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Music and Food Come Together as Part of a Vermont Virtual Event

anais mitchell

As Covid related closures pass the one year mark, many performing arts organizations are looking back on how they’ve managed to keep such quintessential in-person activities going throughout the pandemic. Virtual events have been one of the hallmarks in this time, and the Middlebury Community Music Center (MCMC) in Middlebury, Vermont put on a well-attended concert with an added benefit. Our Winter Table: an Evening Featuring Anaïs Mitchell used the local songstress (known for her album turned Broadway musical “Hadestown”) as a draw to raise money for two important organizations. Mitchell brought her star power to the event for a few reasons: she moved to the area during the pandemic, she attended Middlebury College, and she’s a friend of MCMC.

anais mitchell at the event

The event, a partnership with Addison county youth nonprofit OK You’ve Got This, benefited both the MCMC and The Giving Fridge, a community refrigerator located in a building space in downtown Middlebury, offering meals for the food insecure population in the area. Though registering for the event was free, donations were accepted and two local restaurants donated a meal to The Giving Fridge for every meal ordered, to eat while watching the concert.

Erin Chamoff, chef/owner of participating restaurant The Bobcat Cafe, said the event was hugely successful for the team who made 92 take-and-bake enchilada dinners complete with salad and dessert. “Being a part of this community is a huge part of the Bobcat’s identity,” Chamoff says. “During non-pandemic times we like to think of ourselves as a “third place” where community members can gather to relax and enjoy each other’s company. This, of course, has not been possible over the past year, so any event that is designed to replicate that feeling is great and we were honored to be a part of it.”

pasta from the arcadian

Chef/owner of The Arcadian, the other restaurant involved in the evening, Matt Corrente says the night of Our Winter Table was their busiest all winter. “The pandemic has hit restaurants hard and forced us to find creative new outlets for sharing our food with guests,” he explains. “Our Winter Table provided us the opportunity to serve 40-50 families with dinner on the night of the show (in addition to our normal takeout service).” Corrente thinks this was a great model and he hopes to participate in more events like it.

So how did this event involving so many local organizations and residents come to be? We found out from Sadie Brightman, founder and executive director of MCMC, who made it all happen.

Had MCMC done other virtual events during the pandemic?

Our Winter Table was our first benefit concert. Right out of the gates, music in particular was such an uplifting part of keeping us all grounded and connected during the upheaval caused by the pandemic. However, out of wisdom or necessity we didn’t rush into producing events just to get stuff out there. There was a longer period of reflecting, observing, and then imagining, what is something really fantastic that we could do? In that reflection time, Jen Peterson from OK You’ve Got This reached out to me about hosting an event like the one we started imagining, asking what I thought about the music component. It was all so aligned that we got to work planning together, and we didn’t look back. As soon as Anais was in, the whole thing took on amazing momentum and fell into place beautifully. The vision to include many partners in collaboration felt so right to us. It showed us how music can play a role in something larger.

sadie brightman

How did you get connected with The Giving Fridge?

Speaking to Anais about the concept, it was really important to both of us that we each felt fully aligned with creating the best event possible with the maximum positive impact for our community. I feel like the crisis completely flipped my thinking from, how can we grow musical appreciation and participation to: how can we show up and serve right now? This led to a passionate conversation in which Anais shared her ongoing mission to highlight food insecurity, raise awareness and be part of solutions. We had already been planning to partner with local restaurants for the event and went to work researching options for the best way to donate food in our area. We learned about The Giving Fridge through Matt at The Arcadian, and connected with Bethany Farrell from there. Bethany’s service through the Giving Fridge is inspiring – she saw a need and an opportunity and pulled together the network to get food to people who need it.

How was the response?

We were blown away. We’re so grateful for Anais’s huge part in that. Her artistry is spectacular, and we were so happy to be a part of facilitating her music getting to so many people in this innovative way. We had the good problem of blowing our original Zoom limit out of the water. With over 1,000 registrations, we switched gears to increase our limit more than 3 times over. Her fans came through big time, we had people joining from all over the world.

Anais Mitchell

Anais Mitchell performing, pre-pandemic.

Of course we also had a huge surge of local pride showing up for her as well. Her hometown community is beyond proud and so appreciative of her music. The newness and the intimacy of the format created a once in a lifetime kind of feeling. The songs were written largely during the pandemic. Her music and lyrics were speaking directly to us. The uniqueness of the whole thing made it so incredibly memorable.

sadie brightman at the event

What have you learned about your community in the last year?

Through all that we’ve been through, music has proven to be an important part of so many people’s lives. We saw the most amazing continued dedication, and if anything, even deeper appreciation for ongoing lessons. Our teachers adapted and threw themselves into figuring out the ins and outs of teaching virtually. They showed something remarkable, that their dedication to the art of teaching music is far more important and resilient than a radical social change, even of this magnitude.

I’m so inspired by our community. Music is something we give to ourselves when we make it a part of regular life. As parents, it’s a gift we give to our children. That sounds almost laughable given the reality of what it takes to commit and recommit to getting kids to practice and stick with it. But that is what we’re seeing in so many households across our region. We’re in this together, music is stronger than a pandemic, and we imagine that much more music-making will come out of all of this. We’re learning about how we can serve more people, now that we’re no longer limited geographically. We are a nonprofit, and with that, we’re so grateful for our donors who help to make our business model successful. Their support means everything, and keeps us focused on what continues to be an important asset to our local culture. Through Our Winter Table, we shook hands virtually with many new friends we hope to keep and interact with again in the future.

Should we expect more events like Our Winter Table from you in the future?

It was such an incredible event that we’re hoping to make it seasonal, even on the other side of the pandemic. I find myself rethinking the term community, and now envision a global community of people interested in the same thing, having a chance to come together and amplify their appreciation together. Live concerts do this in a concentrated way, and we’ll get back to that. But there is something kind of great about sitting comfortably in your home, contributing to your local economy, and seeing a world class event with others across the globe who love what you love.

Be on the lookout for more events from MCMC in the coming months. If you’re itching to start making music yourself, sign up for their online classes from wherever you live. To hear more from Anaïs Mitchell, listen to the Tony and Grammy award winning Hadestown soundtrack or her Grammy-nominated folk band Bonny Light Horseman. She also published a book called Working on a Song about writing and rewriting the music for Hadestown last October.


Sarah Strong

Sarah Strong is a New York City based writer who holds a master’s degree in food studies and is obsessed with television. You can follow her on Instagram at @feedsstrong to see where she eats, what she cooks and what sneakers she’s wearing.


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