Middlebury Festival on the Green: It's live, and it's free



Mokoomba, an Afro-fusion band from Zimbabwe, kicks off the Middlebury Festival on the Green at 7 p.m. Sunday, July 8. (Courtesy Middlebury Festival on the Green)

The folks who run the Middlebury Festival on the Green have chosen a diverse and interesting group of performers for the 40th annual festival. Performers from Ireland, Quebec and other Canadian provinces, Zimbabwe and Vermont grace the stage at this seven-day, free festival.

Shows include “Brown Bag” family-friendly programs presented noon to 1 p.m. weekdays and evening musical performances 7 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday, and 7 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.


Anne Janelle and James Hill, a Canadian cello-ukulele duo, perform at 7 p.m. Monday, July 9. (Courtesy Middlebury Festival on the Green)

A festival with such talent, all free and not weather-dependent, is a rarity. With ticket prices for theater shows and many festivals soaring, the good folks who sponsor and run the Middlebury festival are to be thanked for this talent-packed week of entertainment.

The festival kicks off at 7 p.m. Sunday, July 8, with Mokoomba, an Afro-fusion band from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. While that nation may have many political and economic issues, the music that emanates from the band’s six members is joyous and upbeat. This band has spent most of 2018 on a world tour and has been dazzling audiences with its blend of traditional Tonga, Luvale and Nyanja sounds laced with international styles from soukous to soul.

Mokoomba has become one of Zimbabwe’s most popular bands, playing with such icons as Hugh Masekela, Baba Maal and Talking Heads’ Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz. They’ve performed at New York City’s Apollo Theater and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., as well as London’s 100 Club and Amsterdam’s Melkweg.

As one reviewer wrote in the online magazine Rhythm Passport, “Mokoomba don’t rest for a second. They dance as if they are possessed by the vibes and grooves they play. Their performances are so cohesive that it looks like you’re participating in a music ritual.”

Among the three acts Monday, July 9, the 7 p.m. show features James Hill and Anne Janelle, a Canadian folk music award-winning ukulele-cello duo. Yes, you read that correctly, ukulele and cello.

Hill is a widely regarded ukulele player and has a large presence on the internet in ukulele circles. Anne Janelle is “a cellist of true beauty” (Ottawa Citizen) who has performed with Kanye West and Bruce Cockburn. Together, the duo crafts a sound that is intricate, enchanting and engaging. Their album, “True Love Don’t Weep,” won the 2008 Canadian Folk Music Award for Best Traditional Album of the Year.

For Tuesday, July 10, the 7 p.m. show features Night Tree, a roots-based group offering Celtic-tinged fusion. We saw these Boston-based musicians several times last year in Vermont and can attest to their high quality musicianship and repertoire. They offered a variety of styles from Celtic to Swedish, playing fiddle, cello, accordion, sax and percussion. Lots of great tunes, stunning playing and interesting material make this sextet an ensemble worth hearing.

Máire Ní Chathasaigh and Chris Newman, a pioneering harp-guitar duo rooted in the Irish tradition, perform at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 11. The duo has recorded a number of albums and was last in Vermont two years ago as part of the O’Carolan Festival in Worcester.

Newman, a highly regarded guitarist and mandolinist, did a stint with the Boys of the Lough some years back. Ni Chathasaigh, who comes from a musical family, sings and plays the Celtic harp. The festival scored a big one when they booked this act.


The Mammals, an indie-roots and Americana quintet, performs at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 12. (Courtesy Middlebury Festival on the Green)

The Mammals bring indie-roots and Americana music to Thursday’s 8:30 p.m. performance. The band is led by the husband-and-wife team of Mike Merinda and Ruth Ungar. Ungar is the daughter of Jay Ungar, the composer of “Ashokan Farewell” and many other memorable melodies, and guitarist Lyn Hardy.

This contemporary folk-rock band is based in the Hudson Valley area of New York and has returned to perform after several years’ hiatus. The band members include Tao Rodríguez-Seeger, whose granddad is Pete Seeger.

Friday’s 8:30 p.m. show features The Stone Cold Roosters, arguably Vermont’s hottest swing and honky-tonk band. Guitarist and singer Colin McCaffrey leads this sextet of well-respected Vermont musicians.

The festival concludes at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 14, with a Vermont Jazz Ensemble street dance. The ensemble features big band tunes and you should expect to bring your dance shoes for this entertaining act. If you don’t know how to dance, come early for swing-dance lessons with Jim Condon.

Middlebury Festival on the Green

Middlebury Festival on the Green will be held July 8-14 at 3 Park St. in downtown Middlebury, rain or shine. Admission is free (donations welcomed); for schedule or information, call 802-462-3555, or go online to www.festivalonthegreen.org.

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