- Luke Awtry | Courtesy
The 10th annual Waking Windows music and arts festival was gonna be lit. It boasted big-time indie headliners in Japanese Breakfast, the Nude Party and Vundabar. Better yet, at the very top of the marquee were Future Islands, the Baltimore synth-pop act that headlined the first Waking Windows in 2011 and is something like the (unofficial) official band of the fest.
The undercard was stacked, too. Just shy of 200 bands, DJs and solo performers of local, regional and national renown would have descended on Winooski over three days in early May, making that year's festival the largest yet. According to organizers, ticket presales hit record highs, suggesting that attendance would have outpaced that of year nine, when roughly 8,000 fans showed up. By every conceivable measure, the 10th Waking Windows was going to be one for the ages.
Care to guess what happened next?
Math whizzes have already figured out that if the first Waking Windows happened in 2011, then the 10th should have been in 2020. Those who haven't blocked that year from memory might recall that 2020 was not exactly a banner year for live music — or anything else, really.
The organizers of Waking Windows were the first to pull the plug on a major Vermont music festival as the world circled the drain in mid-March. The following weeks saw the cancellation of the rest of the state's fests, as it became increasingly clear that COVID-19 wasn't going away. Music fans made do with livestreams, fond memories of concerts past and cautious optimism for 2021.
While many summer festivals and concert series did resume in 2021, at least in some form, Waking Windows was not among them. In February of that year, organizers postponed again, this time to 2022, citing uncertainty about vaccine availability and the not-inconsiderable challenge of putting together a festival in three months that usually requires more than a year of planning. To which Vermont's population of indie music fans offered a glum collective response: "Fuck."
All of that brings us to this weekend, when the world's only rotary-centric music festival will come to life again. This Friday through Sunday, May 13 through 15, across the Onion City, Waking Windows returns from a two-year pandemic layoff to finally celebrate its 10th anniversary.
"It feels good," Waking Windows organizer Brian Nagle said — making the understatement of the year, if not the past two.
Waking Windows 2022 won't be as massive as recent pre-pandemic fests were. The current lineup includes 103 performers, down from 176 in 2019.
"It had to be triple digits," Nagle joked.
Nagle said that in curating the 2022 fest, he and fellow organizers Nick Mavodones, Paddy Reagan, Matt Rogers and Ali Nagle, Brian Nagle's wife, gave themselves "permission not to kill ourselves," despite celebrating a delayed milestone.
"We realized it didn't have to be so over-the-top," Brian Nagle said. "And we could still make a great festival happen."
While Future Islands won't be on hand this weekend, a few of the planned 2020 headliners will. Japanese Breakfast, touring behind their acclaimed 2021 record Jubilee — and singer Michelle Zauner's best-selling memoir Crying in H Mart — are a Main Stage highlight on Saturday. The Nude Party get wild on Sunday. The slate also features a slew of faces familiar from festivals past, including Japanese psych rockers Kikagaku Moyo, art rockers Guerilla Toss, and local staples such as Francesca Blanchard, Henry Jamison and Rough Francis.
Beyond curating the cutting-edge music offerings, organizers said they used the pandemic downtime to work on the evolution of the festival experience. Artists' collective Saft Rodeo was brought on to create a new environment, including wood cutouts and stage backdrops, around the outdoor Rotary Stage. Lighting designer Jason Liggett developed new lighting for the Rotary and Main stages, as well as at Winooski United Methodist Church and a new events space at Waterworks Food + Drink, the Waterworks River House Stage.
The idea, Nagle explained, is to give Waking Windows "more of a cohesive festival feel, as opposed to a bunch of individual venues."
As in past years, Waking Windows happens in an array of venues, 16 in all. They range from the massive outdoor Main Stage on Winooski Falls Way to the Methodist church to downtown bars and restaurants such as the Monkey House, Misery Loves Co. and Last Stop Sports Bar to shops such as Autumn Records. In essence, the city of Winooski itself is the festival venue.
"Waking Windows is Winooski," as Nagle put it in 2019.
"Waking Windows is a flagship for Winooski," Mayor Kristine Lott said. "Having an event of that scale ... sets a nice tone for the rest of the year and brings a lot of economic activity and energy and positivity to the city."
