Lone Star Lights
After an excellent decade in Burlington, The Cush head home
Bands come and go like the seasons in Burlington. Except for The Cush. For the last few years they have come and gone with the seasons, wintering in their native Texas and returning to Vermont when the mercury rises. Their annual arrival has been as anticipated a sign of spring in the Queen City as chirping birds, buds on trees or the Beansie’s bus in Battery Park. But this year, the psychedelic snowbirds won’t be flying north — at least not for long. After a decade during which they established themselves as a cornerstone of the Burlington music scene, Gabrielle and Burette Douglas, the husband-and-wife duo at the core of The Cush, are moving back to Texas permanently. They will play a pair of farewell shows at The Monkey House in Winooski this weekend before leaving town later this month.
“We’ve been on the fence about it for years,” says Burette Douglas of the decision to head home. “And every time we visit [Texas], it gets a little harder to come back. But this was truly one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever made.”
During their tenure in Burlington, The Cush built a reputation as a singularly gifted band; all of their three full-length albums — The Cush (2001), New Appreciation for Sunshine (2006), and their latest, Between the Leaves (2010) — stand as classics of the era. They are also one of the area’s most visible acts, having played innumerable shows locally. The Cush toured nationally and internationally as well, to modest acclaim. However, their decision to return to the Lone Star State has nothing to do with music.
“It’s about family,” says Gabrielle. She notes that her parents are getting older and that, “it became obvious this trip that they could use our help.”
It’s hard to argue with that. Still, the band’s departure will leave a noticeable void in these parts, and mark the close of a particularly vibrant chapter of local music. The Cush are one of a handful of Burlington rock bands that formed in the early part of the last decade and are still standing. And they’ve left a mark on the city’s music scene in a way few others have.
“I just really like their sound,” says Creston Lea, a local musician, guitar builder and author who met The Cush at their first Burlington show 10 years ago. “Their voices are so similar that when they sing together, it’s like singing with one big voice. It’s touching to see a couple that works so well together that way.”
In addition to their sonic elements, Lea, who also plays with Burette Douglas in an alt-country side project called The Lonestar Chain, says he appreciates the couple’s approach to music as a lifestyle, not just a career choice.
“They don’t seem ambitious in the kind of greasy way; they just seem like they’re in it for life in a really genuine way,” says Lea. “Music comes first for them in a way that it doesn’t for a lot of my musician friends.” And as a member of at least four other local bands, he has quite a few musician friends.
Burlington-based songwriter and producer Ryan Power also met The Cush at that same show. He recalls being intrigued by the buzz around the group, thanks to some favorable local press preceding their gig. “All the musicians in town were excited to see what this real band’from Texas was all about,” he says.
As it turns out, they were largely about swirling, narcotic psychedelia, or what Gabrielle Douglas refers to as “ear candy.”
“Those first shows, people were just in awe seeing the Moog and all the tape delays,” says Power. “People would just flip about that stuff. It was cool. They were, first ones to bring that shit out.”
Power, well known locally for his own tendency toward provocative sounds, became fast friends with the Douglases. For a time he played keyboards with the group, whose lineup always seemed to be in flux. Not that rotating band membership is unusual in Burlington, nor did it have an adverse affect on The Cush’s music — quite the opposite.
“When they first arrived, they were an inspiration to me,” Power says. “And they continue to be.”
Herb van der Poll shares that sentiment. He was the bassist for Burlington rockers The Jazz Guys, scene contemporaries who called it quits last December after nearly a decade-long run of their own. The Cush were the first local band he saw when he moved to Burlington 10 years ago.
“To me they were an assurance that this town would have more to offer than jam and faux reggae,” van der Poll says. “I will continue to follow their music wherever they roam.”
He is likely not alone. The Cush significantly contributed to Burlington’s sonic landscape. They might be from Texas, but locals might always consider them a Vermont band. As Burette Douglas puts it, “We really have two homes, Texas and Vermont.”
And though The Cush have decided to hang their hats in the Southwest, Northeasterners will no doubt keep tabs on them — so long as they make music together, that is.
“We’ll keep going as long as she’ll play in a band with me,” assures Burette Douglas, nodding coyly toward his wife.
“Or as long as he’ll play with me,” she responds with a smile.