There are so many details that go into pulling off a great music festival, we have to raise a glass of top-shelf whiskey to Waking Windows, the seriously splendid event that took over the small town of Winooski (just north of Burlington), Vermont this past weekend. Everything about it was a dream: the multicultural and richly eclectic lineup; the friendliest people around, from the staff to the guests to the bands and performers themselves; the wild variety of fresh local food and drinks within reach; the short distance between venues; the good vibes that come with a full-town celebration where you feel welcome everywhere; the breezy mountain air and litter-free land; the sight of all the families and young kids and fluffy bunnies in attendance. Yes, there really were bunnies hopping around in the grass. Could Waking Windows be any more utopian?
Eager to get acquainted with the local music scene, we were happy to start our weekend with The High Breaks, the dark-surf-rock outfit from Burlington who got the Main Stage heated up with their groovy instrumental tunes and the poetic soliloquies they sprinkled between them. Their cool set had us working up an appetite already, so we took the opportunity to check out the enticing local food trucks parked adjacent to the action. After the scent of authentic Polish cooking coaxed us over, we understood the ‘love’ in Luiza’s Homemade with Love, enjoying every bite of their piping hot pierogis; perfectly savory and lightly zig-zag drizzled with sour cream.
Next, we joined the focused fans watching Burlington local Lowell Thompson over at the Rotary Stage. Playing songs from 2014’s Stranger’s Advice as well as his 2006 self-titled debut, Thompson’s country-tinged alternative sound was enhanced by his polished guitar work and easygoing vocals. Another Burlington-based band we caught on Friday was one of the acts who took on the tiny stage inside Scout & Co., a small shop that made up for what it lacked in elbow space with the sweet aromas of coffee and smoked maple ice cream. Eastern Mountain Time poured out their brew of country/rock to the focused crowd, keeping things mellow with romantic lyrics and a nice musical blend.
It was a good move stopping over at McKee’s Pub when we did on Friday, because we were impressed by the vocals, guitar work, and Spanish & English lyrics of Marcie Hernandez (who is also a music therapist). While soaking up her sweet sound in the cozy pub, we had to grab a local brew, and we quickly found ourselves in maple heaven with a smooth Maple Breakfast Stout made by 14th Star Brewing in St. Albans, Vermont. Having quickly slammed the beer and flipped through Waking Windows’ packed schedule once more, we were soon rocking with Grease Face inside the mural-laden space known as Lucky Cloud, a shadowy yet colorful D.I.Y. venue that was formerly a bank. The garage-punk band kept it nice and heavy, getting the attentive crowd moving with songs from their latest album, 2.
We made our way over to the Main Stage to see what all the buzz was about and were excited to witness the live energy of Burlington’s Mal Maïz. As their music stirred up dancing, their own three dancers, wearing colorful traditional skirts, twirled in circles with the young kids in the crowd as Mal Maïz brought the fire. Fronted by the charismatic Maiz Vargas Sandoval, who hails from from Costa Rica, the dance band mixes elements of cumbia, latin, reggae, and Afro-Caribbean music for a sound that’s all their own. Their guitar-driven, highly-percussive music – congas and maracas always at the ready – was a unique and enlivening addition to the fest.
More big Friday highlights took place on the Main Stage as Combo Chimbita wowed everyone with their cosmic, many-layered sound. It was memorable not only for Carolina Oliveros’ wide-ranging vocals and their rapid-fire percussion, but a rain shower that made the all-ages audience dance with even more glee. “Come on guys, come on, I need to feel you!” she urged, prompting them to move in closer. The spiritual “tropical futurism” pioneers, who hail from Colombia and currently reside in New York, showed off gorgeously hypnotic songs from their brand new second album, Ahomale, released that very day. When Combo Chimbita earned passionate applause between songs, Oliveros tempered it with a beautiful message: “Not for me. For life, for love, right?”
Even the cool dudes that make up Twin Peaks – Cadien Lake James (a.k.a. Big Tuna), Clay Frankel, Jack Dolan, Connor Brodner, and Colin Croom – seemed caught off guard and amused by the starstruck throng of fans at the front of the stage. They squealed every time Clay Frankel moved a muscle, and he bantered playfully with them all through soundcheck as Friday’s headliners got ready. “I love it here,” Frankel said when they asked what he thought of Vermont. “People are nice. It’s like another time, another place, another land.” As soon as Twin Peaks started playing, you could tell they were putting it all out there for this particular show; the Chicago-based rockers sounded awesome outdoors as they showed off the juiciest hits from their three studio albums. “Thanks for coming out in the freezing cold rain to warm yourselves by the fires of rock and roll!” Frankel said sweetly. He clearly wasn’t oblivious to the attention as they performed – shaking his hips, grinning, licking the neck of his guitar (you can imagine the screams when that happened). He also took the time to construct a ring from a dollar bill, wear it for a few songs, then hand it down to one of their adoring fans with a smile. And he wasn’t the only one giving out presents; Frankel was even gifted a harmonica from someone in the audience. On the strength of their set, roses wouldn’t have been out of place either.
Since day one in the crisp mountain air came with some light rain showers, the special fire performance from Andromeda Performance Art was both a visual treat and a satisfyingly warm one. You could feel the flames on your skin as their team took turns twirling them, throwing them, and even igniting them like fire-breathing dragons, causing the circle of onlookers to gasp and cheer. That was only natural at Waking Windows, of course; we’d been gasping and cheering all day, and there was more of both in store for Saturday and Sunday.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley