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Vermont's Young & Gifted

Three talented, independent musicians from Vermont speak on their creative connections to the Green Mountain State


The rolling hills and verdant valleys of Vermont are a fertile breeding ground for musical talent. As Vermont’s music scene continues to grow and prosper, a new wave of musicians is making an indelible mark on the state’s cultural landscape. Representing an eclectic range of genres, these talented artists proudly embody the diverse and vibrant creative community in Vermont. Whether they were born Vermonters, moved here later in life, or are carrying the torch of Vermont music beyond the state’s borders, their creative journeys are inextricably tied to their experiences in the Green Mountain State.


In the weeks leading up to the Holiday season, three young, gifted, Vermont artists shared their stories, their inspirations, and their creative reflections with VERMONT Magzine. Pushing artistic boundaries while staying true to their roots, they channel Vermont’s spirit of fearless ingenuity into their music.

Ida Mae Specker


Gifted folk and Americana singer and fiddler Ida Mae Specker was born and raised in Andover, Vermont. Growing up, Specker recalls feeling a deep connection to her community and its musical traditions. “My father, John Specker, moved up here in the late 1970s,” shares Specker. “He moved to Vermont in 1978 to work on an apple orchard, and he met my mother and became part of a community of old-time fiddle players.” The musicians that John Specker met and began playing with in Vermont were playing traditional American folk music, which was rooted in the Appalachian tradition. As a result, Ida grew up going to square dances and potluck parties where fiddle players would beautifully showcase their virtuosic talents. “It shaped my artistic trajectory to the greatest degree possible. My mother, Susan Leader, is a potter. There were so many incredible craftspeople and musicians. It was a pretty magical community to grow up in, and it was a special time to be in Vermont.”


Specker recalls listening to her father practice fiddle for up to eight hours a day after coming back from working in the pottery studio. Although Specker was not extensively trained in classical music as a young woman, she expressed a keen musical acuity throughout her younger years. “Music was a language that we spoke in our family,” says Specker. She honed her skills as a fiddler and vocalist throughout her adolescence, and she starred in multiple musical theater productions at Vermont Academy in Saxtons River. After graduating from high school, Specker headed to Brown University, where she studied Theater, Dance, and Anthropology. Specker recalls that although she never had specific aspirations of becoming a professional musician, her love for Americana music was reaffirmed by a serendipitous exchange on the Brown University Campus. She elaborates: “When I was growing up, traditional folk music was not as commercially viable as it is now. I always saw it as something that existed on the fringes of society. Then, one day, I was practicing the fiddle just for fun on the main campus green. I was playing a tune and some other college students came up to me. They said, ‘Your bowing almost sounds like John Specker.’ At the time, I had no idea that anyone— especially young people—knew about my dad or about old-time music. I will never forget that moment.”


After graduating from Brown, Specker lived in Nashville and coastal Maine before returning to Vermont in 2011. With firm roots planted in her home state, Specker began building her career as a touring and performing musician. She began her musical journey by playing with her father, John, and her sister, Lila, and went on to eventually play in bands with her friends, such as The Break Maids and Faux In Love. In 2013, Specker took a leap of faith and recorded her first album, Single Girl. “I quit my job in the service industry and never looked back,” says Specker. “It was a pivotal decision in my journey towards playing music professionally. I played every instrument and sang my own harmonies. It was a very important step, and it led to some great things.”


In the years that followed, Specker built a loyal regional following. She released her first album of original songs, Billy in the Heartland, in 2019. “I experimented with a lot of different sounds and genres before I recorded Billy in the Heartland,” notes Specker. “My intention with that project was to go back into my own genre that was deep in my heart and soul and create original material. It took me a few years, but ever since then, my focus has shifted towards figuring out how to integrate traditional music with my original material to create a live show that is coherent,

exciting, and seamless.” After partnering with local musicians and building a talent pool of skilled collaborators, Specker developed what she refers to as a “modular band,” that now expertly accompanies her at her live performances. “I play with different groups of musicians at different shows,” notes Specker. “Sometimes I play solo. Other times I play with a quartet; anywhere up to a ten-piece band. It takes a lot of creative vision and organization for me to arrange the performances, but it’s a process that I enjoy being part of. Being a bandleader is a role that I have grown in to over the past few years, and I’ve become increasingly comfortable with it.”


