Gold in the Green Mountains
"A lot of old bluegrass is really specific to the area that they're from... it's really tied to the land," said guitarist and singer Andrew Stearns. "The surroundings of Vermont, especially around here, are very influential on our music... because it's beautiful. How could you not?"
Stearns met Gold Town banjo player Will Mosheim while they were both students at Burr and Burton Academy; they quickly began playing music together.
"Will and I have been playing music together more than 10 years," he said. "We started a hardcore punk band in high school... called 'Die Like a Champion.' We slowed it down a bit when Will went to college, but we kept playing."
They began a weekly, Wednesday-night residency at The Perfect Wife in Manchester, and when Stearns moved to Burlington they moved their weekly residency as well, up to the Barn in Pawlet.
Around that time, Will acquired a banjo and helped shape the future sound of the band. They began writing original bluegrass and old country songs and bringing them to the Barn, where other bluegrass musicians were more than willing to teach them the ropes.
"We started falling in love with bluegrass," Stearns said. "It was a whole world that we really weren't exposed to too much... There's a lot of truth in bluegrass. It's a lot about the human condition.. it's all about love, heartbreak... Things that are real."
Since finding their place in the world of bluegrass, Gold Town has been making themselves known throughout the state of Vermont, and even points south.
They were approached by the organizers of Wilco's Solid Sound Festival, a three-day music and art festival at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) in North Adams, Mass. this past June.
"That was huge for us," said Stearns. "We were so excited to be a part of that festival... because we're fans of Wilco and everything, and Mass MoCA is such a cool place... that's the kind of festival you want to be at, and be a part of."
They may not have been given a stage to play on at Solid Sound, but they were still one of the first things attendees saw as they entered the grounds. Placed right outside the front doors to the museum, anyone who wanted to see the rest of the festival had to walk right by them.
"We were kinda like the welcome band," Stearns said.
Also this summer, in the height of the festival season, Gold Town returned to the Frendly Gathering festival in Winhall, at which they are not strangers. "We were part of the first lineup three years ago," Stearns said. "It was much smaller, with a little lineup... It was great that they kept us involved. We're friends with them and they're great people. That whole thing was really cool."
In addition to playing larger festivals in the summer, Gold Town frequents much smaller venues, including area farmer's markets; they have been playing at the Dorset Farmer's Market for the past five years.
Stearns explained that it is a big difference between playing at the two settings, but they like them all the same.
"Our music lends itself to both worlds," he said. "We can be a late-night party band, if you want us to. But a lot of times some of the things I really enjoy playing are farmer's markets... it's great when people are just hanging out and listening... but playing on a big stage is pretty nice too, in front of screaming people."
One performance at a farmer's market in Rutland spawned one of the songs off their album, aptly titled "Rutland," featuring the opening "there ain't no sun over Rutland."
"The first version was made in Rutland," he said, "at this really stormy farmer's market in late October in Rutland... the tents were all blowing over... we had to go buy gloves so we could cut off the tips of the fingers so we could huddle around and play... and so we're just sitting there, there weren't that many people there... and we kind of made it right there."
Gold Town currently has three recordings: a four-song EP, a full self-titled album, and a purely for promotional purposes that was recorded between the EP and full-length albums.
"We recorded [the promotional album] at Burr and Burton with [BBA Media and Performing Arts Department Chair] Neil Freebern, which was great," Stearns said. "He was really nice and let us come in and use the Riley Center and we just set up one mic and played into it. We got a couple songs out of it."
Their self-titled album is available through conventional methods, including buying hard copies from CD Baby. However, their album is also available on the streaming website, and mobile application, Spotify.
"When you do stuff through CD Baby, it's kind of an option," Stearns said. "There's a lot of controversy about [using Spotify], rightfully so... but at least people are paying for it, whereas people could just be pirating it... so when you get down to it at least it's a legitimate way to get quality music." Stearns also said that they are not concerned with losing money by having their album available for streaming on Spotify.
"Honestly, for a band like us it's a marketing tool. The more people find you on there, the better it is. We're not looking to get rich off our Spotify sales, because that's another thing we do - we try to make hand-made goods and connect with our audience, so hopefully people will want to support us." While it is not uncommon for a smaller-budget band do a lot of the legwork and promotion themselves, Gold Town takes it to another level. Stearns silk screens all of their shirts, album covers, and other merchandise to help keep down the cost of production as well as the items themselves.
"We like to do a lot of the DIY thing that comes with punk rock," Stearns said. "We like to have everything hand made and done by us so we can give a product to the people that we feel is a good representation of us, and nobody else is really touching it."
And, as if hand-making their merchandise wasn't enough, Mosheim has been making his own banjos under his company Seeders Instruments.
"We play our own instruments on stage a lot of the time," Stearns said. "He has made some guitars. He's about 20 banjos in right now, and that's great. A lot of people made their own instruments in the early days, so it's kind of cool that we get to play stuff that he has been making."
Stearns explained that they are entering a new chapter of the band, with the possibility of new music with a new sound.
"We don't have anything too crazy coming up," he said. "We're going to try to start focusing on making some more original music, hopefully put out another album within the next year... We're just going to start getting the creative wheels turning. It's been a little too long since we had some creative output, so we're gearing up to put out some new material."
Their upcoming shows are a string of local farmer's markets, with the Manchester Hot Summer Nights Streetfest on August 9, starting at 6 p.m.
More information on the band, including links to preview and purchase their self-titled album, can be found at their web site www.goldtownmusic.com. "It's been a long five years," Stearns said. "We have played here, there and everywhere."
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