Bennington Band Honors Late Poet
by A. N. Devers
A group of writing instructors and students who over the years formed a ragtag band during late-night impromptu jam sessions at the Bennington Writing Seminars, in southwest Vermont, released their first CD earlier this year. Titled Let's Doghouse: A Tribute to Liam Rector, the compilation serves as a memorial to the founding director of the Writing Seminars, a poet, who passed away two years ago.
The musical meetings that led to the formation of the Dog House Band began about five years ago at the Doghouse, the only residence on the Bennington College campus where instructors are allowed to stay with their pets. Novelist and journalist David Gates, a regular Doghouse resident, brought along his guitar five years ago, and over time other musically inclined students and teachers found their way to the house. It was only after Rector committed suicide in August 2007 that the musicians began to think about recording an album to honor his memory and his love of music.
"Liam was always musically besotted, with a great range spanning rock, folk, blues, even show tunes," says critic and guitarist Sven Birkerts, the current director of the Writing Seminars. Rector, who stayed at the Doghouse with his wife, Tree Swenson, was known for making CD compilations of his musical obsessions, which he then handed out like books to friends, teachers, and students. He called the mixes sentimentia. "Liam liked to say that music was so essential to poetry," recalls Writing Seminars graduate and poet David Scronce, "that the time a poet spent listening to music counted as study hours."
Joining Gates and Birkerts in the band are program alums Rebecca Chace, a novelist; Ben Hartlage, a poet; Erica Plouffe Lazure, the fiction writer who spearheaded the project; and Lee Johnson, an audio-visual tech at Bennington currently pursuing his MFA in fiction at the University of Virginia. Composed of blues, country, and bluegrass songs, Let's Doghouse was released at the January 2009 residency and received widespread support from the Bennington community and eventually a positive review in the Boston Globe. "Country songs dominate the CD only because they're what the band seems best at together," explains Gates.
All profits from the CD, which can be ordered online at thedoghouseband.blogspot.com, are donated to the Liam Rector Scholarship Fund. "One thing that Liam had always wanted for the Writing Seminars was to offer more students financial assistance through scholarships," says Lazure. "Those who buy a CD will not only get a taste of the music that Liam loved, but they will also help to contribute to that fund."
Although members of the Dog House Band are scattered across the country, they will reunite this summer for the fifteenth anniversary of the Seminars. "Any of us would drive eighteen hours to play a half-hour set," Gates says of the band's commitment. "Offer us a gig, and we'll get there."