- File: Luke Awtry
- From left: Nick Mavodones, Matt Rogers, Ali Fogel, Paddy Reagan and Brian Nagle in 2019
Among the more bittersweet aspects of life in isolation has been how we've adapted in order to observe certain yearly landmarks and milestones. For example, raise your hand if you have celebrated birthdays in the last six-ish weeks by, say, standing outside a loved one's house and singing "Happy Birthday" or eating cake together over Zoom. In a way, it's kinda neat, right? Like, the indomitable human spirit finds a way even against the grimmest backdrops ... or something.
But it's also surreal. While I got a kick out of serenading my brother from the street on his 40th birthday — probably more than he did ... sorry, Ty — and watching my newly 1-year-old nephew in Chicago gleefully mashing his first bites of carrot cake, there was an inescapable feeling that something was missing. And, of course, there was.
I've discovered an eeriness about those days that, in more normal times, would mark something important or fun. Like birthdays, or what would have been the opening day of the baseball season, or any number of smaller occasions that help to mark time. I expect that "Twilight Zone" feeling will be especially strong this weekend.
That's because, somewhere in an alternate universe that isn't beset by a global pandemic, from Friday through Sunday, May 1 through 3, the city of Winooski will be feasting on the three-day indie-rock smorgasbord that is Waking Windows. Alas, we live in this universe, where the guy in charge of running the country is apt to suggest anything from leeches to antifreeze colonics as a cure for the coronavirus. Someone, please pass the bleach.
For close to a decade, Waking Windows — held the first weekend in May for most of its history — has heralded the beginning of not just festival season but idyllic warmer days ahead, which Vermonters look forward to all winter. It's the weekend when the entire music scene, performers and fans alike, comes out of hibernation to rock and/or roll — and also to high-five Waking Windows organizers Ali Fogel, Brian Nagle, Paddy Reagan, Matt Rogers and Nick Mavodones at various points around the Onion City traffic circle. It's just one of the best weekends of the entire year in Vermont.
This year would have been especially epic, as the festival was set to celebrate its 10th anniversary. Future Islands, who headlined the first Waking Windows in 2011 — a 10-day event held at the Monkey House in June opposite the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival — were scheduled to headline again, along with Japanese Breakfast, the Nude Party, Vundabar and many more of your future favorite bands. Oh, and pretty much every band, singer-songwriter and DJ in the greater Burlington area.
On March 18, the Waking Windows crew announced that this year's festival wasn't happening. While the organizers for many other major Vermont events slated for the spring and summer have expressed optimism about moving further down the calendar, Waking Windows' organizers simply pulled the plug on the 2020 fest. They discussed rescheduling for the fall, but given the logistics involved in hosting more than 250 acts at dozens of locations, postponing was never really an option, even for a slimmed-down version of the festival.
"We started planning 2020 before the festival last year," explained Fogel in a Zoom call with the entire Waking Windows brass. On top of the planning challenges, retooling for the fall would have meant competing against every other local event trying to squeeze into September or October weekends, as well as competing for talent with major national festivals such as Coachella and Bonnaroo, which are hoping to resume in the fall. That's if large public gatherings are even allowed by then, which is hardly a given.
"We didn't want to do a lesser version of Waking Windows, especially for our 10th year," said Nagle.
"We were upset about it not happening," added Fogel, "but in the grand scheme of things, so many people are dying and are in worse situations than we're in, so you can't really dwell on it."
Ticket presales for this year's fest were the highest they'd ever been. But if there is a silver lining for Waking Windows, it's that the financial fallout from canceling shouldn't be terribly severe. That's partly because the festival was canceled before deposits were sent out. But it's also because the Waking Windows crew, all of whom have full-time jobs, at least in non-pandemic times, don't rely on income from the fest. There isn't much of it.
"I think the fact that we don't make money on the festival is our saving grace," said Reagan. "It's so funny, because we always complain that we don't make anything. But that has insulated us a little bit."
That's not to say canceling the festival doesn't leave a financial void. For one thing, Waking Windows is a major boon for restaurants and bars in Winooski. Fogel, who manages the Monkey House, noted that her bartenders make much more during the festival every year than she or the rest of the Waking Windows crew do.
"That's the biggest bummer," said Rogers, lamenting "the servers, bartenders and everyone else who relies on the festival to make money."
And so the Waking Windows crew will turn their attention to May 7 through 9, 2021, when the festival is scheduled to resume.
"Waking Windows is always a great lead-in to spring, and people are excited to get out of their houses," noted Reagan. "Who knows what it will look like next year, but it's fun to think that Waking Windows could be the post-COVID kickoff."
We don't actually have to wait that long for a taste of Waking Windows. While the streets of Winooski — and the rotary you love to hate — will indeed be eerily quiet this weekend, the Waking Windows crew has been hard at work organizing a virtual stand-in, of sorts, for the festival, called Waking Windows at Home. Details were still coming together as of press time, but a slew of livestream Waking Windows events are scheduled to begin on Friday and continue through Sunday. And, much like the analog festival, the digital version promises to be a diverse and eclectic mix of music and other events.
- File: Luke Awtry
- Rough Francis at Waking Windows 2018
Among the performance highlights are Burlington's sons of Death, Rough Francis, releasing their long-awaited new album, Urgent Care, as well as live sets by BTV expat songwriter Maryse Smith, locals Matthew Mercury and Francesca Blanchard, and a dance party from DJ Disco Phantom — aka Nagle. Also, there's a Drag Queen Story Hour, and expat comedian Annie Russell will host an online version of her popular "Arguments & Grievances" show.
Additionally, Waking Windows will host several how-to livestreams, including record maintenance with Autumn Records, a photography workshop with Luke Awtry and Brian Lasky, bike maintenance with Ted Olson, a lighting seminar with lighting designer Jason Liggett, yoga with Sangha Studio and, not least, a home cocktail-making workshop.
And because some things are just sacred — and tradition — Waking Windows will wrap up on Sunday with a (virtual) pizza party.
Here's a peek at what's been on my bunker hi-fi lately.
- Future Islands, The Far Field
- Japanese Breakfast, Soft Sounds From Another Planet
- Francesca Blanchard, Happy for You EP
- Vundabar, Either Light
- Rosemary Caine, Foolisher Than Pride