Day One: Friday the 13th.
A morning walk through Burlington shows you why folks endure six months of coarse Vermont winters for this first summer weekend. Seventy and sunny, a tender May breeze rolls from Lake Champlain through the busheling greens which outline the paint chipped Victorian houses.
About a mile and half down the road, just over the Winooski falls, Waking Windows volunteers bustle around the town’s rotary, darting between the fifteen bars and businesses acting as venues for the weekend’s festivities. There’s a lot to prepare for when you’re hosting over 200 performers.
At the first rotary exit over bridge, a quaint mainstage sits patiently for a substantive slough of headliners in Japanese Breakfast, Dinosaur Jr, and the soon-to-be-disbanded Kikagaku Moyo, among others. Two stone throws away, the stage in Rotary Park prepares for a bill of touring artists punctuated by talented Burlington scenesters.
Paddy Reagan, 38, started Waking Windows with four friends back in 2010. A local musician and promoter, Reagan just wanted a place for his band and friends to play. What sprung forth was a twelve-day-long run of shows at a cozy Winooski bar called the Monkey House.
“[Waking Windows] is a sort of that thing where you realize that things happen because people make them happen. We were just inspired by this other small festival and decided to try something similar.” said Reagan.
That first year Future Islands played to a crowd of eighty in the Monkey Bar, they were supposed return in 2020 for the decade anniversary, but COVID scrapped that. Returning in 2022 for its first sold-out festival, the approach to Waking Windows remains the same:
“The goal is, and was to, to get our friends who we live with, and we see every day walking around, on a similar playing field as those other bands who are out there touring and have lots of experience,” explains Reagan, “and just show side by side that there is so much talent in Burlington.”
The festival begins where it always has, the Monkey Bar. The Enemy of the People, a local roots-rock outfit made up of employees from the Winooski News, catches a sparse crowd of five-o-clock drinkers off guard.
Opening with “Sonny Take A Drink”, “Reverend” Diane Sullivan leads the Enemy’s with an infectious charisma. After finishing up a love ballad, Sullivan quips “that one’s about my boss, this next one’s called ‘Sausage and Drugs.’”
While Enemy of the People proved that old-dogs can bite, across the street at Rotary Park one of Burlington’s many blooming post-punk outfits take the stage. The four piece known as Greaseface typifies the “shoe-gazi” undertones of an indie-folk adjacent scene.
Sounding a little out of place in the bright midday stage as opposed to a dingy DIY show, Greaseface’s music is swathed in lurching riffs running in hypnotic circles until the tube-screamers are turned on for idiosyncratic breakdowns (see “Whitewash”).
Back at the Monkey House, the other major camp of local taste is on display. Local jam/post-rock act, Sad Turtle, has the heads shaking their bones with neo-jazz improvisation comparable to the Mattson 2 or Elephant Proof.
Jam and psych artists appear throughout the bill and while many of them are fresh faces, lauded Japanese psychedelic outfit, Kikagaku Moyo, gather on the Waking Window mainstage as a part of their farewell tour.
A huge applause breaks out as the quintet of long-haired Tokyoians pick up their instruments. After a short jam lead by sitarist, Ryu Kurosawa, the band launches into “Cardboard Pile.” The recently released track begins in an ever-ascending drone, speeding upwards before leaping into a pocketed groove with an atmospheric jam to finish.
“Tree Smoke” picks up where the opener left off, rocking back and forth between sonorous chords, Kurosawa’s sitar dances over the band like a string of smoke from kindling. The lilting melodies soon smolder into fuzzed-out coda which gets the crowd headbanging. Not only does the band connect to the festival’s psych-edge but also the grungier obsessions of the scene: a prime example of the festival’s delightful curation.
Tomo Katsurda moves over to the percussion from his guitar for an astral interlude of textures. The band looks to another, huddles, nods as they navigate the inbetween from the coda; captivating is the performance of this passing great.
Mid-way through Kikagaku Moyo, night has finally fallen in Winooski and a bright young star is winning over the Rotary crowd. With dance-forward tracks like “Move Like This” and “Sinner” Chicago MC, “Disco” Ric Wilson, has Waking Windows line-dancing shortly into his set.
The Terrace Martin collaborator took control of the intimate setting, constantly bantering and stepping into the crowd throughout the performance. Halfway through the show Wilson announces he has upcoming projects with Stevie Wonder.
Dinosaur Jr. takes the mainstage around ten to a packed crowd. The performance opened with new numbers “Bulbs of Passion” and “I Ain’t” featuring a ripping bass solo from the shred-god, J Mascis.
The band brought the volume with an elongated fifteen song setlist that included seven(!) guitar changes for Mascis, a massive mosh pit during “Mountain Man”, a commercial airliner flyover during “Start Choppin” (which got an audible “woooah” from the crowd), and an extended shred-fest on “Gargoyle” to close the show.
