As the sun smiled down on Winooski, Vermont on Sunday, the last-day attendees strolling around happily soaked up the best weather of Waking Windows 2019. Sunshine and ice-cold beer go together nicely, and we couldn’t have started the day in a better spot for both: Four Quarters Brewing, whose outdoor stage was steps away from their many creative beers on tap. We were psyched to try their Eleven Below, a tasty 2019 barleywine just lightly sweetened with local maple syrup, as well as the Radio Bean, a super-smooth oatmeal stout that disappeared in a blink. Both were lovely during the lively performance from Burlington-based Americana group, The Tenderbellies, who were really in sync with each other. Their blend of bluegrass, jazz, folk and more unfolded with precision – especially on their cover of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” – and got the young kids present dancing circles around their parents, who were in the same mood.
In spite of a lighter schedule and the subtraction of the Main Stage on Sunday, there was still a lot to see. We got to hear Burlington singer-songwriter Trackstar (appropriately dressed in gym shorts and a varsity jacket) at the Monkey House, playing “brand spankin’ new” songs from debut EP Heartbreak Hits. We embraced the raw lyrics and honest voice of Hello Shark, the project of Lincoln Halloran, who performed songs from his two albums, Break Arms and HS. Not long after that, we joined dancing fans of all ages at the Rotary Stage enjoying Burlington-based indie pop band The Smittens, who maintained the good vibes with songs from their lighthearted, clever, and ample discography.
We got to check back in with another Brooklyn band we’ve enjoyed seeing in the city before, Gesserit, the evolving indie rock group fronted by Lyzi Wakefield, whose seasoned vocals filled the room with warmth as her band built a sturdy foundation. In another serendipitous Waking Windows moment, we were in the right place at the right time to witness the live presence of Sabouyouma at the Rotary Stage. The seven-piece ensemble is led by the impressive Ousmane Camara, their Guinean-born frontman, composer, and master Balafonist (the Balafon being a West-African marimba). The Burlington-based group cooked up high-energy bursts of sound built on West-African beats, including songs from their recent first release, Sabouy. Back at the Monkey House, we arrived in time for another New York artist we always enjoy seeing, HNRY FLWR, whose self-described “psych-twang-rock” and emotive vocals got the audience grooving and gazing intently. He clearly engaged the room with his dreamy experimental songs, including work from his debut EP, Flowerama.
“This is our first show…ever,” Ezra Oklan said as Matthew Mercury started their set at the Rotary Stage. It was clear right away that we were witnessing something cool; the just-formed supergroup of Vermont musicians – made up of Oklan, Steve Hadeka, Christopher Hawthorn, Jeremy Mendicino, and Dan Bishop – came together in the name of early-2000s-post-punk appreciation. Their nine-song setlist included songs from their recent debut EP, Be There, and the audience was hooked and responsive. “You’re literally the best crowd we’ve ever had!” Oklan joked accurately toward the end of their debut performance.
Sticking around at the Rotary Stage, we caught another one of the New York bands representing in Winooski, Brooklyn’s Underground System, whose adrenalized Afrobeat sound was embellished with power-packed brass, flute, and snappy acoustic percussion. In the excitement of their performance, lead vocalist/flutist/percussionist Domenica Fossati even climbed off the stage and into the crowd, surrounded by a flurry of clapping and cheering. They had us working up an appetite, and our proximity to the Vermont crepe-masters over at the The Skinny Pancake (and passion for pancakes) was way too tempting. We watched them pour out the batter and were soon tasting the thin layers of sweetness and subtle flavors of maple and lemon, dusted with powdered sugar.
“Is it like 8:30?” Julia Cumming guessed in the heat of Sunflower Bean’s fiery headlining set. It was 8:56, and their fans seemed psyched at the prospect of stealing some extra time with the New York City rockers. “You know what that means,” she said. “It’s time to rock out! That is, statistically, the most rocking hour!” Sunflower Bean, the invigorating band we’ve had the pleasure of catching in NY before, left it all out on the stage for Waking Windows – from Cumming’s powerful vocals and deft bass work (on her glossy Rickenbacker) to the robust drumming of Jacob Faber to guitarist Nick Kivlen’s smooth backup vocals, shaped by his recycled-payphone-microphone. Waking Windows attendees even got to see a newer addition to Sunflower Bean’s lineup, who added some vitally cool layers and energy: keyboardist Danny Ayala from The Lemon Twigs (that badass who busted out solos while ripping the synth off its stand and holding it like a keytar). “We’re only playing some special shows right now, and this is definitely a special one,” Cumming revealed, making their fans’ excitement bubble over.
Traversing their popular debut album, Twentytwo in Blue, and playing every song from their killer new EP, King Of The Dudes, Sunflower Bean really covered the stage and put on a set to remember in the breezy night air. In between songs, Cumming added a passionate, “Bernie 2020!” which received a solid reaction from Senator Sanders’ home crowd. “All I’m saying is, I’ve got my reusable water bottle…” she threw it back proudly and rehydrated to the sound of their applause. When she’s not tearing up stages or making music, Cumming dedicates her time to activism and empowering other budding activists in her community; Sunflower Bean are currently exploring ways to get more involved in Sanders’ 2020 campaign (learn more in our exclusive Waking Windows interview, coming soon to P&W). Note to locals: Cumming is also helping put on a Meditation for Mobilization event tonight in Brooklyn, in an effort to transform anger and “allow the gift of our feelings to move us to action with care and focus.” You can find tickets here – but she also wanted us to mention that there’s room for anyone even if they can’t afford the twelve-dollar donation tonight.
Believe it or not, there was more music lined up on Waking Windows’ schedule even in its final hours. We joined a full room at the Winooski Methodist Church to see CUP – married duo guitarist Nels Cline (of Wilco) and multi-instrumentalist Yuka C. Honda – who concocted mind-bending music for the focused crowd filling the pews. Toying with unpredictable tempos and sounds, their seemingly-freeform yet incredibly precise jamming was really immersive and one-of-a-kind. Dashing back to the Monkey House for something very different, we got to see Canadian rapper Cadence Weapon put on a crowd-pleasing one-man show, rapping sharply over his own tracks and spanning his four LPs, including last year’s self-titled album.
For the entirety of the weekend in Winooski, we felt so at home at Waking Windows, it didn’t even feel like it was our first time attending the festival. On the strength of the music alone, it won’t be our last.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley