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A BIG, HEAVY WORLD | Jim Lockridge on Nonprofits, Vermont, & Building Community Through Music | May 2011

Photography by Bear Cieri

Typically, James “Big Jim” Lockridge has a day lasting from 5:30am to 10:00pm. Each morning he heads to Bristol, VT where, for the last three years, he’s run a teen center, maintaining the facility and programs, including a skate park and community garden. Then, in the afternoons, at least a couple of days a week, he heads downtown Burlington, where he runs Big Heavy World, a nonprofit which has dedicated itself to providing outlets for music.

It does this through pretty much every musical facet, from an independent record label to putting on live shows. There’s also 105.9 WOMM The Radiator, a radio broadcast that travels a five-mile radius from its hub on College St., downtown.

Big Heavy World’s latest project includes purchasing a van that is leant to musicians that couldn’t otherwise tour. “Our dream... I’m going to correct that,” Jim pauses. “My dream, for a long while, has been to have a streamed, Big Heavy Hummer tour bus. It can be a veggie oil Hummer, but it would be that kind of presence.” This is Jim’s whole purpose: to make it very visible that Big Heavy World isn’t your average music machine.

The realistic version of his dream was to contact Good News Garage in Burlington, and when a road-worthy van arrived on their system, Big Heavy bought it. With some partners involved in making repairs, it’s now available for bands to take on the road. In return, they play fundraising shows to keep the van ensured and maintained.

Alex Rosenkrantz | Big Heavy World

There’s also The Jukebox Project, (spearheaded by Alex Rosenkrantz), which is compiling local Vermont music to play on iPhones piped through speakers at every welcome center on Vermont’s highways. “We’ll be using iPod Touches to update our project, so instead of driving around with manually loaded iPods full of Vermont artists to half a dozen welcome centers around the state, the new iPod Touches will be plugged into the wall, connected by wireless, streaming from the office,” Jim explains.

Arguably, Jim is one of the most dedicated people in the Burlington music scene, although he doesn’t own a venue, he doesn’t own a fast-moving record company, nor is he a hard-touring musician. Because Big Heavy World is a nonprofit, most of what Jim owns is ideas, and drive, and willingness to try everything he has to for this higher purpose of serving the community.

At first, he and his partner George Webb decided their website would be a business. “We decided, ‘We’ll sell advertising on the website. That’ll pay all our bills and we’ll have all the fun we want!’” He laughs. “And we tried that, but it didn’t really work. We realized that we’re trying to float all the boats. We’re not excluding anybody. We’re not charging musicians for anything.” Thus, ten years later, after filing all the right paperwork and gaining support from the community, Big Heavy World received their own 501 (C)(3), meaning they became a fully fledged nonprofit. It’s been more than fifteen years since the start of it all, but in many ways, it still sounds like it’s just the beginning.

Jim was born in Hawaii, but his mother was born in Springfield, VT, so he spent his high school years in the Bennington area. He often spent summers in VT, staying with his grandparents’ farm. He attended Lyndon State College, the University of Nevada Reno, and, after two more years at UVM, Jim graduated with a degree in History.

“I hitchhiked out of town,” Jim says, “thinking I’d live in Boulder or L.A.” But even though Jim spent time in some amazingly beautiful and diverse places, from deserts to islands, he felt drawn back to Vermont. In 1996, Jim was a 28-year-old bachelor living with musicians, spending every night downtown at shows.

He recalls, “The internet was starting to come out into the public, the schools, to appear in car commercials.” Jim was a graphic designer, interested in the internet being a new medium for being creative. The singer of the band he lived with had a zine, The Good Citizen, so there was a background of information. George Webb programmed the server while Jim did outreach and production. Jim grins. “We played with design, layout of web pages- which is really funny to say out loud now because we’re talking about 1996.”

Big Heavy World | Tape Archive

From the start, Jim and his gang were putting together multi-act events at places like Club Toast. They were trying to make an event out of it, “As opposed to just another night at the club.” They streamed the concerts online, sometimes with video too. Bands like Strangefolk were now getting the live, online recognition that’s now taken for granted by sites like youtube. “We did audio with a partner named Audionet, which became, which got bought by Yahoo,” Jim says. “This is the beginning of the internet.”

“We thought, how can we sustain this? We’re supporting musicians of every genre and skill level,” Jim thinks back. “So that helped us understand that what we were accomplishing was more along the lines of a nonprofit organization.” They found a fiscal sponsor in The Peace and Justice Center. “They carried us for years! They were always super sweet to us.”

Part of Big Heavy World’s own extended mission statement was to build a radio station to support local music. When the federal government opened a thirty-day window to purchase a frequency, Jim jumped on it. Meanwhile, Lee Anderson, owner of Radio Bean- the local café brimming with live music- also wanted to start a radio station.

“When we held up what we wanted to accomplish next to each other,” Jim said, “there was a beautiful, perfect fit. We wrote the application together, and applied for one of the two signals that was available in Burlington.” It only took four years for an answer, which was a yes; they had 105.9 to broadcast a station. “We jointly built the radio station and it’s been in Big Heavy World’s domain to manage it,” Jim adds.


+1 # Julie Seger 2011-05-04 14:12
Such a great article about an awesome guy and place! Thanks Angelica music!!!


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