What's the Point?
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
Burlington had its collective feathers ruffled last week. And for once, the ire of an entire city had nothing to do with anything written by yours truly! I’m as shocked as you are.
In an interview with music website Rock Edition, the Vacant Lots’ front man Jared Artuad offered some pointed criticisms of the music scene in the place he’s called home for the last four years. When asked about the Queen City, he made the following statement. “It’s a small city with a big scene. There’s a lot going on, but not a lot happening,” he said. Then he added, “I have always tried to get the most of this city, but I am continually disappointed.”
Yikes. That’s gonna leave a mark.
Artaud went on to say he finds Burlington music to be characterized by mediocrity and conformity, and that precious few local acts are making music he cares to see live. He also bemoaned what he views as a dearth of “cool venues,” and blamed fans for sparse attendance at recent local TVL shows. Artaud wrapped up his rant by saying, “It’s a city that has great potential but continually disappoints, because there is so little really happening here, [and so few] bands that are really saying something.”
Give Artaud credit for at least one thing: He sure said something. Seven Days posted an excerpt of the interview on our music blog, Solid State, and it prompted an intelligent, civil discussion of the merits of local music and the current state of the Burlington scene.
Just kidding. It was a fucking bloodbath, with Artaud taking shots that assailed his personal and artistic integrity from all sides, largely from anonymous commenters — because, you know, blogs are fun like that.
It’s interesting that Artaud’s comments come on the eve of the largest and most high-profile local music showcase in years, the Grand Point North Festival on Burlington’s Waterfront Park this weekend. For those of you who are just joining us, the two-day fest, happening in conjunction with the annual Lake Champlain Maritime Festival and personally curated by Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, features some serious marquee talent, including Taj Mahal Trio, Fitz & the Tantrums, the Wood Brothers and, of course, GPN.
But the undercard features a wealth of some of the area’s finest up-and-coming local bands, as well as few longtime scene stalwarts. Saturday, GPN will be joined by Afro-Latin funky bunch Rubblebucket, indie-folk sweethearts Maryse Smith & the Rosesmiths, space-rock duo Parmaga, indie rockers Lendway and GPN protégés Chamberlin. Sunday’s dance card is equally stacked with local talent, including righteous babe Anaïs Mitchell and the Hadestown Orchestra, mountain bluesmen the Eames Brothers Band, surf-noir badasses Barbacoa — with prodigal alt-country heartthrob Lowell Thompson, no less — and rising local Americana band Split Tongue Crow. Other than that, though, there’s not really much going on.
Artaud’s sentiments stand in stark contrast to those of Potter and her band of insomniac rockers. While aiming barbs at GPN passes for sport in certain snarky corners — including this column, on occasion — the group has often gone out of its way to shine the spotlight on Vermont bands, regularly offering opening slots to locals for GPN’s annual run of New Year’s Eve shows at Higher Ground. And now, practically giving them an entire festival. I emailed Potter recently to ask her why the band felt the need to give back on such a grand scale. Here’s what she said:
“When we began the planning of Grand Point North, we knew we wanted to take the opportunity to showcase the beautiful town of Burlington, Vermont. You really couldn’t dream up a more magnificent backdrop for a festival. We were at Lollapalooza this week and the thing that struck me the most about being there was how well they have showcased the city of Chicago. It made me fall in love with the place and see it in a light I’d never seen it in before. I’d like to do that in Burlington — on a smaller scale, obviously!
“While still in the brainstorming phase, we realized that a big part of what makes our return to VT so memorable every year is that chance to really immerse ourselves in the local music for however long we’re home. Seeking out exceptional local talent is very important to us and has become a true and undying passion for me, and the Nocturnals. I see how much talent there is here, and how few platforms there are to share that talent. We just really want to showcase some of the unique and promising work that’s being done in Vermont. At the heart of this, we wanna give fans a killer show and an exquisite tasting menu of what Burlington has to offer.
“And, yes, I’d love to go out with you, Dan Bolles. Call me!”
(OK, I may have added that last part myself … let’s move on.)
Savvy PR-speak? Maybe a little. But GPN (the band) have proved over the years that the sentiment is genuine. They do care. And GPN (the fest) is a shining manifestation that puts the comments of a certain aspiring rock star into striking context.
Jared Artaud is certainly entitled to his opinions. Though one wonders what changed for him since 2009, when he offered this to 7D in an interview:
“There’s just something about Burlington. I really believe that a revolution is necessary and that we need to redefine our values and explore new roads. I believe that art can pave that road. And I really believe that is happening here.”
As TVL continue their ascent into the national limelight, here’s hoping Artaud remembers he once felt that, and realizes that one engenders more good will by helping to build something than by tearing it down.
Next year, I swear I’m going to gather every promoter and talent buyer in the state, lock them in a room and not release them until they’ve ironed out their summer festival schedules with as little overlap as possible. While it’s never a bad problem to have too many entertainment options, how is one supposed to indulge so many competing interests? Anyway, GPN isn’t the only game in the state this weekend. For example, the Valley Stage Music Festival in Huntington this Saturday with songwriter Danny Barnes, Santa Fe-based Americana duo the Round Mountain, Connecticut’s the String Fingers Band, and a pair of excellent local bluegrass acts, Stone Cold Roosters and Katie Trautz.
But wait, there’s more! Also vying for your music dollars this weekend is the star-studded Tweed River Music Festival in Stockbridge, Vt. Curated by local songwriter Bow Thayer, the festival begins on Friday, August 12, and runs through Sunday. In addition to headliner Booker T. Jones (see the interview this week), the fest features the likes of soul outfit Beg, Scream and Shout, Beantown-arena rockers Township, local speedwestern favorites Waylon Speed, songwriter Tim Gearan and many more.
In nonfestival news, Burlington songwriter Justin Levinson is set to release a nifty new single this week, “I Was So Wrong.” The tune comes from his forthcoming new album and is part of a collaboration with Nashville-based tunesmith Madi Diaz. Levinson plays at Nectar’s this Friday.
Just a reminder that the first-ever Girls Rock Vermont showcase is this Saturday at the North End Studios in Burlington. Girls Rock Vermont is a female-only rock camp created by local riot-grrl punk trio Doll Fight! The grrls will be mentoring aspiring young Joan Jetts all week, culminating in the afternoon showcase this weekend. Best of luck, ladies.
Band Name of the Week: Lawrence Welks & Our Bear to Cross. Yeah, I know they’ve been around for a while. But that name really is pretty awesome, and the Bible-humping, trash-pop duo is adding yet another interesting pop show to its “Summer of Psalm” this Saturday with Ryan Power, Caring Babies and Son of Salami. As per usual, it’s an underground show, so I’m not supposed to tell you where it is. So, once again, if you don’t know, ask a hipster. Or just look for it on Facebook.
Once again, this week’s totally self-indulgent column segment, in which I share a random sampling of what was on my iPod, turntable, CD player, 8-track player, etc., this week.