Soundbites: Highlight's Amazing NYE Lineup and New Holiday Tunes From Matt Hagen | Music News + Views | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Soundbites: Highlight's Amazing NYE Lineup and New Holiday Tunes From Matt Hagen


Published December 7, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.

  • Courtesy Of Luke Awtry Photography
  • Guerilla Toss

As we get ready to close the books on 2022, all the clichés come to mind. Making resolutions, pretending to be sad about celebrities who kicked the bucket during the year and, worst of all, sharing Spotify Wrapped playlists.

Nothing makes me scratch my head quite like people who post their year-end Spotify playlists and exclaim things like, "Wow, they so get me!"

Yeeeah, that's how data work. You've been telling them what you like, and they're giving it back to you like a dog bringing back your tennis ball, only now it's covered in saliva. Does the saliva represent Spotify CEO Daniel Ek and his musician-screwing service spitting on the artists? I'm not sure. The metaphor is already tenuous, especially when you consider that I have a Spotify account.

But, as we've learned from the World Cup, I can bitch about something incessantly and still consume it. That might be the most apt description of a modern American I can think of at the moment.

Another holiday staple I often lament is New Year's Eve in Burlington. Now, I know there are many readers out there who loved the old First Night celebrations, but Seven Days pays me the moderate bucks to drop the hard truths and the scalding hot takes. So feast on this one: New Year's Eve has pretty much always sucked in Burlington. There, I said it.

Am I claiming there hasn't been a single fun one in town in the near quarter-century I've lived here? Of course not. What I'm saying is that the Queen City has never had a reputation as a great spot for New Year's Eve entertainment.

First, it's always miserably cold. Things are often literally covered in ice, which, as any assortment of fables will tell you, sort of ruins the vibe. Second, this is a college town, and a good chunk of those students are gone on holiday break. There's a skeleton-crew feeling to the city that I quite enjoy, but it doesn't make for great blowouts.

This year just might be different, though. The folks at Burlington City Arts and Signal Kitchen are throwing an absolute rager of a New Year's Eve party. For the fifth year in a row, they're producing Highlight, an all-day, citywide celebration featuring music, comedy, fireworks, art installations, movie marathons and even circuses.

Let's get right to the show that made me do a double take. "The Spirit of NYE," presented by Highlight and local label/collective Spirit of Ethan Allen Records at the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, is a festival within a festival and all-out sonic attack, featuring some of the best Vermont bands and killer national acts.

Rockin' Worms and Greg Freeman will kick things off, and then Guerilla Toss will take the downstairs stage at ECHO. The gloriously weird New York City indie rockers were a highlight of May's Waking Windows fest in Winooski, where people waited in huge lines outside Waterworks Food + Drink just to catch some of the band's set.

Following Guerilla Toss is Brattleboro's own King Tuff. The fuzzed-out rocker, aka Kyle Thomas, has a new record coming out in 2023 on Sub Pop records. Tentatively titled Smalltown Stardust, it's a musical love letter to growing up in Vermont, according to a press release.

Perhaps Thomas will debut some of the new tunes at the ECHO show, where Burlington outfit Rough Francis will back him up. The punk band, which is also working on a 2023 release, will play its own set at 11:30 p.m., after King Tuff wraps.

Sandwiched into that lineup is a downstairs set by the one and only DJ Disco Phantom, making for a solid block of pure musical goodness at the waterfront venue. It's a bill to remember, made possible by the BCA and Signal Kitchen's Bright Ideas Project.

In an email, BCA festival and event director Zach Williamson described that initiative as "a core component of BCA and Signal Kitchen's creation of Highlight back in 2018. With First Night closing," he continued, "we recognized that a key component of a new NYE celebration would be to stay relevant by incorporating community ideas every year."

So BCA and Signal Kitchen reached out to the community for proposals. Spirit of Ethan Allen Records' Noah Schneidman (Ivamae, Lily Seabird) proposed the ECHO lineup, pitching it as a collection of like-minded artists who could seamlessly collaborate, like record labelmates on tour.

"I had been trying to put together a festival earlier this year," Schneidman revealed by phone. Those plans fell through, but the Bright Ideas Project gave him another chance.

"I'm just blown away that the city would give me the resources to make this happen," Schneidman said. "I'm young, and it's not like I have a huge résumé of putting on shows or anything. But when these things are built around community and love, people tend to notice."

According to Williamson, staff from BCA, Signal Kitchen and the Bright Ideas Project's funding partner, the Vermont State Employees Credit Union, seek proposals with "complete ideas that usually involve more than one artist or the community or can serve a fair number of people."

"Honestly, I thought of this event when I was reading the Fattie B cover story last week," Williamson wrote, referencing my recent piece on rapper Fattie B's new collaboration-filled record, GUMBO. "The shared music community he speaks about is really happening at ECHO this Highlight. It's also alive and well up at the [First] Unitarian [Universalist Society of Burlington] church with Dwight + Nicole."

The Burlington soul duo will host its own Highlight party, "Play the Future," at the Pearl Street church. In addition to Dwight + Nicole holding down the headliner slot, it features performances by one of their frequent collaborators, blues and soul singer Ali McGuirk; Burlington-via-Madagascar singer-songwriter Mikahely; West African drum and dance troupe Jeh Kulu; and the man himself, Fattie B.

Zoë Keating - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • Zoë Keating

Earlier on New Year's Eve, the church will host the Youth Opera Company of Vermont, singer-songwriters Isabel Pless and Hope Deluca, and avant-garde cellist Zoë Keating.

Since the fireworks happen on the Burlington waterfront, BCA has loaded up plenty of music at Waterfront Park, as well. Singer Kat Wright will perform a tribute to Bonnie Raitt at 8:30 p.m., just after supporting sets from the All Night Boogie Band, Sambatucada and DJ Rice Pilaf. Indie soul singer-songwriter Ivamae will also get in the spirit of tributes on the waterfront, playing a set of songs by legendary soul singer Donny Hathaway.

That's just the tip of the New Year's Eve iceberg. More bands will be announced for Highlight in the coming weeks. Pop over to for more information.

Bite Torrent

Kat Wright and Brett Hughes - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Kat Wright and Brett Hughes

Speaking of Wright, she and guitarist extraordinaire Brett Hughes hit (a little bit of) the road this month for their ninth annual Holiday Show tour. From Bennington's the Coffee Bar on December 7 to Middlebury's Town Hall Theater on December 17, the pair, backed by upright bassist tyler bolles, will bring the sounds of the season to five special yuletide shows.

"The melodies of so many Christmas jams are so great and feel like they've just always been there," Hughes said of his love of holiday music. "You have all of the sad, dreamy wistfulness that'll drive you to add extra bourbon to your mulled cider."

Hughes is still trying to write what he called the "saddest-ever Christmas song." His 2021 tune "I Thought We'd Spend All Our Christmases Together" is his latest attempt. Be sure to catch the tour if you're feeling the holiday spirit — or just want to see whether Hughes has achieved his goal.

Another Burlington musician who loves a good holiday tune is Matt Hagen. The seemingly tireless guitarist (the High Breaks, Purple, Matt the Gnat) released "Pour Me a Holiday Beer" last Thursday on his Golden Loaf Bandcamp page. It's exactly what it sounds like: a tune about deserving a cold one as another tough year comes to a close.

Hagen will celebrate the release with a December 19 Holiday Hymns and Haunts show at the 126 on College Street in Burlington.