Grand Point North offers the usual benefits of a festival by offering music lovers the opportunity to hear a selection of artists, known and unknown, in a setting that’s cost-effective and fan friendly otherwise as well. The layout at Burlington’s Waterfront Park included amenities of diverse unusual refreshments and art exhibits, far enough away from the stages not to impede the performance, but still close enough for easy access, not to mention the ability to hear the music on either stage, at a distance.
At the same time, with two stages side by side, any attendee can choose to simply feast on the parade of performers so that, if you didn’t like the strains of English folk sound by Alpenglow (shades of Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention) or the Beatlesque pop-rock of Nocturnals’ guitarist Scott Tournet’s Ver La Luz, you could simply turn around to admire the landscape of lakeshore and mountains.
As if by a collective force of will by all involved, precipitation held off Sunday, allowing the proceedings to evolve similar to a given set of music by a single artist.
The sprightly if overtly derivative country intro of Belle Pines was inviting to be sure, an effective contrast with the moody rock of Paper Castles. But it was the winsome demeanor of Prass, almost but not quite camouflaging the authority in her delivery and that of her band, that caused the rapidly growing crowd to visibly snap to attention. Wisely, she let her well-structured, carefully-arranged nouveau folk speak for itself as contribution to the festivities, unlike the effusive Shovels and Rope, who otherwise exuded a the ramshackle musical charm.
Burlington’s resident punks made a more overt statement of personality as they brandished some of the high-volume majesty of vintage Who with the in-your-face attitude of an Iggy & The Stooges, albeit with an uplifting, not alienated, undercurrent. Thus, the high volume band drew its own raucous reaction from an audience that based on superficial demographics, might not provide such sympathy. That’s because Rough Francis looked acted and sounded like the real thing, with a twist and Burlington appreciates idiosyncratic twists on familiar formulae.
Vague traces of authentic New Orleans sound reside within the funk-rock Trombone Shorty parlays with his band, but the effervescence of his own stage presence is the definition of that famous city’s indefatigable spirit. Their volume isn’t cranked so high the subtleties of the leader’s trumpet and trombone aren’t readily discernible to the audience when he teases a traditional NOLA funeral march, as at the end of “St. James Infirmary;” in doing so, he set the stage for himself in concluding his set with “Liza Jane” as a summary of the ready-made good time he and his audience enjoyed to such mutual extent he fulfilled their expectations and appeared to enjoy himself in kind (returning twice more this evening as a guest).
Attendees trooped in faster and in greater numbers to the second day of GPN, obviously to catch Shorty and, in quick succession, the return of Gov’t Mule to Burlington. In between, City and Colour’s amplified drone functioned simultaneously as an object of fascination to the group’s vocal followers and mood music for those waiting for Warren Haynes and Co., who, when they took the stage, executed a well-conceived set. Mixing new material for the shortly forthcoming record Shout and Mule standards of recent vintage such as “Steppin’ Lightly,” the clarity of the sound, consistently high level throughout GPN, was particularly evident here. Restricted to seventy-five minutes, the quartet nevertheless accommodated a sit-in from Trombone Shorty on a fast shuffle as well as a comparatively subdued second vocalist performance by Grace Potter in a seamless segue from a delicate cover of Bill Withers’ “Hope She’ll be Happier” into Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman.”
GRACE POTTER AND THE NOCTURNALS
Even the least discerning music lover can fathom what a natural progression it’s been for GPN to evolve from its blues-rock roots to its current powerhouse style. Yet, despite the identical pre-recorded intro, GPN took a decidedly different tack on stage 9/15, with the leading lady spending plenty of time at her keyboards while acoustic textures dominated the early part of their set. And, in no doubt a deliberate ploy to accentuate those more subtle dynamics in progress, Trombone Shorty took the stage to add the saucy sound of his horn to “Paris (Ooh La La),” which turned into the natural sing-along it was meant to be. Extending the mood further under a ghostly moon hanging behind overcast clouds, Warren Haynes strapped on his electric guitar for a heavy blues during which he traded notes not just with co-guitarists Scott Tournet and Bennie Yurco, but Potter’s voice in its upper registers; like the surprise appearance of country megastar Kenney Chesney the night before, the sit-in might’ve been inevitable but it was no less crowd-pleasing nor lacking in theatre. While some might criticize Potter for hedging her bets with a dive into cross-genre collaborations, it seemed more than a natural extension of her career path to share her formal collaboration with Chesney, ”You and Tequila,” in addition to his cover of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.” The interlude suggested only so strongly how similar are the contemporary country and classic rock audiences Potter potentially attracts.
GRAND POINT DEAD
The arrangement of GPN aftershows places the festival squarely in line with other such events, with the added distinction of one, featuring The Stepkids and Ice Cream, being held at the now famous Nectar’s in downtown Burlington. That event, however, was easily overshadowed by the Grand Point Dead presentation located at co-organizer of the festival Higher Ground in South Burlington, yet both in their own way reaffirmed the distinctive local music theme of the festival. Members of The Nocturnals, once in regular partnership with other native musicians, engaged in exploration of the music of the Grateful Dead, their collaboration heightened by the participation of Gove’ Mule’s Warren Haynes, who’s spent more than a little time actually playing, recording and touring with members of that iconic group.
Haynes actually appeared roughly twenty minutes into the two-hour single set. His participation fairly early in the evening, heightened the sense of this occasion as one in which where a particular musician elevates the playing of those around him: the house band–Nocturnal Yurco on guitar and lead vocals, Pat May on bass, Adam King on keyboards and vocals plus dual drummers Kevin Shapiro and Steve Hadeka (Seth Yacovone Band among others) was fully warmed up and ready to take flight at this point anyway. Which they did on “Scarlet Begonias,” its line referencing “the heart of gold band,” resonating more than a little with performers and audience alike.
The comings and goings of musicians and singers, as Yurco attested, continued for the duration, and as is usually the case in such circumstances, the music ebbed and flowed accordingly. “Sugaree” wasn’t so nimble despite the singing of Grace Potter and Nocturnals drummer Matt Burr in place of Shapiro, yet back to the essential lineup, the unit radiated the pleasure of their reunion during the famous triptych of “Help on the Way”/”Slipknot”/”Franklin’s Tower.”
The vocal power of Joshua Panda aided in no small measure on the almost equally well-known “Goin’ Down the Road”/”I Know You Rider” segue, particularly as voices ascended toward the end (in proportion to the elevation of the playing), and even if “Hard to Handle” was a bit ragged (no fault of Sean Preece on drums acting fluidly in tandem with Hadeka), its novelty more than compensated. “Not Fade Away” was no less elevating: at this point, it was impossible to tell what these musicians loved more, this music or their shared experience.
The Bo Diddley beat of “not Fade Away” echoed out into the rainy night, reminding of the good fortune afforded by the elements during Grand Point North proper the rest of the weekend. Though not even half the length of Burlington’s Discover Jazz Festival, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals’ annual homecoming weekend may soon rival it in impact, not to mention in operational precision and musicianly camaraderie. In fact, this early autumn affair might become as much of a tradition as the ten-day event that lights up Burlington Vermont at the other end of the summer.
photos by Brian Jenkins/3rd Stone Images