Rockers get a community stage

Before there was ever internet radio that made all the decisions for you, most music enthusiasts looked to their local record store for the latest trends or similar styles. Rick Skiba, co-owner of Rick and Kat’s Howlin’ Mouse record store, keeps up that old tradition as he does some crate digging for a customer in search of international music. Jan. 31, 2018. In addition to holding the records, Skiba has designed the bins to move easily out of the way when he hosts a music show. (Robert Layman / Staff Photo)

By Patrick McArdle
Staff Writer

The owners of a Route 7 music store have established their business as a performance venue where audiences of all ages can hear live music.

Rick and Kat’s Howlin’ Mouse, owned by Rick Skiba and his fiancée, Kathy Thornton, has shows scheduled through May, including one with multiple bands.

The owners said they’re also developing an open mic night that would be open to musicians, poets, comedians and other performers.

“We’re giving some people a place to play,” Thornton said.

During the week, visitors would see racks of CDs and vinyl records, but those merchandise bins can be rolled out of the way to create an intimate space for an audience.

The first live show at the music store was held on Black Friday in November 2016, with local punk bands Humdinger and Get a Grip.

“It was just like an event we were doing for Black Friday, for Record Store Day, and we wanted to have some live music. We didn’t have much (time) in advance to schedule anything, and those guys just happened to step forward to do it. But it’s always been something of what my dream has been, is to have a live venue,” Skiba said.

Having hosted a number of concerts, Skiba said it would be difficult to easily describe the Rutland music scene.

“What is great is, it’s all over the board in Rutland. We have that metalhead, we have the punk, we have old classic blues. It’s all over, and that’s what we’re here for, is to be all over, not be designated or get that stamp or something,” he said.

Thornton has not performed as a musician and Skiba said his only performing background was as a teenager in garage bands.

“I just always loved live music. That’s always been in my brain and it’s a great thing, because I think Rutland really needed an all-ages live venue that the kids could come and play who aren’t old enough to play in bars yet,” Skiba said.

Thornton pointed out that because the space is alcohol-free, it can also serve as the first place for young people in the Rutland area to experience live popular music as part of an audience.

Skiba said the Howlin’ Mouse doesn’t restrict its musicians to certain genres of music. However, he said, that inclusiveness seems to be paying off, as quite a few musicians have asked about coming back for a second show.

Skiba said his goal, which he hopes to meet by the end of the year, is to have a live show every weekend.

Live music at the store isn’t just about concerts. Thornton said some area bands come to the Howlin’ Mouse to rehearse, creating a sort of gathering place for a local music scene.

Skiba said hosting live music has created a lot of “oh, wow” moments in the last year.

“There are some great musicians in Vermont, very versatile musicians,” Skiba said. “(They) play a lot of different instruments, a lot of different backgrounds. It’s rich in music. I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Thornton and Skiba said they get special gratification when they are able to provide a stage for young musicians who are performing for an audience for the first time. Thornton said, down the road, she would like to be in a location where they could have their own building and more parking.

For now, the store is hosting a big upcoming heavy metal show, and the owners are hoping to schedule open mic nights.

The Howlin’ Mouse does not charge for admission, but does ask for donations for the bands. Information about coming shows can be found at www.facebook.com/RKHowlinMouse.