Laissez les bons temps rouler, and for an extra measure of fun, let’s get down home and dancing. The ninth annual Spice on Snow Winter Music Festival is coming Thursday-Sunday, Jan. 24-27, to Montpelier and it’s going to bring a lot of warmth and fun to a usually cold late January.
Spice on Snow is the creation of Montpelier’s Summit School of Traditional Music and Culture, and remains its biggest event of the year. It brings together two strains of traditional American music — Cajun music from Louisiana, and old-time music from the mountains of Appalachia through the hills of Georgia and beyond. For four days, several city eateries, clubs and churches host jam sessions, concerts, workshops and performances that can fill up most of your weekend with music and dance.
This year there are 45 events around Montpelier with 14 stages, 23 bands performing in concert, jams and workshops. Several of the performers are nationally known, and there are a good number of Vermont musicians and groups who certainly could garner national attention.
This year’s lineup of musicians is impressive. Headlining Friday night’s Cajun dance at City Hall Arts Center are Joel Savoy and Kelli Jones who hail from Louisiana. Jones’ background is musically eclectic; her father was an old-time Appalachian-influenced fiddler, and she inherited a family of Cajun royalty by marriage. She’s married to Louisiana’s Cajun fiddler Joel Savoy, son of guitarist and musicologist Ann and accordion maker Marc Savoy of the Savoy Family Band.
The Freight Hoppers are an old-time string band from North Carolina. They perform Friday at 9:30 p.m. at Sweet Melissa’s and Saturday at the evening concert at Bethany Church. This quartet includes two of the most exciting old-time performers in banjoist Frank Lee and fiddler David Bass. The band started presenting their energetic take on fiddle band music four times a day, seven days a week at the Great Smoky Mountains Railway shortly after forming in 1992. The band’s repertoire includes music that was first recorded in the late 1920s and early ‘30s and spans geographically from Mississippi to West Virginia.
Mike Merenda and Ruthy Unger are Hudson Valley-based songwriters. In 2018 they re-formed their seminal string band The Mammals and released the self-produced album “Sunshiner,” which Tape-Op magazine called “some of the best folk-rock music you will ever hear.” These two believe in the transformative power of a great live performance. Touring upwards of 100 shows a year (with their two kids in tow), Mike + Ruthy (she is the daughter of Jay Unger and Lynn Hardy) also produce a bi-annual folk festival called The Hoot which the late Pete Seeger called “one of the best song gatherings I’ve seen in all my 94 years.” They perform Saturday at a 1 p.m. family show at the Unitarian Church and at the Saturday evening concert at Bethany Church.
Among the many other performers participating are Rachel Eddy, old time banjoist, fiddler and singer from West Virginia; The Hokum Brothers, a vaudeville stage act; The Rear Defrosters, a honky-tonk, country soul and rock ’n’ roll band; and Kick ‘Em Jenny, Montpelier’s own old-time band.
The Saturday evening concert also features the Young Tradition Touring Group, a 26-piece youth traditional ensemble from Vermont. Last year these youngsters showed just how professional our state’s young musicians are, and that traditional music will live on through their playing.
Patti Casey will lead a bluegrass jam; Chris Dorman is a family entertainer; and Pitz Quattrone plays his didgeridoo in a family set. The Green Mountain Playboys and Chaque Fois! are two Cajun Bands playing for dancing.
There are other concerts around town with Jeremiah McLane and Alex Kehler, Celtic and French music; Dana and Susan Robinson, old-time music; and also fiddler and singer Ida Mae Specker performing old-time music. Brian Slattery is an old-time fiddler; Chris Kleeman plays the blues; Two Cents in the Till is a local old time band.
The Bradford Bog People, another old-time band, is from New Hampshire. Fiddlin‘ Zac Johnson will be singing and fiddling old-time songs for kids, and Meredith Holch, presents her Crankie picture show for families.
Among the highlights of Spice on Snow is the 8 p.m. Friday Cajun dance featuring Joel Savoy and Kelli Jones with the Green Mountain Playboys at City Hall Arts Center.
Saturday night you can start off with the very popular Cajun dinner by chef Bill Koucky 5:15 to 6:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Church vestry room.
The Saturday afternoon stage at the Unitarian Church has a full program: Mike and Ruthy Family Show, Jeremiah McLane Duo, Rachel Eddy + Old-time Round Robin, and Joel Savoy and Kelli Jones. Later, the Saturday evening concert features the Young Tradition Touring Group, Mike and Ruthy, and The Freight Hoppers.
With so much to do throughout Spice on Snow it’s important to check out the Summit School website for the full festival schedule and ticket prices.