My Summer in Concerts

Allison Burg ’25 reflects on her attendance at three recent concerts: Hans Williams, The Backseat Lovers and Noah Kahan

by Allison Burg | 8/4/23 2:00am

Courtesy of Allison Burg
by Allison Burg / The Dartmouth

I hit the concert jackpot this summer. For relatively low prices, I had the privilege to attend three concerts this past month — Hans Williams, The Backseat Lovers and Noah Kahan. Although all three bands create music that toes the line between alternative, indie and pop, their concerts each felt strikingly different. Each concert created a unique atmosphere that left me awestruck and listening to their albums in a repetitive loop. Ultimately, my heart melted most for the two hometown performances — both Williams and Kahan are Vermont natives.

Hans Williams

On July 12, I found myself in the Lebanon Opera House, surrounded by many locals and a few Dartmouth students. After scoring a free ticket to indie-folk singer Hans Williams, I entered the venue with no expectations and an inability to recite even a single song. Yet, after the opening act — Brooks Hubbard, a folk singer — gave me chills, I quickly knew that this was not just some amateur performance. 

After Hubbard’s “Not a Love Song” and a shoutout to his alma mater, Mascoma Valley Regional High School, Williams and his band members took the stage for the last night of Williams’s  summer tour. Due to the band’s young age and high energy, I noticed a striking resemblance to Dartmouth student bands. A 21-year-old Hanover High School alumnus, Williams wrote songs and strengthened his music skills while attending Tulane University. Imagine an electric student band with a record label and more than a million monthly Spotify listeners, and you have Williams.

Despite my limited knowledge of Williams’s songs, this concert quickly became the fastest two and a half hours of my life. Williams may be young, but the raw lyrics of “Checklist” demonstrated his range of experiences and emotions. After commenting on how it was nerve-wracking to recognize many of his hometown friends in the crowd, Williams transitioned to “Willows,” which left me mesmerized: his guitar strums combined with his raspy voice created an enchanting performance.

With covers from Mt. Joy and Dijon mixed in with original music — as the band has not created enough songs yet for a full setlist — Williams and his bandmates looked like they were having the time of their lives, even while playing a few sad songs. Not only was Williams clearly ecstatic to be performing in his community, but he made sure to allow his guitarist and pianist extended solos. Before his final song, “All is Well,” he urged the audience to donate to a local suicide prevention group and to seek help if needed. As I left the opera house, I knew I would be bragging to people in a few years about that time I saw Williams in his small hometown venue before he made it big. 

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Backseat Lovers

When a few of my sorority sisters decided to get tickets to The Backseat Lovers, I impulsively agreed despite only knowing their hit “Kilby Girl.” For weeks leading up to the concert, I learned their songs; along the way, they quickly became one of my favorite bands. On July 27, I drove up to Burlington blasting “Just a Boy.”

After arriving in Burlington, Vermont, my friends and I made our way to the concert venue — Waterfront Park — which is now my favorite concert location. Directly on the lake, the venue not only holds waterfront views but also has a separate area for local vendors. This setup allowed me to eat Sisters of Anarchy ice cream while both listening to the opening act and watching the sunset reflected on the lake.

After finding a few more Dartmouth friends, we found a spot to stand with a good view of the band. Despite The Backseat Lovers’ popularity and fame, the concert goers around us were extremely easy-going. Everyone had extremely good style, perhaps mirroring Joshua Harmon, the lead singer and guitarist, who performed that night wearing a long skirt. 

I quickly discovered that The Backseat Lovers — who started the concert with “Know Your Name” — sound similar to their record. The night held few surprises, as I already knew that their two albums were filled with unskippable and perfectly crafted songs. “Maple Syrup” and “Still a Friend” — my two favorites — were all the more impeccable under the beautiful outdoor setting of Waterfront Park.

The night grew even more magical during “Snowbank Blues” — a song that already takes my breath away for its tender lyrics and soft instrumentals — when a shooting star streaked past the top of the stage. My wish quickly came true when the band played “Davy Crochet” — usually not on their setlist — and an unreleased song called “Waterfront,” which was perfect for this venue. 

Despite having no major link to Burlington, The Backseat Lovers were fantastically familiar and beautiful. Although I could have listened to the setlist in my bedroom and it would have sounded almost the same, the ambiance of seeing the band live — especially in such a scenic park — was extraordinary and made the songs all the greater.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Noah Kahan

On July 29, two days after The Backseat Lovers, I again made the trek to Burlington Waterfront Park for Noah Kahan’s “Stick Season” tour. Unlike two days prior, I had no classes earlier that day and thus more time to spend exploring Burlington. By the time my friend and I arrived at the park, I was ready for another ice cream cone from Sisters of Anarchy.

Despite heavy rain in the afternoon and Kahan canceling his show the day prior, the concert began with clear skies and a smiling Kahan. Although he confessed he likely should have canceled — so as not to injure his vocal chords — he refused to call off his hometown show. Just like Williams, Kahan is a Vermont native who attended Hanover High — making his music a favorite among Dartmouth students.

My fellow concertgoers were less laidback than The Backseat Lovers crew, perhaps due to Kahan’s skyrocketing success in the past year. Nonetheless, my friends and I still somehow managed to stick together despite the densely-packed crowd. At the same time, Kahan made the waterfront venue feel as intimate as the Lebanon Opera House had felt several weeks earlier. Beginning with “All My Love” — my favorite song on Stick Season — his voice enlivened the venue and had more range than in his recordings. 

It was clearly a hometown show for Kahan: not only did he reveal that his mother was in the crowd, but he also said Burlington was one of his first live venues. And, before performing  “New Perspective,” Kahan discussed getting hibachi alone at Koto Japanese Steakhouse — a West Lebanon restaurant popular among Dartmouth students. He also called out his hometown, Stratford, and pleaded with fans to donate to flood relief funds. With his many songs referencing New England and Vermont, the crowd was rowdy and excited to sing the lyrics. 

“You’re Gonna Go Far” resonated with the Dartmouth students in the crowd, as Kahan sang about frat boys and college culture. Between the songs “Growing Sideways” and “Orange Juice” and with Kahan’s encouragement to start therapy if you are able, I wiped away tears, moved by his vulnerable tone and candidness with the audience. I also felt moved by “Maine,” which brought me back to my trip to the state last summer — with the very friends with whom I was at the concert. In short, I was in my feels. 

After watching both Williams and Kahan live, I have concluded that Hanover High alumni have the time of their lives on stage. Although there were no shooting stars spotted, Kahan was lit up, even exiting the stage to interact with the front row of the crowd in the middle of his set. I left Burlington with a deeper understanding of Kahan’s success and even more confidence that he will continue to sell out venues.

Rating: ★★★★★