from THE RAVINE RESTAURANT - 1/31/09

    The current economic issues affect all of us in different ways. For us at The Ravine, this year is pivotal if we are to see success somewhere in the future. We have and are putting our heart and soul into making our first business venture succeed. It is warming and humbling when we hear wonderful words from our friends and guests about the service and standards that we offer. We are truly blessed to be able to call you friends. 
    This weekend was very strange for many different reasons.....
    A couple of weeks ago a lady was celebrating her birthday at The Ravine, she and her guests had a wonderful time, and just as she was leaving, she mentioned that her daughter was a jazz singer. Never one to miss an opportunity, I asked if she had a CD, to which the reply was, 'Yes, I'll get a copy from the car!' After they left, Gita and I listened to most wonderful Jazz voice. We were sold! The next day I contacted the singer who now lives in Folsom to see if she was interested in playing at the restaurant. So that is now history, as last Saturday night, Shauna Antoniuc Anderson, made her first appearance at The Ravine. The first indication that it was going to be a special night was when her band turned up. There were 4 of them! Now never mind that the combined age of the four of them was somewhere equal to the current Dow Jones average. With age comes experience, and that is exactly what we got. If you were lucky enough to be at the restaurant on Saturday night, I hope you agree that the music was amazing; Soft, sweet, dramatic, enchanting, I could go on, but I am sure you get the picture. The most beautiful part was it was not too loud, and not too quiet, just perfect to relax, eat, drink and make friends. Exactly how a good night should be. 
    The night was so good, even Gita and I sat down later in the evening to have dinner and soak up the atmosphere. Then the comments started, people started talking and saying wonderful things about the food, the wine, the music. Some were comparing the experience to that of a fine establishment in San Francisco, WOW. 
    Many ask why we work 16 hours a day 7 days a week. If you were at the restaurant on Saturday night, you would have found our answer!
    So, to Shauna and her band, Gita and I are truly grateful for the incredible evening they gave us and our friends. To those that weren't there, 'you missed a dandy'! The good news is that Shauna and band have agreed to a regular spot at The Ravine. They will be filling the air with love and inspiration on the 4th Saturday of every month, so the next time to catch them is Saturday February 28th between 7.00pm - 10.00pm. I have a feeling that we will be a little busy that night, so if you want to be with us, please book your dinner reservation soon. You will not be disappointed.


    Burlington-born band Belizbeha reunites for jazz festival

    By Brent Hallenbeck, Free Press Staff Writer

    The short, Twitter-ized history of Belizbeha goes something like this: Multi-cultural, Burlington-born band rises to near-fame, plays Olympics, tours endlessly, splits before hitting it big.

    The longer tale tells of an electrically charged band with a defiantly unclassifiable sound that, because of the size of the group and the divergent goals of its seven members, was almost fated to break up too soon. The happy epilogue, though, is that the group reunites every now and then. The biggest reunion happens June 6, when Belizbeha has its long-awaited, 15-years-in-the-making debut on the stage of the Flynn Center as part of the 26th-annual Burlington Discover Jazz Festival.

    “It was this whole melding of different styles and cultures,” said Kyle “Fattie B.” Thompson, one of two members of Belizbeha who remains in Burlington. A prominent Burlington DJ who grew up in Bristol and long dreamed of headlining at the Flynn, Thompson was thrilled when the jazz-fest reunion came together.

    “I was like, ‘Man, this is great,’” he said in a recent interview at Steez, the hip-hop clothing store he runs on Church Street. “I just want to take the time to enjoy every second of it.”


    ‘Pretty crazy’

    Belizbeha (named for the way a family friend of bass player Shawn Williams pronounced the name Elizabeth) formed in 1993. Williams and drummer Mark Robohm were in a band that broke up, but they wanted to keep playing music. They met Thompson at a party and signed him on as a vocalist; he would become the only Champlain College student with a group of University of Vermont undergrads that would include vocalists Shauna Antoniuc and Kadiatou Sibi, guitarist Bob Dunham and keyboard player Jeremy Skaller.

    The band’s sound would reflect the members’ diverse backgrounds. Thompson grew up in rural Vermont listening to rappers such as Run-DMC and A Tribe Called Quest. Skaller lived for a time in Germany, Robohm was born in the Netherlands, Sibi came from Gambia. The music incorporated African beats, jazz, hip hop, R&B and specific influences ranging from reggae-rockers The Police to inventive jazz bass player Jaco Pastorius. Belizbeha also conveyed an earthy feel that appealed to roots-rock fans who in the mid-‘90s were getting into the sounds of Rusted Root, the Dave Matthews Band and Phish, a fellow Burlington band that was just hitting it big.

    “We have a myriad of different cultures, of religions and races — people from entirely different backgrounds that Burlington doesn’t always see,” Skaller told The Burlington Free Press in 1996.

    A few gigs in Boston and New York City led to good press and a slot at the prestigious CMJ Music Conference in New York. That spurred a West Coast tour and several gigs in Atlanta during the 1996 Summer Olympics.

    “Doing the Olympics, I was like, ‘This is pretty crazy,’” Thompson said.


    ‘Point of the arrow’

    The craziness continued. The band’s independently released CD “Charlie’s Dream” sold 35,000 copies, a huge number for a group not signed to a major label. Thompson recalls another pinch-me moment, opening for Kool and the Gang at House of Blues in Los Angeles and drinking martinis back stage with an odd assembly of celebrities including Ed McMahon, Pee-wee Herman and Michael Keaton.

    Belizbeha hired a publicist who also worked with Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston and drew the interest of a manager who would help steer the career of Britney Spears. The band played with A Tribe Called Quest and Medeski Martin and Wood before 10,000 fans in Washington, D.C., and 30,000 listeners at a free outdoor concert during the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

    Belizbeha was getting big — almost too big. By the time the band started working on its second album, personality stresses and creative differences regarding how commercial the band’s sound should be were beginning to show, according to Thompson.

    “Before that it was the point of the arrow, always going in the same direction,” he said. “It was slowly beginning to unravel.”

    That unraveling had to do with the band playing as many as 250 shows a year and touring in a small van for up to eight hours a day. Romantic couples also developed within the band. Thompson said those not involved in the romances — himself, Skaller and Robohm — told the others, “We don’t care if you date, we care if you break up.”

    The dating inevitably led to breaking up. Belizbeha followed suit, calling it quits in 2000.

    Immediately after the band’s demise, Thompson returned to Burlington and slept for the better part of three weeks, working those years of traveling, performing, eating at mini-marts, drinking and partying out of his system. The end was sad, he said, “but at the same time, you could exhale.”


    One more time

    All but Thompson and Williams left Burlington. Belizbeha has re-formed for the occasional performance in the past nine years, but work and families keep the band from getting together more than every other year or so.

    Saturday’s reunion began with vocalist Shauna Antoniuc, now Shauna Anderson, who lives in California with her husband and four children. She realized the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival and UVM reunion weekend coincided, so she e-mailed her former band members to ask if they’d like to play a gig. She also asked UVM alumni and the jazz festival’s managing director, Brian Mital, if they were interested in a Belizbeha reunion, and heard positive responses from all camps.

    “Everyone is always game to play, so it just took off from there,” Anderson wrote in an e-mail. “I was hoping for maybe something small, then Kyle took the reins, and here we are playing the gosh darn Flynn! Awesome!”

    Belizbeha will take the Flynn Center stage for the first and likely last time, considering how the band members’ lives have branched out in so many different directions. They’re vowing to enjoy this one shot to recapture the Belizbeha magic.

    “I feel very fortunate to be given this opportunity to get back together with everyone to hang out and play music once again,” Dunham wrote in an e-mail.

    Thompson, who appeared on the Flynn stage last year when his group Fattie B.’s Beat Biters opened for Ledisi during the jazz festival, is thrilled that Belizbeha will finally be headlining at the Flynn.

    “I’m going to soak up every moment of that and have fun with it,” he said. “This is the last time I’m going to be able to do it.”

    Additional Facts

    If you go

    • WHAT: Belizbeha featuring The Giant Country Horns (Joey Sommerville and Jennifer Hartswick, trumpet, and Dave Grippo, alto saxophone), with Strength In Numbers 
    • WHEN: 8 p.m. June 6 
    • WHERE: Flynn Center, Burlington 
    • TICKETS: $15-$25 
    • INFORMATION: 863-7992, www.discoverjazz.com; University of Vermont alumni can call 656-8600 or visit www.alumni.uvm.edu/reunion/1999/default.asp to register for the UVM VIP Belizbeha show (300 top seats at the Flynn) and after-party at Club Metronome 

    Where are they now?

    The members of Belizbeha have spread far and wide since the band’s demise in 2000. This is what they’ve been up to (vocalist Kadiatou Sibi did not respond to several e-mail requests): 

    • Shauna (Antoniuc) Anderson (vocals) — Married in 2003 and moved to California, where she lives across the street from the famous Folsom State Prison; has four daughters and works as vice president for a charter school working with home-school families; sings in jazz, country and rock cover bands, including the Shauna Antoniuc Trio. 
    • Bob Dunham (guitar) — Returned to his hometown of Portland, Ore., and performs with singer/pianist Scott Fisher; also recorded an album with singer/pianist Debra Arlyn and is in a band called Rob Stroup and the Blame; traveled to Suriname in 2002 and 2004 for an archaeological project. 
    • Mark Robohm (drums) — Moved to New York City; he works as a touring/studio drummer who has played with reggae, folk and rock groups, and most recently played with Alicia Keys; has a 1-and-a-half-old baby. 
    • Jeremy Skaller (keyboards) — Lives in New York City, where he is a record producer/songwriter; has worked with musicians including Britney Spears, Fabolous, Lil Wayne and Jay Sean; his 9-year-old son, Cypher, lives in Newport. 
    • Kyle “Fattie B.” Thompson (vocals) — Became one of Burlington’s most prominent DJs, overseeing Club Metronome’s popular “Retronome” ‘80s dance night every Saturday; opened the 25th-annual Burlington Discover Jazz Festival last year with his group, Fattie B.’s Beat Biters; runs Steez, a hip-hop clothing store on Church Street. 
    • Shawn Williams (bass) — “I’ve just been enjoying Vermont, getting outdoors,” he said in a phone conversation in May; he had been DJing for awhile and still checks out DJ shows in Montreal and New York City; worked for five years at Fletcher Allen Health Care.

     Copyright Shauna Antoniuc 2011

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