Yawp. Yarp. Test.

Nothing to see here. Just working out kinks.

As threatened, we’ve gone old school and started this blog to get a foothold on escaping the diminishing returns of the social media soulcrush timesuck. But not to cut off our nose entirely, we’re keeping our presence on the platforms and trying out a social media manager program to centralize and streamline dealing with our Facebook page, Instagram feed, and our new Twitter account. Why did we suddenly open a Twitter account?! Never said we were smart.

Rando image for testing purposes:

Equal parts itchy and antsy

We’re getting pretty close to nervously pulling the trigger on a new camera setup… hopefully the first of three matching ones. But there’s only enough dough for one right now.

We’ve had our eye on the Black Magic Pocket Cinema 4K for a while. There were good prices on used bodies for a short time after the new 6K model was introduced, but that’s over. Used ones lately have held almost 100% of the sticker… so it makes sense to pony up just a little more for new and avoid the risk of adopting somebody else’s hidden neglect or abuse.

One reason for not waiting is that these cameras come with a license for DaVinci Resolve, which many of the biggest movies and TV shows also lean on. We’ve been using a crippled evaluation version for color grading, and it makes an astonishing difference. But without a full license, we can’t effectively use it for the actual editing. Resolve will also make more intelligent use of VRAM to speed up the workflow. Since there’s still plenty of old-footage catch-up on deck, this is perhaps the most compelling reason to go forward now.

Furthermore, Resolve can work directly with the uncompressed, unmolested stuff directly from the sensor. None of the cameras we’re using now even offer RAW output as an option. RAW makes for some bigass files though. It turns out that a 2TB SSD drive has way more storage and is actually cheaper than the Cfast cards we’d been considering… and the camera can write to the drive in real time through USB3. Much better for us than a card.

Besides data storage, another mission-critical thing the cameras don’t come with is a lens. We’ve pretty much settled on the Rokinon Cine CV85M-MFT 85mm T1.5, on the low end of lens food chain but still respectable. And it’s a prime lens, which will do better in lower light. We don’t need zoom, bokeh’s not a biggie, and flatter is more prized than wider.

Since we’re not going to be shooting handheld with these, there’s no reason to look at gimbals… but we will want to get them cages — like a protective exoskeleton that, in addition to cheap insurance against accidental bonking, is also a base to attach extra bits (like a clip to hold the SSD drive).

We’re still working out the best way to improve the security of how we mount the cameras. While tripods (or, better, pedestals) at first glance seem like the obvious choice, they’re just begging for somebody to trip on ’em — not only putting the gear in jeopardy, but messing up the framing. We’ve been flying the cameras off of structural elements which so far has been working brilliantly, but the thought of somebody accidentally hitting one of these new ones with an umbrella or something and having it crash to the floor makes our knees weak. The four-dollar bar clamps from Job Lot have never been particularly confidence-inspiring.

Also, please vote today.

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Whew, it was only a dream.

Sat bolt upright in a panic from a nightmare. All of Stage 33 Live’s gear had been stolen… while unattended and out in the open in a parking lot overnight.

Those things would ever happen though — the gear being left out unsupervised, and being in a parking lot at all. The stuff lives under lock and key, and when it comes out on show days there’s always somebody there with it. We take the stewardship of the interests and assets of the nonprofit organization Stage 33 Live LTD awfully seriously.

Some people think dreams mean things (except when they don’t), and aren’t literal (except when they are).

Somehow, though, it’s just gotta have something to do with this dang pandemic.

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Excellent news

Got another Dear John letter yesterday — “The proposal pool was highly competitive”… ending our grant year with whimper.

This year’s tally from:

  • Vermont-based arts foundations, $0.
  • Other arts foundations, $0.
  • COVID pivot funds, $0.

The news gets better though!

  • Vermont community foundations, $1,500.
  • Local individual and corporate donations, $4,300.

This will go entirely toward the much-needed camera upgrades.

