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Middlebury’s volunteer-powered music festival returns to the green

Summer is the time for music here in Addison County — well, all over Vermont really. It’s almost hard to go a weekend without finding yourself sprawled out on a blanket, nibbling some fresh strawberries and listening to some sort of live (probably folk) music. Then again, life gets busy; and maybe you haven’t had the chance to kick off those work-shoes, spread your toes in the fresh summer grass and get down with some tunes.
Either way, the “anchor” of all summer music is coming and it’s everyone’s chance to soak in the sounds of summer. We’re talking, of course, about Festival on-the-Green — a week-long celebration of live music and entertainment; local food, drink and vendors; and, of course, dancing.
The 39th annual event kicks off this Sunday, July 9, at 7 p.m., with Radio Free Honduras, an acoustic Latin folk-rock band fronted by Honduran music legend and guitar virtuoso Charlie Baran. The music and entertainment will continue through Friday (see schedule on Page 3) with noon brown-bag lunch shows and two evening music performances (7 and 8:30 p.m.). Saturday’s time-honored street dance will conclude the festival with music for the 34th year by the Vermont Jazz Ensemble and swing lessons with Jim Condon.
And the best part: All the entertainment is free.
Thanks to the dedication and hard work of the many unpaid volunteers, this festival has offered the community incredible free music since 1978.
“It’s a menu,” said Beth Duquette, this year’s chair of the program committee. “There’s a little bit of something for everybody. We have jazz, French Canadian, singer-songwriter, regional, international and local Vermont musicians playing this year.”
It’s up to the five-person program committee to find, vet and book all the musical acts that come to the Middlebury green. “We work on this about 10 months out of the year,” said Duquette, who runs a housecleaning service from her home in South Lincoln. “It’s not glamorous, but it affords me a lot of time to volunteer,” she said. Duquette has been volunteering with the Festival on-the-Green for 16 years, and is in charge of booking musicians at the Ripton Coffee House’s monthly concert series. She also sings with Richard Ruane in a folk duo, and performed for several years with the Michele Fay Band, Bread and Bones trio and the a capella group Womensing. She knows her music.
Now it’s just about refining her skills at finding undiscovered talent.
“People suggest bands, and I go out and hear a lot of live music,” Duquette said. She attends a conference at least once a year that expedites the process. “There are tons of DJs and bands doing showcases,” she said of these types of conferences. “You sleep about 2 hours and listen for the other 22.”
After that, it’s a bunch of YouTube videos, Duquette explained. “You have to see how they perform live,” she said. “It’s important to know how they will interact with the audience because the Festival on-the-Green is so intimate.”
Who did Duquette spot this year? “I’m really excited about the Emily Braden Trio (Tuesday, 7 p.m.),” she said. “Her energy is amazing!”
“I’m really looking forward to my first performance at Festival on-the-Green,” Braden wrote in an email — she has just returned from a month in Thailand. “Middlebury has earned very strong reputation for itself among players as a wonderful outdoor concert series in a beautiful setting. More musicians on the New York scene than I can count have said, ‘You’re doing Festival-on-the-Green this year? You’re going to have a great time!’
“I’m always grateful for the opportunity to share the music with a new audience and am especially proud to be part of a music festival that presents live music to the community for free,” Braden added. “I will be playing with two of my favorite musicians (and people), Matthew Fries (piano) and Noah Jackson (bass). It will be a soulful, swinging good time.”
Duquette also reccomends: Upstate Rubdown on Tuesday, 8:30 p.m.; the Molly Tuttle Band on Wednesday, 8:30 p.m.; and Addison County native Moira Smiley in Seamus Egan Project on Thursday, 8:30 p.m.
But it’s not just about spotting talent. Once the committee agrees on who they are interested in, there’s the matter of scheduling and booking the artist — not always so easy.
“We have a limited budget,” Duquette said, “which means we try to get musicians on their way to an anchor gig.” Think big concert venues like Montreal, Boston or New York. “We know musicians’ costs are going up, so we try to be as accommodating as we can be.”
That’s where volunteers like Gwen Zwickel come in.
“The first year I volunteered, I passed the bucket and did whatever needed to be done,” said the Addison resident. “Everyone was so welcoming that I came back, and for the last three years I have helped with performer hospitality. Our goal is to create a warm welcome for the artists. Local restaurants and businesses donate delicious, healthy food, which I set up and serve to our performers each night.”
Another plus for the performers is Mark Mulqueen, Duquette’s long-time partner. “He’s a great sound man,” Duquette boasted for Mulqueen.
“All the lights and all the sound you hear all week — that’s all me,” said Mulqueen, who’s been in charge of the lights and sound since around 1994, but involved with previous sound/light managers since the ’80s.
The Denver, Colo., native came to Shoreham in the ’70s to pick apples, and a friend needed a sound guy for his band. “So I learned on the fly,” said Mulqueen. “It was trial by fire. I kept meeting people who needed sound and then next thing you know, it’s what you do.”
Mulqueen’s company “Silent Partners” isn’t anywhere to be found in the phone book or on the web; but he’s made a career piecing together sound gigs (along with a variety of other odd-end jobs). “I’ve been at it a long time,” said the 61-year-old. “For Festival on-the-Green we break out all my gear, rent some stuff and try to pull it off!”
“I try to be low key, friendly and out of the way,” he said. Hence the name Silent Partners. “The sound guy isn’t in the band. I try to take exactly what’s going on on stage and share it with the audience. I try to make bands happy on stage so that they can relax and play good music. I want to give everybody a good time.”
This year, Mulqueen (who does take a small compensation for his work) has some help from a younger sound guy, Josh Cota.
New volunteers are critical to keeping the Festival free and thriving.
“During festival week, I will be — along with the rest of the crew — moving the staging, tent, and chairs; setting up the performance space; collecting donations and soliciting survey responses; and packing up at the end of it all,” said Sara Granstrom, a Bristol resident and co-owner of Lincoln Peak Winery. She started working with the program committee in January 2016 and designed the poster for this year’s festival. “We always welcome more volunteers for the week of the festival itself!”
Interested? Contact (802) 462-3555 or email midfog@gmail.com. Don’t have the time? Consider donating to support the Festival on-the-Green, visit festivalonthegreen.org.

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