Words by Jackson Balling. Photos By Morgan Laurie-Day
At a glance the Discover Jazz Festival is the celebration of a very niche market in the music realm, considering the lack of mainstream support and stereotypes of most jazz listeners (ie: coffee drinkers/café attendees). But you don’t have to dig deep enough into the various events across Burlington over the course of the past ten days to see that jazz wasn’t the only genre being celebrated, something that you’ll notice throughout this article. And while the festival offers a great opportunity to many musicians, especially local kids looking to expand their love for the art form, what I perceive to be the main objective of the festival came to fruition last night, the penultimate night of the festival’s thirty-first year of existence.
For five hours on June 7th at the large Waterfront Tent, three distinguishable acts took the stage in celebration of the festival as well as the 20th Anniversary of Belizbeha, whom had reunited after five years for one last party. Kicking things off was Kat Wright and the Indomitable Soul Band, who took complete advantage of their hour onstage to showcase their confidence and domination through several songs, old and new. They got the crowd going right off the bat, which transitioned perfectly into The Jennifer Hartswick Band, who kept everyone moving to a unique bouncy groove that Kat Wright and her soulful band poured the foundation for.
Both acts worked together to set the stage for the return of one of Burlington’s most beloved bands, the legendary Belizbeha. They absolutely ripped right through their 20 song set for what I heard was a sold-out crowd, and they took advantage of crowd’s energy for about 2 hours with appearances from Mayor Weinberger, Jen Hartswick, DJ Craig Mitchell as Prince, as well as guest rappers and break-dancers. It was an absolute musical frenzy based around a band that was playing their second show in the past fourteen years, yet after my experience listening and catching up for missed time with the band’s music I don’t believe they have ever sounded better. Their theme of “Feel the Love”, which was brought up continually by MC Fattie B, cemented their set as a gift of love to the Burlington music community.
For those who weren’t there, I apologize. The show was absolutely incredible, an experience that easily resides in my top five concerts of all-time. But don’t fret, because there is much bigger picture that everyone can view. During and after those five hours it became clear to me that while it may not be a popular genre of mainstream music these days, jazz, its various sub-genres and those related to it such as soul and even hip-hop are full of life here in Burlington, a fact that coincides with the character of the city itself. It’s a metaphor for why we find our home on lists of the “Best Places to Live”, and it wouldn’t have been visible to the naked eye without such excellent programming by those in charge of the festival.
What was present during Belizbeha’s perfect set on June 7th was a whole community, united by music. As Craig Mitchell proudly stated, “there are no straight or gay, no black or white, no man or woman; just one people”, and there was also no age. Everyone was there for the same purpose, whether they were a year old, middle-aged, or seniors; to witness the return of a beloved band and move to the music that has had a unique influence on all of those who listen. It was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever witnessed, and it only proved that not only is Burlington an wonderful home with genuine people, it’s also rich with music that unites instead of discriminates, a message that was shown front and center to people from all over the region, country and even the world by one of the biggest bands from Vermont, as well as help from some friends. And it’s because of all of this that I will devote my life to searching for a bootleg of that set, just so I can experience such harmony again and again.
Check out the gallery for more shots from the show.