Local rock star reflects on 10 years
Steven Pappas / Staff photo Grace Potter enjoys a moment in Burlington last month at one of her old haunts, Halvorsan’s on Church Street.
In this day and age, a decade at the same job is a milestone. The same thing applies to rock ’n’ rollers.
For 10 years now, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals have been entertaining audiences across the nation — and now around the globe. After a rigorous tour schedule that had the band jet-setting as far away as Australia in 2012, Potter is ready to take it down a notch, “chill out and write some songs,” and pull together a new album — one that is not as rushed as the last, highly successful “The Lion the Beast the Beat.”
“We’re ready to make this a ballsy curtain call,” she said, speaking from one of her first performing haunts, Halvorson’s on Church Street in Burlington. “We used to play right over there.”
But before looking back, Potter needs to keep looking ahead. First comes Grand Point North, the music festival she started three years ago, to be performed along the waterfront in Burlington. Every year, Potter brings in other acts for the two-day gala, which is scheduled this year for Sept. 14-15.
“Grand Point North evolves every year, and one of my favorite things about this year is that we have intentionally crafted it around people we know, people we have worked with,” she said. “These are people we have had amazing experiences with.”
The main stage lineup for the 2013 festival, in coordination with Higher Ground, will include Southern rock jam band Gov’t Mule, New Orleans soul/funk band Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, soul and R&B singer Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, the Canadian singer-songwriter known as City and Colour, country rock band The Felice Brothers, and Charleston, S.C.-based country-rock band Shovels & Rope. The festival will again take place at Burlington’s Waterfront Park.
“I can’t picture it taking place anywhere else,” she said.
In addition to the talent on the main stage, some of the best bands of Burlington will be featured on the second stage, including Josh Panda & The Hot Damned, Scott Tournet & Ver La Luz, Belle Pines featuring Brett Hughes & The Honky Tonk Tuesdays, Alpenglow, Rough Francis, Kat Wright & The Indomitable Soul Band, Natalie Prass featuring Benny Yurco, and Paper Castles.
The local band Dupont Brothers, selected through a readers contest with Seven Days, will kick off the festival.
The festival food will be “curated” by Skinny Pancake. Grand Point Local will feature local food with an assortment of Vermont’s best purveyors including Duino Duende, Kettle Corn, Open Hearth Pizza, Vermont Yak Co. and Southern Smoke, each taking advantage of local ingredients.
“Keep it local, local, local,” Potter chanted.
Her sister, Charlotte, also is taking part in this year’s festival to “make it even more Potter-heavy,” said the star, who grew up in Waitsfield.
“My sister is one of these amazing artists who creates these interactive environments. She very much believes in performance art,” Potter said by way of introducing Grand Point Weird.
“It’s a conversation about what is weird. Is weird good? Is weird bad? What makes you weird?” she said, explaining how there will be daytime workshops, displays, and music and videos geared toward young people exploring “weird.” “Weird is good, because I have been weird my whole life, and it’s working out for me and the band.”
“I want people to remember each festival in a different way,” she said. “Live music is a different experience every time because … this happened, this happened and this happened, unless you were there. I want that indescribable feeling every year, and I want it to be different every year.”
Potter said that by playing other festivals around the country, and seeing the mistakes organizers have made, she has learned how best to make one that works. “One of the keys to this festival is keeping it intimate, so that every single fan who comes is getting the singular experience.”
Tickets are available online at www.highergroundmusic.com. Tickets can also be purchased by phone at 888-512-7469 or in person at the Higher Ground box office at 1214 Williston Road in South Burlington.
The waterfront festival has become the band’s touchstone with its deep Vermont roots. No matter where Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are touring, “Vermont is never far away” because of all their contacts here.
Looking back on the last decade, which includes four albums, headlining tours, collaborations, thousands of performances, videos (including YouTube), a forthcoming book, television appearances, movie soundtracks, a Grammy nomination for a duet with Kenny Chesney, stadium tours, and even a signature Lake Champlain Chocolates chocolate bar of her own, it’s been a whirlwind.
“We need a decade party,” Potter said when asked what the band was doing to celebrate its anniversary. “Honestly, I haven’t really had it in mind. We just keep doing what we love, and we will keep doing it as long as we can.”
“We did one celebration by playing up at St. Lawrence University” where Potter and drummer Matt Burr graduated, said guitarist Scott Tournet, who this year released his own solo album, “Vera La Luz.” Tournet, who grew up in southern Vermont, attended Goddard College in Plainfield and worked around central Vermont for years before joining the Nocturnals.
“This is 10 years of a band,” Potter said, gesturing to the room and her bandmates. “There is the benevolent spirit, some sort of Vermont thing, that makes people believe they can do anything, even if they really can or not.”
“(Being in a band) is sticking your neck out, and a lot like running away to join the circus,” she said, “but we made it. We took the risk.”
Burr said there is certainly a sense of pride in getting over the decade mark.
“And we haven’t killed each other yet,” Potter injected with a laugh.
“It is a deep breath, a relief,” Burr said of the milestone.
Potter said that in many ways, Grand Point North has become that annual measurement of their success, when they get to bring together friends, family and partners into one celebration.
“We don’t need to celebrate us anymore,” she said. “We get a lot of attention. Now we get to give back and share some of that. That’s the best way we can celebrate our 10 years.”
Steven M. Pappas is editor of The Times Argus.
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