Photo by Todd R. Lockwood
You would know him at a distance of two hundred feet: wearing a vest, or top hat, or both. He’s flashing a grin somewhere between Jerry Garcia and a leprechaun. And in his hands there is a musical instrument.
It might be a fife, or a penny whistle, or some other woodwind. It might be a traditional minstrel’s drum. It could be a guitar, or mandolin, or bouzouki. It might be a set of percussion spoons. Most of all, it could be an accordion, either the big chording kind or the small lap-sized button instrument. On the odd day, if you catch him at the right time, you might even hear him on the hurdy gurdy.
And where is this man playing? Everywhere. Since his arrival in Burlington in 1975, he has performed in countless venues, bringing traditional acoustic music to audiences young and old – in churches and pubs, weddings and memorials, schools and First Nights, coffeehouses and clubs far and wide. As Vermont’s acoustic music scene has evolved over the years – The Black Rose and the Burlington Coffeehouse come and gone, and may Rachel Bissex rest in peace – this man has been a constant, a reliable fan and dependable supporter of folk traditions.
His repertoire is encyclopedic, across decades, cultures, nations and languages – provided the song is in some older musical tradition. But the performance is not about him. He might do a show of music entirely by local songwriters.
He also introduces tens of thousands of people to the music of those Vermonters on his radio show “All the Traditions,” a staple of Vermont Public Radio that airs on Sundays from 7 to 10. He has hosted that show since 1996, or roughly 1200 evenings – an unequaled legacy. His shows are as instructive as they are entertaining, as he introduces listeners to new artists (always favoring the local), new recordings, and new venues for hearing live music.
In fact he is such a staple of the community, he authored a book about it: Legendary Locals of Burlington, VT, a primer for anyone wanting to understand the characters who shaped Vermont’s Queen City. He also has written reviews of musicians and recordings, frequently with a slant that is more supportive than critical – not because he lacks high standards, but because he encourages other musicians to attain them.
Unlike most experts with decades of experience, his tone in print, on the air, and onstage is dependably modest, and laced with humor and wit. When he plays, it looks effortless … unless you notice the furrow in his brow, which reveals that he is concentrating hard, that he is striving to make just the right sound. A graduate of the University of Vermont, with a masters in library science from Syracuse University, he retired from the Fletcher Free Library in 2018 after 28 years there – another way in which he is a local legend. Mushroom hunters also know him to be a formidable forager.
The Herb Lockwood Prize was created to recognize art performed at a high level, by a person who also assisted other artists, or helped to build new audiences, or in some way enriched the community above and beyond their own craft, and did so with humility and humor.
For his high-quality traditional musicianship, for his encouragement and support of countless Vermont musicians, for his introduction of new music to Vermonters far and wide, and above all for the twinkle of mischief always in his eye, please congratulate this year’s winner of the Herb Lockwood Prize, a Vermont treasure, the one and only Robert Resnik.