Tonight, the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series continues to bring joy to music lovers across the country with an electric performance by folk-rock music duo, HuDost. Co-presented by Catamount Arts, the nonprofit behind the Levitt AMP St. Johnsbury Music Series, tonight’s virtual concert celebrates the ongoing collaborative effort to strengthen and unify the community of St. Johnsbury through the power of music. Be sure to tune in at 8pm ET/5PM PT at https://levittamp.org/virtual!
Home to just over 7,000 residents, St. Johnsbury is one of the many communities that make up Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. This idyllic northeast corner of the ‘Green Mountain State’ is known for its mountain-biking, skiing and Victorian-era architecture. However, like many other former industrial hubs, the loss of railroad, manufacturing and farming industries brought challenges to the area in recent decades including a 15% poverty rate.
For years, Catamount Arts and other local organizations have been working together to breathe new life into the local economy while improving local residents’ quality of life. With several well-established and collaborative local cultural institutions – like Catamount Arts, Fairbanks Museum and St. Johnsbury History and Heritage Center – the town of St. Johnsbury is forging a path forward by nurturing the local creative economy and making the arts an integral part of everyday life for everyone in the community.
Catamount Arts Executive Director Jody Fried and his team had already spent years working alongside organizations like the Northeast Kingdom Chamber of Commerce and Kingdom County Productions to incorporate art and culture into the lives of St Johnsbury residents. They recognized the importance of building “more creative infrastructure to allow the community to be able to celebrate and experience things that other parts of the country experience more naturally,” explains Fried. With robust experience organizing community events, such as the popular and family-friendly performing arts festival, KCP presents Performing Arts Series and First Night North, a magical New Year’s Eve celebration, St. Johnsbury’s community-oriented leaders were poised to collaborate once again to bring the Levitt AMP St. Johnsbury Music Series to life.
A community cornerstone
Set on 150 lush mountaintop acres just three miles from St. Johnsbury’s downtown Main Street, Dog Mountain was founded by artist Stephen Huneck and his wife Gwen to create a one-of-a-kind open space for people and their furry friends. Home to hiking trails, dog ponds and the famous Dog Chapel, this picturesque mountaintop has become a destination for tourists and residents alike. The untimely deaths of its creators, however, left an uncertain future for this unique local gem. In hopes of activating Dog Mountain and furthering their mission to provide high-caliber performances to ‘St. J.’ residents, Catamount Arts partnered with Friends of Dog Mountain to apply for a Levitt AMP grant in 2016, hoping to create a free, family- (and dog-) friendly concert experience that would bring everyone together and enhance community pride. They also hoped to promote local business and agriculture through on-site vendors and tourism partnerships.
Since presenting its inaugural season in 2017, the Levitt AMP St. Johnsbury Music Series has given community members of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to experience free music under the stars featuring world-renowned international musicians and acclaimed national touring artists. “The summer concert series has become a cornerstone of the town’s summer, recreation and community building,” explains Fried. Over the years, the Levitt AMP St. Johnsbury Music Series has attracted increasingly large and diverse crowds, upwards of 1,000 people, reflecting how the community has fully embraced the series as their own – with many residents eager to participate in the annual Levitt AMP public voting process each fall to determine the Top 25 finalists.
The Levitt AMP Music Series has also helped deepen relationships among local organizations. As Molly Stone, associate director of performance at Catamount Arts explains, Levitt AMP has given local and regional organizations like the local domestic violence organization or the local hospital, a meaningful platform to connect with audience members and share their story to a wide cross section of the community. “It is a venue with no barriers,” she says. The appeal of the Levitt AMP St. Johnsbury Music Series surpasses geographic barriers, as well. Beyond serving local residents and organizations, the series has attracted a wide range of visitors from surrounding regions and states, becoming an economic engine for the region. Out of town concertgoers also stay at local hotels, shop at local grocery stores and eat at local restaurants, generating thousands of dollars for the community each summer.
The free concerts have also helped energize spaces beyond Dog Mountain, like the local mountain bike association and the surrounding trails, and have empowered St. Johnsbury’s work toward two key priorities set by Vermont’s Council on Rural Development and St. Johnsbury’s Rural Economic Action Plan: providing “community events” and fostering a “positive town image.”
2020 would have been the fourth consecutive year of Catamount Arts presenting free Levitt concerts at Dog Mountain. However, like many nonprofits across the globe, Catamount Arts and its series partners made the difficult decision to postpone the 2020 Levitt AMP St. Johnsbury Music Series out of respect for the safety and well-being of concertgoers and the community. Although Levitt AMP St. Johnsbury concerts are on pause, the creative, proactive and determined spirit of Catamount Arts is in full force. Recognizing the importance of keeping the community engaged, they are “finding innovative ways to stay relevant to support the community during this pandemic,” says Fried. In April, Catamount Arts launched the Kingdom COVID Chronicles, a community-wide art project to address isolation and trauma caused by the pandemic. Partnering with a local home health agency, they’ve applied a health care model and bring art therapy directly into the homes of elderly patients. Catamount Arts has also started a communal quilting project, inviting local fabric artists to pick a square and share how COVID-19 has impacted their lives through fabric work. These fabric square will be stitched together into a large mosaic quilt that will represent the unity and the spirit of everyone in the community. Catamount Arts has also taken community building online with a series of interviews called “Catamoments.” Hosted by Molly Stone, this series provides an online platform for artists and community partners to discuss the impact of COVID-19 and the ways they are coping. Partnering with Northern Vermont University, Catamount Arts has also launched a Drive-In to Stay Safe Movie and Concert Series. Beginning July 11, and continuing every Saturday and Sunday through August, this series will present energetic evening concerts and family friendly movies to the community in local parking lots following appropriate public safety measures. Catamount Arts also looks forward to continue building community and increasing engagement through a Levitt AMP Bridge Grant, to be announced at a later date. The work to uplift the community continues despite current challenges because as Fried says, “it’s going to be the arts, culture and creativity that allows us to rise from the ashes of COVID-19.”
Tune in to experience HuDost’s warm, sentimental and harmonic music tonight
Tonight’s free Levitt AMP Virtual Concert with HuDost will treat viewers to the smooth folk, world and rock fusions that have delighted audiences across the globe – including concertgoers in nine different Levitt communities! Performing for a second time for the Levitt AMP St. Johnsbury Music Series, this incredibly talented, world-folk duo represents the essence of Levitt. Composed of life-partners Jemal Wade Hines from Kentucky, and Moksha Sommer from Montréal, they create an immersive musical experience with a powerful expression of life’s journey and discovery. HuDost manifest real human experience and emotion through rich vocals and effortless musical intersection, inspiring all who listen.
Head over to https://levittamp.org/virtual tonight at 8pm EDT/5pm PDT to experience what’s sure to be a memorable performance with HuDost!