July 30th, 2010

The Delayed and Now Vastly Belated Write-Up Of Our 2010 Summer Benefit

by Philip Baruth

A week ago exactly, we did a very strange and unaccountable thing: we invited some of the state’s finest performers to come to Burlington and play their hearts out to benefit an obscure, underdog campaign for State Senate. But the strangest thing is that they agreed to come, these fine performers. For no other reason than that they think politics matter, and they liked our message. It was all to go down at the Black Box Theater, Main Street Landing, Burlington VT.

We’d billed it as an endorsement from the Vermont arts community, and so the idea was to cut out the speechifying, and let the arts speak for themselves.

But we did make one exception: Bill Simmon had just finished the new campaign film, “Long Race,” and so he introduced the video and premiered it for the assembled. Which, while it was a backdoor way of working in some speechifying, was still a wonderful performance by a very talented Vermont filmmaker.

That would be one Bill Simmon. Click here to see the film if you’ve missed it to this point.

But after that one exception, for the space of a couple of hours, everyone on the campaign, along with an audience of big-hearted supporters, got to forget their various political cares and focus in on just one pressing issue: marveling at what top-notch performers can do, when they put their minds and hearts to it.

Like comedian and House Rep. Jason Lorber. It’s hard to convey the fluidity with which Jason morphed from one comic incarnation to another all evening: from Master of Ceremonies, he became a stand-up comic, and then straight man to various other comics on the bill, and back again, without ever missing a beat.

Once Jason took over, the show might as well have been on auto-pilot, so smoothly did he transition from one act to the other. Acts he’d never seen, on cues written about 45 minutes before, and with lines pulled from thin air on the spur of the moment. Highly impressive.

But everyone, maybe because the stakes were low and the good will was high, everyone’s performance had a high gloss. Patti Casey did one of those sets that seems too effortless to be true: pitch-perfect ballads, haunting guitar, even clogging on the last couple of numbers.

And she dedicated my favorite song, about a very old dog on his last legs, to a beloved seventeen-year-old cat I’d just had to put down the day before. People actually cried.

I mean, other than just me.

Mark Nash and Kathy Blume did a skit that maybe only a couple of actors, that is, a couple who are both actors, could pull off. A pick-up scene in a coffee shop, but one that keeps going disastrously wrong — until a bell sounds, and rewinds to the disaster point, allowing it to glide forward again. Until the next debacle.

A masterpiece of timing, and a razor-sharp insight into the way that men and women typically scam their way into one another’s affections. Okay, maybe mostly men.

Then it was Jay Craven’s turn, and given that he’s responsible for a handful of the state’s most beloved films, you might have expected him to bring down the lights and cue up a scene and leave it at that. But no: Craven launched into a fantastic but true comic tale about staging a Chuck Berry concert in the Northeast Kingdom. A story that spun higher and higher, nearer and nearer catastrophe, the way only the best storytellers can lay it on.

And Jay closed with a pitch for funding, and not over-taxing, the arts, which sounded just right to my ear.

Then it was intermission, and a chance to say hello to everyone who’d managed to come out for the show. Gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne was mingling with the crowd, and by this point in the campaign all of these die-hard supporters seem like family.

The second half got off to a very comic start: Jason Lorber did a killer ten-minute stand-up set, only to be interrupted near the end by special guests, The League of Drag Queen Voters.

If you’ve never seen the League’s act, it’s part San Francisco, part Broadway, and two parts Burlington, and it’s hilarious stuff, but always landing a sharp point with every joke. The best kind of humor.

And after the League, suddenly Jason and Mark and Woodie were all wearing tuxedos, and they were doing this vaudeville classic in which three easily embarrassed guys try to cover (pantomimed) nakedness with a constantly shrinking number of file folder covers.

It made more sense then. But it was, in fact, extremely funny. Although why it was funny was trickier to figure out than it might initially seem.

Then Kathy Blume did a scene I’d asked if she could do: the piece from her one-woman show The Boycott, where she creates, names and fleshes out the character of an endangered Brazilian tree frog with an altogether winning Spanish (not Portuguese) accent. Before saving the world from global warming, almost single-handedly. Sweet.

And then it was pretty much the Woody Keppel show from there on out, with Lorber as maximum straight man added into the mix.

In fact, Jason actually got off the funniest impromptu line of the night. Much of the first skit depended on Jason getting indignant at Woody’s insistence on turning a racoon loose in the hall. A racoon that did not have rabies, Woody repeatedly assured the audience.

But finally, when it was clear that Woody’s half-witted character planned to launch the possibly-rabid racoon anyway, Lorber stopped and screamed in disbelief, “But I’m a legislator!” And you could tell it was pure improv, just two guys who both do brilliant characters suddenly totally in synch with the comic material.

And it got edgier. Woody’s character was a wild cross between Chaplin and Jerry Lewis and a sort of sweet, insane guy. A guy who only wants to climb a stepladder with a full goblet of champagne balanced on his head. A simple man with a simple quest.

A quest that results in the champage pouring into his eyes, blinding him, as he tries to climb a wet step ladder, looking all the while just seconds away from a crippling accident.

And all the while Lorber keeps filling the glass of champagne, each time Keppel nearly falls and dies, and then they both shout, “To the top! To the very top!” Both characters in the skit, you realize, are insane.

Lots and lots of moments of laughter, but always set within a palpably thick layer of tension, like marshmallows inside a Jello mold. Brilliant.

And then it was over, and time to say thanks and goodnight. Which I did, and which I say again as honestly as I can, thanks to everyone involved for making one of the campaign’s most hare-brained ideas a success, most especially the performers.

In addition to the performers, Melinda Moulton and Main Street Landing also deserve huge thanks, both for sponsoring and for providing the city with Main Street Landing in the first place. Selene Colburn did yeowoman’s work managing the show, aided by God of Lighting John Forbes. And the photos you’re looking at came from the lens of Matt Goudey, campaign videographer and all-around optical/audio genius. Muchas gracias, Matt.

Rachel Siegel and Kecia Gaboriault crewed like longtime professionals, Sharon Thayer handled the box office, Neil Jensen and his very cool son Eli handled the door, and my buddy Mary Lou Kete worked the information table, plying folks with cookies. Thanks one and all.

And thanks to the Skinny Pancake for lunch. It was real good.

And thanks to everyone who turned out. We needed you, and it was great that you all helped us make it happen. In fact, a small but amazing number of people who couldn’t even come that Thursday, and knew for a fact that they and their spouse couldn’t be there, bought two tickets anyway, and I’d like to give them the last shout-out.

Because how amazingly sweet is that?

July 23rd, 2010

“Long Race”: The New Campaign Film

by Philip Baruth

Just about to get ready and head over to tonight’s benefit at the Main Street Landing Black Box Theater in Burlington. We start at 7 pm, so if you’re reading this, and you’re within a half hour drive, you could still at least theoretically make it. If you drove like an insane person. If you let nothing stand in your way. But if you can’t, I wanted to share Bill Simmon’s new campaign film with you, the film we’ll be debuting tonight. It’s called “Long Race,” and it’s dedicated to my mother, Diane Fountain. Love you very much, Mom.

Hope you all like it.

July 19th, 2010

RED DEFCON 5 ALERT: We’ve Put Together One of the Biggest And Most Amazing Political Benefits Of All Time, This Thursday Night At 7 pm, But Now We Need Your Help Putting Actual Human Butts In Actual Seats

by Philip Baruth

The logic ran like this: 1) Campaigns run on money; 2) I hate asking people for money; so 3) why not try to do a different sort of fundraiser altogether? Why not, you know, put on a show? Like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, but with politics? It started out as a fairly modest idea, call a few talented friends, people committed to the campaign, and see if they’d be willing to perform. What we didn’t expect was that those talented friends would call other talented performers, and pretty soon we’d have a major showcase on our hands. But that’s what we’ve got, no question about it.

The central promise we’ve made this cycle is that this campaign, whatever else it may be or not be, will never be boring. Never once. So the show is called Philapalooza (yes, Philapalooza), and it’s designed to be non-stop entertainment.

No boring speeches. No downer discussions of budget deficits and oil spills. This show is meant to celebrate the Vermont arts community, and their support of our campaign.

It’s meant to be fun, in other words.

The key details: this Thursday night, the 22nd, 7 pm, at the Main Street Landing Black Box Theater down on Burlington’s waterfront. (Very generously sponsored by Main Street Landing and Melinda Moulton.)

Headlining for us is one of my favorite performers of all time, legendary Vermont folksinger Patti Casey (above). Not only has Patti agreed to open and close the show, she’s promised to play my favorite song, “Old Man,” a heartrending ballad about a very old dog. It’s a song that takes you right into a life and a relationship, a relationship that’s coming to an end all too soon.

Vermont’s best known and hardest working filmmaker, Jay Craven, will be performing as well. Having taught both Stranger in the Kingdom and Where the Rivers Flow North many times, I’m honored and excited to have Jay on stage. (Let me just add that Tantoo Cardinal completely deserved the Oscar for Rivers, and the fact that she didn’t get it in the end says all you need to know about Hollywood.)

If you’ve never seen Woody Keppel do his thing, prepare to be amazed. Woody, shown here with the late great Anna Nicole Smith, is the consummate postmodern vaudevillian: part juggler, part comic, part master of illusion, and one final part heartbreaker, because his comic characters always have a certain pathos that makes you pull for them.

Now maybe other campaigns could get one or the other half of the performing couple that is Kathy Blume and Mark Nash, the duo that has long been the mainstay of Vermont Stage Company. But only this campaign can bring you both.

Kathy has made an international name for herself as a crusader in both the anti-War and anti-global warming movements. She organized the global Lysistrata Project, back in the day, when we were all determined to annoy George Bush and oust Donald Rumsfeld. And Mark, in addition to running Vermont Stage and bringing an astounding series of dramatic characters to life himself, has done me the favor of reading my contributions to their Winter Tales show for the last several years.

And for Master of Ceremonies we realized that we needed something utterly impossible: a very poised yet very funny performer, preferably someone with an intimate knowledge of Vermont politics.

Which doesn’t exist, of course.

Then we remembered stand-up comic and Burlington House Rep. Jason Lorber, who is at once the state’s go-to guy on the hardcore issues and statistics related to the correctional system, and the guy who stages “Moo Jew Comedy” every year on Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant.

And if that’s not enough, just this past week we had the League of Drag Queen Voters sign on for a special appearance too. Which in and of itself should help us keep the not boring promise.

In short, this event will be amazing, but only if you come to see it, and bring friends. If you plan to help out the campaign at some point, but have been waiting for the right opportunity, this is it. We need you now, but not to go door to door, not to stuff envelopes.

We need you to come and relax, and enjoy yourself. Supporting your politics doesn’t get any sweeter than that. Click here for the link to Flynn Tix again.

And God love you if you can make it.

July 14th, 2010

Don’t Forget The Hamburger Summit, 7/17

by Philip Baruth

It’s a political year, and the season for political barbeques. But there is no political barbeque quite like the Hamburger Summit, held jointly each year by VDB and the good folks over at Green Mountain Daily. Why exactly is it so special? Is it the succulent meats drizzling fat into a sizzling fire? The politicos trailing over the beach, gladhanding voters and only weakly denying that they really want another Italian sausage and plate of pasta? Seeing J.D. Ryan subject a random statewide candidate to what is now known all throughout the Vermont blogosphere as the dreaded “Ryan Test”? All of the above, and more. Much more.

The Sign

That’s this Saturday afternoon, July 17, 1-5 pm, North Beach in Burlington. When you hit the beach, head north and look for the spreading Tree of Political Wisdom. Can’t miss it.

And bring the family, and friends of all political persuasions. On Hamburger Summit Day, no man is an island. Even Rick Santorum is welcome. Or Joe Lieberman, even.

Okay, not Lieberman. But still.

the crowd, huddled

July 13th, 2010

Times Argus Says We Can Win This Thing

by Philip Baruth

Running a long campaign can be tough on your psyche. In a race the size of the Chittenden County Senate contest, there are no polls, no way to know where you stand, no way to know exactly how self-delusional you’ve become over the months. Which made it doubly sweet to open up the Times Argus over the weekend and find a long, trenchant analysis of the current cycle by Peter Mallary. The upshot? He sees us actually pulling this thing out in the end. Many thanks, Mr. Mallary, for making the Trail a little brighter today.

July 13th, 2010

All The Typos Fit To Print

by Philip Baruth

The New York Times runs a pretty tight ship, and their prose is generally clean and correct. Except on that rare occasion when it’s not. And that even more rare occasion when the typo reveals the truth in an entirely new and striking way. Can you spot the subconscious slam on Ben Nelson, petulant Senate “moderate,” who has behaved thus far like a spoiled three-year-old in the current Congressional session? Rock on, passive-aggressive Times headline editors.

July 12th, 2010

Danziger On Politics & Recession

by Philip Baruth

July 10th, 2010

Don’t Forget: Live Music From Unusual Suspects Saturday the 10th at the St. John’s Club to Benefit The State Senate Campaign

by Philip Baruth

Back in 2007, I decided to begin profiling VDB readers, so that other VDB readers could enjoy reading about people very much like themselves, people who also wanted to see Karl Rove frogmarched out of the White House. And so to begin, I picked a longtime reader named Colleen McLaughlin, who had written a series of long, sharp emails about the perils of Bush-era foreign policy. Scathing, detailed, hilarious emails.


Turns out that Colleen is also a singer in a rock and roll band, believe it or not, and when I announced that I was running for the State Senate, she offered to rope in the band for a gig to benefit the campaign.

Were we overjoyed? You betcha.

