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Northern Vermont is in the path of totality for a rare total solar eclipse on Monday, April 8.

Alburgh hopes totality festival can be its moment in the (eclipsed) sun

A man wearing a rainbow and purple baseball cap stands in front of a banner advertising a festival.
Sabine Poux
Vermont Public
One week before the eclipse, festival co-organizer Alex McCracken sports Alburgh Totality Festival merch on Alburgh's Main Street.

The group behind the Alburgh Totality Festival is small, just a handful of members strong. But they’ve got the right credentials.

“I'm a retired Navy commander. So I'm thinking about layered defenses ... thinking about if we had thousands of people here, how would we deal with them?” said Alburgh resident Josie Henry at a planning meeting on April 1, exactly one week before the eclipse.

She sat across from Jim Hokenberg, who’s in charge of talent and venue for the festival.

“I can’t believe that I'm back into this,” said Hokenberg, who used to work in entertainment in New York City. I left it all, I walked away from it. I came up here with my wife, we started a family, I stayed right here, and bingo — we’re doing it again.”

Alburgh is a place where people like Jim often come for a slower slice of life. It’s a town of about 2,000 residents at the top of the Champlain Islands, close to the New York and Canada borders. 

But as it happens, Alburgh is right in the path of totality for the 2024 solar eclipse — which makes it a prime destination for the potentially massive crowds that will be traveling from all over the region, and the country, to get a three-and-a-half minute glimpse at the moon completely covering the sun. It’s a golden opportunity for business, at least for those brave enough to seize it.

Henry — the retired Navy commander who’s on the festival planning committee — is an Airbnb host, and learned about the eclipse when she realized that her properties were all booked out for April. In October, she and the other group members began planning the three-day festival, which started Saturday morning and wraps up Monday evening, after the eclipse and a fireworks show.

A woman takes notes at a desk.
Sabine Poux
Vermont Public
Josie Henry at an Alburgh Totality Festival planning meeting one week before the eclipse, on April 1.

There were a lot of different moving parts to get sorted: bands, fireworks, security, porta potties. There are 40 volunteers who are helping throughout the weekend.

Henry has sunk a lot of her own money into the free-to-attend festival, which she hopes to recoup with sponsorships and raffle tickets.

But even with the weekly meetings and copious to-do lists, there’s one unknown variable: traffic. Henry anticipates between 1,000 and 5,000 guests this weekend, though it's hard to know exactly when so many people are coming up just for the day. The weather’s looking good for Vermont and for the islands, which could mean more people.

“I’m nervous about either having way less people than we need to really pull this off in the end — but more so way too many people than we're ready to handle,” Henry said.

Alburgh’s not a complete stranger to festivals. It used to host a bluegrass festival and holds an annual Fourth of July party. In 1995, thousands of people came to see the Grateful Dead in Highgate, and roads were backed up through town.

“Music is a key thing for a lot of people,” said Jim Hokenberg, in the planning group. “They travel for it, they enjoy it. In this corner of Vermont, this far north, there is none of that. And we’re hoping — if we can get started and get things rolling … it’ll put Alburgh on the map to capitalize on our surroundings.”

Alburgh resident Alex McCracken is doing external relations for the festival.

“Something we're really hoping is that this is going to be a catalyst for economic development,” he said.

A man stands in front of a brown field.
Sabine Poux
Vermont Public
John Clarke in front of his property in Alburgh.

John Clarke owns property on the main street in town, right next to the American Legion. In the summer, he turns it into three campsites that he puts up on Airbnb. He said they’re rarely all booked at once.

But they booked out early for the eclipse weekend. He added another handful of spots that are fully booked, too. He’s hosting guests as far away as Oregon and California.

He’s excited for people to see Alburgh.

“It's this tiny little jewel town that's just way up here and we don't really have much, but there's a lot of people that are trying to change that,” Clarke said.

And he said the town could use an economic boost.

“It is a once in a lifetime thing,” he said. “Sometimes you just need a push to get you rolling. And once you get rolling, who knows? Maybe other things happen. The town starts to evolve a little bit, people start to come here and check it out and that sort of thing."

Not everyone is so invested. A week before the eclipse, Gene Jarvis was picking up two pairs of eclipse glasses from the town offices.

“I’m going to sit at home and watch it.” he said. “Haven’t paid that much attention to it. I go to work and come home. That’s it.”

People wait in a line for cheese curds.
Sabine Poux
Vermont Public
Visitors wait for food at the sunny second day of the Alburgh Totality Festival.

Fast forward to Sunday — the eve of the eclipse and day two of the festival. The space outside the highway department garage has transformed into a festival grounds, with food carts selling cheese curds and lemonade, and a big tent where families are starting to gather. A band is doing a soundcheck on stage.

A lot has come together in just the last few days. The committee found a second local food vendor who is here slinging hotdogs and hamburgers from behind a grill. Josie Henry said they had a few more sponsorships come through, too.

“I do feel a little bit of a sense of relief for the first time,” she said. “Two nights ago, I only slept two hours because I was just so worried.”

She’s overjoyed about the sunny weather today — a big contrast with the rain and cold on Saturday.

“We just were fighting the elements,” she said. “Trying to keep warm and keep everybody’s stuff dry."

She said they’re bracing for the impact of Monday. And, they’re already looking beyond. The festival group is incorporated into a nonprofit, Gateway Festivals, and Henry said they plan to hold more events, like this one, in Alburgh.

And maybe, some of the visitors who will see the eclipse here might come back in the future — like Tory Lane. She and her husband are visiting from Boston, with two friends from New Hampshire.

Two couples stand in winter clothes.
Sabine Poux
Vermont Public
Visitors Paul Kovalov (left) and Christina Pitsch (right) of Manchester New Hampshire, with Tory Lane and Jay Bordage (middle) of Boston, Massachusetts.

Tory saw the total eclipse back in Oregon in 2017. She said it was transformative.

“As soon as I got home, I looked up when the next one was going to be and I found that it was going to be here,” she said. “And I was like, ‘We have to go!’ So about two years ago, we started planning.”

They found an inn in Alburgh that was going to be open specially for the eclipse. They visited a restaurant Friday night and now, they’re just exploring the area.

‘It’s adorable! I mean, the fact that it was having a fair for the eclipse was really fun and exciting,” she said. “It’s super charming. I’m happy to be here.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

More eclipse resources

See all of Vermont Public's 2024 eclipse coverage.

Sabine Poux is a reporter/producer with Brave Little State. She comes to Vermont by way of Kenai, Alaska, where she was a reporter, news director, and on-air host for almost three years. Her reporting on commercial fishing and energy has been syndicated across Alaska and on NPR.
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