If you want to know just how much we loved Waking Windows 2019 in Winooski, Vermont, look no further than the affectionate ravings in our day one recap. Suffice it to say the entire weekend was an idyllic burst of both wild and peaceful music, fresh mountain air, delicious food and drinks, and all kinds of good vibes. As the weekend went on, we were floored by two local treats that had been tempting us throughout the fest – the mouthwatering and heavenly-fresh Cuban sandwiches from ¡Duino! (Duende) (based in Burlington, VT), and the awesome beers conceived by Otter Creek Brewing Co. (based in Middlebury, VT). There’s some serious creativity going on over at OCB, and we can’t even pick a favorite beer from the four we had the pleasure of trying. Their All Souls Lager is a surprising collaboration with All Souls Tortilleria, brewed with locally-grown organic hominy; their Berner IPA is a light treat with tropical fruit and citrus hop flavors; their limited-edition saison brews, including Raspberry Sour and Passion Punch (both exclusive to their Pub Space in Middlebury) are out-of-this-world juicy and refreshing.
Starting the day’s choose-your-own-music-adventure at Scout & Co., our Saturday at Waking Windows began with Lady Jane. The Northampton, Massachusetts native’s honest and warm vocals blended with her tranquil acoustic guitar melodies as she performed songs from her new seven-track release, Soft Waltz. When we saw Danny & The Parts at Last Stop Sports Bar next, there were a number of other observers present; the band’s twangy and whimsical Americana-meets-indie rock sound filled the space as they dished out tunes from debut EP Driving All Alone. Notably, this is also where we got to meet Kitty-Kitty, the iconic resident cat who really digs head-pats and had no complaints about loud music in his vicinity. A friendly feline on the prowl in a bar bathed in sunlight made the Waking Windows vibe feel all the more Vermont-y and chill. It’s hard to pull yourself away from a place with a nice cat, but we were glad to catch Eben Schumacher Band’s set over at the Monkey House. The skilled Burlington local demonstrated his background in jazz, blues, flamenco, and acoustic styles in a mellow show that pulled in a focused crowd.
If you were present on Saturday and noticed a lively, nontraditional marching band rushing past you at any point, that was the fabulous Burlington-based street band Brass Balagan. They created a smiling fanbase wherever they marched; as they put it, their sound “demands the immediate elimination of all evil.” With roots in klezmer, balkan and banda music, their exotic music was fused with the oom-pahs of an old-school parade, making onlookers cheer and follow them all over Winooski. Another impressive Saturday set was delivered by Gamelan Sulukala, based out of Plainfield, Vermont, who sat on the ground in front of the Main Stage behind their spread of intricately-embellished bronze instruments (custom made in Java, in fact). A full court style Javanese Gamelan, their eleven members performed with poised synchronicity and visibly loved every second of it, playing traditional Indonesian music as well as some contemporary American songs. Their measured and sonorous music even made some of the young children running around stop in their tracks and watch with fascination.
One aspect of Winooski that was great for festival-traversing was the small layout, as we were able to dash from venue to venue and sample an arresting range of musical styles. So we went straight from Javanese Gamelan music to Portland, Maine-based indie noise rock without pause, heading over to see much-loved trio Weakened Friends rip up the Rotary Stage. Hitting on all cylinders with songs from their full-length debut, Common Blah, singer/guitarist/songwriter Sonia Sturino and bassist Annie Hoffman got the crowd revved up with their punky attitude and upbeat hooks, Sturino bringing bold vibrato into her vocal delivery.
One of the Brooklyn bands representing out in Winooski was Parrot Dream, whose coolly-layered sound filled up the cozy confines of Scout & Co with gusto. Formed in Santiago, Chile in 2013, the hard-jamming indie rockers – Kiki (Christina Appel) on vocals and keys, Gonzalo Guerrero on guitar, Matthew Sklar on bass, Don Lavis on drums, and Chris Baang on keys – had the coffee shop hooked with dreamy and dynamic songs from their first full-length, Light Goes, even getting the baristas dancing as they worked. (Keep an eye out for an interview with Parrot Dream after their Waking Windows set, coming soon to P&W.)
Nat Baldwin – who hails from Portsmouth, New Hampshire and is known for being part of Brooklyn band Dirty Projectors – really wowed with his masterful upright bass-playing and exposed, emotive vocals at Winooski Methodist Church. Fearless before the hushed fans filling every pew and lining the perimeter, he even openly joked about one of those super minor slips that only the expert on stage would ever notice, making his set feel effortlessly cool and real – more like a super-skilled friend putting on a relaxed solo show in your living room. His down-to-earth personality might have been the highlight if it weren’t for his resonant and rich sound on the strings, which earned him a fervent standing ovation.
