In the space of just four years, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals have fine-tuned the concept of their Grand Point North Festival (not to mention streamlining operations and offering all the amenities an attendee might want or need) by placing high-profile names next to rising stars, then setting them alongside any number of names from the vigorous Burlington, Vermont music scene. 2014 certified GPN as one of the most distinctive events of the festival season as, through both the rainy gray of day one and the brilliant sun and brisk air of day two, there was one vivid image after another. The following should stand out in the memory of anyone who witnessed them.
Grace Potter stole the show on September 14th with perhaps the most stirring moment of the weekend. Somewhat disingenuously introducing a homage to a family member deceased the previous week, the earthy chanteuse rendered John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” in such a wholeheartedly vulnerable and heartfelt manner, you’d forget Bonnie Raitt’s definitive version if you ever heard it and not need to know about it if you hadn’t.
Lake Street Dive lived up to their much-anticipated appearance precisely because the quartet had it all: good original songs, smart arrangements with novel twists (guitarist Mike Olson played trumpet on two numbers), all of which lead vocalist Rachael Price galvanized through strong, sensuous singing and the magnetic allure of her stage presence.
In the face of the inclement weather (offset to at least some degree by the impeccable sound that blessed virtually all the acts on the festival roster), Lake Street Dive made it worth coming to day one of Grand Point North 2014. But it was Rayland Baxter’s early evening set that made it worth staying til then precisely because, unlike previous acts that lacked poise, professionalism and identity, the guitarist/vocalist/songwriter evinced all those virtues, not to mention a sense of humor as understated as his deceptively simple folk-rock.
Anders Parker didn’t introduce himself or his band Cloud Badge during their abbreviated early Sunday set, but he should have, if only so he might reinforce his impression upon any attendee struck by the intensity of the sound he created with his three comrades (mostly recalling the sonic maelstrom of vintage Neil Young and Crazy Horse).
Sounding like nothing so much as early Uncle Tupelo in the ragged but right mix of rock and roll plus country music, Queen City native Lowell Thompson and his four-piece group—aided and abetted at a couple junctures by another local standby Brett Lanier on pedal steel—didn’t so much sound derivative of the seminal alt-country band, but fully ready to assume the mantle of the genre.
After an afternoon of alternately halting, tentative and borderline embarrassing stage shows, Caroline Rose and her band hit the stage full of abandon Saturday, proffering a twanging electric music that was perhaps more style than substance—she needs to write more distinctive songs—but nevertheless so lacking in self-consciousness, her charm was irresistible.
Orchestrated and stylized as it was, Dr. John’s appearance included every tune you’d want to hear from the ambassador of New Orleans: “Right Place Wrong Time,” “Such A Night” and “Iko Iko,” but the erstwhile Mac Rebennack also offered a spooky rendition of “I Walk On Gilded Splinters” redolent of the magic pervading the city which he continues to so nobly represent.
Grand Point North really wouldn’t have been a festival without some sit-ins, yet no guest over the weekend was more notable or musically legitimate than Rayland Baxter. In his appearance with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals Saturday night to sing Elton John’s “Rocketman,” sans any instrument, Baxter matched the understated delivery of Potter’s, begun on her tender piano intro, and effectively brought a palpable sense of dynamics to the set.
Beginning “With A Little Help from My Friends” by not only calling out artists who had performed earlier Saturday, but also the Stowe Vermont troupe the Trip Dancers, Grace Potter telegraphed her punch for an encore Saturday night, but it ended up as a knockout. Potter and the Nocturnals guided their guests so vibrantly through the Joe Cocker arrangement with the Grease Band, it heralded a warm communal atmosphere.
Reinforcing the impression more cover material would benefit Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ setlists, closing the festival proper at Waterfront Park with Sly and the Family Stone’s iconic crowdpleaser “I Want to Take You Higher,” might again have seemed too obvious a choice if it hadn’t worked so well as a metaphor for the convivial sense of community that had arisen on the shores of Lake Champlain over the weekend.
Photos by Andrew Francke