Jazz concert promotes two nonprofits

Performance will benefit Stage 33 and WOOL

BELLOWS FALLS — On Sunday, Sept. 23, Stage 33 Live, in conjunction with WOOL-FM, presents an afternoon of world-class jazz, including a workshop and concert, with guitarists Draa Hobbs and John Stowell.

The event takes place at Stage 33 Live at 33 Bridge St., and ticket sales benefit the venue and the radio station, two nonprofit community arts organizations serving the greater Bellows Falls area.

Stowell will lead a workshop at 2:30 p.m. for guitarists seeking to develop their improvisational skills. Topics covered include melodic and harmonic minor modes, triads, voicings, and comping, and attendees will receive follow-up materials.

Following the workshop at 4 p.m., Hobbs and Stowell will perform as a duo, playing jazz standards and classic compositions by Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Dave Brubeck, and others.

Hobbs grew up in Chicago and has made his home in Southern Vermont since 1980, where he teaches music at the Vermont Jazz Center and The Putney School.

He studied with artists such as Jimmy Raney, Attila Zoller, Gene Bertoncini, and Peter Lietch. Hobbs has enjoyed an active life performing in New York City, Burlington, Maine, and points in between for the past 30 years and has shared the stage with many notable musicians including Don Friedman, Ron McClure, Eliot Zigmund, and Vic Juris.

Stowell, based on the West Coast, was influenced as much by pianists and horn players as by guitar players, and he has an original take on harmony, chords, and improvisation. He has taught internationally for over 40 years in many educational settings.

A win-win for the arts

Hobbs told The Commons, “John and I are both into working with arts organizations in a mutually beneficial manner [...] It's a way for us to get our names out to the public, while also hopefully raising the profile of the organization. Being a world class player, John Stowell can help create a 'buzz' for future WOOL/Stage 33 performances.”

Stage 33 Live, a nonprofit arts organization founded in early 2018, features regional performers and presenters offering music, theater, performance, academic, and spoken-word events.

All shows take place on a stage in the main room of 33 Bridge St., and events are recorded and mixed for broadcast on WOOL and Falls Area Community Television (FACT TV), and for on-demand viewing at

Black Sheep Radio WOOL-FM is a community-supported, nonprofit radio station with studios in Bellows Falls. Founded as a licensed, low-power FM station in 2001, WOOL received its full-power Non-Commercial Educational license from the Federal Communications Commission in 2014.

The station airs no commercials and is fully supported by memberships, contributions, and underwriting. It broadcasts at 91.5 FM from a tower atop Mount Kilburn in New Hampshire and streams online.

Although Black Sheep Radio is entirely run by volunteers, with no paid staff, “our finances continue to be tight,” said William Holtz, board president of Greater Falls Community Broadcasting, the nonprofit “parent” of WOOL.

“Our station space, heat, and internet are donated, but it still costs an additional $25,000 per year to cover broadcast tower and equipment costs, insurance, copyright fees, Pacifica Radio Network licensing fees, and a long list of other incidentals,” Holtz noted.

“Community radio is like democracy. It's not easy and it works best when it's participatory. Black Sheep Radio exists only because of the generous efforts and support of our volunteers, our members, our underwriters, and our community,” Holtz said.

First-time collaboration

This is the first collaboration between the radio station and Stage 33 Live, “which seems a little strange since Stage 33 is, in large, part the spawn of Black Sheep Radio,” said Mark Piepkorn, one of the founding members of Stage 33 Live and a longtime member and volunteer with WOOL.

“We're both in the same building, separated by a wall and a door, but completely independent from each other. But they were our nonprofit fiscal sponsor while we established our own 501(c)(3) [nonprofit certification], and WOOL will be the 'home station' for the Stage 33 Live variety radio program after we've beefed up our documentation library enough to produce a good first season,” Piepkorn noted.

Stage 33 Live has “been getting its audience legs slowly and organically, the way we expected and wanted. What's blown our minds has been the interest and response from musicians - they've been reaching out to us, and it's been getting increasingly surreal in fantastic and unexpected ways,” Piepkorn said.

He described Hobbs and Stowell as “big-deal jazz guys,” and said the relationship started last year, when the musicians were guests on Piepkorn's former WOOL show, “Monsters and Hamsters,” to preview their performance at Main Street Arts. Their interview and live set happened out on the stage rather than in the WOOL studio.

“They sounded great in the room! We talked about the Stage 33 Live thing I was working on, they liked it, and we all thought that doing a proper concert was a great idea. It grew from there,” Piepkorn said.

Piepkorn said Hobbs and Stowell “are total-bananas supporters of live music and community radio. They're not just big talents, they've got big hearts and big brains.”

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