Festival comes back to the green

MIDDLEBURY — Since the first performance in 1978, Middlebury’s Festival on-the-Green has been a sign of summer, a place for the community to gather and a celebration of music and craft.
This year, the 38th annual Festival on-the-Green will be back at its home on the green in downtown Middlebury, and in this iconic setting performers will dazzle visitors once again.
After two summers in the Middlebury Recreation Park, the festival will return to the cherished place where memories have been made for many attendees.
One Middlebury couple even owes their marriage to the Street Dance that every year caps the festival on its final night.. Joe and Leila McVeigh met in 1998 on that Saturday night.
“I had my eye on this young lady who was sitting there, tapping her foot as if waiting for someone to ask her to dance,” said Joe McVeigh. “And then my mom’s favorite song came on, ‘In the Mood’ by Glenn Miller.”
The two were married three years later on the night of the Street Dance in July 2001.
“We literally walked down Main Street in our wedding clothes,” Joe McVeigh said. “They played our song and we had our first dance.” 
Carolyn and Reg Spooner, also Middlebury residents, have been going to the festival together since they married in 1997, although Carolyn had been attending for 10 years before that.
“Reg had never danced, but my first husband loved to dance,” Carolyn said. “So Reg and I decided to take dancing lessons, and finally we could dance in the street too.”
“The festival is one of the highlights of our summer,” added Reg. “We love it.”
This summer’s Festival on-the-Green, which will run from Sunday, July 10, to Saturday, July 16, will feature an array of local, regional and international artists.
 “It’s like a menu, we hope to offer a little something for everybody,” said Beth Duquette, a member of the program committee that organizes much of the event.
The festival, completely free and volunteer-run, continues to thrive because the community rallies around it. Local businesses and restaurants support the event, while fundraising throughout the year and the time-honored “passing of the hat” help secure funds for a budget that this year stands at $41,421.
 “From day one, Middlebury College and the town of Middlebury have really been cornerstones in support for the festival,” said Pat Boera, the festival’s longtime secretary. “We really feel very blessed to be in a community that embraces the festival as their own thing.”
Boera has been to the festival every year and can recall most of the performances, including the very first, which helped create its current structure.
In its inaugural year, Dana Holby, then a dance instructor at Middlebury College, brought a number of performers together to complement her dance troupe, Coincidance. In planning, she learned that renting a tent for one day cost the same as renting a tent for a week.
And so began the Festival on-the-Green, a weeklong celebration of music, dance, magic, comedy and Vermont that continues to bring the town to life.
“I think some of the success for it is that the formula has actually not changed very much,” said Boera.
Duquette agreed, citing its organic nature.
“It’s the original mom-and-pop festival in Middlebury,” she said. “It’s home-grown and owned by the people.” 
The line-up this year includes 17 performances, many of them from artists who will come to the festival for the first time.
Monday night will feature the blues, folk and jazz tunes of finger-style guitarist Pat Donahue at 7 p.m., and The Lonely Heartstring Band, a true Americana Bluegrass experience at 8:30 p.m.
On Tuesday, Les Poules à Colin will bring original and folk Québécois music to the Vermont stage at 8:30 p.m.
The noontime Brown Bag show on Wednesday will offer the No Strings Marionette Company, a puppet show with their cast of characters returning in high demand. The crew will embark on a treasure hunt across the stage in this year’s performance.
Thursday night brings Dwight and Nicole, a husband and wife duo from Brooklyn who are not afraid to venture from folk and blues to soul, Afrobeat and pop.
Friday lunchtime will feature the famously deceiving Tom Verner, a local magician and longtime performer at the festival.
 “He never makes magic seem like it’s old, it’s always new,” Boera said. “I’ve been watching him for all these years and I still haven’t figured out some of his tricks.”
These performances, among many others, will culminate with the Street Dance. Powered by the Vermont Jazz Ensemble, the dance will return to the street for the first time in two years on Saturday at 7 p.m.
For the McVeighs, the Spooners and many others in Addison County, the Festival on the Green is a shared tradition that holds years of memories and promises many more.
“It’s an opportunity for the community to come together and enjoy music,” McVeigh said. “People just come out for it. There are people who are new to the event, and people who’ve been coming for twenty years. Everyone enjoys it.”
More information is available at festivalonthegreen.org.

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