Local Rhythms – Youth Cafe Helps WRJ Teens

As the country tacks toward November 4, certain politicians are pushing the idea of a small town “real America”.

There, they say, work is done, values upheld, and patriotism percolates like coffee – in a real pot, not one of those funny cappuccino machines.

But no one is talking about how crushingly dull life can be for the kids who live in these little villages, let alone doing anything about it.

For some of them, high school can be an especially cruel time.

That’s what makes the story of Youth Managed Café, a project spearheaded by adults and run by teenagers in White River Junction, so inspiring.

“The teen population, particularly in rural areas, is one that’s sort of undervalued,” says Kim Souza.  She runs Revolution, a clothing store, espresso bar and semi-official headquarters of the project, known to its members simply as “Youth Café.”

“Engaging activities are few and far between, especially for those who are into music and arts and not academics, sports and theatre,” says Souza.

“They just end up being fringe kids, they get swept aside and no one tries to make them a vital part of the community.  I know I felt that growing up.”

Since its inception in 2003, Youth Café has been a “moving party,” holding events wherever they’re welcome – AVA Gallery, Upper Valley Events Center and, this weekend, at Whaleback Ski Area.

Friday, they’ll host a fundraiser costume ball featuring the Jonee Earthquake Band, a punk outfit that’s a long time supporter of the effort.

“They even drove from Manchester in a blizzard once to play for us,” says Rachel Williams, who joined Youth Café in 2004, when she was a sophomore at Hartford High School.

These days, Rachel serves as an adult leader of the group, which fits nicely with her goal of becoming a health teacher.

The local music scene is very intertwined with Youth Café, says Williams.  Bands have formed around friendships struck at their events, like Bleach and Kamikaze Hippies, two groups that joined Upper Valley and Claremont musicians together.

“We’re ready to take it to next level,” says Williams.  To that end, paperwork establishing Youth Managed Café as a 503c nonprofit is in motion.  They hope to find a permanent home in downtown White River Junction.

Friday’s show also features homegrown talents Strike Force, Lilum, Short Term Memory and Grand Marshall – plus a possible mystery guest.

“We make our own fun,” Rachel says.  That’s an admirable goal.

What else is happening?

Thursday: Billy Bragg, Lebanon Opera House – I usually think of Billy Bragg as a topical singer, famously known as a “one man Clash.”  But I was surprised recently to hear his tender version of the Four Tops’ “Walk Away Renee” – a monologue about a failed romance with a girl who shared the song’s name.  It’s a beautiful piece of work, and totally absent of any of the original song’s lyrics.  The Watson Sisters, who added luster to Jenny Lewis’s “Rabbit Fur Coat,” open the show.

Friday: Rap the Vote, Electra – Local hip-hop factory Bread Truck/Open Case tops the bill at this show, which includes voter registration and several other performers.  Until rapper Arthur Rafus set me straight, I wasn’t aware that there are a lot of fans and practitioners of the genre in the Upper Valley.  I’ve heard some of BT/OC’s rhymes; they remind me of Public Enemy – but I’m no authority, there are probably better comparisons.

Saturday: Paingivers Ball, Claremont Moose – A benefit (second annual) for local food pantries, so if you bring a non-perishable item, tickets cost just $7.  The show features hard edged bands like R.A.K., Fall Line and Soul Octane Burner, as well as Roadhouse, a rocking combo that impressed me last week at Imperial (and who share a lead guitarist with S.O.B.).  This is a costume ball, featuring door prizes and raffles, put on by Rick’s Tattoo of Newport.  Good cause, good times!

Sunday: Richard Thompson, Latchis Theatre – Folk music’s gold standard returns to Vermont.  He’s written so many great songs over the years, going back to Fairport Convention.  Many of them have been covered by the likes of Elvis Costello, Graham Nash, X and Bonnie Raitt, whose “Dimming of the Day” is a favorite.  It’s a tossup, though, as to whether Thompson’s more renowned for his songwriting or guitar playing skills.

Tuesday: Spaghetti Western Orchestra, Spaulding Auditorium – A bit of whimsy at the HOP, which has a pretty good lineup this year.  SWO has fun with movie music, specifically the early 60’s films that launched Clint Eastwood’s career (before he became an auteur).  Their version of “Good, Bad and the Ugly” is priceless.

Wednesday: Los Straightjackets, Iron Horse – The hit of last summer’s Green River Festival, three guitarists performing in Mexican wrestling masks, playing surf guitar music a la the Ventures.  Cowabunga!