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Waking Windows brings music, comedy to Winooski in festival's 12th year

The pre-pandemic 2019 lineup of Winooski's Waking Windows featured band, The Tune Yards, along with 176 bands and 60 deejays across dozens of venues and stages.
BDL Photography
The 2019 Waking Windows lineup featured Tune-Yards, pictured, along with more than 170 bands bands and 60 DJs across dozens of venues and stages.

Since 2011 — minus a couple of pandemic years — Waking Windows has helped kick off the spring and summer festival season.

The multi-day event in Winooski draws musicians, artists and performers from across the region for fans of all ages — and it kicks off Friday night.

Headlining this weekend’s festival are Death and Rough Francis, two bands that bring together a father, his sons and their uncle for what promises to be a thunderous night of punk music.

Paddy Reagan is one of the festival's co-founders, and he joined Vermont Public's Jenn Jarecki in-studio to preview this year's lineup. This interview was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Jenn Jarecki: OK, so I've got to start with the headliners. The proto-punk band Death was originally active in Detroit in the '70s, and they'll be playing a joint show with Rough Francis, a Vermont band a lot of listeners will be familiar with. I teased that family connection in the intro, but tell us more about them and how this idea came together.

Paddy Reagan, one of the Waking Windows co-founders
Paddy Reagan
Paddy Reagan, one of the Waking Windows co-founders

Paddy Reagan: Yeah, well, if you don't know the story of Death, I suggest that you seek out a documentary called A Band Called Death. It sort of gives you the whole rundown of the Hackney family and their impact on Detroit's punk rock world and then just sort of rock ’n’ roll history at large.

You know, we've had Rough Francis almost every year. They're good friends of ours. We love their music. They sort of turn any show into a party. I think it was earlier this year, or maybe in 2023, they put out a split on Drag City. Brian Nagle, one of the other co-founders, and the person who handles most of the booking, sort of knew that they were looking to do some shows, and so brought the idea up, and we were all really in love with it. And so we thought, what better way to have the high point of the festival be this sort of a legacy of Vermont music? I remember doing sound for the first Rough Francis show when they — I think there was a picture on the front page of The New York Times from that show at the Monkey House when the Monkey House’s stage was, like, still in the front, you know? And so it just feels like we've sort of been on these sort of side-by-side journeys with them. And yeah, it just felt like the right fit.

Death & Rough Francis headline the Rotary Stage as part of this year's Waking Windows festival
Brian Glenny
Death & Rough Francis headline the Rotary Stage as part of this year's Waking Windows festival

Jenn Jarecki: What other local acts is Waking Windows bringing to Winooski this weekend?

Paddy Reagan: A bunch. It's interesting because we've really had to downsize the festival. We went, like as big as we ever had in 2022, with Japanese Breakfast and Dinosaur Jr. And you know, we've really, for many reasons, shrunk the festival down. A band that I'm really excited about is a side project of two local bands called No Fun Haus and Vega. And that's a band called Sheepskin, and this is like their second or third show. So, that'll be really fun.

Jenn Jarecki: Well, you mentioned, I want to ask you a little bit more about that change in scope. What's the right balance between kind of the bigger national headlines and the local acts that the festival is also known for bringing?

Paddy Reagan: It started out, we just had five cool shows booked at the Monkey House over the course of a week. And we were like, let's just make it a whole 10-day thing, and it ballooned to be 12 days, and we decided that was too many days. And so we decided to sort of shrink it down to four days over one weekend. And being open to those changes has helped us continue to be able to exist. Every year, we got better at doing it, and we got a little bit more sponsorship money, and we saw that people were willing to pay maybe a little higher ticket price for, like, a more notable band. So, it just sort of grew. I don't want to say it grew out of control. But it just grew to a point where we were just trying to outdo the year before.

During the pandemic, we had these two years off where we just didn't do it. And we found that like, having a relaxed spring felt really good. We got better at taking care of ourselves. Plus Brian and Ali — two of the other founders — had a baby. So, it just felt like, while we were starting to sort of get some, like, national recognition for the festival, what was more important was sort of this idea — the like, kernel of the idea is like, let's showcase the bands that we love. The sort of thrust of the festival is now more just sort of like celebrating spring and the arts as opposed to making a splash on sort of the indie rock world scene, you know?

Jenn Jarecki: So, apart from music, what other events or activities do you all have planned?

Paddy Reagan: There's a Drag Story Hour, which we're psyched to have again. I think we had it this year, and we might have even had it in 2022. And there's like the kid zone in the Rotary Stage — kids under 12 get in free. There's kids' music by Maple's Busy Morning Band. We have two comedy showcases, one at Standing Stone Wines and one at Four Quarters Brewing. I'm really happy to have resurrected the Page Burner Reading Series, which is like basically a lit crawl. Page Burner Reading Series is, you know, we get local authors to come and read. Poets and fiction writers come and basically do sort of a pop-up reading at a couple of different venues. So we're doing that at Specs Cafe and Scout.

Jenn Jarecki: Paddy, what are you most excited about for this year's Waking Windows?

Paddy Reagan: I'm excited to see the community. Like I'm excited to — there's a really nice thing that happens at Waking Windows when you're walking around the rotary, and people, like, wish you a 'happy Waking Windows.' That's really a good feeling. But I'm also looking forward to performing on Sunday.

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