In a 2019 interview with Billboard magazine, the city's economic development officer, Heather Carrington, noted that Waking Windows nearly doubles the population of the Onion City and injects millions of dollars into the local economy. "Waking Windows promotes more than just great music," she said. "It spotlights our community."
Winooski has changed plenty since the 2019 festival. During the pandemic, numerous businesses have closed, opened or moved.
For example, Four Quarters Brewing, which was something of an outpost Waking Windows venue in its original West Canal Street location, now has a bustling tasting room just off the rotary. Its new home was formerly an abandoned bank. Waking Windows turned that same building into a pop-up venue called Lucky Cloud in 2019, one of several instances of the festival's creative use of overlooked spaces in the city.
But the most notable change in Winooski isn't at street level — it's well above it. In fall 2019, the Vermont Air National Guard's fleet of F-35 fighter jets arrived in Vermont. The jets have been flying almost daily (and sometime nightly) training missions over the city ever since, raising the ire of sleeping babies, remote workers and skittish dogs.
How will Waking Windows keep the roar of warplanes from disrupting sets at the festival?
"That's why we booked Dinosaur Jr.," Rogers joked, referring to Friday's alt-rock headliners, who are among the loudest bands on the planet. "They'll just drown 'em out."
When asked for their festival highlights, Waking Windows organizers noted top-line acts such as Habibi, Rob Sevier of the Numero Group, Alex Cameron and Dry Cleaning. They also pointed out that, especially for many local bands, Waking Windows will serve as something of a coming-out party after two years in hibernation. The festival marks the first full-fledged return to the stage for several Vermont acts that were dormant during the pandemic.
Waking Windows has always signaled the beginning of festival season in Vermont, a time when bands and fans reconnect after a long winter. Nagle suggested that aspect of the event will be magnified in 2022.
"Honestly, just being able to see people I haven't seen in two and a half years," he said, "it's gonna be the best hugs and high-fives ever."
Read on for highlights of this year's Waking Windows, including interviews with Dinosaur Jr. bassist Lou Barlow, Kikagaku Moyo drummer Go Kurosawa and expat comedian Annie Russell, host of the No Chill Comedy Showcase. Take our tips on seven national bands not to miss and a choice selection of local acts. And check out our Waking Windows Bingo board to keep track of sights and sounds from the weekend.
For more on festival food options, see "Slice of the Action." Download the new Waking Windows app to guide your journey around the rotary, from music to a host of other offerings, including the Drag Queen Story Hour with Emoji Nightmare and Katniss Everqueer, the Downtown Artist Market, and the Page Burner Reading Series. Finally, check out the music section for even more Waking Windows coverage.
Oh, and happy Waking Windows. At last.
Lou Barlow talks about touring in the pandemic and influencing the next generation of indie music (or not)
- Dinosaur Jr.
While Waking Windows is traditionally a showcase for young, up-and-coming indie artists, this year's bill features some serious alt-rock royalty. Led by guitarist and vocalist J Mascis, Dinosaur Jr. came to prominence just ahead of the arrival of grunge, making a splash with their second album, You're Living All Over Me, in 1987.
Through several lineup changes, the band dropped some of the most influential records of the alternative rock era, matching a crushingly loud, hardcore-influenced sound with Mascis' offbeat songwriting. With songs such as "Start Choppin'" and "Feel the Pain," Dinosaur Jr. established themselves in a middle ground between underground acts and mainstream rock bands, setting the pattern for many '90s bands that made it big in their wake.
Mascis disbanded the group in 1997, but the three original members — Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph — reunited in 2005 to kick off a new era. 2021's Sweep It Into Space continued a run of excellent late-career records.
Dinosaur Jr. headline the Main Stage on Friday with a set of gloriously loud, heavily distorted rock and roll. In anticipation, Seven Days reached out to Barlow. The Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter also started two other bands, Sebadoh and Folk Implosion, that have influenced a generation of lo-fi, DIY indie acts — many of which are playing Waking Windows.
At 55, Barlow is no longer an outsider but an elder statesman. We spoke with him about the pandemic, making a lasting career in music and the state of modern indie rock.
