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Burlington, VT: Church Street

Burlington, VT: Church Street
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Get with gravity and walk downhill. Let your feet take you where you want to go; sometimes a late-afternoon stroll will lead you into a sublime evening.

The Unitarian church on Burlington’s Pearl Street is where you turn left–still ambling downhill–to enter the mall, a.k.a. Church Street Marketplace. Here it’s the street life that commands your attention: a bluegrass guitar casually picked, but fresh and crisp; the next block down, a string trio of middle-school prodigies respectably playing Mozart. Farther still, half a dozen breakdancers gyrate and flip around a boom box. And finally, balanced on one foot on a bear-size rock stands a young juggler, who asks you to toss him something of your own to add to the umbrella, the bowling pin, and the pair of sunglasses already rising and falling from his hands.

At the foot of the mall is a notably democratic intersection: Crisscrossing Main and Church are punks, country kids, preppies, buttoned-down bankers, panhandlers, construction workers, the fashionable ladies of our fair city, buffed-up guys with tattoos and backwards baseball caps, high schoolers, and senior citizens. This whole block shimmers with energy. Just past Main is Nectar’s Restaurant–the place where Phish rose up from the sea and, more recently, the explosively exuberant Grace Potter first began testing her blues and rocker pipes.

Now it’s time to cross the street to the 75-year-old Flynn Center, a vaudeville house and movie theater resurrected into “full Art Deco splendor.” The show tonight is Carla Bley, a 72-year-old jazz composer, pianist, and bandleader. She’s rail-thin, platinum- and pixie-haired, idiosyncratic in her speech, her compositions, and her performance. The lady is brilliant in opposing ways: basic as the blues, intricate and subtle as a Shostakovich string quartet. Near the end of the second set, when she and her two bandmates play “Sidewinders in Paradise,” you float right out of your seat. For two full minutes, your life is pure music.

Sometimes it happens just like this: You take a stroll downtown on a sweet afternoon, you sit at a window that reveals the essence of American culture, and you hear the right musician in the exact space that connects you to her genius. The elements have converged in your favor. You walk out of the Flynn feeling giddy with your luck. And you know what? On your way back up the hill, you’re going to walk right past Ben & Jerry’s. It’s open until 10 on the weekends. You can’t think of a single reason not to stop.

When You Go

Nectar’s Restaurant
188 Main St. 802-658-4771; liveatnectars.com

Flynn Center
153 Main St. 802-863-5966; flynncenter.org, flynntix.org

Ben & Jerry’s
36 Church St. 802-862-9620; benjerry.com/burlington

Church Street Marketplace
Church St., 802-863-1648; churchstreetmarketplace.com

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