Our gratitude far outweighs any disappointment — and what feels really, really good is that nearly all of our support continues to come directly from the communities we serve… people who recognize the importance of our mission and our efforts to make it happen. How we’re giving our performing creatives and academics a shot at something they won’t get anywhere else; contributing to lifting up the reputation and recognition of our largely overlooked part of the Connecticut River valley; providing entertainment and infotainment options in our low-income village; and similar layers upon layers.

It’s hard to blame the big grantmaking organizations for their lack of “getting it” — they’re in their own bubbles, far removed from our boots-on-the-ground reality. They’re doing good work, we’re just not in that rarified echelon of entrenched big dogs.

Next year we try again!

The unpaid work continues in excess of full-time hours even during COVID as we chip away at the documentation backlog. Yes, this makes us incredibly dull people. The intent, you may recall, is to eventually land produced programming on broadcast stations (hence the importance of upgrading the cameras), at which point we’ll be a lot more attractive for foundation and corporate underwriting. Come that day, are we likely to forget who helped us get there? No, we are absolutely not.

We’ve been waiting to invest in the upgrades until all the grant proposals had been determined yea or nay, and now they have been. There’s enough in hand — with a little left over — for half of the four setups we’re still hoping to get. Totally terrific!

We won’t be retiring the $50 “kiddie cameras” that the getting-started budget accommodated just to get the wheels turning, nope. They’ll still be supporting the work with artsy angles and glitchy goodness. We just won’t have to lean on them to try to do things that they can’t possibly do… like provide professional picture quality good enough to produce broadcastable programming. (We can and positively will use the accumulated lower-quality stuff in copious “from the vault” segments.)

If you want to get your geek on: We’ve settled on Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4K bodies, most likely with Rokinon Cine CV85M-MFT 85mm T1.5 lenses (85mm would have been a mistake! — MFT’s big crop factor and a dozen feet from subject… we’re looking at 25mm instead), each with an outboard SSD (having to change cards in the middle of a set interrupts the documentation, the performer, and the audience) and a small onboard monitor (to aid focus, and for ongoing confirmation from a distance during filming that things are still on track — since centralized monitoring just ain’t in the money cards). The cameras will be protected with a Smallrig cage that will also provide secure attachment points for the add-ons.

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This went nowhere fast, didn’t it?

It’s good to have the infrastructure, probably. But clearly the best and most reliable thing is to sign up for the email newsletter. During the Covid infestation they’ve been coming along once a month or so… just to say howdy and gab about what we’re up to behind the scenes. In normal times during our September-through-May season it’s about one every three weeks.

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Best Press Ever

Layla Burke Hastings wrote a great feature story about us for the Eagle Times: “Stage 33 Live provides opportunities for local, regional artists.” It was published literally two days before our first Covid-nixed show more than a year ago. We’re pasting it here with some light edits for accuracy and to bring it up to date, and we’ve also added annotations.

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. — A brief, two-minute walk from downtown, Stage 33 Live is an intimate listening room with the echoes of industrial architecture and an incomparable natural acoustic sound that attracts music lovers from all over New England.

Just an idea in 2016, the prospect of establishing a place for musicians in Bellows Falls took on a life of its own with donations and a group of loyal volunteers, according to founder Mark Piepkorn.

“We let the room define itself,” Piepkorn said. “We are a grassroots, local-level and volunteer-run venue.”

The open space, which neighbors the independently run Black Sheep Radio, is a total immersion into the arts with a ‘do it yourself’ message for anyone who seeks a more direct connection with local-flavor creativity.

The musicians find an acoustic reaction in this old factory that by word of mouth has developed a unique following of both performers and fans.

“It’s fulfilling in lots of ways,” Piepkorn said. “Other than the complete lack of income, I can’t find a significant downside. It helps players get appreciative ears and eyes, it brings people together for a positive experience, it helps uplift the community at large. The community largely might not realize that yet, but we’re playing a long game and the trajectory is good.”

