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After pandemic hiatus, Winooski's 'Waking Windows' music fest returns with local and international headliners

An outdoor performance stage, with lights and performers and a crowd gathered in front.
BDL Photography, Courtesy
The Tune Yards played the 2019 Waking Windows along with 176 other national and local bands and 60 deejays across dozens of venues and stages.

Waking Windows in Winooski, like so many live music festivals, is making its post-COVID return after a two-year break.

The fest, running May 13 to 15, can trace back its roots over a decade ago, to a pub in downtown Winooski. That iteration at Monkey House was a 12-day affair, featuring dozens of bands on one small stage.

The event is now concentrated into three days and draws thousands to Winooski's pubs, clubs and outdoor stages to hear local, national and international musical acts and deejays. It even features a pub-crawl for book-lovers.

This year's headliners include recent Best New Artist Grammy nominee,Japanese Breakfast, who were scheduled to play Waking Windows in 2020, but the event was cancelled due to rising COVID-19 cases.

And staple on the rock tour scene since the 1980s, Dinosaur Jr. will also headline the music festival.

More from Waking Windows on the NPR Music Live Sessions

Vermont bands and deejays beef up the bulk of the live music offerings, performing on outdoor stages, inside churches and at dozens of pubs and restaurants lining the Onion City's main streets.

VPR's Mary Engisch spoke to Waking Windows' founding member Paddy Reagan about the music fest's comeback. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mary Engisch: And you guys have been on hiatus for is it two years, two full years, from COVID? Anything different or new or anything that folks who've been previously can expect that's changed in the past couple of years?

Paddy Reagan: We did make a conscious effort to kind of shrink things down a little bit. I think in the past, we had 17 venues. I think right now we're operating with 13, which doesn't seem like a huge downsizing.

A photo with a view from the back of a stage, looking out on musicians playing for a crowed under pink and purple lights.
Brian Jenkins, Courtesy
Waking Windows music festival laid low during the pandemic, but is back for 2022 with three days of headlining acts, deejays, pub-crawls for book lovers and a comedy showcase.

But it really — from the perspective of the organizers — it took, you know, a lot of planning and scheduling off of our plates.

But it also made it so that we weren't able to necessarily book as many local bands as we normally do. It's really important to us to spotlight the local music scene. And that was a hard decision to make, because it basically took, you know, 25, 30 or 35 slots off of the board where we can have local bands playing, which is a hard thing to do.

So some bands that have played every year, aren't playing this year. And what's really fun is there's a lot of very cool new bands that have come up in the last few years and they're playing.

And so it was sort of this delicate balance of trying to figure out how to honor the scene as it exists right now. And how to, you know, honor this scene as it's been the last 12 years since we've started the festival.

There are people who are going to go see live music, any chance they get. And then there are people like me who are extremely introverted and don't like to be in big crowds, but love live music. So are there any like tips or pointers for different sorts of fans who really want to be able to come to the festival and connect?

Sure, yeah. I think a great first step is to go to the Waking Windows website. We have a playlist of all of the bands that are playing, and get a sense of kind of what lands for you. And then you can sort of curate your own weekend.

There are people who mark up their program, and you can see them — they're like, running from venue to venue, and they're so invested in sort of seeing all that they can.

And you know, we encourage people, if they're feeling like they want to wear a mask inside some of the venues, do it. Do what makes you feel comfortable at the festival. You know, if you're feeling a little hesitant about being indoors, there's a ton of music that's happening outdoors at the main stages, and there's a lot of space to sort of spread out as needed.

You know, like so many businesses and so many things that are sort of coming back to life after the pandemic, there's a lot of kinks to be worked out.

We do this festival because we love Winooski, because we love creating spaces for people to gather and enjoy music and enjoy each other's company. And there's going to be some bumps in the road for all of us and just sort of, you know, be patient and be caring with not only the people that are working the festival, because 90% of them are volunteers, but also the people around you.

Dozens of bands are set to play. Where are they all going to be setting up? And what about, you know, folks who come and are looking for food to go along with their live music?

Make your way over to the main stage, which is on Winooski Falls Way, which we shut down for Friday and Saturday. That's where our headliners will be.

There'll be food trucks there. You could cross into the rotary, we'll have some food carts there. There's a bunch of bands playing there.

"We do this festival because we love Winooski, because we love creating spaces for people to gather and enjoy music and enjoy each other's company."
Waking Windows founding member Paddy Reagan

There's a lot of participating venues all around the rotary. There will be the Methodist Church that has music. And you know from Monkey House and Mule Bar both have food and music.

Best place to park in Winooski is in the sort of hidden parking garage that is behind Spinner Place. Come out the third floor and head through the VSAC building, which is where our box office is going to be. Pick up your day pass or weekend pass, whatever you've purchased.

It's sort of like, "choose your own adventure." Bring your whole self, but also know that everybody else is gonna bring their own whole self.

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

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
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