Vermont has been waiting for this for over a year.
Vermont was waiting for the chance to meet again.
the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, which began its 10-day run on Friday, is the first large-scale public rally for the state since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down everything that looks like a large-scale public rally in March 2020. The festival in 2020 missed its first year since its inception in 1984.
This event, with its catchy music inviting listeners to come and dance, represented a significant moment in the pandemic. Fortunately, a community has come together after a long, difficult, sometimes heartbreaking year.
Mayor Miro Weinberger, speaking at the launch event on Friday, said it was Chittenden County’s status as the most vaccinated county in the union’s most vaccinated state per capita that had allowed this great celebration to take place. The festival is small compared to previous years, but its lack of renowned international talent and the emphasis on the state’s impressive musical talent only adds one more cachet to a truly unique Vermont experience.
Here are five highlights from three days of rebirth.
50 saxophones launch the festival
The idea seemed strange: to gather 50 saxophonists at Waterfront Park to launch the first Burlington Discover Jazz Festival in two years. In an era of perpetually disorienting social distancing, the plan made perfect sense.
The new executive director of the Flynn Center, Jay wahl, told the crowd of hundreds of people seated on the expansive lawn near Lake Champlain that they were gathered for a celebration. He also spoke about everything we’ve lost to the pandemic, from something as small as last year’s festival to the enormity of losing acquaintances, friends and family. The moment of silence requested by Wahl reminded everyone of the arduous road to exhilaration as Vermont emerges from 15 months of isolation.
Local saxophone giant Dave Grippo led the pop-up saxophone orchestra during rehearsals on Friday afternoon before the 6pm performance. The notes of the opening aria, “Take the A Train” by Duke Ellington, were big and bold and not always perfect. That there were notes to hear and a crowd of people to hear them, it was perfect.
Airs on the roof of the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio float above ground-level meetings
The audience for the second performance of this trio, like that of the first show on Friday night, was full. People gathered in the glorified alleyway behind Nectar’s, the legendary Main Street restaurant and concert hall, as Lamarr led his trio from the rooftop of Nectar’s.
The scene immediately raised the question: why didn’t this super cool, ivy-like makeshift yard not exist 20 years ago? As gruesome as the COVID-19 pandemic has been, the ingenuity its restrictions have imposed on artists and art presenters is inspiring.
Lamarr’s trio performed a fiery and moving mix of original songs and covers. The music from the roof was intense, but sometimes secondary to the scene 20 feet below. Members of the public were seated laughing and drinking at tables tighter than pandemic restrictions had allowed them for most of the past year.
People saw friends they hadn’t seen in months and gave them a hug. The hugs were longer, more joyful than the hugs of over a year ago. They were hugs from friends separated for too long.
Musicians return for Dwight and Nicole’s party
This show was supposed to start at 3 p.m. on Saturday but, due to a threat of thunderstorms, it was delayed by one hour. No one sitting on the grass in Roosevelt Park, in the heart of the city’s Old North End, seemed to care; the bad weather resisted, and after a year of waiting, what is an hour more?
Dwight & Nicole are the right group to keep the party going. Dwight Ritcher and Nicole Nelson play moving music that is perpetually positive, even when the Burlington band gets heavy, like when Nelson pointed out that this moment as the pandemic lifts is just the time to create real change in the world.
The group was joined by special guest Daniel Bernard Roumain, alias DBR, on violin. He had been Flynn’s artist in residence during the 2019-2020 season cut short by the pandemic and was now playing on a flatbed truck that Flynn parked in the park, essentially taking over his residence as if it had never been interrupted.
Dwight and Nicole played a few gigs during the pandemic, but not with their drummer, Ezra Oklan. He contracted COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic and did not attend concerts such as Dwight & Nicole’s drive-in style concert last summer at the Champlain Valley Exhibition. On Saturday, he filled the group sound like he had before the pandemic changed so much.
Loss and recovery through the Soule Monde concert
Much like the Dwight & Nicole show earlier on Saturday, Soule Monde’s concert at City Hall Park had a stream of melancholy beneath the glee.
Drummer Russ Lawton and keyboardist Ray Paczkowski performed within sight of the Flynn marquee on Main Street, which bore the inscription “We remember the bassist. Tony Markellis. The mainstay of the Vermont music scene played for years with Lawton and Paczkowski in the solo group of Phish frontman Trey Anastasio until his death on April 29.
That Paczkowski was playing at all is impressive considering where he was three years ago – in a Boston hospital having surgery for a brain tumor. He and Lawton picked up where they left off, creating lush instrumental grooves with seemingly contradictory loose precision.
This music allowed the audience of the newly renovated City Hall Park to escape their own pandemic melancholy. The children were frolicking in the new fountain a few hundred yards from where Soule Monde was playing. In front of the stage, adults danced with the freedom of people who haven’t had anyone to dance with for over a year. Colorful beach balls went up and down and rose among them again.
Kat Wright and the listeners step out in the (scorching) sun
It was hot Sunday afternoon for Kat Wright’s performance at Starr Farm Park in the city’s New North End.
Temperatures grew well in the ’90s. Fans sitting on the treeless pitch in front of the stage did what they could to ward off the scorching sun, waving umbrellas as they donned giant hats with circular edges so large that you could run a NASCAR race there. Some fans took refuge a quarter of a mile away, but still within earshot, in the shade of the trees surrounding the huge open park.
Even the normally unruffled Wright, usually so cool and collected on stage, felt the melt. She swore an email from festival organizers told her the stage would be shaded. This was not the case.
Only Wright’s cool music – a mix of soul, blues and American thanks to his sleek trio with guitarist Bob Wagner and bassist Josh Weinstein – plus the occasional beat of a breeze from nearby Lake Champlain provided respite from the oven, all like the Lake Champlain Chocolates Ice Cream Truck and a perpetual line of people hungry for its fresh content.
Almost everyone has noticed the unusual heat but, since they are basking in the sun, no one is really complaining. If there ever was a year that deserved an endless summer, this is it.
Contact Brent Hallenbeck at email@example.com. Follow Brent on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BrentHallenbeck.