David Mallett and Friends Celebrate the First Amendment at the Unitarian Church

by Mike Dunphy

There was much to celebrate Saturday, December 9, at the Unitarian Church in Montpelier. After an absence of 22 years from its stage, Maine-based folk legend David Mallett took the stage for a night of music, with support of bass player Mike Burd and opening act, “Banjo” Dan and Will Lindner. 

For more than two hours, the musicians dedicated their music to the celebration of the First Amendment and freedom of the press, as well as Vermont traditions of tolerance, generosity, and neighborly solidarity. All proceeds from the $20 tickets went to support The Bridge newspaper in Montpelier, now in its 24th year.   

Organizer David Kelley cites his admiration of The Bridge and its publisher, Nat Frothingham, as motivation and inspiration for the show. “I think The Bridge is valuable to the community.  I like Nat and admire the way he has tenaciously kept it going.” As Mallett and Burd pass through Montpelier every Christmas on their way to a gig in Massachusetts, Kelley tries to find a worthwhile non-profit to help. “This has become a kind of tradition,” Kelley explains. “I am old friends with Dave Mallett, so it only took one phone call.”

It was a night to remember for all those involved, including the crowd of around 250, which packed the pews—including almost 30 who arrived with no tickets but plenty of hope (which was requited)—and positively beamed, cheered, and applauded with gusto throughout the two-hour show. Being at the start of the holiday season, this translated to plenty of Christmas cheer, which Mallett channeled with versions of “Silver Bells,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and a ripping version of “Jingle Bells” with Banjo Dan and Will Lindner adding significant dashes of virtuosity.

Mallett, ably accompanied by bassist Mike Burd, also performed a number of his classics during his two 45-minute sets, including the now folk standard, “Garden Song” (famously covered on “The Muppet Show” by John Denver), as well as classic Mallett tunes such as “The Haying Song,”  “I Knew This Place,” “Beautiful Rose,” “Land of Dogs and Horses,” and “The Artist in Me.” He also performed the titular track “Better Than That” from his latest album, “Celebration.”

If the standing ovations didn’t make the success of the show clear, the fundraising totals did, bringing in around $4,000 to The Bridge. For Kelley, the best part of the evening was the music. “Banjo Dan and Will Lindner are brilliant.  Dave is one of the finest lyricists in America.  He’s got a great voice, and Mike Burd is multi-talented.  I wish folks could have heard him play ukulele.”

The Bridge has many people to thank for this wonderful event, starting with David Kelley. In addition, we extend our sincere gratitude to Bennett Shapiro of MadTech Sound, who made it sound great; Vermont College of Fine Arts and Tim Simard; WNCS; WDEV; WGDR; Capitol Copy; Minuteman Press; Capitol Stationers; Cool Jewels; Phil and Fran Dodd; Kelly Robinson; Margaret Blanchard; Art and Sue Stukey; Nat Frothingham; and of course the musicians: Banjo Dan Lindner and Will Lindner, Mike Burd, and David Mallett.

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