A two-minute walk to the Waterworks Riverhouse restaurant yielded an at-capacity backroom for the ongoing Guy Ferrari show. A local favorite of organizer Paddy Reagan, the outfit did not disappoint the late-night crowd with energetic performances of “Slalom” and “Lights Out”.
The last outstanding performance of day-one goes to Boston’s Guerilla Toss. Thoroughly synthesized and “out-there” with a never-stationary front woman in Kassie Karlson, tracks like “Can I Get The Real Stuff” were perfect for a crowd of tiny-tattooed, septum ringed hipsters.
Day Two: Full Moon
Waking Window’s focus on community extends past their legion of volunteers and down to their morning activities. Saturday afternoon kicks-off with Drag Queen Story Hour, wherein Queens Emoji Nightmare and Katniss Everqueer read books at the festival’s “kid zone.” The show contains wholesome tale telling, bubble blowing, and an ASL crash course for the kiddos.
The opposite side of the rotary from Drag Queen Story Hour, folks filter in and out of the Stoplight Gallery, emerging with trinkets and prints from local businesses and artisans. The way Paddy Regan sees it, Waking Windows is a “mechanism to help bolster our community” and “inject [Winooski] with some culture, but also some financial support.”
While Waking Windows interjects world music acts like the Costa Rican stylings of Mal Maiz or the good-timing reggaeton of A2VT, but there is no denying it’s a rural town surrounded by pastures.
Seemingly drawing inspiration from the local honky-tonk Tuesdays and slogging winters, local Greg Freeman takes the Rotary stage with his band. A seven piece group complete with two saxophones and a lap steel, Freeman’s “Towers” humors Songs: Ohia’s Jason Molina but with a backroad twang and a foot on the gas.
Freeman’s set has all the fuzz and hypnotic melancholy of his Burlington peers but with additional instrumentation which pushed it above and beyond. Whether it was the backing vocals of bassist Lily Seabird, the lifting interplay of the brass, or just the novelty of the lap steel; the dynamic range of the band was broad, hitting on hues from jazz to grunge and emotions from catharsis to longing.
Amongst the sizable crowd for Freeman were the Burlington musicians, attending in support of their friends. It seems everyone plays in at least three bands of exchanging lineups, and it seems all of them made a concerted effort to get to the mainstage for Dry Cleaning.
The first heavy clouds of the weekend roll in as the South London post-punkers open with “Scratchcard Lanyard.” Guitarist Tom Dowse’s flanging riffs cycle around Lewis Maynard’s spiny basslines, both very animated on their respective stage-sides.
A static foil to her bandmates, Florence Shaw’s hands-in-pocket aloofness is paired with a suspicious stare into nothingness, always panning as if she sees something the crowd doesn’t. Between songs Shaw quips “No storm yet, but it feels a bit weird- heavy air, yeah?”
The frantic riffs of “Magic of Meghan” begin, and like an oracle of modern absurdity, Shaw’s fierce monotone speaks tongues over the band’s looping dissonances: “Never has one outfit been designed to send so many messages. Earrings to empower women. Handbag for charity. Cruelty-free coat.”
Dry Cleaning had the crowd spellbound through their chugging oddity, but the set rapped in forty-minutes on account of the “heavy air”. In the meantime, the largest crowd of the weekend swells in preparation for the Grammy-nominated, Japanese Breakfast.
Laser lights dance across the Winooski brick as a full moon hangs overhead, the marching bliss of “Paprika” rolls over the packed crowd. The gusting wind makes the building horn-lines and crashing gong truly feel like “the center of magic”. Dancing erupts as “Be Sweet” begins, and with no photo barrier Michelle Zeuner reaches into the crowd and sings to her fans directly.
In the break after “Kokomo, IN”, Zeuner announces the news that Japanese Breakfast will be playing the season finale to Saturday Night Live. To grand applause, she also mentions craving a hotdog, which a fan delivers to the stage prior to “Glider”, a track from Zeuner’s video game soundtrack.
The intimate evening comes to a close with a couple bites of hot dog and boisterous renditions of “Everybody Wants To Love You” and “Driving Woman”. Needless to say, nothing about the festival’s headliners disappointed.
Two bands from nearby Brattleboro, Vermont highlighted night two. Dari Bay, an outfit led by Guy Ferrari and Lily Seabird drummer Zack James, had twisting and turning compositions befitting a post-punk drummer.
On numbers like “Jackhammer Knife” and “Under My Bed” the shoe-gazi sound was hitting on all cylinders, crawling toward you like a feedback monster on all fours. Despite the wonky disposition, most Dari Bay (and Guy Ferrari) songs were nicely balanced by subtle pop-sensibilities.
Back at the Monkey House the crowd is packed to the brim to catch the recently Captured Tracks signed three piece, Thus Love. Driving bass lines underplay the Viet Cong-esque riffing of “Inamorato”.
Lead singer Echo Mars strangles and throws her guitar as if it’s an attacking python. Explosive and danceable, the no-wave stylings of Thus Love is definitely something music fans should look out for.
