Middlebury takes the concept of free concerts to a new level with a full week of concerts beginning Sunday, July 7, and going through Saturday, July 13. Many Vermont towns offer free concerts throughout the summer but most do it on a one night a week basis spread over six to eight weeks.
For the Middlebury Festival on the Green, celebrating its 41st year of concerts there’s a full week of music from the noontime Brown Bag shows to the evening concerts at 7 and 8:30. Eighteen acts will perform in a variety of musical styles ranging from bluegrass to Quebecois, jazz and Cajun to Western swing.
The concerts start July 7 with Sam Reider and the Human Hands performing 7 to 9 p.m. Rider is an American accordionist, pianist, composer and singer-songwriter. According to the festival performance lineup page, Reider is the leader of a “staggeringly virtuosic band” (RnR Magazine) of bluegrass and jazz musicians based in Brooklyn called The Human Hands. Songlines Magazine says the band is a “mash-up of the Klezmatics, Quintette du Hot Club de France and the Punch Brothers.”
There are two groups performing July 8. At 7 p.m. Windborne, a quartet of singers who specialize in close harmony singing of traditional music, takes the stage. This band’s repertoire is deeply rooted in American folk singing. They have been praised for “the purity of their voices, strength of their material, and attention to detail in their arrangements.”
Bon Débarras from Montreal takes the stage at 8:30. Dominic Desrochers, Jean-François Dumas and Véronique Plasse perform Quebecois folk music, and traditional step-dancing with global influences. This energetic group performs on guitar, banjo, violin and harmonica.
The July 9, 7 p.m. show features The Small Glories, who hail from the Canadian Prairie provinces. Cara Luft and JD Edwards are veteran singer-songwriters who play a variety of instruments. Luft was an original member of The Wailin’ Jennys.
At 8:30 The Heather Pierson Acoustic Trio takes the stage. The band features Shawn Nadeau on upright bass and Davy Sturtevant on, guitar, mandolin, dobro, fiddle and cornet. This New England-based band performs Americana originals, folk, jazz and blues. Lone Star Music Magazine said, “Heather is like two great acts in one, sliding from sweet acoustic Appalachian old-timey vibe with Patty Griffinesque lyrics to brassy New Orleans blues piano with a bone thrown to Bessie Smith.”
July 10’s concerts offer a great musical contrast. At 7 p.m. the Joe Davidian Trio performs a mix of original works and jazz standards. Pianist Davidian, originally from Montpelier, now lives in New York City. He performs with bassist John Rivers and drummer Conor Elmes. Singer Amber deLaurentis joins the trio for this concert. She heads the vocal jazz program at University of Vermont, where she co-directs the UVM Jazz Vocal Ensemble with husband Tom Cleary.
The 8:30 concert features the Matt Flinner Trio, whose musical journey has been exploring new pathways and setting new standards for the bluegrass trio sound. Mandolinist Flinner, guitarist Ross Martin and bassist Eric Thorin cover a wide variety of musical styles, all with the common ground of American roots music. Call it new acoustic music, or modern string band music or chamber grass, this trio offers and exciting set of music.
July 11 promises to be an evening of high energy. At 7 p.m., OKAN, based in Toronto, fuses Afro-Cuban and other global rhythms with jazz, folk and classical forms. The quintet is led by two women co-leaders, composers and multi-instrumentalists, Elizabeth Rodriguez and Magdelys Savigne. “One of the most exciting Cuban projects to have emerged out of the Toronto Latin scene, OKAN brings powerful vocals and high-level musicianship to their fusion of traditional rhythms, jazz and soul,” says their promotional material.
At 8:30 the LowDown Brass Band brings the gritty sounds of Chicago with the high-energy street beat of the Crescent City. They play trumpets, trombones, saxophones, drums and sousaphone. They were recently featured at the Montreal Jazz Festival. According to Soul Tracks “People have been dancing to New Orleans parade brass and drum bands for more than a century; the LDB shows that this genre can bend contemporary styles to its will and keep the second line dancing well into the future.”
On July 12, two concerts are guaranteed to keep the beat rocking. Starting off the evening at 7 p.m. is Soule Monde. Their music is described as “avant funk erupting from the syncopated minds of power drummer Russ Lawton and Hammond B3 organ wizard Ray Paczkowski.” This jazz-duo hails from Vermont. Russ Lawton has played with The GrippFunk Band, and Strangefolk. Paczkowski played with viperHouse and Vorcza. He toured and recorded with Dave Matthews & Friends for three years.
Big Night from Burlington, a sextet that plays dance music from southwest Louisiana and Texas, performs at 8:30. If you like to two-step dance, this is the band for you. Their mix of Cajun, western swing, Zydeco and classic country will have you dancing from the first downbeat.
July 13 features a street dance with the Vermont Jazz Ensemble beginning at 7 p.m. The 17-member big band also plays selections in rock, fusion, Latin and popular music styles. If you’re not exhausted from Friday’s dancing here’s a second chance to dance the night away.
The festival also includes noontime Brown Bag concerts with local musicians and family-oriented acts.