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Hungry mind; full ears

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April 12, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — For years, Michele Fay has felt like a musician without a stage. The guitarist and her group — aptly named the Michele Fay Band — have spent several years as real-life troubadours, zigzagging the region to get to their many gigs.

There are some local watering holes that feature live music, along with other distractions, and a few venues that feature music, though not as often as most would like. Fay has always wanted a regular, local place to park her instrument and showcase the music, and she knows other Addison County musicians feel the same way.

“As a Vermont musician, I have … discovered that it’s very hard to find venues — especially places that aren’t crowded bars or noisy restaurants,” she said. “It’s hard to find a good ‘listening room.’”

But Fay believes she and fellow performers throughout the county have now found that elusive “listening room,” tucked beneath Carol’s Hungry Mind Café.

Using some of her promotional skills that are regularly on display at Bridport-based radio station WMUD (89.3 FM), Fay last fall began coordinating what she said will be a series of year-round, twice-monthly concerts that will allow local talent to shine at the Carol’s space.

It was last year that Fay approached Carol’s Hungry Mind owner John Melanson about the idea of having regular musical performances in a vacant space beneath the café off Middlebury’s Merchants Row. Melanson kindly agreed.

Next, Fay reached out to local musicians to gauge their interest in some regular Saturday performances.

“I knew of a lot of local musicians who would be good for this spot,” Fay said, casting her eyes about the temporarily quiet room that has nice acoustics and can accommodate more than 50 spectators on a lively night.

She didn’t have any trouble recruiting an eclectic menu of artists, all of whom share a common thread — they are all “unplugged.” Fay decided that electric music would probably not work well under Carol’s main floor coffee shop.

Fay launched the concerts — held on two Saturdays each month — last September. Performers have included familiar local faces, such as Patrick Fitzsimmons, Josh Brooks of Panton, Monkton’s Pete and Karen Sutherland, the French music ensemble Va-et-Vient and O’hAnleigh, an Irish folk music trio featuring Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley.

The concerts have drawn a steady stream of listeners, who pay a $10 cover charge that includes a $3 gift certificate for Carol’s refreshments upstairs. The shows typically begin at 7:30 p.m. and wrap at 9:30 p.m.

Fay has been very pleased with both the level of public interest and the caliber of musicians the mini-concerts have drawn. She said the audiences are getting to hear some talented local musicians, singers and songwriters, while the performers are getting a stable venue within their own county to strut their stuff. Local performers seeking a music-only setting to perform, to date, have had to wait for Middlebury’s annual Festival on-the-Green, or hope for a rare, coveted roster spot in the popular Ripton Community Coffee House series.

The Carol’s space should now fill a big void for performers, according to Fay.

“I think Middlebury is ready for some live entertainment, where people can come and enjoy the type of music that is available in Vermont,” Fay said. “I’m just finding there are so many talented Vermont musicians that people don’t know about because it’s hard for them to find places to play.”

Rick Klein, a member of the group “Atlantic Crossing,” will be hitting the stage at Carol’s this Saturday, April 14, at 7:30 p.m. He said he and his band mates are very pleased to have a spot they can call “their own.”

“You spend all this time working on your art, and it doesn’t work unless there’s someone out there to listen to it,” Klein said. “The audience would never know what they were missing unless there was a venue like this. It’s completing the circle of a very important aspect of our culture — it’s called the arts.”

Members of Atlantic Crossing hope to perform regularly at Carol’s. Fay said people should check in at the coffee shop and watch for calendar listings in the Addison Independent to get the specific Saturday dates and acts that will be booked.

“We’re very excited,” Klein said of his band’s upcoming performances. “There just aren’t other venues in Middlebury like this.”

Young performers are also going to get a piece of the stage at Carol’s. Fay has helped organize an “Open Mic for Teens and Under” that will take place the first Friday of each month, beginning at 7 p.m.

“We hope it will give teenagers an opportunity to explore performing,” Fay said.

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