Commentary

E.K. Narey: Neko Case is an ‘around the way girl’

E.K. Narey is a writer and resident of the Northeast Kingdom. She teaches at Lyndon State College and Marlboro College Graduate School, and always leaves room in her garden for Neko’s tomato transplants.

Neko Case is a good neighbor.

Granted, she’s better known for her other, higher profile attributes: her critically acclaimed music career has earned her three Grammy nominations, breathless accolades from magazines such as Bust and Rolling Stone, and appearances on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” “Austin City Limits,” and NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” A longtime collaborator with Canadian indie band The New Pornographers, Neko’s also contributed songs to HBO’s “True Blood” and “The Hunger Games.” Pitchfork Media writer Lindsay Zoladz, reviewing Neko’s most recent album, “The Worst Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You,” called Neko’s voice “a meteorological event … imposing, opalescent, and surprising in its sheer force.”

Neko Case’s July 2 concert at the Flynn will benefit the arts education programs at Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury and Burlington’s Flynn Center, fostering a creative alliance between two vital Vermont arts organizations.

 

Still. Aside from all that … she happens to be a really good neighbor. She’ll loan you her pickup if you’re moving, fix you some homemade borscht if you’re hungry, give you half a dozen tomato seedlings if you lost your plants to a late frost. She grows produce for the neighborhood café (Dylan’s, on Eastern Avenue in St. Johnsbury), frequents the farmers market, and has opened her home to strays of all kind: rescued greyhounds, a retired theater horse, abandoned pianos. In short, whatever Neko Case has: time, shelter, Season 3 of “Deadwood” on DVD, she’s willing to give (well, willing to loan, at least, in the case of the “Deadwood” discs). And if her music career provides her with some unusual resources (a large social media following, say, or a 1967 Mercury Cougar) she finds ways to channel those resources toward the greater good. (That Mercury Cougar, for example? She raffled it off to benefit a nonprofit writing group for kids.)

It’s no surprise, then, that since Neko wandered several years ago into Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury, she kind of never left. To hear her tell it, she came in to rent a movie, and grew quickly enamored with the community atmosphere, the friendly staff, and the chatty regulars stopping in to grab a cup of coffee and check the marquee for upcoming events. It wasn’t long before Neko herself became a fixture in the Catamount community: she bought the Old Post Office building next door (Catamount’s former home) where she keeps an office and studio in the back while a restaurant and satellite art gallery operate in front. She donates frequently and generously to Catamount’s primary fundraiser, its annual auction; her contributions have included signed tour posters, a 1960 Gibson guitar, and a vintage leather rocking chair. She’s performed not one but two benefit concerts, donating all proceeds to Catamount. (The first benefit introduced fellow Vermonter Anais Mitchell to the Northeast Kingdom. Both women were reunited at UniteWomen’s 2012 women’s rights rally in Montpelier, where Case was a featured speaker and Mitchell performed.)

For her third and upcoming Vermont benefit concert, Neko’s casting a wider net, reaching out to a broader community. Her July 2 concert at the Flynn will benefit the arts education programs at Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury and Burlington’s Flynn Center, fostering a creative alliance between two vital Vermont arts organizations. See, here’s the thing: every public arts center aims to enrich its community by creating a vibrant arts culture, but resources are scarce. At a time when economic uncertainty and diminishing federal support have left many community arts centers with barely enough resources to keep their own doors open, the Flynn has taken stock of its available resources — a broader audience base, more seating, a well-traveled, accessible location — and offered them to their Northeast Kingdom neighbors at Catamount.

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Leave it to Vermont to demonstrate that the best way to stretch resources is to share them. And ultimately, people, not finances, are any community’s most important resource. Neko Case, in addition to being whip-smart, brazen, brilliant, and raw, is a tireless and generous resource. In these parts, neighbors often are.


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