Larry & Joe
Courtesy photo
Larry & Joe

Musicians find a creative spark in mixing two cultures

‘The most profound social justice can be expression of joy within a situation where people from different cultures, from different walks of life are merging,’ says Joe Troop of Larry & Joe, a duo that will perform and shine light on the asylum seeking experience at Next Stage Arts

In its efforts to tune in to global issues and inform and educate the public, the Windham World Affairs Council (WWAC) will draw focus to the current and rising needs of asylum seekers in southern Vermont by presenting Larry & Joe, a North Carolina–based duo who will explore and expose immigrants' experiences with asylum-seeking efforts.

Supported by the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation's 'Welcoming Communities' program and Brattleboro Union High School's PeaceJam Club, the program will take place at Next Stage Arts in Putney on Friday, March 1, at 7 p.m.

The acoustic duo, Larry Bellorín and Joe Troop, have been playing together professionally for two years, offering music that Troop has described as "Latingrass."

Troop explains that in their original tunes they offer a fusion of sound influenced in part by his own bluegrass roots and by the style of Bellorín, a musician/music educator from Venezuela.

"It's a mix that stems from our musical backgrounds and also basically folk music from all over the Americas that we've listened to our whole lives. We're throwing them all into a pot and turning it around to see what we can cook up," Troop says.

With bluegrass, merengue, tango, venez calypso, and other overlapping genres, Troop says "it's a varied show."

"This fusion […] folk music is played on the harp, banjo, cuatro, fiddle, guitar, maracas, and upright bass. Interspersed will be personal stories - both Larry's and Joe's - of experiences with immigration and asylum seekers and, especially, of Bellorín's journey of forced exile from Venezuela to asylum-seeking in North Carolina."

A legendary Llanera musician in Venezuela, Bellorín came to the U.S. eight years ago to flee persecution in his home country. A professional musician whose livelihood was teaching and performing, Bellorín could no longer work under a totalitarian regime.

Fearing for his family's safety, his family relocated to North Carolina, where he found the only work he could - in construction, which he did for seven years until recently. He is grateful to be a full-time musician again.

Troop is a Grammy-nominated bluegrass and old-time musician who lived in Argentina for 10 years working as a freelance musician, educator, and session musician until 2020.

"I had a band down there that I started with two students called Che Apalache," he says. "We had a really good run in the States, and then the pandemic decimated our operation. We were on tour when that happened, and it was that very thing that landed me back here [in Durham, North Carolina]."

With the band forced into hiatus, Troop never went back to Argentina; instead, he turned to working with asylum-seeking migrants.

How Bellorín and Troop found each other is "a matter of destiny, really," he says.

"During the pandemic, I was working in the activist sphere, teaming up with social justice people doing a web series and get-out-the-vote campaigns," he says. "That's how I ended up working with the migrant community of North Carolina for the first time."

One thing led to another, and Troop ended up volunteering in a migrant shelter south of Tucson, Arizona, on the Mexican border, working with asylum-seeking migrants and using music as a means of learning and connecting.

"I was planning to come to Durham and do a residency in December of 2021;" Troop recalls. "I was looking for potential collaborators, and a friend connected me with a genius musician who's also an asylum-seeking migrant in Raleigh, [North Carolina]. She said to check him out.

"I saw videos of Larry and realized he played the [Venezuelan folk] music I've loved since I was a teenager: I'd listened to it but I've never had any direct contact with it, barring a few street musicians I'd met in Buenos Aires." He had never seen an artist who plays the arpa llanera harp, as Bellorín does.

"And so I cold-called Larry and asked if he wanted to collaborate on this residency. He said, 'Sure, let's do it.'

"So that's how this began," Troop says. "We hit it off immediately, and that's where our musical brotherhood began [in March 2022]."

Bellorín, speaking with the translation help of Troop, recalls that he was escaping from "not being able to continue work as a musician, as a music teacher, and as a professional performing musician."

"The political situation had us cornered - backed into a corner since we were not sympathetic with their cause, we were not allied with them politically," he continues.

"I had my own private music school," he says, "and in 2011, when the Venezuelan economy started to tank, I realized it was no longer sustainable to work in musical education, so in 2012 I had to close the school's doors" and leave.

