‘Stick Season’ is a viral hit. What else has put Vt. on the cultural map?
From homegrown icons to local specialties, get ready for a pop culture edition of Brave Little State.
Brave Little State is Vermont Public’s listener-driven journalism show. In each episode, we answer a question about Vermont that’s been asked — and voted on — by you, our audience. Because we want our journalism to be more inclusive, more transparent and more fun.
In this episode, we answer a question inspired by a song you might have heard: "Stick Season" by Vermont musician Noah Kahan.
Noah grew up between Strafford, Vermont and New Hampshire. And he was inspired to write the song that quickly became a viral hit after moving back home to Vermont during the pandemic.
300 million streams later and counting, “Stick Season” is a worldwide sensation. And Sara Morin of Windsor wants to know:
“Noah Kahan’s ‘Stick Season’ has folks all over singing about Vermont. What else has put Vermont on the cultural radar across the country and the world?”
To answer Sara’s question, Brave Little State's Myra Flynn ventures to Vermont Ave. in Los Angeles to get a sense of our state's reputation on the other coast. Then, she convenes a roundtable of Vermont experts for a pop culture edition of Brave Little State.
Note: In the spirit of March Madness (and in the spirit of fun and friendly competition), we've devised a bracket featuring 64 of Vermont's biggest impacts on today's culture. Our goal? To determine, once-and-for-all, which Vermont phenomenon has had the biggest impact. Learn more here!
Our show is made for the ear! We recommend pressing play on the audio posted here if you’re able. We also provide some written episode highlights below.
- Jane Lindholm, Host and Executive Producer of But Why: A podcast for curious kids. Former host and editor of Vermont Edition
- Luis Calderin, former Brand Manager for Burton Snowboards and Director of Arts, Culture & Youth Vote for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign
- Dan Bolles, Assistant Arts Editor for Seven Days
(condensed and edited for clarity)
Luis Calderin: I do not have anything other than Vermont maple syrup, ever. It's really funny because there's, like, a fake maple syrup, “Vermont Maid.” It’s like, one of those maple syrups you buy in the grocery store all over the country.
Jane Lindholm: Maple flavored syrup.
Luis Calderin: That was a national play on Vermont maple syrup. But Vermont maple syrup. It's like, that's it. It’s not really real unless it's Vermont maple syrup.
Jane Lindholm: I mean, the thing about Vermont maple syrup is Vermont makes the most maple syrup in the United States, by far. And it definitely has the reputation for the best maple syrup. And I think everybody in Vermont would say it is the best maple syrup. But all we have to do is step across the border to Canada and they dwarf our consumption and our production of maple syrup.
Luis Calderin: We have the brand. Brand is the winner here because perception is reality. In reality, you know, Canada produces more. But, North America, lots of other parts of the world know it as "Vermont maple."
Jane Lindholm: If you're from Wisconsin, you probably think you're [from] the cheese state, right? But we're like, “Oh no, we're the cheese state … Have you had Jasper Hill cheese? It's so good.” Sure, if you can afford $18 cheese, but if you're just going to buy some cheddar, you know again, like, well, “I'm getting the Cabot Clothbound for my grilled cheese sandwiches … we have amazing cheese.” But also, like, when it comes to production, when it comes to how other people think of the cheese, it's all in the eye of the cheese-eater, right? ... For the record, I love Jasper Hill cheese.
Jane Lindholm: I do think Ben & Jerry's is one of those cultural touchstones that most people know about Vermont.
Luis Calderin: It really was one of these, you know, early Vermont businesses that took it nationally, internationally, through licensing and just opening up their own little shops all over the place. So it was really one of those brands that, from South Beach and Miami to Australia, within a period of a few years, Vermont had an actual brick-and-mortar representation in many cities all over the country, all over the world. So, that forced people to say, “What is this brand?” And then learn a little bit about the state that it came from and the values that that, you know, it represents through Vermont.
More from Vermont Public: Ben & Jerry's condemns child labor in Vermont's dairy industry after New York Times investigation
Dan Bolles: This stat gets thrown around a lot when people talk about beer in Vermont, that we have more breweries per capita than any place in the country. And I think a lot of the craft [beer] boom that the country has experienced over the last few years, can be attributed to some things that have been happening in Vermont. You know, the craft beer movement really kind of predates when Vermont got into it, it was kind of more of a West Coast phenomenon that kind of migrated its way east. But I think thanks to some kind of early adopters, brands like Magic Hat, Long Trail, Catamount, that really kind of helped to raise the profile of craft beer in Vermont, and turned a lot of people onto it. And it's just kind of exploded from there … like, beer tourism is a real thing like people come to Vermont, specifically, to go to all these incredible breweries that we have here. So it's really something else that's kind of put Vermont on the map.
Dan Bolles: Hallmark has [set] a bunch of their Christmas movies [in Vermont] — I don't know if I should admit this over the air, but I'm, like, secretly an addict of Hallmark. And I love them. They're so dumb. Only one of them that I know of was actually filmed in Vermont, and the rest of them are all pretty much filmed in Western Canada.
Jane Lindholm: Well, do you remember the Captain Phillips movie? Which was, of course, about Captain Phillips, who is from Vermont, and had his ship hijacked and was held captive for a while. There's a scene where he's going to the Burlington airport and it's on, like, a five-lane highway with overpasses and, you know, it's just one of those scenes where you're like, “Oh, come on.”
Myra Flynn: And then there are some films that have been shot here, right? Me, Myself and Irene, my husband was actually in that movie because there were so few Black men in Vermont when they needed extras.
