Father-daughter debut at the Champlain Valley Fair

Photo by Sunny Nagpaul
Rick Cusick after his performance in the gazebo at the Champlain Valley Fair

SUNNY NAGPAUL
Community News Service 

Charlotte musicians Rick and Nina Cusick performed unique spins on classics, including A-ha’s 1984 hit “Take on Me” as well as original compositions over the weekend at the Champlain Valley Fair.

Rick Cusick, a first-time performer at the fair, said his daughter Nina joining him for the performance was a last-minute decision. 

“This was kind of a spur of the moment thing,” he said. “She had the day free and we play a lot together at home, so we know a lot of the same songs. She knows a lot of my original stuff.” 

While this performance was unplanned, Cusick, 47, and Nina, 13, have played several big events in Vermont together in the past, including Burlington’s First Night, the New Year’s Eve celebration that disbanded in 2018, and Shelburne Day, the annual town celebration close to home. 

The duo performed as part of the fair’s Vermont Music Showcase, a series of shows on stages smaller than the main grandstand. Each day of the fair featured two different Vermont-based acts that ranged from singer-songwriters to a barbershop-harmony chorus.

Cusick’s music was billed as “folk, funk, jazz and soul.”

The Cusicks were the final act to take the stage at the Music Gazebo on Sunday. Cusick said he enjoyed the shaded location near the bustle of the fair. He called it energizing. 

“Everyone is in a really great mood and there’s lots of families and people who come and listen to a couple songs and then they leave,” he said. “ I like the more intimate settings.” 

Both father and daughter are well-versed with playing many different instruments. Nick sings and plays guitar and piano; Nina sings and plays clarinet, trumpet, saxophone and piano. 

“Something we like to do is take an original spin on something that’s familiar. Sometimes it’s fun to play stuff other people have written because people already know it,” Cusick said. 

It’s that timelessness of old classics that connects the two when they play. 

“Today’s set I went back and forth between songs that I know and songs that we wrote,” the elder Cusick said. “We played that A-ha song ‘Take on Me’ and it’s older than she is.”  

Cusick started his musical career as a child and was involved in musical theater outside of Philadelphia where he grew up. He continued at Brown University where he joined an a cappella group and picked up the guitar after graduation. From there, he played across Philadelphia, San Francisco and New York before settling down in Vermont.

His local appearances have included venues such as Radio Bean in Burlington, various locations in Middlebury and the yearly singer-songwriter contest at Winooski’s Monkey House. 

Fellow musician and friend Steve Hartmann from Jericho connected with Cusick to land on the fair calendar. 

Performing music is one aspect of Cusick’s career. His day job keeps him busy as a full-time employee and yoga instructor at Hot Yoga Burlington.  He said he’s looking forward to participating locally in the annual songwriting contest in the fall. 

“I love the songwriter competition because it is showcased and there are a lot of musicians who get to know each other through it,” Cusick said. “It’s good to see other musicians. It’s one of the best things about the Vermont music community.”

Community News Service is a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.

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