By Elise McDonough

During a brisk February weekend, the counterculture college town of Burlington, VT, shrugged off the staid winter blues and raised its freak flag for the 10th annual Mardi Gras celebration thrown by the Magic Hat Brewery. HIGH TIMES procured some of Vermont’s finest kind and set off to get to the bottom of a growler or two, anticipating a weekend full of music, fun, friends, beers and buds. Immediately upon arriving in town, my companions and I stopped by the brewery, tasted this elixir and that concoction and got the down-low from the dudes behind the counter as to where the best parties were happening. The main event, Saturday’s family-friendly afternoon parade and block party, was sandwiched between kick-ass Friday and Saturday nighttime musical acts held at the venue Higher Ground. The bars around town promised all manner of debauchery, and I proceeded to investigate.

The Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, a funky Cajun zydeco-style group, was featured Friday night. The band’s grooves were extremely danceable and the #9 was flowing, so the whole evening was completely satisfying, giving no hints as to the storm cloud on the horizon. The next bright morning brought tolerable weather and no headaches, so we headed off to tour the brewery’s complex innards. Searching for infallible proof that Magic Hat does indeed brew the kindest beer ever made, we discovered that the Dead were being broadcast in the frigid Fermentation Chamber. Brew dude Todd explained, “Yeast like the Dead, no hard rock or rap for them…it would make the beer taste bad.” So the microscopic yeast were noodle-dancing in their enormous open vats, spinning through chemical reactions that would create alcohol for all to enjoy. Right on.

After stocking up on growlers and Magic Hat swag, we headed off to the parade. Spying toddlers with elaborately painted faces and retriever dogs bedecked in thick ropes of shiny beads, I deduced that we were close to the action. The brick streets were thick with college kids, elderly folks, babies and parents, all mingling harmoniously. More than 25,000 people gathered to watch more than 30 colorful floats wind their way through downtown, screaming as they rolled by, begging for beads to catch. Parade participants included Ben & Jerry’s, JetBlue Airways and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, plus a plethora of local businesses, television and radio stations and theater and activist groups. All funds from the weekend’s happenings were donated to the Women’s Rape Crisis Center, a generous action that demonstrates how Magic Hat Brewery chooses to address the negative consequences surrounding excessive alcohol consumption through education, activism and community involvement.

I dug the scene for some time and evaluated all the floats, then headed to get down with some of the brewery staff at the after-party, discussing differences between hops and cannabis and chemistry and alchemy; work environments; the best-tasting combinations of yeast and barley versus indicas and sativas; and new flavor ideas. Who wants Strawberry Cough Stout? Me, baby, me! Magic Hat offers a spring “seasonale” called Hi.P.A, which compliments a lot of heady activities. Seek out a Summer Variety 12-pack next time you head off to a tailgate before a concert, visit a backyard barbecue or burn around a beach bonfire. Aromatic Warrior hops bless Hi.P.A. with a pungent scent not unlike that of sweet smoke wafting on a spring breeze. Most of the buzzed out-of-towner stoners, beer distributors, pickup artists and guests at Halverson’s Upstreet Cafe reported eagerly awaiting Medeski, Martin & Wood’s performance, scheduled later that evening.

Higher Ground was jumping around 9:30 P.M. when we arrived for the sold-out show. The parking lot baby-sat autos from as far away as Maine, Maryland and Indiana. MMW were working through a ponderous set, the tune settling neither here nor there, failing to climax in any thumping grooves. Patient, I ordered a #9, then a Hi.P.A. Still, the band was not delivering the jazzy jams I’ve experienced in the past. The crowd wasn’t dancing, but we were drinking heavily, killing time with shots of Jameson till the tunes revived themselves. Luckily the bar was giving out tons of water to balance the vibe, and I snuck out to burn a few one-hitters with the cigarette puffers out back. After a Mother Lager, and before midnight, MMW stopped playing, and at first I presumed they were just taking a set break, due to return for at least a lengthy encore. After a short wait, despite the persistent chanting of the crowd, the house lights went up. BOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! Kids went nuts, booing and hissing and berating us with taunts like “Go back to Jersey.” How’d these strangers know where we’re from? Is it that obvious? Are we not wearing enough fleece? Anyway, the ugliness continued as Higher Ground staff started actively trying to usher people who’d paid $25 for a night of partying out the door. The hippie riot I feared fortunately did not materialize, despite the rowdy few here and there. Calls of “Where’s my encore?” continued into the lot.

It was before one o’clock still, so we wrapped up the night at Manhattan Pizza on Church Street, perplexed as to who was at fault. It was a bitter end to an otherwise sweetly intoxicating journey, and I felt sure Magic Hat had nothing to do with the situation. Were MMW feeling under the weather? What venue ends a party that early? And, most vexing, why no encore for a sold-out crowd on Mardi Gras weekend? After a night of fitful sleep, we topped off the weekend with a Sunday afternoon of snowboarding in Stowe, which gave us the opportunity to shake off any lingering party fatigue or hurt feelings. As we drove out of town, I thought, “Next year, I’ll definitely be back, but please book Galactic.”

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE MAGIC MARDI GRAS PHOTO GALLERY

Check out the Magic Hat Brewery online at Magichat.net