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Smaller might be better for Winooski fest

Smaller might be better for Winooski fest

WINOOSKI ― Gone are the days when lines formed outside The Monkey House with music fans at the Waking Windows festival eager to get in to hear a great new band. Those crowds often came from a show featuring an international touring act performing from the large outdoor stage that closed Winooski Falls Way, near the traffic merry-go-round that is the core of downtown Winooski.

The last Waking Windows festival of such an outrageous size was in 2022, when bands like Japanese Breakfast and Dry Cleaning drew crowds to Winooski. The past three-day events in early May have been quieter, with a lineup of mostly local groups filling (but not overflowing) a handful of indoor venues and the only outdoor stage within that central hub.

Contraction is not always considered a good thing. However, this is Waking Windows returning to its humble, local roots. It is primarily a festival for serious fans of indie rock and other adventurous music styles who can get to know the scene and each other. Waking Windows is a niche festival, but in a music-loving state like Vermont, it fills a pretty big niche.

As usual, I spent three days on the merry-go-round this past weekend, recording as many sights and sounds as I could. I’ve written down some of my favorite moments here and taken a bunch of photos that you can view in our photo gallery. I know the Champlain Valley Fair advertises its activities as “the 10 best days of summer,” but Waking Windows once again provided the three best days of spring.

Supergroup merges Rough Francis, Swale

I walked into The Monkey House on Friday night to find a dense, excited crowd trying to figure out what was going on with an amalgamation called Reorder Narcotic. The group consisted of six (!) guitarists, led by Julian Hackney of Rough Francis and Eric Olsen of Swale, plus two drummers, a bassist and a cellist. The instrumental melodies built slowly before building into a furious, head-banging rapture. When I first heard about this project, I thought it could either be extraordinary or a jumbled mess. It was extraordinary.

Yonatan Gat’s kindergarten bandmate

Israeli-born guitarist/keyboardist Yonatan Gat put on an atmospheric set in Rotary Park on Saturday with, for a while, a 3-year-old. At first it seemed to be a random child lured by the music to join in, but it turned out to be Gat’s young daughter Eden. She camped out behind the keyboards for part of a song, making noise to accompany and perhaps accompany the music of Gat and his drummer. With some of the festival’s founders still in the early days of parenthood, the 13-year-old festival is showing its family-friendly colors even more strongly.

Fried chicken with Jon McKiel

My happiest moment of the festival was Saturday evening when singer-songwriter Jon McKiel performed at the new Standing Stone Wines store. I walked in and heard McKiel’s evocative, melancholy tunes; equally appealing was the savory aroma of roast chicken provided by Harmony’s Kitchen, the evening’s guest caterer. I stood watching McKiel as I ate drumsticks and cornbread from a take-out container as the warm sun streamed in through the window overlooking the merry-go-round. All five of my senses were in a very good place.

Shredding Lady Lamb

I always enjoy hearing Lady Lamb, whose thoughtful, intense songs have been part of my music-loving life since I first saw her at Higher Ground in 2012. Her Saturday set in Rotary Park was fantastic as always, but one moment – ​​​20 seconds of guitar-shredding, tension-busting bliss at the end of “Bird Balloons,” a six-minute tune that rides waves of tempo and emotion – was not only enough to keep my blissful feeling intact, but also take it up a notch.

The Family of Death, Rude Francis

Burlington’s best rock band, Rough Francis, formed a decade and a half ago to play the music of the Hackney brothers’ father and uncles, who formed the long-neglected but suddenly reawakened proto-punk band Death. The two bands performed at Rotary Park on Saturday, with Rough Francis playing a typically electrifying set and Death following with his first show since the COVID-19 pandemic. Founders Bobby Hackney Sr. on bass and Dannis Hackney on drums, joined by Bobby’s sons Julian and Urian Hackney on guitar for a loud and energetic family reunion.

Pizza party at The Monkey House

When I entered The Monkey House on Sunday afternoon for my last few sets of this year’s festival, my ear was immediately captured by the moody indie-folk tunes of John Andrews & the Yawns. I grabbed a few slices of pizza from a nearby table – The Monkey always celebrates the highlight of every Waking Windows festival by handing out free pizza – and, like my fried chicken moment the night before, enjoyed delicious flavors and sounds. There was no warm sunlight coming through the windows this time, as it was raining steadily outside, but the warmth inside was soothing enough.

Contact Brent Hallenbeck at [email protected].