SEVEN DAYS: You've always been a hard-touring musician. I imagine the pandemic threw a wrench in your plans for the last two years. How did you cope?
LOU BARLOW: Honestly, I toured pretty consistently through it all. There was that block in 2020 when we all lay low for a little, but otherwise I was still playing shows. I did get COVID last time Dinosaur Jr. was on tour, though. I rented a car and just chased the tour bus for a week or so until I wasn't sick anymore. That was a bit weird, but otherwise the tours have been pretty fantastic.
SD: For a lot of fans, these shows represent a kind of return to normalcy. Can you sense that gratitude in the audiences?
LB: Well, I never really felt people at our shows took it for granted or anything ... but yeah, you can tell. There's just a little bit of sparkle on it all right now. Like I said, I played a lot through the thing, but for a touring musician, any period of canceled gigs can be a problem. I had to learn to adapt. I was forced to think in terms other than just playing shows.
SD: How do you mean? Like, livestreams? Record sales don't really work like they used to, right?
LB: There was a very, very brief time in my career where record sales might have supported me, but that is long past. I'm 55, so it's pretty easy to slip into old habits. I've always existed in this anxious space, like a lot of musicians, where I'm constantly wondering where the next paycheck is coming from. I'm privileged in that I can make a living playing music, but it's never predictable, and it's never really enough. I'm not working for some golden parachute, so I have to figure out how to make music until I drop dead. [Laughs]
One thing I started doing is sending out handwritten copies of my lyrics for fans. A musician friend of mine suggested it, and it's been pretty cool; people seem to dig it.
SD: It has to be a bit of a head trip to play festivals with so many young bands influenced by the era of music you had such a hand in.
LB: I like the fact that everything is happening now at once. It's like, Look, an '80s revival! Hey, now a '90s one! It's a 2000s revival now! Back in the day, these trends would sort of lock everything down and demand everyone sounded similar; there wasn't the diversity of styles we have now.
SD: It's true. There does seem to be this love of lo-fi sounds in today's indie rock, something all of your bands championed at one time or another. Do you take pride in that influence?
LB: Honestly, I don't really see my influence in young bands. I hear other bands' influence, like Pavement and the Pixies. And, yeah, I suppose Dinosaur Jr. is influential, but even then, I don't really hear any bands that sound like us — whereas you can find bands that are trying to sound exactly like My Bloody Valentine. I like to think they're influenced by our attitude, maybe. But J Mascis has a style that's too all over the place to copy.
I have to admit: I think the young bands that take inspiration from the '90s ... do it in a better way than we all did. They learned from our mistakes — the vocals are louder! Also, DIY recording is so much better than it was when we started. Back in the day, we were at the mercy of the studio system. Either we made stuff that was insanely lo-fi or way too slick and overproduced. There was no middle ground.
SD: Do you like interacting with other bands at festivals? Especially at one like Waking Windows, with so many young indie acts and local Vermont artists, I imagine a lot of the music is completely unknown to you.
LB: Oh, I love it. Festivals are perfect, man. I love playing them because I can do whatever I want. I wander around and see all these bands I've never seen. I love watching the young bands and seeing what they're into, what sort of attitude they have, are they having a good time, that sort of thing.
As a musician, you get the freedom to pop from set to set and catch little bits of everything. And if there are bigger acts and rock stars, you can check in and see how jaded and harsh their road crew is! Then, when I've taken it all in, I get to retreat to my trailer and just hang.
Actually playing the festivals is great, of course, but I have to admit that I really love just being a fly on the wall sometimes.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Dinosaur Jr. play the Waking Windows Main Stage on Friday at 8:50 p.m.
Japanese psych rockers Kikagaku Moyo say farewell at Waking Windows
- Kikdagaku Moyo
It's been just over a decade since Kikagaku Moyo formed in Tokyo. The five-piece band forged a new take on psychedelic rock, one less informed by American bands such as the Grateful Dead than by krautrockers Can and fellow Japanese act Acid Mothers Temple.
Over the course of five full-length LPs, culminating in this year's Kumoyo Island, Kikagaku Moyo have created a body of ethereal, atmospheric music that literally speaks its own language. No, for real: Similar to Icelandic indie rockers Sigur Rós, Kikagaku Moyo sing all their songs in a language they created to make their music more universal.
The good news is that Kikagaku Moyo return to play Waking Windows on Friday as part of a sprawling world tour. The bad news? It's their final tour, as the band has announced it will go on indefinite hiatus afterward.
"The pandemic played a part in our decision," the band's drummer, Go Kurosawa, said by phone from his home in the Netherlands. "Three of us now live in Amsterdam, but the other two still live in Japan."
Being so far apart made it difficult for the group to play together, especially during a pandemic. Kurosawa said the distance combined with the desire to try something new to make shelving the band feel like a natural decision, even as Kikagaku Moyo put the finishing touches on Kumoyo Island.
"We didn't write any of the music thinking it was our last album," Kurosawa said. "But when we listened back to it, after we knew it was the end, it made sense that it was. We were able to express ourselves 100 percent on this record, and I think our feelings come through the music."
Curiously, the band will retire without a single new show scheduled in Japan. Its final show is slated for October 6 in Brooklyn. Kurosawa pointed out that Kikagaku Moyo spent most of their career performing outside their home country.
"It's hard to make sense of where we fit in the concept of Japanese music," he said. "People there are noticing us now because we're ending things. But it's not easy to play live shows in Japan; it's not ideal for bands. I hope people in Japan will see that they don't have to work within that system and that they can try different things, like we did."
Kurosawa views festivals such as Waking Windows as integral to independent music. The band first played the Winooski event in 2017.
"It's so important for bands like us, who don't really fit, to have festivals like these," he said. "They help local bands and touring bands that don't easily fit into models, which is really important for a scene."
What's next for the band members as they stare down the last year of their existence as Kikagaku Moyo? Kurosawa isn't sure — and he's not too worried about it. The band's goal right now is to complete the tour without any cancellations, he said. The past few years of delayed vinyl shipments and canceled festival gigs have taught the band to plan less and focus more on making music in the present.
Kurosawa will keep running Guruguru Brain, a record label he formed with bandmate and multi-instrumentalist Tomo Katsurada in 2014, which puts out a wide assortment of Asian music. He sees the label as a way to give more exposure to music from countries such as Pakistan, Korea and Taiwan, as well as other Japanese bands. For instance, Sensoria, the latest album from space rockers Dhidalah, came out on Guruguru Brain in April.
Kurosawa said he tries not to think too much about Kikagaku Moyo's legacy.
"We haven't had the time to properly look back at what we've created," he said. "It's been cool ... just to recognize the time and energy we all spent on the project. When we do look back, it's hard to believe it's been 10 years."
There's something to be said for ending a project on one's own terms, as Kurosawa is all too aware.
"It's cool to be able to say, 'This is it,'" he noted. "Usually bands just end it, but we get to appreciate the moment and share it with people. I think it will be a beautiful end."
Kikagaku Moyo play the Waking Windows Main Stage on Friday at 7:20 p.m.
Waking Windows is a Joke
Expat comedian Annie Russell brings the laughs
- Matthew Thorsen
- Annie Russell
Annie Russell isn't sure how many times she's performed or produced a comedy show at Waking Windows, but she knows it's a lot.
"Oh, God, I want to say seven?" Russell said, referring to her tally of festivals. "Seven sounds right. They've all been amazing, though; there's not too many things out there like it."
The expat comedian and former Vermont Public Radio editor is now based in New York City. She returns for the Winooski festival's 10th iteration as producer of two comedy shows that bookend the weekend: the No Chill Comedy Showcase on Friday at the Stoplight Gallery; and the Local Comedy Showcase on Sunday at Four Quarters Brewing.
Seven Days rang Russell recently to get all the funny business cleared up.
SEVEN DAYS: It's not unusual to see comedy at music fests these days. Why do you think it works so well, particularly at Waking Windows?
ANNIE RUSSELL: Well, for one, I think that people who go to Waking Windows clearly have good taste and are going to be receptive to checking out national and local comedians. There's always been a really good overlap between music and comedy at Waking Windows, too, so I think the audience is super savvy about it all; they know it all goes hand in hand. Plus, it's pretty appealing for people walking around the rotary all day to pop in to a seated show.
