Much like its conceptualizer and creator Grace Potter, the Grand Point North Festival, held on September 12th -13th, proved for a fifth year in a row, to be a delightful and refreshing blend of humble New England roots, natural style and beauty, and electrifying musical talent. In today’s popular festival culture, which has become oversaturated with corporate sponsors, big-bill lineups and crowds from tens to hundreds of thousands, Grand Point North is a breath of festival fresh air, with its intimate family feeling, eclectic local fare, subtle maple-syrup essence the air, and diversity of patrons. Situated on the cozy-sized Waterfront Park, on the shoreline of Lake Champlain in downtown Burlington, Vermont, Grand Point North boasts a breathtaking lakefront view, one which rivals the likes of Newport Folk Festival, and brings together an extensive spectrum of musical genres, which one may not necessarily expect from a small festival.
As the headliner for both nights, and primary curator of the festival’s musical talent, Potter nailed it with this year’s lineup. Both days started off featuring performances by a selection of local bands and artists, including The Snaz, a female-fronted indie-rock group from Brattleboro, Vermont, Mal Maiz, a Latin-reggae fusion band with a danceable gypsy flair, as well as battle of the band winning teenagers of the Hardwood Union High School Assembly Band from Moretown, Vermont. The standout local performance of the weekend was delivered by Potter-favorite, Madalia, whose sound was as tight, colorful and synthetic as their fluorescent spandex ensembles. The five-piece, Waitsfield-based electro-pop collaboration oozes a captivating, upbeat Scissor Sisters-type vibe, backed up by impressive musicianship and surprisingly deep, and sometimes dark lyrics.
The Grand Point North design is ideal for festival-goers who don’t like to miss out on a single minute of music; the side-by-stage set-up, and lightning-quick set breaks, keeps the energy moving throughout the day, and allows the audience to take in the entire experience. This convenient configuration was particularly appreciated for Saturday’s superstar evening line-up, kicked-off by Amy Helm & the Handsome Strangers, who paid tribute to Helm’s father by performing The Band’s famous cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City.” Phish bassist, Mike Gordon, took the stage next, fresh off of Magnaball and a solo tour earlier this summer, and he was followed by up-and-comer, Shakey Graves, who delivered a performance that was simultaneously charming and electrifying, despite being down a band member.
When Grace Potter took the stage on night one, there was no question who the crowd came to the park to see. In addition to being a native Vermonter and local celebrity, Potter is arguably one of the most talented and captivating female performers out there, a statement validated by her close personal A-list fan base consisting of a laundry list of multi-genre musicians, including Warren Haynes, Mick Jagger and Kenny Chesney. Chesney even made a surprise appearance during Potter’s set, to perform their duet “Wild Child,” which was received with an enthusiastic response from a surprised and starstruck crowd. Potter’s ability to draw in her audience with her skilled musicianship, palpable sex appeal, and undeniable energy is what makes her a spectacular force to be reckoned with.
Day two of Grand Point North got off to an energetic start with local heavy-metal band, Barishi, followed by indie-rock group The Heavy Plains, and the funk-jazz fusion stylings of Soul Monde. The festival really hit its stride when Brooklyn-based Americana favorites, Spirit Family Reunion took the stage to deliver their catchy signature Americana tunes; and despite an ominous dark cloud that made its threatening journey across the lake, and eventually dumped several inches of rain on an unflappable crowd during his set, Marc Benevento didn’t miss a beat, and was even joined by Potter’s drummer and husband, Matt Burr for a rousing rendition of “At the Show.”
As Greensky Bluegrass began their set, the clouds parted and the late-summer sun revealed a rainbow and breathtaking view over the lake, which the band encouraged the audience to turn around and take a moment to soak in. The only drawback to the side-by-side stage set-up was revealed during Greensky’s set, as the audience tried to ignore the distracting construction of the Flaming Lips’ famous over-the-top set design going up at the same time. The distraction was worth it though. Curtains of technicolor LED lights, and air cannons blasting fog and confetti into the crowd welcomed Lips’ frontman Wayne Coyne, and his signature psychedelic costume-clad extras to the stage, for performances of all the fan favorites like “Do You Realize,” “She Don’t Use Jelly,” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.” Most festival goers would likely agree that a highlight of the weekend was the band’s gift to the audience - a giant silver balloon which spelled out “F*** Yeah Burlington” and was enthusiastically passed overhead around the park, stopping for dozens of photo ops along the way.
After the sun went down on Sunday night, Grace Potter and her band once again took the stage to close out another successful Grand Point North Festival. Potter delivered a perfect balance of new songs off her pop-influenced new album Midnight, beloved Nocturnals tunes like “Paris (Ooh La La),” and “Nothing but the Water", along with crowd-pleasing covers of classic Rolling Stones, Pointer Sisters and Jefferson Airplane songs. As Potter graciously bid the crowd farewell, and issued a genuine round of applause and thanks to the talented musicians and Higher Ground festival organizers, it was impossible not to feel like a part of something truly special.
Words//Photos by by Jordan Gill