We kept our spot on the church’s pews for Ruth Garbus, and we clearly weren’t the only ones excited to see the Brattleboro-based experimental singer/guitarist perform. Though the self-described “lo-fi feminist folk rap” artist deserves praise and attention on the strength of her own performance, we have to admit that her set initially caught our eye because she’s the younger sister of one of our heroes, tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus, who would play one of the festival’s headlining sets later that night. We’re now enchanted by the musical talent of both Garbus sisters. Ruth – who also plays in bands Feathers and Happy Birthday (Sub Pop) – showed off her gorgeous voice and nimble guitar work on songs from her 2014 debut album, Rendezvous with Rama. She also revealed some songs from her forthcoming album, Kleinmeister, which is due for release in August 2019, as she announced to the church crowd at Waking Windows.
After she played, we had just enough time to hit the Rotary Stage for Kississippi, the indie folk group from Philly led by Zoë Allaire Reynolds and Colin James Kupson. Their self-described “bratty pop tunes for emo kids” grabbed the crowd’s attention as they served up songs from their debut album, Sunset Blush. Then, we made our way over to the Main Stage again to catch Caroline Rose’s set, and we were happy we did. The Long Island-based singer-songwriter’s pop sound shimmered on songs from her latest record, LONER. With roots in folk and country (the genre of her early releases), her music was as much fun as her stage presence; one of Rose’s best superpowers was getting the crowd to dance.
Another Brooklyn band who travelled up to play Winooski was Operator Music Band, the art-pop outfit comprised of Dara Hirsch, Jared Hiller, and Gabe Pittleman. The unpredictable and multi-talented group satisfied the Monkey House with synth-powered tunes from their highly experimental discography. Right around the same time, we got a chance to see another cool act, Here Lies Man – the L.A. art rock band comprised of Antibalas members – who delivered an exciting show over at the Rotary Stage, showing off songs from their latest album, You Will Know Nothing.
There was a lot of buzz about Burlington-based garage punks Rough Francis – made up of brothers Bobby, Urian, and Julian Hackney, as well as Dan Davine and Paul Comegno. They responded with an energetic set over at the Rotary Stage, playing music from both of their albums, Maximum Soul Power and MSP3: Counter Attack. Shortly after that, we experienced something that is now a fond and trippy memory: finding ourselves dancing right by both Garbus sisters during the fantastic Main Stage set from LA-based duo KNOWER, featuring the magnetic Genevieve Artadi and Louis Cole. Merrill, who was about to play the very stage they were warming up, was somewhat hidden up front under a green hat and hood – but her grin was unmistakable as she and Ruth bounced to their high-energy sound. Many festivalgoers were packed in and jumping around together to KNOWER’s genre-surfing beats, which were unpredictably rage-y in their own special way.
The DJ getting everyone pumped before tUnE-yArDs’ headlining set at the Main Stage was mixing up some sweet stuff, staying far away from the usual effects and material. Being longtime fans, we could hardly handle the suspense before seeing tUnE-yArDs – comprised of New England native Merrill Garbus and collaborator bassist Nate Brenner, as well as touring drummer Hamir Atwal – and they seemed genuinely thrilled to see all of us too. As always, their set was a total explosion of rhythmic prowess, Merrill’s witty and infectious lyrics, plus all of that badass and zany raw energy that has earned them a devoted following. The impassioned participation from their many fans was almost as great as seeing Merrill sing with terrifying intensity, then calmly joke and giggle with everyone between songs.
tUnE-yArDs really crushed all the hits they poured out for their Waking Windows performance – from “Powa” to “Water Fountain” to “Look at Your Hands” to “Gangsta” to “Heart Attack” and more. “We’ve seen so much incredible music today,” Merrill noted with glee when she addressed the sea of cheering fans before them. “It’s just amazing that it’s all here in Winooski, you know?” Equally amazing was something we witnessed by being in just the right place when tUnE-yArDs descended the stairs and hugged each other backstage, the massive crowd begging loudly for more. Merrill and Nate looked ecstatic and quickly decided on an encore. They laughed together for a few seconds, seemingly struck by all the love around them, before they ran back on stage. It was a sweet behind-the-scenes moment that would have happened out of sight at a normal concert; one of those intimate glimpses you can only catch when you’re free to roam outdoors in a very relaxed festival setting.
While it might have seemed reasonable to end the day on such a high note, we couldn’t resist Waking Windows’ nonstop-til-2am schedule. Running on adrenaline, we walked over to the Winooski River to its adjacent historic restaurant, Waterworks, where jazz/funk fusion band Brickdrop were already grooving hard. The six-piece Vermont ensemble – including Ben Bivins on guitar, Billy Comstock on bass, Rob DeBruyn on tenor sax, Matt “Dolly” Dolliver switching between alto and bari sax, Cotter Ellis on drums, and Nate Reit on trombone – were tearing up their solos and following fast changes right in sync. After such a fine festival day, it was hard to believe we still had Sunday ahead and even more music to come. Waking Windows is less like a quest and more like a ride, because the experience is all so easy and serene.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley