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Aboriginal Sounds On Vermont Streets

Michael "Tree" Sampson plays the didgeridoo on the streets of Burlington, Vt.
Kirk Carapezza for NPR
Michael "Tree" Sampson plays the didgeridoo on the streets of Burlington, Vt.

Vermont: Land of maple syrup, ski slopes, covered bridges and snow-capped mountains. Few people would associate the Green Mountain State with the didgeridoo, a wind instrument native to Australia. Until they've heard Michael "Tree" Sampson, that is.

Sampson's a one-man band who performs daily on Church Street in downtown Burlington.

"I grew up in upstate New York and I've been trying to survive as being a street performer in New England for the last couple of seasons," Sampson says. "I play didgeridoo and el cajon — a box drum — have puppets on my feet and a tambourine on my foot and a shaker on my other foot.

"I use crafts and visual media along with rhythm to just break people out of their patterns — just shaking them up."

Sampson also performs in a homemade mask that, depending on who you ask, resembles a deer, an owl and other animals.

"The wooden mask was originally supposed to be a deer mask," he says. "The nose didn't work out and all of a sudden it's worked its way back into this kind of owl-human, just nature-spirit thing."

Sampson says he thinks of himself not only as a musician, but as a healer, too. You're kind of trying to be like a kind of magician," he says. "It brightens people's days and kids dance. Things with rhythm that make you dance, they're healing. They're good for the public."

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NPR Staff