by R.D. Eno
MONTPELIER — When old-time fiddler Katie Trautz of Cabot, a founder of Montpelier’s Summit School of Traditional Music and Culture, was down in western Louisiana a few years ago learning the repertoire from its living masters, it struck her that Vermonters could use a warm blast of bayou soul in the dead of a northern winter. Her brainstorm gave birth to Spice on Snow, a celebration of southern music, dance and food spread out all over the capital city. The festival now brings the best Louisiana bands, heaps of Cajun food to well over a thousand hungry music-lovers to downtown every year.
The seventh annual Spice on Snow Festival, kicks off on Thursday, Jan. 26 through 29 with performances and jam sessions packed into nearly every venue in the capital city. Throughout the long weekend, sheer fun will be unavoidable.
The headliner this year is four-time Grammy nominee and rising star in the Cajun-Creole firmament, Cedric Watson, fiddler, accordionist and banjoist whose repertoire embraces every roots genre from mountain folk to swampland Zydeco. At 33, Watson has been thrilling audiences for nearly 15 years. “Moves like a star and gets the girls screaming,” said London’s Songlines magazine. Michael Doucet, the great Cajun fiddler with the band Beausoleil has written: “To propel our Louisiana culture into the future seems to be quite a task, but if one lives for the music, as Watson does, the path seems effortless.” And the New York Times calls Watson “a gifted reanimator of Louisiana Creole music.”
Watson and his trio, including Jourdan Thibideaux on fiddle and Desiree Champagne on the rub board and percussion, will perform on Friday, Jan. 27 at City Hall Arts Center 6 p.m. They’ll be back on Saturday, Jan. 28 at Bethany Church for an evening concert at 7 p.m. following another Cajun banquet at 5 p.m. Watson will also lead Saturday workshops on minstrel banjo and Cajun music and culture.
Also on hand will be Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle, both award-winning old-time Appalachian musicians and storytellers, who have traveled the world from the Yukon to Uzbekistan singing and playing guitar, banjo and fiddle. Visual artists as well, they bring with them shadow puppets and Crankies — those illustrated scrolls unrolled like paper movies — to accompany their ballads and tales. Roberts-Gevalt and LaPrelle will present a family show at Union Elementary on Friday, Jan. 27 at 4 p.m, join the Cedric Watson Trio at Saturday’s Bethany Church concert, and offer workshops on fiddle, banjo and harmony singing on Saturday afternoon.
The Spice on Snow roster also includes Jon Gailmor, western swing band Big Hat No Cattle, old-time ensemble Kick ‘Em Jenny, the great Starline Rhythm Boys and more. Sunday will be given over to Irish, Swedish, Bluegrass and Old-Time jam sessions at venues over town. For tickets and a complete schedule, visit summit-school.org.
Spice on Snow is funded in part by the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.