Most of Bellorín's family is in the U.S.; some remain in Venezuela.

The duo's focus during their March 1 visit to Next Stage is on social justice in both music and narrative.

"Deeply embedded in our story," says Troop, "are the paths that brought us together."

He thinks "the most profound social justice can be expression of joy within a situation where people from different cultures, from different walks of life are merging."

"We're hoping our show is like medicine," he says. "A very strong component of it is healing music; there's also storytelling so people can share the context of the songs we're playing - many of which have a profound social justice message.

"And there's a dance party at the end," he continues. "Get people up and dancing!"

Dancing can lift spirits in tough times, Troop asserts, noting that Bellorín's case for asylum, first presented to officials six years ago, has not advanced.

"It's unlikely it's ever going to get reviewed because they're processing recent arrivals first" in what's prevailed recently as a "last in-first-out" approach. There are so many that [immigration services] can't keep up with the paperwork and they are understaffed. Larry's in a perpetual holding pattern like hundreds of thousands of others."

About his recent reunion with his first calling - music - and about being in America, Bellorín says he feels like he "now [has] the opportunity to share all the talent God gave me with the world."

"It's a relief to return to the artist I've always had inside me," he says. "I was paused for so many years that that artist was dying."

Larry & Joe, who toured for 200 days last year and this year, are on the road for six months, "to humanize the story of the growing numbers of people forced out of their home countries due to a variety of factors that make life impossible," according to a WWAC media release.

WWAC Administrative Director Susan Healy said they received a Vermont Humanities grant "enabling us to bring the humanities into our community through partnerships with other nonprofits: Next Stage Arts, Community Asylum Seekers Project, and Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation's Welcoming Communities."

Planning the event, Healy recalled, began in September.

"The focus on asylum seekers and immigrants was significant, but not as intense [then] as now," he says. "It is essential to counter the vitriol and tension with humanity. What better way to do that than through music?"

Shining a light on seeking asylum

A post-concert question-and-answer session on the current status of asylum seekers, refugees, and immigration policy in the U.S. and Vermont will be led by Liv Berelson, executive director of Community Asylum Seekers Project in Brattleboro.

According to the Immigration Research Initiative (, Vermont is ranked sixth highest in the nation in terms of welcoming and offering assistance to refugees and asylum seekers. This stance has benefitted hundreds statewide.

Locally, according to Francie Marbury, a volunteer with CASP, 19 asylum seekers are working with the nonprofit, with a new client expected to arrive within the next month and four children expected to be reunited with their parents soon.

Those being served by other resettlement initiatives, such as St. Michael's Episcopal Church's refugee ministry, add dozens more in our region alone who benefit from such assistance and guidance - some asylum seekers, others refugees. (Distinctions among the terms "refugee," "migrant," and "asylum seeker" can be found online at

CASP is a social justice and immigrant activist organization committed, according to its website, to welcoming asylum seekers from Afghanistan and around the world.

"A group of community members," it states, "has been trying to make sure that the county will be a place where immigrants of all backgrounds can live without fear of being targeted because of their perceived immigration status."

According to the agency, "We seek to cultivate a supportive community for those seeking asylum in the U.S., while offering basic needs and accompanying them on their journey towards building a life in southern Vermont."

Finding such a new life has not been easy of late.

The CASP website notes the organization's work now aims to address "the need for extended support of our asylum-seeking guests, who must now wait double the time - a full year - to become eligible for a work permit" and "the need for renewed support for asylum-seekers who had received a work permit two years ago [but whose] renewal is taking longer than the 180 days that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services promises."

Larry & Joe's performance, as stated on the WWAC website, is part of the organization's focus in March on immigration and asylum, a series that includes a Thursday, March 21 lecture on "Migration from the Northern Triangle," with Sarah Osten, Ph.D., associate professor of Latin American History at the University of Vermont.

For more information on the programs and mission of WWAC, visit

Suggested donation for the event on Friday, March 1 is $20; though WWAC policy is to make all events accessible to all regardless of ability to pay. All students will be admitted free. To reserve seats, visit

This Arts item by Annie Landenberger was written for The Commons.

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