Everyone loves a party: Burlington commemorates Champlain with International Waterfront Festival

How does a lake celebrate?

No, this is not the set up for an awful geology joke. This is the question faced by the organizers of the Burlington International Waterfront Festival.

The Waterfront Festival is celebration of the four-hundredth anniversary of French explorer Samuel de Champlain’s expedition to the lake that came to bear his name, as well as a commemoration of the cultures and people who populate Vermont.

For the past year, Jay Craven, the festival producer, worked to compile and schedule enough events to fill the two-week festival, which ran from July 2 to 14.

“In October, I approached the city and said, this is going to be a pretty big deal, maybe we should cut it to four or five days,” Craven said. “But the city was clear — they wanted a festival that would run though two weekends.”

As a result, Craven said that the festival had something for everyone.

Festivities included music, theatre, dance, cinema and fine art – all of which were covered in the two weeks of the celebration.

Nine theatrical performances, numerous films — including a French film festival at the Roxy Theater in downtown Burlington — and art exhibits at the Waterfront Park, Firehouse Gallery and City Hall were all part of the festivities.

Smaller musical acts by regional artists took place daily, but several notable headlining acts also crowned the festival. The Roots, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Tony Bennett and Ween all performed at the Flynn Center or at the Waterfront Park.

Along with insuring that events for many different age groups and interests were included, the international aspect of the festival was a very important focal point in creating the schedule of acts, Craven said.

“I began trying to put together an event that would include the international element — the French of Quebec, Native Americans and also those from Champlain Valley,” he said.

There are more than 100 French Quebec artists that are a part of the festivities, according to Craven.

Along with Vermont’s northern neighbors, special attention was given to the Native American population of Vermont throughout the festival weeks.

Traditional Abenaki story-telling, dancing and singing performances occurred during the two weeks, as well as academic discussions and documentaries on the relationship between Native and European cultures in Vermont since Champlain’s expedition.

Explaining his motivation for incorporating such events, Craven said that he wanted to look at some of the ideas and themes from the Champlain expedition itself.

“Those include border crossing, or the idea of discovering the unexpected or the unfamiliar and first encounters,” he said.

The leading example of such a philosophy in the Waterfront Festival may be the dance “From the New World”, created by renowned French choreographer, Heddy Maalem.

Preformed on July 10 and 11, “From the New World” depicts the encounter between Champlain and the native people of Vermont — and Maalem wanted to make sure that both groups were given an honest representation.

“I told Jay Craven I will come to do this choreography if Native American people are involved, because the story of Champlain is not the story of Samuel de Champlain — it’s the story of America; it’s the story of Native Americans and Europeans,” Maalem told Seven Days in a recent interview.

“The idea was to have a collaboration between French, Quebec, Vermont and Native American artists as a kind of metaphor for the Champlain expedition.” Craven said.

Burlington is not the only place the Quadricentennial is being celebrated. The two-week extravaganza is part of Vermont-wide festivities this summer.

Fran Stoddard, moderator of panel discussions that are part of the festival, explained to Seven Days, “the word Quadricentennial refers to the statewide celebration. Burlington’s event is part of the Quad but is also its own separate thing.”

Events occurring outside of Burlington range from the Made in Vermont Music Festival, put on by the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, to a military history tour of Vermont’s country side.

While there are still plenty of events planned for the remainder of the summer and fall throughout Vermont, Burlington’s celebration seems to have been a hit.

“The festival … has been extraordinarily successful,” Craven said. “It has exceeded my expectations.”