The following is a blog on jam band music by Spartan Editor Brendan Crowley, written for a Feature Writing course.
We all have our own tastes in music. As an avid classic rock fan my entire life, I found it pretty difficult to find people in my generation who shared the same affinity for half-century-old music.
Then, on a whim to write a story for The Spartan about Twiddle returning to Rutland for a homecoming show at the Paramount Theatre, I jumped into the jam band scene.
I’d listened to some Grateful Dead before, but only studio albums. I’d heard of Twiddle, but only because my cousin is an old friend of lead guitarist and vocalist Mihali Savoulidis, so I knew the name from when they were a small jam band playing bar gigs in Vermont.
I was a little skeptical about going to see Twiddle because at the time, I wasn’t so sure I could handle the 15-20 minute non-stop jams without getting bored. But either way, whether I liked it or not, I knew it would be cool to see a band that was literally born at the Fine Arts Center at Castleton University.
So, whether you like the band or not, I’m sure Castleton students would love to hear the story of how it all began. I wrote about this a bit in my preview story for the Rutland show, but here’s the more uncut version.
Mihali met Ryan Dempsey at orientation weekend in the summer of 2004. Their first-year seminar class was Acting I with Harry McEnerny. Mihali was a theater major and Dempsey was a communication major.
Before Mihali even met him, he had heard that Dempsey was a bit of a “crazy kid” who would lick the front step of his high school. After meeting him, he thought of him as a smart-ass. Mihali said that when he first mentioned that he played guitar, Dempsey turned around with a snarky attitude and said, “Oh really dude? Like, you know chords? Like, do you know what a 7th chord is?”
In the same interaction, the two briefly discussed Phish, and eventually the topic turned to marijuana. Dempsey asked Mihali about smoking weed, to which he responded that he smoked that morning in the shower.
Dempsey followed in his footsteps that night, sparking up in the dorm showers. Apparently, he got in trouble for it, so the next day he approached Mihali again and said, “Dude, you said you smoked in the shower?”
“Yeah, in my hotel room,” Mihali responded. He was staying in the Best Western in Rutland rather than in the dorms.
Dempsey said, “They yelled at me!” And that is how the two met.
It also was not an understatement that Dempsey was a bit of a crazy kid. One day he went up to Mihali and asked if he wanted to see his pet duck.
Mihali thought he was joking. But Dempsey was far from joking.
The man had a pet duck named Gatsby, and as a freshman in college he approached President Dave Wolk and asked if he could put Gatsby in the pond behind Castleton Hall. Wolk’s response was, “Oh yeah! I love animals! That’s a great idea!”
Dempsey later would receive calls from the athletic department while he was in class, telling him that Gatsby was hissing at the football or rugby team, distracting their practices or games.
Twiddle’s song “Gatsby the Great” is about his pet duck dwelling in the pond at Castleton.
Mihali and Dempsey began working on music in the dorms, but the band really came together when the spring musical came around. McEnerny was directing Castleton’s take on Hairspray, and he recruited Mihali to play guitar and Dempsey to play keyboard in the musical. Mihali told me in a phone call interview that McEnerny is the man responsible for Twiddle.
There was no bassist at Castleton, so he brought in Rutland High School’s best bassist, Billy Comstock.
Mihali asked Comstock if he knew any drummers, and he suggested bringing in Brook Jordan, who was also at Rutland High School at the time.
The four of them began jamming together at a house on Main Street owned by a friend, Tom Denison. The house became known as “The Bungalow,” and Twiddle ultimately became the house band for the parties.
In the third verse of Twiddle’s song “Dr. Remidi’s Melodium,” which can only be heard at live shows as it has yet to be recorded in the studio, Mihali sings, “I start my evenings right with music and ale and plenty to smoke, ripping on the grav, hitting up the six with my boys at the danky dank bungalow.”
They also have a song called “Tom’s Song,” which is a rare catch at a live show.
Eventually, the guys moved into their own house in Hubbardton, which was known as “Eagle Rock.” This is where many of their original songs were written.
Comstock had also left the band to focus on his music education, and he suggested two replacements, one of which was named Zdenek Gubb. Gubb said the first time he went to Eagle Rock for his audition, he smoked a bowl with Mihali and the rest was history.
Even if you’re not a fan of their music, it’s still pretty cool to think about how a band that sold out the all-famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre was born right at Castleton University. Twiddle has taken off over the past few years, and some jam band fans have started to put them closer in the realm of Phish.
I’m sure many students have partied in the Bungalow, maybe without even knowing it. Who knows, maybe you even lived in the dorm that Ryan Dempsey once smoked pot in during orientation weekend.