SD: You're hosting two comedy showcases, one with national, touring comedians and another with locally based comedians. That feels very in keeping with Waking Windows' musical ethos.
AR: Absolutely. That is deliberate; we want to mirror that approach. We love inviting bigger, touring comedians to Waking Windows, but it's just as important to feature Vermont comedians because the scene here is just so good. I feel that comedians in and around Burlington are on par with those coming from much bigger cities.
So, to that end, we have Kenice Mobley headlining on Friday. She's been on Netflix and Comedy Central, so it's likely some will be aware of her work. We've also included a few expats like Ash Diggs and Carl Sonnefeld and Kendall Farrell, to show how Vermont comics go abroad and do well for themselves. But then, on Sunday, we'll feature all local comics. Highlighting local talent has always been at the core of Waking Windows, so I'm super excited to show folks what this comedy scene can offer.
SD: Will you be performing, as well?
AR: I am! I'm producing both nights, but I'll also be hosting the events, so I'll do a set each night.
SD: I imagine there's some good fodder for jokes at a music fest. I mean, the hipster quotient in Winooski for that weekend is through the roof! Do you have at them with both barrels, or do you tone it down around all the ironic mustaches and unicycles?
AR: I definitely don't tone it down. If anyone has ever seen one of my performances around Burlington over the years, they know that's all very familiar territory for me, so it should be interesting. It's going to be fun for sure! [Laughs maniacally]
SD: Seeing how well comedy does as an addition to music fests like Waking Windows, do you think it's maybe time for a comedy-only festival in town?
AR: There was one in the past [the Green Mountain Comedy Festival] that the folks at the Vermont Comedy Club put together. So, if it's happened before, it can definitely happen again, and I think it should. The local scene in Burlington ebbs and flows, but it's always really strong. It's just like with music: A lot of the local talent leaves for bigger markets at some point — though some come back. When the talent leaves town, other comedians will step up and fill that void. It's how a robust scene is created, and that sort of scene can support its own comedy fest.
SD: Aside from the comedy, what are you most excited to see at the festival?
AR: If anyone wants to see me and catch up, I can tell you I will be at the Japanese Breakfast show on Saturday night, no doubt. I love [singer Michelle Zauner's] music; I devoured her book. I honestly cannot wait to see that show. Dinosaur Jr., as well — I still can't believe they're going to be right in the middle of Winooski. It's just going to be an amazing weekend, and I'm so happy to be back.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
No Chill Comedy Showcase, hosted by Annie Russell and featuring Kenice Mobley, Kendall Farrell, Ash Diggs and Carl Sonnefeld, Friday, 10 p.m., at the Stoplight Gallery.
Local Comedy Showcase, hosted by Russell and featuring Mike Thomas, Tim Bridge, Hillary Boone, Eric Dreiblatt and Nico D'Elisa, Sunday, 6 p.m., at Four Quarters Brewing.
Early Birds Guitarist: Gus Green thought his band, Geese, would break up after he and his bandmates graduated from high school in 2020. As he told the New York Times, the Brooklyn-based crew of teenagers never planned on making music a career. That is, until the band signed a joint record deal with British label PIAS and New York's Partisan Records and put out its debut album, Projector. The album shows the strong influence of bands such as Television, the Feelies and the Strokes, placing Geese in a long lineage of NYC rock luminaries. They play on Friday night at 12:20 a.m. at the Waterworks River House Stage. — C.F.
Greaseface [garage rock]
About Face: Originally hailing from Hinesburg, Greaseface are the trio of childhood friends Jackson Glover, Brenden Provost and Liam Thomas. The three cut their garage-y first record, You Fucked Up My Car, at a Champlain College recording studio, then went more punk rock with the 2020 EP Disposable. Rough Francis drummer Urian Hackney produced the latter EP, which features raw, twitchy garage rock, leaning toward the sound of NYC post-punks Parquet Courts. Greaseface's latest release, the six-track Chrometophobia, finds the band expanding into new territory, mixing in electronic and ambient influences. Greaseface play the Rotary Stage on Friday at 6 p.m. C.F.
