Soundbites: Burlington Celebrates Juneteenth | Music News + Views | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Soundbites: Burlington Celebrates Juneteenth


Published June 14, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.

Arrested Development - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Arrested Development

Full confession time: I was feeling nervous about this year's Burlington Discover Jazz Festival. Between the fest slimming down from 10 days to five, the generally shitty nature of trying to stage any big music happening these days, the grousing from some local jazz players about the new direction and just my continual gut feeling of "this might not work," I had my fears.

However, much like my longtime nightmare scenario of household appliances suddenly becoming sentient and trying to murder me (thanks, Maximum Overdrive), those fears turned out to be completely unfounded. The folks at the Flynn and guest curator Lakecia Benjamin delivered the goods and then some. The music was incredible, the crowds were big, the weather (mostly) behaved, and the Queen City was a perfect host for one of the most daring and cutting-edge jazz fests we've seen in 40 years of the event.

What really struck me as special about this year's fest was, well, its Blackness. If you're going to stage a days-long celebration of jazz, it's important to reference both the origins of jazz — its creation by Black musicians — and its future. Anyone who saw Best New Artist Grammy Award winner Samara Joy and saxophonist Kamasi Washington command the stage knows that the future for jazz is as wide open as it is exhilarating.

That energy, that sense of Black excellence and Black history, will be on full display again this coming weekend when the City of Burlington's Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging office throws one hell of a Juneteenth celebration.

"I might have overdone it a little bit," Luis Calderin said over the phone, laughing. "But I wanted this to be a proper music festival this year."

A damn fine DJ in his own right, Calderin was tasked with putting together this year's Juneteenth celebrations, and holy guacamole, has he come through. Folks should head over to to check out the full lineup that will take over downtown Burlington this Saturday, June 17. But the highlights really pop.

First off, '90s hip-hop act Arrested Development headline the night from the Flynn Main Stage. The last time I saw them live, I didn't have any student loans! Ah, the '90s...

Calderin believes the group is the perfect choice to headline this year's event, which has a theme of "Embrace & Belonging."

"I was inspired by '90s, conscious hip-hop for this," he said. "All the energy that came out of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 has transformed a little, I think. The city is ready to move on to the next stage. And Arrested Development was perfect — smart, conscious, dope hip-hop on the biggest stage in the state. It's going to be a celebration of vibe."

  • Courtesy Of Black Cub Productions
  • Rajnii Eddins

This is the third year the City of Burlington has celebrated Juneteenth, which became a national holiday in 2021 — though Calderin is quick to point out that Black communities in Vermont have celebrated Juneteenth since 2002. Also known in the past as Freedom Day or Jubilee Day, the holiday commemorates June 19, 1865, the day Union soldiers showed up in Galveston, Texas, and announced an end to slavery in the United States, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

"There are places in the country where they've been celebrating Juneteenth for over 100 years," Calderin pointed out. "Here in Vermont, we're catching up."

While Calderin was on hand to advise and assist with the last two Juneteenth celebrations, this year the REIB and its new director, Kim Carson, basically handed him the keys. And Calderin wasted no time, changing up the festival in some key ways.

For one, the party is all downtown this year, and it's not actually on Juneteenth.

"I wanted to make this party as accessible for people, all people, as possible," Calderin said. "So we moved the celebration to the Saturday before the holiday, and I moved everything downtown on the streets, in the park and at the Flynn."

The day kicks off at 11 a.m. with a full-on gospel brunch featuring the Juneteenth Community Gospel Choir, directed by Dexter Criss. From there, it goes from strength to strength, with sets by some of the area's best hip-hop acts, including Konflik, Asah Mack, Rivan and Obi the VoiceGod; music from indie folk artist Lutalo and Jenni Johnson & the JAZZ Junketeers; DJ sets from newly minted city councilor Melo Grant and DJ Ron Stoppable; and so, so much more. Such as...

There's a comedy show with Mike Thomas, Zoraya Hightower and Marlon Fisher and a poetry jam with Rajnii Eddins, Harmony Edosomwan and Nadia Frazier, both at the Flynn gallery, a Juneteenth-themed BTV Market in City Hall Park with food vendors (see "No Beef"), readings and talks, basketball on Church Street ... If you can't find a way to have fun at this thing, you might actually be dead.

"Man, I grew up in this community," Calderin said. "I think that's why Kim [Carson] and the REIB decided to trust me with this. It's been an incredible honor and a responsibility that I do not take lightly."

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