Winooksi, VT is a small mill town along the banks of a river that flows into Lake Champlain, and borders the larger metropolitan area of Burlington. It’s nicknamed the “Onion City” for reasons I’m still not entirely sure of, home to Saint Michael’s College, an ice cream place that features beets as an ingredient, a restaurant with 25 kinds of mac and cheese and a maple syrup is as standard an addition to coffee as milk. In a word, it’s quaint. The kind of town that seems so closely knit you could walk into the mayor’s office, say “what about a music festival!?” and a week later it would be happening. Which is exactly how I imagine the small, young music festival of Waking Windows came to be.
Waking Windows happens each year in three different cities (Denver, Portland, ME, and the original location, Winooski). This past weekend the Onion City was host to the sold-out festival for the seventh year. There’s 10 or 15 shops, bars, churches, and other storefronts that line the rotary in the center of town, and during this one weekend a year each becomes a temporary venue for upwards of 150 artists.
Add two outdoor stages, and Waking Windows featured about as broad a spectrum of music you can find at a festival. Friday night electronic musician Dan Deacon, without much effort, got most every attendee to join one of his signature dance parties. On Saturday, Australian psych-rockers Pond drew what seemed to be the second largest crowd of the weekend, which only stretched to capacity by the time headliners Real Estate took the stage shortly after.
But the undeniable benefit of a smaller festival like this is the intimacy of it all — the headliners are never the highlights. It’s worth it for things like this: before you realize the place with beet ice cream has beet ice cream, you’re popping in because you hear the screeching guitar of Ursula as you’re walking by sometime around midnight. Or it’s worth it because the rain stopped and it’s finally sunny out, but you post up in what’s usually a vacant storefront disguised as a venue with balloons on the ceiling for three consecutive sets — Boston’s Beeef, followed by Philadelphia’s Hello Shark and Friendship (all three of those are your new favorite bands). Or it’s worth it because now you can say you had your first Heady Topper even though half of it was lost to the floor when somebody pushed you in the pit during Screaming Females.
It’s one of those rare times when you feel like you did the right thing by coming early and staying late.