Anais Mitchell to Zoom in for benefit concert
Feeding people is such a basic and important part of how we can take care of each other in these dark times.
— Anaïs Mitchell
MIDDLEBURY — For the past 10 months those who’ve walked past the Middlebury Community Music Center (MCMC) at 6 Main St. have noticed something strange.
The sound of silence.
But while the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted onsite instruction at the historic Middlebury Community House, the MCMC’s scores of students are still receiving top-notch musical tutelage — albeit virtually, through computer screens.
Sadie (Danforth) Brightman, director of MCMC, knows it won’t be long before the center is again delivering in-person instruction to people of all ages. In the meantime, fans will have a chance to support the MCMC’s scholarship fund during a Feb. 12 online concert featuring one of the country’s most talented indie folk music performers/songwriters — Addison County’s own Anaïs Mitchell — while also filling the empty plates of the increasing number of folks who are going hungry because of the economic impacts of COVID-19.
Incredibly, “Our Winter Table: an Evening Featuring Anaïs Mitchell” is free to those who register, though donations to the benefitting organizations are greatly encouraged. The organizations are MCMC and The Giving Fridge, a nonprofit venture through which local food producers and restaurants are teaming up to prepare meals for Middlebury-area people who are hungry.
And here’s a bonus — those who tune into Our Winter Table will be encouraged to buy (and take home) meals from two of the county’s top restaurants: The Arcadian in Middlebury and The Bobcat Café in Bristol. For every meal ordered, The Bobcat and The Arcadian will donate a meal to The Giving Fridge.
Mitchell will perform brand new songs, love songs intended to promote connection and resiliency during the dark winter days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re so excited,” Brightman said of Our Winter Table. “Inspiring our musical community and our community at large featuring artists this way, pairing with food.”
The pandemic has taken a toll on everyone, and Brightman was convinced music could provide an emotional balm for those feeling pain.
This led her to contact Jen Peterson of “Ok. You’ve Got This,” an Addison County nonprofit that creates programs to instill resilience in youth to build what it calls “the seven Cs:” competence, confidence, character, connection, contribution, control and coping.
As it turned out, the “Ok” group was also contemplating an online event featuring a musical act. Brightman and Peterson agreed it would be a good idea to join forces for a single, uplifting offering.
“In talking to our partners and their constituents, disconnection is one of the hardest parts about this pandemic, so we’re always looking to support ways that people can easily connect,” Peterson said. “MCMC has a great mission and we both agree that music can be especially connecting.”
At the outset, plans called for “Our Winter Table” to simply be a pleasant diversion. But organizers soon realized the potential for the event — especially with a talent like Mitchell — to reach many people and inspire them to support those less fortunate, as well as restaurants that’ve seen their revenues decline due to social-distancing mandates.
Securing Mitchell’s talents would be a coup even during a normal year. But Brightman has a connection with the award-winning artist. They’re old school chums, so Mitchell was pleased to help out. Both women are musical dynamos — Brightman on the piano, Mitchell with her guitar and fearless vocals. They used to perform together in the “Night Fires” solstice pageant
Mitchell, in an email exchange with the Independent, called Brightman, “a ‘big sister’” during an awkward phase of her junior high school days. Their tight relationship continues; Brightman is currently teaching both Mitchell and her husband beginner piano lessons.
The stars aligned wonderfully for Mitchell’s contribution to Our Winter Table. She, her husband and their two daughters moved from Brooklyn to Bristol last March.
“I was 38 weeks pregnant with our second baby and we didn’t feel great about having her in the city with the pandemic ramping up there as it was,” Mitchell said. “It was really a snap decision … We packed in a rush and drove to my family’s farm in Addison County and Rosetta was born there a week later.”
Back home again, and ready to get back on stage — even if it’s playing to a computer screen, for now.
“It feels especially immediate because we’re living here again,” Mitchell said. “But I’m also glad to be able to give back in some small way to a community that gave me so much.”
Our Winter Table organizers have a Zoom account that will allow up to 300 viewers, but that number can be expanded if demand exceeds capacity.
Mitchell is pleased the concert is being used to finance meals for the hungry and to raise awareness of food insecurity during the pandemic. The Independent profiled The Giving Fridge in its Jan. 14 edition.
“I’m so glad The Giving Fridge is a part of this fundraiser,” Mitchell said. “Feeding people is such a basic and important part of how we can take care of each other in these dark times. I’ve been very impressed this year by the work of my friends at Shift Meals, who are pioneering an approach to food security that harnesses the (hard-hit) restaurant business to also act as charitable organizations. Similar to The Giving Fridge, they are making use of and celebrate the excellent Vermont food economy that already exists, and enabling it to serve the folks who need it most.
“It feels like this model can and should be replicable,” she added.
Mitchell is glad her appearance will also shine light on local restaurants. She’s been a Bobcat regular and vowed to check out The Arcadian.
“Living in Bristol, we order from the Bobcat about once a week,” she said. “It’s so sweet for us because we used to love ordering takeout in Brooklyn … so nice when you just don’t feel like dealing with dinner and dishes!”
To get a spot at Our Winter Table, log on to ourwintertable.eventbrite.com.
John Flowers is at [email protected].
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