Specker fondly recalls performing at Higher Ground in Burlington while accompanied by the Terrible Mountain Stringband in 2021. “I had a 10-piece band playing my original music. It was a big moment for me.” Specker is also incredibly grateful to have played as the opening act at the 2023 Green Mountain Bluegrass and Roots Festival in Manchester. “I’ve been involved with them every year, but it was the first year I performed under my own name. It’s an amazing festival, and I think it represents what me and a lot of other musicians in this genre have been fantasizing about. It’s great to live here in Vermont and see these events with high-profile artists and bands blossom in our backyard.” Specker’s recent EP, Live at the Peru Church, was released on October 28, 2023. “It was recorded live in one afternoon at the church in Peru,” she says. “It was an acoustic and totally live recording. The EP has three traditional songs and two cover songs, which represent the sound of what my live shows are actually like. Every song that we recorded has a live performance video that we uploaded to YouTube.” The Live at the Peru Church EP was recorded with the band that Specker has been touring with for the past several years, comprised of skilled bluegrass players. “I have only begun playing in bluegrass circles in the past few years,” says Specker. “It’s been an exciting expansion for me. Part of my vision for the future is to continue fusing old-time and bluegrass music in my live shows and recordings.”


On the heels of her most recent project, Specker plans to return to the studio this winter to record an EP that focuses on her original material, while still reflecting the sound of her live performances. Specker will also be performing a special, free Holiday concert live at the Peru Church on December 22. “I’m learning Christmas music for it,” shares Specker. “It’s going to be a lot of fun!”


In addition to her recent performances and studio projects, Specker recently finished a six-week stint of guest-hosting Vermont Public Radio’s Sunday folk and world music radio show, All the Traditions. Specker adds: “I did it back in 2021, and they asked me to come back and reprise the role. It’s been a real highlight and expansion of my musical career, and I feel like it really synthesizes my passion for Vermont’s culture and creative community. It also draws on my academic background in anthropology, and my love for acting, because in a sense, it is voice acting. I produced all six of the shows that ran over the summer and fall from my home, and it was a big highlight of my year.”


Specker is proud to be a working Vermont musician, and she is also proud to be a mother and active music teacher. “I’ve always taught lessons and workshops here in Vermont since I returned here, and I’ve run and participated in community music programs, as well.” In the summer of 2022, Specker taught music at summer programs in underserved public schools all over

Vermont in collaboration with The Arts Bus, a Vermont-based nonprofit organization. As part of the program, she wrote an original song, “Vermont, Our Home,” with her sister, Lila. She then taught the song to the children who participated in the program, and recorded their voices in a mobile recording studio that was set up on the bus, complete with custom panels, sound blankets, and digital recording equipment. “It has the voices of 75 of my elementary school students singing on it,” says Specker. “It’s definitely a highlight of my music education career. Vermont’s bluegrass and Americana scene is thriving, and it’s great to be able to play a role in helping the next generation become excited about the music.”


As Specker moves forward with her career, she is also looking forward to carrying on the legacy of her father’s music. She was recently able to acquire the rights to her father’s 1976 album, Black Eyed Suzie, a seminal work in the evolution of old-time music during the folk music revival of the 1970’s. His band, The Correctone Stringband, has influenced generations of players. Up until now, their music has never been available digitally or for purchase in the modern age, as it was only released on vinyl in 1976. “I look at my career as a multi-generational endeavor,” says Specker. “Part of that comes from carrying on the legacy of my father and passing the torch to my children, as well as the hundreds of young people I’ve taught over the past 15 years. My 3-year-old daughter already has a fiddle, and my sister’s three children all play. We are devoted to carrying this music forward, and we love to perform American folk music. Somewhere deep down, it is familiar to us all because it’s in our collective history. As my dad says, ‘We’re just kinks in the chain.’ I love reconnecting audiences to this music, and I am excited to re-release his album in 2024- stay tuned!”


