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Soundbites: Waking Windows Returns


Published May 1, 2024 at 10:00 a.m.

Brian Nagle - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • Brian Nagle

Things were looking pretty dismal for the state of music fests in Vermont this time last year. The Burlington Discover Jazz Festival had been cut in half, Grand Point North was MIA, and Waking Windows was rumored to be disappearing.

Easily the coolest thing to happen to Winooski since the town almost went all Buckminster Fuller in the '70s and covered itself in a dome, Waking Windows has been bringing killer lineups of indie rock and underground music to the Onion City since 2011. The pandemic threw a pretty big wrench into that, causing the fest to skip two years before returning belatedly to celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2022 with a blowout lineup headlined by Dinosaur Jr. and Japanese Breakfast.

But by the following year, life changes and other factors had the Waking Windows brain trust of Brian and Ali Nagle, Paddy Reagan, Nick Mavodones, and Matt Rogers doubting the fest could continue.

"There was a point last year where we were really talking about just throwing a barbecue in the rotary with a few bands on a Saturday," Brian Nagle told me by phone from his Winooski home. "We were all just spread so thin. Ali and I had just had a kid, Matt has kids and started at the Flynn [where he is programming director], Paddy is working with UVM and the Lane Series — all of us had so much more going on, as adults."

Not holding the fest in 2023 didn't sit right with Nagle, though. So he pushed the crew to stage a smaller, locally focused version of its annual music and culture showcase.

"Putting on a community music event where I live is so, so important to me," he said. "I love going to Montréal or Boston to see shows, but this is my home. This is where I'm raising my daughter. I want there to be music and art like this happening right here, which is partly why we started this whole thing in the first place."

It was a fortuitous decision, and not just for the fans who got to take in the smaller Waking Windows last year. After years of scaling up and drawing bigger bands and crowds, putting on the downsized event showed Nagle and company that it could be done.

"Up until 2022, it was always about expanding, adding more venues, seeing how big we could grow," Nagle said. "But we have a much better awareness now of our own capacity and what we can actually do. And that's let us go a little bigger this year than last."

With that awareness, the crew has painstakingly expanded the festival again. Waking Windows returns to venues throughout Winooski this Friday to Sunday, May 3 to 5.

While the giant outdoor stage that housed acts such as Real Estate, Dan Deacon and Noname in past years is gone, the fest welcomes back venues that missed out in 2023, including Last Stop Sports Bar, Mandarin, Four Quarters Brewing and Autumn Records. New spaces such as Standing Stone Wines and Specs join the Monkey House, McKee's Pub & Grill, and Mule Bar, as well as pop-ups in empty spots such as 45 Main, former site of the Archives arcade bar.

They'll host a massive collection of acts, from headliners Death, Rough Francis and Lady Lamb to touring acts Yonatan Gat and Hello Shark. As always, the festival's backbone is made up of stellar Vermont bands: Festival veterans such as Barbacoa, Eastern Mountain Time and Wren Kitz will join Freeway Clyde, Greg Freeman, Rebecca Ryskalczyk and a host of other local-ish acts.

"We want fans to see that their local bands sound just as good up on those stages as the touring acts," Nagle said. "You see that, and you can get a real sense of appreciation for how good we have it here with our music scene."

This year's Waking Windows also includes a Drag Queen Story Hour on Saturday afternoon in the rotary kids' zone; the Page Burner Reading Series at Specs, Standing Stone Wines and Scout & Co.; and standup comedy showcases at Standing Stone Wines and Four Quarters. A free bicycle checkup on Saturday at bike shop Winooski Wheels is followed by a concert by RUDA and Marcie Hernandez.

"Putting together Waking Windows is always a massive challenge for us," Nagle revealed. "But I still love doing this as much as ever. I'm just as hungry to discover and show off new music as I was in 2011."

The past few years have taught Nagle and his fellow Waking Windows founders that they can still assemble one of the biggest weekends of music in Vermont every year — as long as they understand their limits and don't overreach them.

"Participation is preservation," Nagle said. "We can have this vibrant music scene so long as we support it. And that's not just for festivals; that goes across the board."

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