Jane Lindholm: I might have met your husband then because they filmed a bunch of those scenes in Middlebury and … I was living in Vermont in the summers and I couldn't walk home from my waitress job because the film crew had blocked the one road home to my house. So, every day it was like, “Damn you, Me, Myself and Irene, I have to walk two miles more to get home.”
Myra Flynn: Beetlejuice right was filmed here and then Funny Farm and Baby Boom. And then some things y'all wanted to talk about, like The Bob Newhart Show.
Luis Calderin: I’ll take that one — says the Cuban guy from Miami. So the Bob Newhart Show was like, late 70s, I think, early 80s. But the Newhart show was mid 80s or early 90s. And the whole show was about sort of a big city guy repositioning himself in a quaint Vermont little town … So for me as a kid watching TV during that time, moving to Vermont, it was literally, like, I went from Miami Vice to the Newhart show.
Dan Bolles: I think if we're talking about phenomena from Vermont, as it relates to music, the conversation kind of begins and ends with Phish. They are almost unfathomably huge. Back in the 1990s, when they were kind of at their peak, they were regularly in the top four or five highest grossing touring bands on the planet … The [company] on that list are folks like Madonna, Elton John, Metallica, like iconic, iconic artists. And then there's this, like, weird freaky band from Vermont. But, to me, like, beyond just sort of the incredible popularity, Phish kind of became synonymous with Vermont music. It had a whole ripple effect down through the Vermont music scene, where Burlington became known as this jam band haven. When I was at UVM, there were literally people who went to UVM just because Phish was from Burlington.
More from Brave Little State: Why do people like Phish? A guide for the uninitiated
Jane Lindholm: The wonderful thing about Hadestown … people outside of Vermont don't necessarily connect it to Vermont but Vermonters are really proud of Anais Mitchell, and really proud that Hadestown kind of bubbled up here. It was a little little touring show! She wrote it, she's from here, she went to college here. She lived here. She wrote it here, and then toured it around places like Montpelier. And, you know, people saw it in those early days and loved it. And so I think here in Vermont, we have this pride in somebody who created this amazing thing here, and it's not known as a part of Vermont, but we in Vermont, you know, we claim Anais Mitchell whether she wants us or not.
Dan Bolles: I covered it when Anais was first staging it. And I sat in on all the rehearsals at the Barre Labor Hall, like, this tiny out-of-the-way place in Barre. And that production, you know, [cast] a ton of local folks … so just a really cool Vermont success story.
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Jane Lindholm: Vermont is known for the great outdoors. And I think that is part of our prestige. And that's certainly part of the tourism campaign. But it is also a part of who we are as a state and what we value. We don't allow billboards, we do try to have connectivity for our wildlife, we try — sometimes fail — to have agricultural spaces that can preserve our rural nature. I think as we continue to grow and as we see more climate refugees, we're gonna struggle with some of that, but that is part of who Vermont is, fundamentally: a place that values the outdoors.
Myra Flynn: Bernie’s been on Saturday Night Live, like people have been depicting Bernie. He's kind of become famous as a character as well, this “Bernie meme.” … Why did he become so famous for himself as a character?
Luis Calderin: I mean, that was super surreal, that entire thing of, you know, just becoming part of pop culture. And do I think that the Senator was aware of that, yes. But he was really, then, and I still believe now, pretty focused on his key issues. He always was aware of all that was happening, but he always made a point to acknowledge it, but then come right back to the main issues that were at hand for him.
Myra Flynn: So, like, when Cardi B was endorsing him and hanging out with him, did he understand he’d made it in the hip-hop world?
Luis Calderin: I had the opportunity to meet with him and say, “Hey, there's all these rappers that are big, you know, talking about you. There's this one guy, his name is Killer Mike, and he's a big fan.” And he's like, “So, this Killer Mike, is he good? … I don't know if you've noticed this, but I'm an old white guy. I don't know much about Hip-Hop.”
Jane Lindholm: I think what Luis is saying is part of what makes him so meme-able. You know, Bernie is going to be Bernie, he is focused on the things that he cares about. And his sartorial choices are not something he cares about. There was a national article a decade ago about how Bernie Sanders seemed to be “changing his look” because his hair was brushed more often in the Senate. It was like this breathless article about how Bernie's just more cleaned up than usual. But he has never seemed to be somebody who cares about that … and he's not going to change because he got famous.
Other topics mentioned in the episode: farm-to-table movement, marriage equality, Luis Guzmán, A Band Called Death, Eugene Hütz, Morgan Page, Caroline Rose, King Tuff, tUnE-yArDs, Grace Potter, Ray Vega, Big Joe Burrell & The Unknown Blues Band, Robert Frost, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Rudyard Kipling, Shirley Jackson, Chris Bohjalian, Katherine Paterson, Kekla Magoon, Galway Kinnell, Hayden Carruth, Grace Paley, Alison Bechdel, Harry Bliss, Ed Koren, Burton Snowboards, Kelly Clark, skiing, foliage, covered bridges and Howard Dean.
Thanks to Sara Morin for the great question.
Myra Flynn reported and produced this episode, and did the mix and sound design. Editing and additional production from the rest of the team: Angela Evancie, Josh Crane and Mae Nagusky.
Ty Gibbons composed our theme music; other music by Blue Dot Sessions, Noah Kahan, Ari Joshua, Russ Lawton and Ray Paczkowski.
Special thanks to James Stewart, Mikaela Lefrak, Peter Engisch, Mary Engisch, Mike McCallum, Clay Thomas, Alice Thomas, Oscar Deal and Skylar Clauder.
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It was also inaccurately stated that the author Alexander Solzhenitsyn created his work "just over the border" when in fact, he settled in Cavendish, Vermont, to do much of his writing.