Robscure


Robscure is a powerful wordsmith and versatile Hip Hop artist who channels artistry into his music. Born Robin Hartzell in Burlington, Robscure was raised in Washington, Vermont. Growing up, Robscure recalls finding his identity through the expressive outlet of Hip Hop music. “There was a lack of pressure to fit into any one mold in Vermont, which led to me taking an open approach to my music.”


When Robscure first became active in the Vermont Hip Hop scene in the late 2010s, he found inspiration and mentorship through working with the members of the influential Central Vermont Hip Hop group, Boomslang. “I definitely owe my entrance into the scene to them,” says Robscure. “Sed One and JL—rest in peace —were the first people to put me on the bill for a show at Sweet Melissa’s in 2018. I opened for them and Maiden Voyage, and I definitely looked up to both groups and studied their act.”


Robscure also cites the Burlington Hip Hop collective, 99 Neighbors, as a source of artistic motivation. “Seeing them grow to where they are now in terms of commercial success has been amazing,” he adds. “It’s great to see talented Vermont artists getting some real recognition.” After releasing his debut EP, Chapters, on SoundCloud and Bandcamp in 2018, Robscure attended the University of Vermont for a year in 2019. He then began collaborating regularly with up-and-coming artists who were active in the Burlington scene, including rivan, Eva Rawlings, Cam Barnes, and FOZ, among others. “We were all on the same wavelength. It was a great time to be there.” Robscure says that Justin Boland, a contributing writer for Seven Days and the founder of the active online music webpage, Vermont Hip Hop, played a formative role in his career trajectory. “He’s been an incredible proponent of everyone in the scene. Getting some positive writeups from him and being interviewed by him has been hugely helpful. Vermont Hip Hop is a community that spans generations and a bunch of different styles, and he provides a platform for all of us.”


Robscure fondly remembers his first Vermont performances at Montpelier venues, such as the now-shuttered Sweet Melissa’s, which was located on a property that now houses the popular Bent Nails Bistro. “Sweet Melissa’s will always hold a close place in my heart,” says Robscure. “They had an open mic every Tuesday. It’s the place where I went from being incredibly stage shy to getting more confident in front of crowds. Positive Pie was also always a great place for Hip Hop in Montpelier, and Orlando’s in Burlington and Monkey House in Winooski.” Robscure is also grateful for the continued promotional efforts of Love, Kelly, a prominent member of the Vermont music scene who is well-known for bringing high-profile artists to City Hall, Arts Riot, and Higher Ground. “He’s really elevated the presence of Vermont’s Hip Hop community,” says Robscure. “It’s exciting to see it take off at all levels.”


After sharpening his craft through subsequent releases such as 2020’s Adolessons, The Unsung Songs, and collaborative projects that included Long Night I New Day with Mentalien & Space Cap and Channel 01 with Tucker odum, Robscure embarked on an ambitious campaign of beautifully-orchestrated concept albums, including 2021’s EARTH and 2022’s AIR. Inspired by his deeply-rooted connection to nature, his surrounding environment, and its impact on his creative development, Robscure chose to highlight each of the four elements: earth, air, water, and fire, through production and lyrics that captured their primary essence through music. Standout tracks include “Rolling Boulders” and “nature // notyours” from EARTH and “Pilot” and “Echo” from AIR, the latter two of which respectively feature fellow Vermont artists rivan and Eva

Rawlings.


