Windham County music festivals, businesses look to summer with high hopes
By Jennifer Huberdeau
Amy Brady expects to have a busy summer and fall at Kampfires Campground, Inn and Entertainment.
But what summer and fall will look like, when it comes to hosting events, depends on what COVID-19 safety precautions/restrictions are still in place, how many people have been vaccinated and how businesses in Vermont will be allowed to reopen.
“It will be interesting to see how people travel this year,” said Brady, who co-owns Kampfires, in Dummerston, and Whetstone Station, in Brattleboro, with her husband, Tim Brady, and their business partner, David Hiler.
“People will want to go somewhere, get out of their own house. All our pre-bookings are already way up for the year and from the year before; I think we’ll see things bounce back quickly when things are over.”
But just when that would be still wasn’t clear in March, despite Gov. Phil Scott’s plan to have every Vermont resident vaccinated by May 1.
“It looks like things are going in the right direction,” Brady said. “But we still don’t have any regulations or guidelines.”
The worldwide rollout of COVID-19 vaccines did give several Windham Country arts organizations confidence that parts of their annual summer programming could resume.
“We’re planning with hope and intention to have our summer festival this year, but obviously it will be in a slightly different shape,” said Catherine Stephan, executive director of Yellow Barn in Putney, Vt.
Yellow Barn, an international center for chamber music, hosts an annual five-week summer festival pairing musicians from around the world with faculty from world-renowned conservancies.
Artistic Director Seth Knopp said, during a mid-March interview, that the nonprofit has had at least one conversation with the musicians scheduled to spend the summer in Putney this year.
When the program’s musicians in Europe started confirming they had been vaccinated and had secured travel visas, he said, it became clear that Yellow Barn’s core five-week music festival in July could take place.
With that in mind, Stephan said the organization was scouting various locations for indoor and outdoor venues. (The timing of outdoor performances, with audience members, was still undecided in early April.)
“These sorts of challenges are not completely unfamiliar to us in terms of programming, I’m always considering time and place,” Knopp said, noting that all of the artists he’d spoken with had already sent him repertoire lists and he was fully engrossed in planning the summer’s programming.
All of the artists traveling to Putney this year, Stephan said, had been selected last March. The program receives over 500 applications annually, from which 35 to 40 musicians are selected.
“There’s been a lot in flux in the last year and we feel very fortunate to have these resources we created in the past be useful in a new way,” she said, noting that live performances were held through Yellow Barn’s traveling stage, Music Haul, in the fall. Music Haul will again host shows in May, August and possibly September.
“That said, our summer festival remains the heart of the matter and it really is pure joy thinking about that kind of reunion. It seems every time we go into Putney, people ask us, with great hope, if our musicians will be back this summer … We’re very hopeful to have many people involved safely.”
After a year hiatus, the Marlboro Music Festival, in Marlboro, also “has confidence” it will be able to welcome back its musicians to campus for the summer music festival, from July 17 to Aug. 15.
However, in early April, the organization was still unsure of whether or not rehearsals or concerts would be open to the public.
“We’re hopeful that we will be able to welcome audiences back this summer, but what that will look like, if possible, is still undetermined. It might not be 1,000 in a room, it may be 100 in a room,” Brian Potter, communications director for Marlboro Music, said. (Audience members are encouraged to sign up for Marlboro Music’s email newsletter to receive the most up-to-date information.)
While welcoming back audiences is a priority, he said, Marlboro Music’s major goal this season is to bring back its musicians, the majority of whom have not performed or rehearsed together since last year.
“Our program is predicated on bringing together senior musicians and for them to physically be able to share music with younger generations,” Potter said.
While programming happened online last year, there were many changes happening on the campus of Marlboro Music, including the group securing a 99-year-lease of the former Marlboro College property.
And students and faculty will be welcomed back to campus with the new Jerome and Celia Bertin Reich Building and a new residence hall. The Reich building will house chamber music rehearsal studios, a music library, offices and common spaces.
“The building addition is really a transformative project,” Potter said. “It was started that last time we were all together; that was two summers ago. It’s reinventing the campus hub and will be a huge deal when we do get musicians back on campus.”
Next Stage Arts Project, in Putney, is looking to build upon the summer concert series it debuted last summer.
“We were one of the first organizations in Windham Country to venture out to do something,” Executive Director Keith Marks said.
The nonprofit quickly launched its mobile Bandwagon Summer Series last year, bringing outdoor,socially distanced cultural performances to locations around Windham County.
“There were a ton of protocols we put in place and those kept people safe. But, I would say, the real win was people feeling that Next Stage was really being mindful of being able to not just bring people together, but to do it in a way that was mindful of everybody’s safety,” Marks said. “We’re excited and hopeful for this summer, as people get vaccinated and the warmer months come on.
“We’re hoping we can improve on the impact we had on our community. Those concerts last summer, for some people, were the only time they came out into public other than to go food shopping. And I know, in the cases of one or two people, who told me, those were the only things they did to come into public gatherings at all.”
Planning for the upcoming summer season has been underway since January.
“We’re going to build on the success of the Bandwagon Summer Series,” he said. “ We’re looking at a much more robust lineup, not just musically, but also circus, theater and dance.”
A lineup for the Bandwagon Summer Series can be found at nextstagearts.org/next-stage-presents.
“We’re also really trying to serve families and older people throughout this pandemic,” Marks said, noting the organization has several community-based programs out of its Putney space, which includes a gallery and commercial kitchen.
Back in Dummerston, Brady is hopeful that Kampfires soon will be able to host weddings and large events.
“I’m really looking forward to some larger events, where people can walk and wander,” Brady said. “We’re very hopeful that by fall, we’ll be able to host our Bacon Festival and our Street Food Festival. Our fingers are really crossed, in hopes, that we’ll be able to host our Cajun festival at the end of August.” •
Jennifer Huberdeau is editor of UpCountry magazine. She also pens the column “Mysteries from the Morgue” for The Berkshire Eagle.