According to Piepkorn, most shows are on Sunday evenings every three weeks from fall through spring, but sometimes the venue deviates from its schedule. March 14 [was to have been] one of those occasions. On that day, the third of four installments of The Second Saturday Synthfest will begin at 7 p.m. The event is a quirky night of sound bending, with a jazz tone and some funk and groove made from all things synthesizer.

The Synthfest was a very cool limited series that was Covidus Interruptus, and was radically different from what’s usually in the room. Videos from the first Synthfest featuring Tiny Little Ghosts, Five Before Chaos, tOOthpAAt, and a long-form group improv are up on YouTube.

The second session hasn’t been produced yet, except for Jeanette Staley’s screening of her fast-moving ‘digital graffiti’ MFA project addressing patriarchy and politics. The soundtrack is that evening’s group improvisation by Infinite Is, Five Before Chaos, tOOthpAAt, Brendan Rooney, and three mystery players who were in the audience, two of whom just happened to arrive with devices.
 
 

Ten-time award-winning artist Carolann Solebello, formerly of Red Molly, sings Americana-themed music with a tiny thread of Brooklyn sound in her voice. She said playing live at the venue was more than a fleeting memory.

“The good folks at Stage 33 Live have somehow managed to turn an industrial space into an intimate and cozy listening room — especially attractive for lyrically driven singer-songwriters like me and Joe Iadanza,” Solebello said. “Whether it’s magic, alchemy, or perhaps just the right combination of thoughtful stagecraft, expert sound engineering, and good, old-fashioned elbow grease, Mark Piepkorn and his able crew have created a space that allows audiences and performers alike to fully immerse themselves in live music. No filter. No bells and whistles. Just music. And that is a rare and beautiful thing.”

Stage 33 Live features both top indie billings and locals with warm accessibility since its official opening in 2018.

According to Piepkorn, the volunteer staff films each live show and that they are processing for live video releases on YouTube.

“I like the tech side of it, but it’s the musicians who bring the love. Performing in such an intimate setting is a really vulnerable thing, but when a performer and an audience are there for each other, really paying attention to each other, there’s a magic that happens,” he said. “It can only be hinted at on tape and film.”

Carolann Solebello and Joe Iadanza co-billed in March 2019 and they were transcendent. The chops on both of ’em, wow. Plus they really liked the room and the people in it, which is always cool. A return engagement for September 2020 was nixed by Covid, but that first show is available on YouTube — minus the warm hilarity of their between-songs patter.
 
 

Performer Carl Beverly described the venue as more than a one-shot deal megaphone for musicians.

“Stage 33 Live has been wonderful for me. I’m not a well-known songwriter, and it’s a tough job promoting yourself. I showed up one day to do a short set of three songs, not really knowing the scope of what they do. I kinda forgot about the video they did and then months later a friend said, ‘Hey, saw your video on YouTube.’ When I looked it up I was blown away with the quality, taste, and craftsmanship of what they had done,” Beverly said. “I really didn’t have the resources to create something like that on my own. Now, whenever I’m trying to get a gig at a venue, I always point them to the videos. Now they can check out what I sound like live, and with a quality audio track. I’ll be forever grateful for that… Those guys are all about promoting local musicians and songwriters like me.”

Beverly said he has a simple mission: Shoot for happiness.

“Stage 33 Live has also given me opportunities to perform. I co-headlined last September with Carl Goulet, a really great songwriter, and this October I will be opening for Fred Gillen Jr. from New York. I really appreciate their belief in my music,” Beverly said. “My goal is simple: Get my songs in front of people. For me, I don’t expect to get rich from them. I just want to make that connection. If one or two people get it, I go away a happy guy.”

Stage 33 Live is as do-it-yourself as it gets with its hidden mysteriousness.

“When enough people ‘discover’ that beautiful gem hidden on a back street in Bellows Falls, who knows. Sometimes I wonder why great live music is so overlooked. For very little money you can see some amazing artists there,” Beverly said. “Just can’t say enough about the beautiful unsung mission they’re on and the vital part they play in keeping local music alive.”