With each subsequent release, Robscure elevated his craft and strengthened his connections to the burgeoning Vermont Hip Hop community. In 2022, Robscure moved from Vermont to New York City. He now shares an apartment there with fellow Vermont rappers Jarv and Nahté Renmus. “I’ve been influenced and inspired by New York Hip Hop for my whole life. New York is a place where all people, including musicians, are looking for a way to cut through the noise. I think holding true to the unique style I developed in Vermont gives me a better chance of standing out.”


At a recent show in New York, Robscure’s creative journey came full-circle. He walked into a club where the Vermont duo NasteeLuvsYou and Konflik were performing alongside New York Hip Hop legends, such as Grandmaster Caz. “It was cool to see them sharing the same stage,” says Robscure. Robscure is also grateful that Vermont is starting to get recognized as a legitimate scene in the national Hip Hop conversation. “It played a big role in birthing the artistic style I have, and I’m proud to represent it.”


As Robscure’s career continues to take flight, he is gearing up for the release of the third project in his element themed series, WATER, set to be released in December 2023. He has leveraged his momentum to secure features with conscious Hip Hop arbiters, including Pro Era’s CJ Fly, who was featured on the recent single, “R&R.” The song was released several weeks after the project’s first video single, “Stream of Consciousness,” which finds Robscure floating in a literal stream while waxing poetic about his personal journey through life’s metaphoric ebbs and flows. Reflecting on his musical trajectory in the Green Mountain State and beyond, Robscure offers the following advice for young Vermont artists: “Utilize Vermont’s accessible music community to make your own opportunities. You can put on your own shows at a lot of venues, and the scene is not overly exclusive or competitive. I learned a lot from the people around me, like Charlie Mayne; Juni The Wiccan; Love, Kelly, the Street Religion crew and Yung Breeze; Konflik; and Boomslang—just to name a few. Vermont’s scene gave me the opportunity to work with other people building their careers on all levels. It’s an open and welcoming scene, and I’ll always be proud to be part of it.”


Patrick Sargent Music


Patrick Patrick Sargent is a skilled multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter with a compelling story and musical background. Born in Arizona, Sargent relocated to Concord, New Hampshire after being adopted at a young age. He began expressing an interest in music in his formative years, and first began playing at the age of four. Over the course of his childhood, his passion blossomed, and his parents seized the opportunity to further his emergent gifts after moving from New Hampshire to Southern Vermont. “I enrolled at Burr & Burton Academy (BBA) in Manchester as a freshman, and a large part of that decision was influenced by their music and arts

programming,” notes Sargent. Sargent found a safe and nurturing haven for his musical inclinations at BBA. He acknowledges the pivotal role that the instructors there played in his artistic development, including BBA’s Director of Creative Arts, Neil Freeburn, who spearheaded the recent growth and augmentation of their musical programming and facilities. “Neil was my homeroom teacher, as well as a music instructor. He and Jim Raposa, BBA’s Director of Theater and Dance, really made an impact on my life. Mr. Freeburn was incredibly open and encouraging, and Mr. Raposa knew how to light a fire under me and keep me focused whenever I became distracted from my creative pursuits.”


After starring in several roles in BBA’s musical productions, Sargent continued to expand his musical horizons, both in and outside of the school’s walls. “They had a great music department and a wonderful studio with great equipment. My parents and the BBA faculty were incredibly supportive, and I’m grateful that I got to take advantage of it.”


When Sargent wasn’t onstage at BBA, he began to form connections to Southern Vermont’s local Hip-Hop and heavy metal music scenes. Sargent played drums for a heavy metal cover band, and he recorded collaborative songs with prominent Southern Vermont rappers, such as Sirhco Bangz and ForeverFresh, among others.


Although Sargent is grateful to have made lasting connections in Vermont’s musical community through those initial forays, he didn’t find firm artistic footing until he made the decision to pursue his true passion for rock and country music. Sargent elaborates: “I was trying to be someone that I wasn’t as a rapper, but I don’t regret it. It was a developmental stage that helped me in the long run, both in my life and music. Looking back, I was always drawn to country and rock music, as well as the aesthetic and style of that genre. People used to make fun of me for wearing cowboy boots to school, but I knew it was who I truly am. Years later, I learned that my biological grandfather was a blues singer who dressed in the exact same way. I lost my way on a personal and creative level because I ran from who I was, but today, all of those aspects are fully integrated in my music. I’m grateful for the lessons I learned along the way.”


