Grace Potter & The Nocturnals Preview Grand Point North (INTERVIEW)

In what is now becoming an annual event in the Green Mountain state, the 4th annual Grand Point North Music Festival, curated and presented by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals along with Higher Ground is taking place this Saturday, September 13th and Sunday, September 14th, 2014 at Burlington, Vermont’s picturesque Waterfront Park.

In addition to Grace Potter & the Nocturnals playing both nights, the main stage line-up for the 2014 festival will include Lake Street Dive, Trampled By Turtles, The Devil Makes Three, Dr. John, The War On Drugs, Lucius, Rayland Baxter, and Debo Band. Also featured on this years bill are some of Burlington’s finest local talent, including Caroline Rose, Swale, Villanelles, Anders Parker, Lowell Thompson, Gold Town, and The High Breaks. Just prior to the start of the festival we had the chance to talk with Nocturnals drummer/husband of Grace Potter- Matt Burr.

Grand Point North is entering its fourth year and has already established itself as a premier niche festival in the northeast- do you feel the festival has exceeded your expectations and how much how did arranging this serves as a different creative process for you all?

We are so proud of what GPN Fest has grown into. We really get off on the annual anticipation of how it will turn out. We work around the clock with Higher Ground and our team on ways to keep things interesting & exciting. That same enthusiasm is also the danger of putting on one’s own festival; we never know when to stop! Luckily, there is a ceiling of sorts with GPN Fest because we’re committed to throwing a festival that’s customized to the landscape and lifestyle of Vermont. Folks can spend the morning hiking in the mountains, biking the trails, floating down a river or taking in the sights & sounds of Church Street, exploring the cobblestone side streets, and eventually find themselves right at the foot of gorgeous Lake Champlain Waterfront for the show. We not only bring music to the area, but we also support the local businesses . Burlington is a very important piece of the bands history and we’ll never forget that.


How did you put the lineup for this year’s bill together and how did you particularly try to involve Vermont artists?

I usually start the brainstorm with Grace, putting together dream list of national acts which we merge with a list compiled by Higher Ground and GPN headquarters. It’s a real fun challenge chasing down our dream list with such a limited capacity & budget, but that’s what makes the joy of confirming a band even grander. You quickly learn about the hardships of putting together your dream bill and you grow thick skin through it all.

Our local band list is something I compile through word of mouth, reading the local papers, and speaking with fellow Burlington music junkies and the Nocturnals. Putting a spotlight on the local music scene is very important to us. It’s where we came from! We moved the local stage from the far corner of the site to the second main stage so these acts can get a real opportunity to showcase their sounds in front of a new audience on a big stage, sometimes the biggest stage these acts have ever performed on. Thanks to festivals like All Good, we instilled a “no music will ever overlap” policy. There’s no doubt GPN fest includes several tricks of the trade we learned while touring the festival circuit the past 12 years. We definitely got our masters in festivus and put it right to use.

The other list we have is for the local food vendors we bring on site. Grace is a giant foodie so it was only a matter of time before we focused more on Grand Point Local, the food element of the festival where the chefs take center stage. We work on this list with Burlington food ace Benjamin Adler from the Skinny Pancake and similar to the local bands, we place a bright light on local food. A new culinary attraction this year is a maple lemonade stand which will also feature Midnight Gold, our new maple syrup tapped, boiled, and bottled by Grace’s cousin Steve!

One of the bands that stands out on the bill is War on Drugs who has one of the finest albums of 2014. When did you first hear them and your thoughts on their sound and why you added them to the bill?

Amen. War On Drugs does indeed have one of the best albums of the year and we were to the moon when they confirmed. One of our managers Kevin Morris started raving about them the minute he heard the album and sent us a link with a note suggesting we chase them for the festival. It has the odds to be one of the best sets of the weekend, especially since they are performing when the sun sets over the lake and dips below the Adirondacks.


War on Drugs

What about Lake Street Dive? That’s a Boston band that’s selling out rooms across the country – what do you dig about them?

This was actually off a list of suggestions from Higher Ground mastermind Alex Crothers. Grace took a peek and thought their sounds would add a beautiful balance to War On Drugs, Lucius, Rayland Baxter and the other Saturday acts. We work really hard to make sure we roll out a diverse lineup that can attract a wide array of young and experienced music fans. And their initials are LSD so that also helped seal the deal.

Without a new album out this year- what can we expect from the Grace Potter and Nocturnals sets?

We like to shake things up a bit on the road with hopes we can stay inspired so Grace tends to work around a core base of 20-30 songs she knows the audience digs on. She will then insert sudden left turns from a 20-30 song list of deep cuts and cover songs. This rings especially true for both sets at our own festival where we reach deeper into Grace’s song book with hopes of pleasing some of the tried and true fans who have been with us since we started the band 12 years ago at St. Lawrence University. We also love experimenting with new cover songs. We started a tradition two years ago where we bring all of the days bands onstage for a final singalong. The first one we ever did was “All You Need Is Love.” Last year was The Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin” and JJ Cale’s “Cocaine”. I also imagine Grace will divulge a new tune or two with the audience this weekend. There’s no telling with her until the day of the show – sometimes she’ll just call it onstage and we’re all like “Shit! Yeah! Lets do it!”. I love the rush of playing something no one has ever heard before.

After being on the road for a good part of the year – where do you like to visit when you come back to Vermont the most – are there any bars or restaurants that feel most at home to you?

After clocking in a ton of time with Grace’s family who we share a homestead with, we traditionally run off to American Flatbread in Waitsfield. It’s hands down our favorite pizza in the world and her parents even helped build their first oven. The owners and staff are incredibly inspiring people who Grace grew up with when she worked there so visiting there is a spiritual experience through food and old friends. Another regular stop when we’re home is the Big Picture Theatre and Cafe. It’s a really wonderful heartbeat in the middle of the Mad River Valley. There’s nothing like hitting the movies after a long tour. Grace actually used to sell concessions there when she was like 15 – then we started playing shows there when the band formed so there’s lots of great history in that place.


Looking back at your early days when you played weekly at small places like Halvorson’s and now your headlining your own festival and have established yourself as one of the country’s premier bands – what do you credit your breakthrough as a career artist? Do you ever look back at those old days and say to yourself “Wow”?

Grace & I both thank our lucky stars that things panned out as beautifully as they have. Granted we worked our asses off. This band has played every state in the country, Japan, Brazil, UK, Australia and most everywhere they use the Euro! In the 12 years we’ve been active, we’ve spent an average of 9 1/2 months a year on the road. We don’t ever really stop. We feel so blessed that we are a band who started from nothing in this strange era of overnight success. Bands like that are not able to look back and say, “Remember that time we played in front of ten people at Nectars?” and “Remember that time we bought an RV bus for our first national tour and it broke down right next to Red Rocks which we would headline 12 years later….” The work we put in on and off the stage makes the success that much sweeter. We never take milestones for granted. Slow and steady wins the race.

What are you personal fondest memories of Grand Point North over these past few years?

Grace and I went out and walked through the crowd last year and had goosebumps the entire journey through the vending, main stage field, and Grand Point Weird. When we returned backstage we hugged each other and said, “Can you believe we have our own festival?”

For more info visit the festival’s website, as tickets are still available.

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