Day Three: Super Flower Blood Moon
On the final afternoon of Waking Windows, spitting rain finally gives way on an otherwise beautiful weekend. The rotary stage has now been transformed into the mainstage and awaits for the festival’s final movement.
The rain shortly recoups for the start of Lily Seabird. The band touts James from Dari Bay on drums alongside Greg Freeman on lead guitar.
Seabird’s vocals are reminiscent of Big Thief’s Adrienne Lenker, shifting from fragile to sharp, hitting falsettos and salient lines throughout “Fire Song.” The rain gives way as Freeman provides a Meat Puppet-y solo to close out the tune.
The deluge intensifies throughout the set but the Winooski crowd couldn’t care less. The band decides to cut a few songs but elect to debut a new number “Waste.”
A similar progression to the Cranberries’ “Zombie,” the band chugs forth with the rain as Seabird sings with raw, mournful anger “She is just a ghost, He is just a ghost, She is always just behind you” before straining repetitions of “You are always on your own.”
The repetition builds and Seabird lets out a guttural scream, throwing her bleached hair forward and eventually launches her glasses across the stage. The progression sits and the crowd is rocking with the beat, a pedal is stepped on and the wall of sound becomes twice as thick.
Stop and start tom hits from James walks the progression down to a haunting close, it seems “Waste” was the perfect tune for the rainy day.
Following up Seabird is the all-female surf pop outfit, Habibi, for some groovy reprise to the Burlington angst. A few folks make their way under the cover of the Four Quarters Brewing patio to watch local jamband Avery Cooper Quartet serve up some saxophone forward numbers. An hour of stand-up then begins for all the beer-drinking patrons, and in wonderful comedic timing, the kindred laughs pull the sun back out.
Around the corner is Winooski’s Methodist Church, possibly the most impressive performance space of the festival. Sunlight pours through stained glass windows as a silent church crowd watches pianist and experimental beatmaker, Kafari, present one of the weekend’s most stunning performances.
Draped in red stage lights and splintered technicolors from the stained glass, the Maine-based artist wields a keyboard with one hand and a synthesizer with the other.
Between each instrumental, Kafari explains the inspiration for each movement. His third number “Say Their Names” was written in the tumult of Summer 2020 after watching the Rodney King murder for the first time. In the wake of his confusion and frustration the composition came forth.
The piece begins in somber, repetitive jazz quotations, with each phrasing left unresolved. After two minutes, it hinges with an ominous chord, then joined by a sharp and clicking backing beat. The dissonances plunge from questioning to affirmative, with strong major-leaning resolutions. A clear theme condenses on the grand piano for a minute before wading back into the original lamenting melody.
No words were needed to get the message across, “Say Their Names” voiced the repetitive angst of monthly tragedies torrented over-social media, which seem to motivate great action, only to return to the same old phrasings.
A few songs later Kafari whips out the Irish bones, a clackity hand-played percussion instrument, and invites lap-steel guitarist Yasmin Williams to the altar for a dazzling duet. He preambles this performance by telling the crow “I want to teach y’all how to play these after this.”
The showman keeps his promise and invites anyone in the Church who would like to learn the bones to come and take a pair back to their pew.
After explaining how to play basic couplets and triplets, the crowd eventually gets a shaky but unified rhythm. Kafari then plays an eloquent piano overture along with the crowd, keeping the delicate time which the crowd lost halfway through. The experiment ends with a clackity applause from the deputized audience. “Sorry to take away your bones but y’all sounded great” Kafari says with a chuckle.
Back at Rotary Park a ruckus crowd is packed around the stage for Low Cut Connie. During a break, the veteran frontman Adam Weiner recounts, “I did a show ten years ago at the Monkey House where the stage was bouncing!”
Weiner later announces Low Cut Connie will have a new album premiering next year. The nine-piece then debuts “Big Boy” off the new record, a punchy “Subterranean Blues”-esque party number. The roots-bluesman from Philadelphia sweats profusely as he and his band send the Rotary into utter jubilee with an animated performance.
Prior to their fan favorite “Big Thighs Nj”, Weiner reminisces about to his first time in Winooski, “Eleven years ago in some bar that ain’t here anymore, I thought ‘I need to come back to this place’- and I kept coming back, now I’m playing the big stage, so thank you for making my dreams so good!”
Closing up day three on the precipice of a total lunar eclipse, it’s hard to knock the feeling that everything in the weekend was imbued with a little bit of serendipity.
Waking Window’s 10th anniversary was a breath of fresh air inside a festival-sphere which is often profit motivated rather than community oriented. The weekend was an incredible display of what Burlington and Winooski have to offer, scattered with many burgeoning talents.
After two years of hiatus, Paddy Reagan and company truly stuck their landing.
A big thanks to the Paddy Reagan and the Waking Windows team for the access and the hospitality. This article was originally posted to jambands.com.