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The Arts

Lisa McCormick leads another edition of Brattstock

Third annual concert helps to fill shelves at area food banks

BRATTLEBORO—Brattstock, the annual free festival of local and regional music that also serves to line the shelves of area food banks during the summer months, is back for a third year.

This year’s edition will be held on Saturday, Aug.7, from noon to 5 p.m., on the Common.

“We cooked up this idea three years ago and we’re still doing it,” said festival co-founder Lisa McCormick. “We can’t get away with not doing it, because the community wants this to happen.”

This is a celebration of southern Vermont’s more-or-less unknown but thriving music scene. Unknown why? Because much like southern Vermont’s visual artists and writers, musicians live here but make their money, for the most part, somewhere else.

Brattstock —  guess how they came up with the name? — is the musicians’ answer to Brattleboro’s Gallery Walk.

“The visual artists have a very organized way to have the community take advantage of the talent with Gallery Walk,” said McCormick, a popular area singer-songwriter who teaches guitar on-line to students all over the world.

“So we tried to put together a similar thing for music,” she continued. “These are all top-notch artists that you might not normally run into because there aren’t too many venues that cater to all the different segments of the community.”

McCormick will be performing along with Samirah Evans, Mo Ambesa, Clayton Sabine, Thomas Anderson and Ordinary Men, Ghost Quartet, The Johnson Boys, The Joules and Ali Chambliss.

“We’ve had about the same number of acts each year,” McCormick said. “The idea being that there are a wide variety of styles. Each one only plays a short set. This is the ‘something for everyone’ model, aimed at showcasing the variety, talent and diversity of the Brattleboro-area music scene.”

And like the area music scene, the event keeps growing.

“Last year’s turnout was much better than the first year, and we expect it to continue to grow,” McCormick said. “After the first year, we moved from the New England Youth Theater to the Brattleboro Common, and that was a great move. There’s a nice big lawn for people to stretch out. Kids can run around, people can dance and picnic.”

Admission is free, but people are asked to bring at least one nonperishable food item for Project Feed the Thousands. The donated food serves seven or eight food banks that stretch from Brattleboro to Springfield, Vt.

McCormick said summer can be a difficult time for them.

“Most food-bank donation events happen in the fall and winter — Thanksgiving and Christmas,” McCormick said. “This is a chance to replenish the shelves during the summer months. During the event, volunteers bring filled bins back to the shelters, making several trips in the van throughout the afternoon. Both years, the event completely filled the shelves of the local food banks.”

Besides helping food banks, Brattstock allows the musicians to expose their talent to their neighbors.

Take McCormick, for example, who has had a strong career for two decades in the “indie singer-songwriter underground” and released four CDs.

“I started being a musician when I was a kid,” McCormick said. “I was playing guitar at the age of 10. But I never really thought of it at all as a career pursuit. I was more on track to get a ‘real job.’”

She went to Marlboro College and Keene State College and got teaching and sociology degrees. She taught dyslexic students at Landmark College. But when music called, she quit teaching and took a waitressing job.

“I could see the teaching career path laid out in front of me, and I realized I needed to give this other thing a try for my heart’s sake,” McCormick said. “I love to teach, but I love music even more. So I quit Landmark, started waitressing, and started pursuing my music career.”

She made as much money waitressing as she had teaching.

“Waitressing freed up my good concentration and attention,” she said. “Rather than putting those precious resources into a job, I was putting them into music. And that worked out really well.”

She started writing songs, playing with people and recording. When she was discovered by singer-songwriter Jonathan Edwards, it “cranked things into a much higher gear.”

Soon she was a full-time performer with a booking agent and a contract with Rising Records.

“I was making enough to pay the rent, buy my own minimal health insurance and have a 10-year old car,” she said.

But after 10 years on the road, McCormick grew tired of living in her Subaru and not seeing her friends on weekends.

“So I scaled back and started filling in with guitar lessons,” she said. “And that took off like a rocket ship. I was really, really popular. I had a huge waiting list. And somewhere along the way I started pursuing moving it online because I couldn’t meet with all the people who wanted to meet with me in person.”

Now McCormick has students all over the world — Wales, Korea, Australia, England, Nigeria — all of them via the Internet.

“I make videos of lessons and put them on line,” McCormick said. “Many of the videos are available by subscription on Guitar”

Not trying to be a national “star” — if such a thing still exists in the singer-songwriter world — was never a sacrifice for McCormick.

“The word sacrifice never would have occurred to me,” she said.

“For me, that transition was more of a re-calibration, taking a step back to assess my quality of life,” she continued. “Career, friends, family, time, health, lifestyle, community, creativity, happiness, spirit. I made changes that were all for the positive. I’m not sure being a ‘huge star’ was ever really in the cards anyway. Not so much for lack of talent or ability, because I do believe I have those. But primarily for the fact that there are only a very few slots up there in the ‘huge star’ category, and very few us who have the goods actually manage to squeeze in that door."

McCormick’s career is a still-evolving work.

“I feel there’s tremendous momentum,” she said. “The Internet has changed things, in the sense that it’s no longer in someone else’s hands. You used to wait to be discovered and let someone make you a star. And now it’s in my hands. I feel good about how I’ve done it and I continue to discover new ways to do that. I’m still writing, performing and recording. I insist on doing what I love, and I insist on it being music.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #61 (Wednesday, August 4, 2010).

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