A Fine Time In Vermont: Grand Point North 2016 – Photos & Review
Words & Images by: Bryan Lasky
Grand Point North Festival :: 09.17-18.16
Waterfront Park :: Burlington, VT
Waterfront Park :: Burlington, VT
View Bryan’s photo gallery after his review.
Another summer has come to an end and in Burlington, Vermont that can only mean one thing: it’s time for another two days of Grace Potter‘s Grand Point North festival. The beautiful view from the waterfront of Lake Champlain and the small crowds makes this one of the best festivals to go to year after year. The sixth edition saw a slight change in the music that was represented with punk, rap and straight forward country getting their moments to shine, but all were embraced by the crowds each day. Last year marked the first showing of Grace’s Magical Midnight Roadshow band in her home state and this year you could see how much they have gelled together in the approximately 365 days since.
The weather hasn’t always been the best at the festival and in the week leading up to it was again looking rough. Except for a fair amount of wind and a few drops of rain on Saturday that Kat Wright quickly sang away, the weather couldn’t have been better. In fact Sunday was some of the best weather the festival has ever gotten and it seemed to infuse the musicians with an extra little kick. That’s not to say that Saturday was bad, but Sunday had the extra magic that you look for at an all-day event. Even Potter, who is always a great performer, seemed to kick it up a notch on Sunday when she seemed to be channeling the energy of Janis Joplin during her entire set.
One of the best things about Grand Point North is keeping everything pretty local. From the local food trucks, to the maple syrup for sale, to the free Ben and Jerry’s to taste, Vermont – and Burlington – is proudly shown off for everyone who comes from out of state to enjoy themselves for the weekend. The first few acts of each day are also always local musicians. Evansville Transit Authority kicked off the festivities, having won a slot through a contest and tore through a 30 minute set, happily being on stage in front of a fairly large crowd for 3 p.m.
Following them was Blue Button and then Billy Dean & The Honor Roll. Blue Button’s punk attitude was a little jarring so early into the festival and caught many off guard. There was a lot of energy, but it didn’t really fit in with everything else. The same thing can be said for Billy Dean & The Honor Roll, who performed a great set of rap music, which the crowd was into, but it just felt off when listening to everything else the day had to offer. To see Grand Point North trying to diversify itself is fantastic and can only mean great things for the festival in the future.
Smooth Antics played one of the funkiest sets of the weekend next and transformed “Sweet Dreams” into a funk journey in contrast to the synth heavy original by Eurythmics. Kat Wright & The Indomitable Soul Band had horns blowing underneath Kat’s fantastic voice. With a lot of people up on stage it was impressive how each member could be clearly heard. Their sound was a mix of early Grace Potter material and Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds. They were the last local act of the day on Saturday and closed it out with a bang. They have a new album that is going to be released soon and are not to be missed on their upcoming tour in support.
On Sunday the local acts went by so quick you could blink, but each one was unique. Iron Eyes Cody moved from indie rock to folk to highly danceable synth driven music without a misstep. They were having a great time on stage and the crowd was calling hard for an encore they wouldn’t get because of scheduling. Their set of music set the tone for the rest of the day and every band lived up to it. Steady Betty’s reggae music was the perfect cool down from it and let the easy going vibes flow throughout the waterfront. They owned their entire time slot and easily could have kept going if they had wanted to.
Eliza Hardy Jones, a member of Grace’s Magical Midnight Roadshow, brought her band up next and the St. Vincent-esque music coming from the stage was stunning. Heavily relying on the use of synths, Eliza and her band were absolutely amazing and had the crowd up and moving. It is wonderful to see in today’s festival market a festival continue to pump in the local vibes and keep it from looking like every other event out there.
The remaining acts on Saturday and Sunday were nationally touring bands that made Vermont their home for the weekend. Blind Pilot’s easy going acoustic-led rock was interesting to listen to as the musicians constantly were changing instruments, leading one to think there were a lot more members than there actually were on stage. Kaleo , hailing from Iceland, put on quite the show for the crowd. With amazing vocals from JJ Julius Son, their sound is singular and beautiful and was perfect as the sun was setting on the first day. The hit single “Way Down We Go” not only had the crowd going wild, and Potter herself was in the photo pit enjoying every minute of their set.
Guster has been around for 25 years and have not lost a step. Ryan Miller bounced all over the stage and had his usual engaging banter for the crowd. Members of the band have attended the festival in the past, but this was their first time playing and they had a ball up on stage. The set spanned their entire career and set the stage perfectly for Grace Potter to come out and close the first night.
On Sunday, And The Kids were the first out of town act to appear on the stage and the three women who make up that band tore the stage down with an exciting set of indie rock. Sporting smiles and lots of color, And The Kids made the crowd dance uncontrollably in the hot Sunday sun. Unfortunately Basia Bulat was slated to take the stage next but had to bow out the night before. Luckily, River Whyless were in town and subbed in at the last minute. Their blending of their voices in front of some strong indie folk tunes kept the energy high.
The Record Company
The Record Company stormed onto the stage next and made a home in Burlington. Wasting no time Chris Vos moved around the stage like he was a madman on a mission, Alex Stiff pounded out bass lines, and Marc Cazorla was hitting the drums so hard he cut a couple of fingers on the first song. They had the crowd going absolutely crazy for their all-too-brief 40 minute set. These three have only gotten better as the year has continued and are going on a full length tour of the states this fall.
The Wood Brothers did what they do best and played their instruments like few others can. Chris Wood, Oliver Wood and Jano Rix have this special chemistry between the three of them that is just exciting to watch as a fan of music. As they played the sunset grew to an amazing intensity that fully reached its’ peak as Old Crow Medicine Show turned Grand Point North into the Grand Ole Opry. The crowd knew what it was in for right off the bat as the whole band bounded all over the stage with enough energy for an army. They threw in many covers to the set including “Sixteen Tons,” “I Hear Them All”/”This Land is Your Land” and a beautiful version of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman.” If more country shows were like this it would be great to continue to see more of them. They closed with the best gospel song they knew, Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In The Sky.”
Grace Potter closed out both days of the festival and Sunday was easily the stronger showing of the two. On both days she thanked the fans endlessly for continuing to come back year after year. Some of Saturday’s highlights included a wild “Hot To The Touch” opener and a mid-set “Low Road” that had only herself and guitarist Benny Yurco on stage. Right after the acoustic number by the duo, the full Magical Midnight Roadshow came on for a wild one-two punch of “Nothing But the Water (I)” and “Turntable”. The encore for the first night ended with an fiery extended version of “Paris (Ooh La La)” that included a drum solo by the full band with colorful drumsticks.
The second night had a wild “Medicine” start the show off with Grace prowling the stage and commanding the entire audience with ease. A mid-set interlude of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” led into a great rendition of “Stars.” Both were sung in honor of her family’s cabin being torn down soon because the land it was on was sold to a big corporation. She pleaded with the audience how it is important to try and keep the land how it is. The closer for the entire festival was “Nothing But the Water (II)” with many of the artists from Sunday coming out to help sing it, as is the tradition of Grand Point North. With smiles abound on stage another year was in the books.