After facing his struggles head-on and taking a break from music to work on his mental health, Sargent emerged with a newfound passion. He penned several original songs, and he found new

creative momentum in 2020, when he professionally recorded “Lady Liberty.” It was the first single that he released under his current stage name, Patrick Sargent Music. A spirited country-rock anthem, “Lady Liberty” features driving rhythm and intricate, layered production. As a versatile multi-instrumentalist, Sargent played every track on the song, including drums, bass, rhythm guitar, and lead guitar. He found helpful guidance, working with Old Mill Road Recording’s (OMRR) lead engineer, Benjamin J. Arrindell. “Working with Ben has been amazing,” notes Sargent. “We’ve built an artistic workflow where we can communicate openly and develop ideas when we’re in the studio together during my sessions.” As a result, Sargent has released a series of well-received singles recorded at OMRR, which have united the seemingly-divergent aspects of his musicality. Prime examples include 2021’s “Bombshell,” which features his former Hip-Hop collaborator, ForeverFresh, and 2022’s “Don’t Pick Up The Phone,” which has gained promising momentum on online streaming platforms. With each single, Sargent took increasingly bold steps with the production and orchestration. “Working at the studio has allowed me to step out of my comfort zone, grow as an artist, and implement some different styles into each song. My primary artistic base is rock, blues, and country music, but I’ve integrated aspects of reggae music, Latin music, and Hip-Hop music as well.”Over the course of his musical campaign, Sargent has become a recurrent fixture in Southern Vermont’s live music scene. He has performed at Bennington Museum’s outdoor summer concert series, and he regularly brings his talents to popular Manchester haunts such as the Equinox Golf Resort & Spa, Nipper’s Café, and Union Underground, among others. “The Southern Vermont community has been incredibly welcoming,” says Sargent. “Performing in different settings has taught me to become more comfortable onstage, and I’ve gotten to perfect some fun, signature aspects of my stage performances, including playing guitar behind my back and playing with my teeth.”


Sargent is proud to be a member of the Southern Vermont music community and encourages all residents and visitors to enjoy the region’s musical offerings. “There’s an incredible talent pool here in Vermont that’s full of amazing artists. The music is authentic, and the musicians are accessible and unpretentious. There’s a real love of the craft here, and the scene has a lot of potential. I’m looking forward to developing more connections with local artists, whether that’s through live performance networking or through online platforms.”


As Sargent continues to promote his most recent YouTube video and Spotify single for “Don’t Pick Up The Phone,” his artistic passion has been bolstered through a series of ongoing, multifaceted creative endeavors. “I recently performed in the Dorset Players’ production of Kiss Me Kate,” says Sargent. “It was a great chance to get back to my theatrical roots.” Sargent is also looking forward to putting out a mini-documentary with Jonathan Roman Burdick. “He’s an extremely talented videographer.” According to Sargent, the documentary came about when Broman came up to Southern Vermont and met up with Sargent and Niki Kaos, a radio personality from nearby Saratoga Springs, New York. “It’s going to be a ‘day in the life’ mini-documentary, and I’m very excited for it.”


Building on the success of his live performances in Bennington County, Sargent recently graced the stage at Blue Cat Bistro in Castleton. “George Nostrand, a musician that owns A Sound Space in Rutland, started a music series up there. I was the first to play, which was a huge honor. It’s great to be able to connect with people across Vermont, and I want to give a special shoutout to 102.7 WEQX for playing my singles on their weekly radio show, EQXposure. I’m looking forward to submitting my newest single, “Guitar,” to them when I release it in the first quarter of 2024. It was filmed and recorded here in Vermont, and it’s going to be a fun song for the spring and summer.”


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