with food and beverage vendors and merchants. More information about the performers and directions can be found online at www.vthiphop.com, and also at www.myspace.com/greenstatehiphop. Tickets are $32 in advance and $40 at the gate.

Music has created an extension of a friendship that these local high school friends hope to develop into a much larger awareness that the hip-hop culture is a significant part of the culture of Vermont, and inspire others to take part and bring the scene to an even higher level of accomplishment.

Hip-hop has exploded worldwide, Thompson and Shafer said. They pointed out that it has captured the energy and idealism of the youth and empowering people to create their own cultural experience.

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