Vermont’s Waking Windows might resemble a rustic South-by-Southwest in its city-spanning sprawl and the occasional label showcase, but this festival is the last place you’ll spot a corporate-branded stage or anyone who’s ever called themselves an influencer. Returning to the tiny Burlington-adjacent city of Winooski’s bars, coffee shops, rotary green, and abandoned bank (we’ll get to that), Waking Windows once again brought a massive and massively diverse lineup together for a weekend (May 4, 5, and 6) with local character and multifaceted charm.
Things got off to a rough start on Friday evening, as tornado warnings and some nasty thunderstorms forced Philly rockers The Districts off the outdoor main stage and cancelled a highly anticipated headlining set from Rhode Island raconteurs Deer Tick altogether. But as the enthused crowd evidenced at Lucky Cloud — the aforementioned detonated bank interior where The Districts packed inside — nothing was going to keep the festival spirit down for long.
The weekend’s remaining outdoor shows were thankfully greeted by more appropriate spring weather. Chicago rapper Noname owned her Saturday night headlining set with an easygoing confidence before the biggest crowd of the weekend, preceded by art-rock collective Palm holding court at the adjacent rotary stage. Sunday, meanwhile, featured everything from a town square-traversing marching band to Nashville’s Bully ripping through an inspired Mclusky cover under temperate skies.
Elsewhere throughout the weekend, Winooski’s various venues took on personalities of their own. Folksier acts found a home at the Methodist Church, highlighted by a mesmerizing solo acoustic set from Steve Gunn on Saturday night and Vermont-bred songwriter Anais Mitchell closing out Sunday evening.
Lucky Cloud hosted all manner of out-there sounds, from Friday’s playful NNA Tapes showcase to free jazz, prog and a Sunday night set from psych-punk guitarist Yonatan Gat and his band, who set up in the center of the floor and encouraged the crowd to “use the space as you wish.”
The Last Stop Sports Bar tipped toward the heavier end of the rock spectrum, including riffy Boston trio Death Pesos. Fellow local fixture Rick Maguire of Pile made an appearance at the eclectically booked Monkey House, trading in his main gig’s bombast for a set of piano and guitar tunes that included some Pile favorites and a Bonnie Raitt cover, of all things. The Main Street club also featured art-pop by way of Calgary trio Braids and Kendrick Lamar collaborator Anna Wise alongside post-punk, garage, and folk-rock over three days and nights.
And between the nationally known names, plenty of local highlights lurked in the fine print, waiting to be discovered via a random walk-in or an intriguing band name. I missed Cave Bees, but found myself pleasantly surprised by Zeus Springsteen — and that’s a sentiment you won’t encounter anywhere but Waking Windows.