Carl Beverly ain’t no slouch himself, and deserves wider recognition. Our mission is to try to help people like him get it. The live shows are the front part, and in our opinion the best part. But the documentation has legs. At this writing, we’ve hosted and documented 150+ individual performers, presenters, and artists, and views of the online clips are on track to exceed 17,500 a few days from now.

The three-song set from January 2019 that Carl mentioned is on YouTube, and his subsequent set with Carl Goulet is about half produced and posted at this writing, but may all be there by the time you’re reading this.

The one with Fred Gillen Jr got nixed by Covid, and has been rescheduled for Mother’s Day 2022, May 8.
 
 

Hiroya Tsukamoto, acoustic jazz and folk singer from Japan living in New York, said he admires the organization for the way it naturally comes together.

“I played at Stage 33 Live for the first time last December. I didn’t know what kind of place it would be,” Tsukamoto said. “What I loved about this concert was the people who helped put the show together worked as a team. They were very nice and respectful with what I am doing and that is very important as a performer. That was the last concert of 2019 out of 100 shows I did last year and that show made my year.”

What an honor to have amazing guitarist Hiroya in the room, and to read such kind words from him. He requested a return engagement and we jumped on it… and it ended up cancelled for Covid. Undeterred, he rebooked for September 2021 and hopefully we’ll be up and running again by then — it’s still dicey.

While our mission is helping local and regional talent, also having bigger acts in the room brings attention to the project, lifting everyone’s boat.
 
 

Jan Sheehy of the Milkhouse Heaters, a punkabilly duo that hails from the Rockingham area and has a wide regional recognition, said it is one of her favorite venues because of its cozy, warm feel.

“As a listening room, Stage 33 Live is pretty unique,” Sheehy said. “The architecture of the building provides an interesting visual element, especially since the stage just sort of sits at the far end of the wide-open room and can’t be ignored. The room is lively, but the volunteers who engineer the sound know exactly how to tweak the sound system so that a performer’s sound is clear and well balanced.”

The Milkhouse Heaters will play at Stage 33 Live on Sunday, March 15, at 7 p.m.

“There is also an intimacy between the artists and the audience that is refreshing,” Sheehy said. “Because audiences are small, there isn’t a bad seat in the room.”

We don’t keep it secret that Jan and Mike — The Milkhouse Heaters — were among the earliest supporters of the Stage 33 Live concept in both word and deed, and more than once their well-timed encouragement kept the project alive before it even launched. It was lots of long lonely work then, and it still is. Lots. We knew it would be, and also knew it would be worth it… but that doesn’t mean we don’t get discouraged sometimes. This doesn’t even touch on the line of descent from them to some of our most mission-critical systems and infrastructure. They’ve been in the room in every phase of its development, both on the stage and in the audience. Suffice it to say that we like ’em quite a bit as both artists and as folks of the highest order. Can’t hardly wait to have them back on the stage.

The March 15 show Jan mentioned was a co-bill with Dan Weber that didn’t happen because of Covid. It was rescheduled for a year later, and that one also didn’t happen because of Covid. The show is back on the calendar for March 2022.

They were among the first to play when we got going — in fact, they even played BEFORE we officially started up to help us iron out the wrinkles.
 
 

Piepkorn said there are so many reasons why he and his group of volunteers do this.

“Whenever somebody immediately and deeply understands the point of it and the value of doing it, that’s just about the best thing whenever it happens. And in particular, when touring musicians who play all over this country and others, and have a real basis for comparison, tell us we’re doing something special and doing it right, that’s super-meaningful and moving,” he said.

Every now and then that guy gets something right.
 
 

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Five more months. At least. :(

The first show still on our schedule is five months from yesterday, and it feels dicey. Our last show before the shutdown was more than a year ago.