And all of that pre-planning comes to fruition tomorrow night, when Colleen’s band Unusual Suspects at the St. John’s Club, on the lake in Burlington, 7 pm, with the $10 cover charge to benefit Baruth 2010. And these folks rock, from what we understand. If you’re free, we’d love to see you, and talk about the sprint to August 24th.

Oh, and apparently the band covers Train’s “Hey Soul Sister.” So the event’s got that going for it too, which is nice.

July 7th, 2010

A Parade Virgin No More: VDB Takes The State Senate Campaign To The Best Fourth of July Parade Of All Time; Generous Richmond Residents Do Town Proud; But Harsh Realities of Weather And Want Threaten Absolute Patriotic Harmony

by Philip Baruth

So yes, this State Senate campaign has been underway for a good fourteen months thus far, which has made our campaign folk true battle-hardened veterans when it comes to kick-offs and teach-ins and tweet-ups. But the fact is that until this past Fourth of July, we were Parade Virgins. And we had chosen maybe the County’s most demanding and celebrated route: the Richmond Fourth of July Parade.

Anyone with experience on the Trail could have sensed the possibility of danger. But we were just apple-cheeked kids who’d never yet Walked the Route with the professionals. And it was a hard lesson we would learn that day.

Reaffirming and sustaining, but a hard lesson still and all.

We formed up around 10 am, dodging the ATV’s and the horse carts and clowns, and it was a stalwart group: Allen, Jay, Dana, Mary Lou, Mikki, Kathy, Matt, and young Noah. Wonderful people, who would march with you into the jaws of Heck. We laughed and joked innocently, unaware of what was to come. We kidded around with other candidates, and all seemed right with the world.

Except that it was very sunny, and about 900 degrees. But still, a gorgeous beginning.

And then it was time to head out, which we did, in pretty stylish formation. Heads held high, ready to gladhand every man, woman and child in Richmond.

But almost immediately, we noticed something: young Noah began giving candy to every child he passed, every single child, although we’d tried to impress upon him that we had only three baskets of candy for the entire route. But he was listening to some inner voice of fairness, a voice that told him each child must have candy. In hindsight, we should have seen what would come of this, but again, at this point we were blissfully ignorant.

So blissfully ignorant, that when I went over to encourage Noah to save some of the candy, to hold some of it back for the future, pretty much the reverse happened: I could see how deeply happy the candy was making all the kids on the route, and how happy it was making Noah to give it away to every hand outstretched.

So I started doing it too. And it was a revelation: never had more fun than wading into the crowd and delivering sweets to people with huge smiles on their faces. But it was a rush that needed candy to fuel it, and of course, the candy was quickly dwindling. Very quickly.

But by this time I was too euphoric to care: drunk on the beauty of the place and the generosity of the people, drunk on the actuality of America.

All too quickly though, reality set in. The candy was nearly gone, and we rounded the corner onto Bridge Street to find the bulk of the crowd, a crowd that was perfectly willing to embrace any act or float or candidate. Provided they threw candy. Noah put his basket on his head. Suddenly, for a moment, it was every man/woman for him/her self.

Dana ran into the convenience store on the corner and came back with two bags of hard candy, a valiant effort, but in another hundred yards we’d thrown all of that, and waving and handshakes only go so far for the kids in the audience. Not to mention the thirty-somethings who were doing The Wave on a hillside, pretty elaborately, and who wanted something in return from the parade.

Up we went, over the new bridge, and on toward one of Richmond’s claims to fame: the Round Church, one of the prettiest sights in all of New England. But beauty doesn’t make you cooler, really, and by now we were broiling like lobsters. Lobsters without candy.

Which is when, out of nowhere, we were rescued by the Welch contingent. The Congressman and his people have been down this parade route many times, and they’d packed accordingly: out came their emergency stores of candy from bags and belly-packs, and so we just closed ranks with them for the final quarter mile of the route.

Did people on the last quarter mile of the route mistakenly believe that our campaign was throwing candy when in fact we weren’t? They may well have done so.

We hadn’t thought far enough ahead, true, but we were right behind a campaign that had, and some days that’s good enough. Double thanks to the Welch crew.

And then the Parade was over, and everyone dispersed into the big field beside the river, and ate hot dogs and drank Fanta and talked about the race for Governor. Just the way you always thought a parade should end, back when you were a kid, and you used to stand on top of a high hill overlooking the route and yell as hard as you could, and hope the beauty queen riding in the candy-apple-red convertible would somehow, against all odds, reach you with a miniature pack of Milk Duds.

Thanks again, Richmond. And many thanks, as always, to Kathy FitzGerald for the beautiful photos of the day.