Cam Will’s Ode to One of Burlington’s Oldest Cemeteries
“I learned to drive in a cemetery,” Cam Will, Vermont’s finest young singer-songwriter, said as we sat over Miller Lites on a Friday afternoon at the Other Place, a deliberate dive bar almost in downtown Burlington. Cam Will is the nom de guerre of Burlington-based folk musician Cameron Boyd, who recently released the gorgeous new album, Winter Left Its Light On. Boyd combines a melodic sensibility not dissimilar to the Kinks’ Ray Davies or Cam Will’s avowed musical hero, Elliott Smith, with a commitment to the kind of dynamic, contemporary acoustic musicianship pioneered by the Fairport Convention.
“We were visiting my grandfather’s grave in White Plains, New York,” Boyd, a native of Central New Jersey, said as several rough-around-the-edges regulars began playing pool at the table that dominates the bar room floor. I struggled to hear him as the pool players started clacking the balls and Christine McVie sang about how she, speaking on behalf of Fleetwood Mac, never did believe in the ways of magic, but she’s beginning to wonder why.
“It was quiet and peaceful there. There wasn’t anyone around. It was a huge cemetery, so after we visited the grave, he let me try to stay within the lines there.” Cam and I were sitting, talking about driving lessons in Westchester County cemeteries as a result of a song on his new album entitled “Elmwood Cemetery.” Elmwood Cemetery is one of Burlington’s oldest burial grounds. According to “Elmwood Cemetery: A Walking Tour of Burlington’s History,” an outstanding historical guidebook for the cemetery put together by Professor Scott McLaughlin’s Fall 2008 history seminar class at the University of Vermont, the first burials at Elmwood Cemetery took place in either the late 18th century or early 19th century. The existing records for the cemetery are unclear on when exactly the first burial took place on its grounds. Prominent burials at Elmwood Cemetery include historian Zadock Thompson, Burlington entrepreneur Gideon King (also the namesake of King Street), and Frances Montressor Penniman, Ethan Allen’s second wife.
“Elmwood Cemetery” is a story of unrequited love. Cam Will fell hard for a girl he met soon after he moved to Burlington. She shared his passions for art, music, and film. The two became close friends over the course of a year. One night, walking home with her in Burlington’s Old North End after a get-together at a friend’s house, he shared his feelings with her as they stood near Elmwood Cemetery.
“It was one of those things where it affected our relationship and we weren’t as close after that,” Boyd said. Sadness, though, proved excellent material for the songwriter in him.
“I felt like I needed to express that…I started writing the song almost immediately. To shake it off, basically,” Boyd remembered.
“I also thought it was a really cool metaphor. Being near a cemetery and burying your thoughts. I would take walks, make trips there [Elmwood Cemetery] on the way to work to get more ideas for it.”
“Elmwood Cemetery” builds from the contemplative guitar picking of its first verse into a song that matches Boyd’s poignant vocals with drummer Ben Newman’s furious percussion work. It is one of ten excellent tracks on Winter Left Its Light On, an album that captures the moods that make up a Vermont winter as well as any I’ve heard. As we sat in the mostly empty bar shooting the breeze about his album, which somehow morphed into me making an impassioned defense of Steely Dan’s place in the rock-n-roll canon, I thought about how winter seemed to closing in on us this unseasonably cool August and what a great album Cam’s latest release will make for listeners in the latter half of this year.
For more information on Cam Will’s new album and upcoming shows, click here.
For Professor Scott McLaughlin’s excellent tour guide to Burlington's Elmwood Cemetery, click here.