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Pete Sutherland and Oliver Scanlon concert review by Ava White

A concert on June 11th commemorating fifteen years together and counting, from mentor/student to colleagues, Pete Sutherland and Oliver Scanlon celebrate their deep relationship built on a love of music. Both are heavily involved and wonderful examples of Young Tradition Vermont, an organization that promotes, “Young people playing old music,” as said by Oliver Scanlon.  Full concert available on the Young Tradition Vermont Facebook page.

Pete Sutherland is an accomplished vocalist, instrumentalist, composer, performer, teacher, and songwriter. A veteran of numerous touring and recording groups such as Metamora, Rhythm in Shoes, The Woodshed Allstars, Woods Tea Company, Ira Bernstein’s Ten Toe percussion, and is a founding member of the long-running ‘contradance jamband’ the Clayfoot Strutters. Also a prolific producer and songwriter, having been covered by the likes of Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, Nightingale and Altan. Pete is the ‘Pete’ in Pete’s Posse, also including Oliver Scanlon and Tristan Henderson.

Oliver Scanlon began his musical journey playing the Viola with the Vermont Youth Orchestra when he was nine. Shortly after he was introduced to Pete the world of fiddling, and he became more involved in Young Tradition Vermont programs, such as Fiddleheads. A multi-instrumentalist and spellbinding composer, he attended music camps and studied various styles from Andrea Beaton, Eric Favreau, Alan Jabbour, Kimberly Fraser, and other master fiddlers. In 2008, he and five other talented middle-schoolers formed The Irregulars, a group that performed at scores of local dances and festivals as well as won the 2011 Young Tradition Vermont talent contest! In 2013 he both co-founded Pete’s Posse with Pete Sutherland and Tristan Henderson as well as becoming the youngest member of Pete’s dance band The Clayfoot Strutters. In 2014, he released his first solo album, “The Pond Jam,” which was both part of his senior project before graduating as well a testament to his musical passion and ability.

This concert was originally supposed to be held at the Violin Shop in downtown Burlington, and while it may feel weird watching it digitally, there was already a small, most likely socially-distanced crowd gathering by the outdoor porch from which Pete and Oliver performed.

They began with a set of old-time tunes. Pete and Oliver complimented each other with varying rhythms and rich harmonies, taking turns on melody and accompaniment. They finished with, “yeehaw!” for the gathering live crowd. For their second set, Pete was on the 5-string banjo and Oliver was on fiddle for some Quebecois tunes. Oliver started at a leisurely pace, and gradually increased to a steady tempo. Pete joined on with banjo and Oliver added feet. The bowing articulation was varied, from short to slurred bow strokes, before transitioning into a lively, upbeat tune. Next they sang a song mixed with one of Oliver’s own reels, The Mindless Reel, with Oliver on mandolin and Pete on guitar. They first learned the song as part of the first Young Tradition Touring Group tour to Northumberland, England. The song is about a farmer who loves his farm and hopes that it will always endure, despite the changing weather and difficult work. In a broader sense, perhaps about how we all hope the things we love will stay with us and continue to thrive no matter how hard it is to maintain.

Oliver’s Waltz, composed by Pete from when he first met Oliver, consisted of Oliver on fiddle and Pete on piano. A staggered climb to the top with a blue feel, the piano and fiddle traded melody and accompaniment, utilizing both melodic and rhythmic harmony. The waltz was met with dancing from the street, and perhaps in other listener’s homes. Their 5th set was up tempo, engaging old-time tunes with bounding notes and contrasting rhythms.

Pete first introduced the next song to the 2019/2020 Touring Group, and it was christened Oars. Paired with another of Oliver’s compositions, a tune named after Oliver’s travelling brother called Miles for Miles, the set included vocals, guitar, and melodica. Next were some New England Jigs called Rory O’Moore, Blackthorn Stick, and Bert Ferguson’s, with both Pete and Oliver on fiddle. Pete started out and Oliver joined with rhythmic accompaniment. Throughout the set they traded roles with seamless transitions. A tune from a Norwegian musical tradition, perhaps most recognizable in Lord of the Rings, is next. A relaxing, peaceful tune with fun additions from Oliver on guitar and Pete on fiddle.

A song titled The Witch of Wall Street, a true story about a Vermont woman who made millions yet never spent a dime followed. It was paired with a jig from a respected Irish fiddler, and the accompaniment and melodic echoes were beautiful. For the duo’s tenth set they played some buoyant old-time tunes on the banjo and fiddle. The banjo provided wonderful chords, and the fiddle demonstrated a wide lyrical range. Next a shape note song in the key of F# that was purely vocal, sans instruments. The vocal harmonies were engaging and needed no support. For the grand finale, they played a set of jigs, one of which is titled Be Like Mark. Beginning with a piano intro and fiddle drones, it blossoms into a fully fledged harmonic partnership. The tunes transition into quicker-paced, bouncy Irish jigs with creative transitions and wonderful reception from the audience.

People from all over New England, Quebec and British Columbia in Canada, Appalachia, Ireland, Scotland and beyond tuned in to hear this beautiful celebration of a long-lasting musical relationship.

Ava White is a student at South Burlington High School, studies harp with Dominique Dodge, and has been a the Young Tradition Touring Group member for several years.