We’ve sent the following out to everybody booked in the remainder of 2021. It describes the restrictions Vermont’s performance venues will continue to face for the next few months, so it’s of general interest as well.

Hi ____, I’m just checking in with everybody on the Stage 33 Live schedule in the remainder of 2021. You don’t need to respond to this – just keeping you abreast.

Our spring dates have all been nixed. Looking ahead, there are reasons for hope but it still seems things could wobble either way. Vermont’s been going gangbusters on vaccinations, however also had its highest single-day Covid case total this week. 

The state’s Commerce people are thinking that the indoor venue rules probably won’t change until after summer sometime. Our fall shows actually start during the end of summer, which doesn’t technically doesn’t stop until September 22. Who knows what things will look like by then. We also haven’t yet received the green light to resume from the building owners and tenants.

Vermont’s rules include “1 person per 100 square feet” and “seating must allow for physical distancing of at least 6 feet between seated parties. No standing or mingling is allowed.” In our room, that means an audience of about 10 people with decentish proximity and reasonable sightline. (That includes minimum separation from singers: “Live entertainment that requires the rapid expulsion of air from an individual, including singing and playing certain musical instruments, has been linked to the spread of the virus and should be discouraged. Should an organization wish to host such activities, performers must be separated from the audience/attendees and each other by at least 6 feet.” They specifically state that stage barriers don’t negate that rule.)

Although they confusingly say that “restaurants, bars and clubs may seat multiple households at the same table, but no more than six people can be seated at the same table”, word is that needs to simultaneously accommodate the “1 person per 100 square feet” rule… which puts our potential audience numbers back at square one.

Masks are still required when not eating. (Of minor concern, we’d either have to axe the snacks or have a volunteer dispense them. “Use of shared food service [buffet style] and self-serve utensils, plates or napkins, are prohibited.”)

Other requirements include particular signage, taking and maintaining contact-tracing info, having a “designated health officer”, all volunteers completing VOSHA health and safety training… and more – I didn’t even dive deep into the current HVAC and air-changes guidance.

Your show is still a long ways off. If you choose to postpone, that will be graciously accepted and I hope you’ll consider rescheduling down the road. My preferred hope is that you’ll choose to wait a bit more and see how things develop.

I’ll be back in touch in about four months. Stay healthy, find ways to be happy.

Mark

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We were at the vanguard, still are

Stone Church down in Brattleboro is adding video cameras and production to their post-pandemic arsenal. We think this is a good idea. It’s too soon to tell exactly what things are going to look like when live music restarts, but COVID-19 definitely busted open the live video thing (both live-streamed and documentation-for-later).

Video is an integration that plenty of venues have already made, and more will be making. Stone Church has already proved that they have the talent on their team to do it right, and they have the resources to not have to start with two $50 no-name kiddie-videocameras like we did.

We kinda expect that other nearby rooms with bigger budgets than we have will follow suit. And we welcome it. This doesn’t in any way step on Stage 33 Live’s scrappy toes… we applaud anything that elevates the visibility and reputation of southeastern Vermont and southwestern New Hampshire. All boats get raised.

Those other places and us are different things. We’re primarily meant to be a stepping stone for local and regional performers and presenters on the rise – people who those larger performance venues don’t book because they’re not a big draw… yet. We WANT people to be able to graduate from our humble room to bigger, more well-heeled stages.

Of course, we do also totally welcome more established acts when they’re into it – some of them, even though they could play bigger venues, have an artistic preference for small listening rooms like Stage 33 Live. Their participation adds visibility and “legitimacy” to the whole project… their glory-gravy spills over onto our home fries.

If somebody comes along and does what we do, but better, that will be a happy day. Honest. Our mission isn’t about us. It’s bigger than us.

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Now featuring comfy chairs!