Ric Wilson [hip-hop, R&B]
- Ric Wilson
Disco Lives: Ric Wilson emerged from Young Chicago Authors, a creative writing program that has produced talent such as Chance the Rapper, Noname and Vic Mensa. On his 2020 EP, They Call Me Disco, Wilson collaborated with producer Terrace Martin (Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar) to create a highly danceable record of summer jams, featuring Wilson's easygoing, conversational flow. His all-over-the-place lyrics can be political one moment and abstract the next. Wilson's latest release, Disco Ric in London Town, is a collaboration with British indie R&B artist Yellow Days. Catch his set on the Rotary Stage on Friday at 8:10 p.m. — C.F.
The Cush [psych rock]
- Courtesy Of Robert P. Maloney
- The Cush
No Place Like Home: For most of the 2000s, few Vermont bands were as universally admired as the Cush. Centered on the husband-and-wife duo of Burette and Gabrielle Douglas, the band specialized in a unique brand of shoegaze as dreamy and hypnotic as it was sweetly melodic. The Douglases left Vermont in 2010 for their native Texas, but they've continued making provocative music. Their 2021 album on Ben Harper's Mad Bunny Records, Riders in the Stardust Gold, finds the band layering oceans of sound that float an armada of sticky hooks and contemplative lyrics. The Cush return to Vermont for the first time since 2014 to play at the Winooski United Methodist Church on Friday night at 11:20 p.m. — D.B.
We Believe: Cameroonian American songwriter Vagabon, aka Laetitia Tamko, turned heads in 2017 on the strength of her debut full-length, Infinite Worlds. Her 2019 self-titled Nonesuch Records follow-up found the indie musician exploring new sounds in an effort to escape being pigeonholed. Last year, she released a single with indie rock songwriter Courtney Barnett, a cover of "Reason to Believe," written by Tim Hardin and popularized by Karen Dalton, that further established her as a singular artistic voice in modern indie music. Vagabon plays the Rotary Stage on Saturday at 8 p.m. — D.B.
Habibi [psych pop]
Playing Nice Blending psych rock and 1960s girl-group harmonies, often sung in Farsi, Brooklyn's Habibi "[shed] rigid definitions of what constitutes American music," as Pitchfork put it in a review of the band's 2018 EP, Cardamom Garden. Led by Iranian vocalist Rahill Jamalifard, the band signed with iconic indie label Kill Rock Stars last year and issued a scintillating three-song EP of covers called Nice Try. The EP includes a Farsi reinterpretation of "Nice" by Kleenex/LiLiPUT, as well as "Try," a tribute to late Delta 5 cofounder Julz Sale, whom Jamalifard called "an unrivaled force in the macrocosm of punk music." Catch Habibi at the Rotary Stage on Sunday at 4:50 p.m. D.B.
The Nude Party [indie rock]
- Courtesy Of Brian Derballa
- The Nude Party
Everyone Get Naked: Formed in Boone, N.C., at Appalachian State University, the Nude Party hit the scene with their self-titled debut in 2018. The high-energy record, with shades of the Rolling Stones and the Replacements, features the song "Chevrolet Van," which Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys called one of his favorite songs of the year. The band's sound evolved with 2020's Midnight Manor, a record that saw it moving on from lo-fi garage rock to a rock-and-roll explosion of charismatic songs. The Nude Party hit the Rotary Stage (clothed, presumably) on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. — C.F.
Seven Vermont Bands Not to Miss
- Dari Bay
Vermont bands are the backbone of Waking Windows. The wave of local talent featured at this year's festival rises far too high to list here, but we've found seven homegrown acts to get you started.
- Clever Girls
Heart-on-sleeve indie rock. Main Stage, Saturday, 4 p.m.
Post-punk-flavored indie rock, full of energy. Waterworks River House Stage, Friday, 10:10 p.m.
Electro-dance and live house music. The Monkey House, Sunday, 9:10 p.m.
Lo-fi shoegaze with a punk crust. Waterworks River House Stage, Saturday, 10:10 p.m.
Classical and free jazz compositions on the alto saxophone. Winooski United Methodist Church, Saturday, 9:20 p.m.
Synth rock from Brattleboro. The Monkey House, Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
Lily Sickles and the So and Sos
Whiskey-soaked country music. Four Quarters Brewing, Friday, 5 p.m.