Padded chairs in the house! Those of you who flipped a few bucks into the Comfy Chair Fund jar at a show, or made a donation for comfy chairs on the website, your help is so appreciated… and it’s because of you that we were able to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime, pennies-on-the-dollar, more-donation-than-purchase opportunity to get hands on the chairs from Boccelli’s On The Canal, the beloved and fondly remembered restaurant and listening room that’s now several years in the rear-view mirror.

These chairs come already steeped in our kinda juices, having kept butts comfy during shows by the likes of Dave Alvin and The Guilty Men, Stan Ridgway, Rebecca Loebe, Tom Russell, The Sweetback Sisters, Peter Mulvey, Eilen Jewell, Gurf Morlix, Richard Shindell, Brooks Williams, Antje Duvekot, Alejandro Escovedo, Cliff Eberhardt, Rosie Flores, Red Molly (founding member Carolann Solebello has since played our room), and many more.

When we at long last fling open the doors post-pandemic (go get the dang vaccine if you haven’t yet), these chairs will be waiting for you.

The unlikely, weird, and lovely miracle of Stage 33 Live continues.

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Transaction Fees, ugh

We’ve been using Paypal for advance ticket sales and online donations. They’re changing their discounted nonprofit transaction rate to 1.99% + 49 cents from 2.2% + 30 cents. (For non-transaction philanthropy, it’s now 2.89% + 49 cents.)

So for a $10 ticket, that’s 69 cents vs 52 cents before. (And for a $10 donation, it’s 78 cents vs 52 cents before.)

Yeah, it’s pennies. 17 cents more per ticket in this example, big whoop. But it adds up. For instance, if we manage to sell out all 40 seats for a show with advance $10 tickets, Paypal takes $27.60 that would otherwise go to the performers.

$27.60 gets a performer about 230 miles down the road. It could be the difference between a motel room (with a shower!) or a sleeping in a rest stop. It’s, like, 20 bean burritos at Taco Bell.

We want the performers to get a fair wage, and we also want shows to be as accessible as possible for our local community (Bellows Falls has a lot going for it, but it also has a poverty rate exceeding 25%). To accomplish these things, we’re not paying ourselves. We hope that will change somehow, but for the time being it’s the only way this thing can happen.

We’ve always folded the small transaction fee into the advance ticket cost, and will continue doing it. We’re not sure what else there is to do about it without making extra hassle for everyone, and more work for us.

Interesting to note: According to Statista, “In the first quarter of 2021, PayPal’s net income amounted to 1.1 billion U.S. dollars.” In the first quarter. And according to Wallmine, PayPal’s CEO takes home well in excess of $25 million annually. Did we mention our community’s 25%+ poverty rate? George Monbiot famously wrote, “If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.” Most of the people in Bellows Falls would financially be doing a whole lot better than they are, too.

It’s a tough nut and a fine line… trying to help lift up those who struggle, but having to contribute to this country’s vast inequalities of wealth and leisure in order to do it. Do the means justify the ends? Gosh, hope so.

(Before suggesting Venmo as an alternative to PayPal, per Venmo: “Venmo’s peer-to-peer experience cannot be used to solicit or collect charitable contributions.” Also, Venmo is owned by PayPal.)

$ 5      .59
$10      .69
$12.50   .74
$15      .79
$20      .89
$25      .99
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Run and done by volunteers, stem to stern.
Donations are what keep this thing going.
We squeeze every penny,
and we'd be so happy to squeeze yours. Or drop off cash / checks at any event.
You can surface-mail checks to:
Stage 33 Live (admin)
8-A Atkinson St
Bellows Falls VT 05101

Donated equipment or services are welcome!
Tax deductible to the fullest extent.
Stage 33 Live LTD is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, EIN 82-2349941.



Stage 33 Live
stage33@stage33live.com
www.stage33live.com
voice/text (802) 289-0148
PHONE PROTIP: LEAVE A MESSAGE.
We don't have actual staff to answer.

VENUE:
33 Bridge Street
Bellows Falls VT


ADMIN MAILING:
8A Atkinson St
Bellows Falls VT 05101