There aren’t many musical happenings in Vermont that necessitate a full-fledged press conference. Personally, given my disdain for the self-congratulatory pomp and circumstance of such gatherings, I would humbly suggest that number totals roughly zero. And given that the first act of office by the new heads of the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival was to cancel that fest’s annual presser in favor of a cocktail hour this year, it seems I’m not the only one. If the people who run the state’s most high-profile music event find their own press conference pointless, what does that say for the rest?
However, if there is a band in Vermont that could reasonably be excused the indulgence of a press conference, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals  would be it. (Phish, too, if they were concerned with such things, which they aren’t.) And if there is an occasion for which to shine the Potter signal against the Queen City sky, it would be to announce savory details for the band’s upcoming Grand Point North festival, slated for this Saturday and Sunday, September 14 and 15, at Burlington’s Waterfront Park.
So it was that I found myself in the steamy backroom/patio of Halvorson’s Upstreet Café on a Tuesday afternoon a few weeks ago, awaiting the arrival of Grace and her merry band of insomniacs with the assembled might of the Vermont press corps. Or, more accurately, a handful of sweaty TV, print, web and radio reporters and photogs who were growing increasingly agitated that the band was running 45 minutes late.
Once they arrived, Grace, original Nocturnals Matt Burr and Scott Tournet, and Higher Ground’s Alex Crothers sat beneath the glow of Halvie’s signature red neon “Restaurant” sign fielding questions about the festival, the band’s future plans and their 10-year anniversary. Raise your hand if that last nugget makes you feel old. Me, too.
(BTW, the conceit of the location was that Halvorson’s is the place where GPN honed their chops when they were just starting out.)
And just what was the big reveal? Drumroll, please!
There wasn’t one. There was no news about the fest that hadn’t already been announced weeks ago in numerous press releases. Both Potter and Burr were genuinely reflective when asked about making it to a decade in the biz, with Burr, who increasingly and awesomely looks like the love child of Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hütz and Sonny Bono circa 1972, saying he felt a sense of relief in clearing the hurdle. Potter said she’s looking forward to the fall when the band will come home to rest and work on new material — and rake leaves, apparently. Tournet had the line of the day when discussing what this year’s GPN fest holds in store. “Uh, there will be girls and drugs?” he said sleepily, clutching a coffee from Muddy Waters.
(As an aside, Tournet’s latest solo album, the Flaming Lips-inspired Ver La Luz , is hands down my favorite GPN-related release to date. Even if — or maybe especially if — you’re not a Potterhead, it’s well worth checking out.)
But an interesting moment happened when the band was asked about the locavore portion of the lineup, which includes seven local bands — nine if you include Scott Tournet and Ver La Luz and, y’know, GPN.
Burr said that putting together the local lineup for the fest each year is how the band keeps tabs on what’s happening in Burlington while they’re out carousing with the likes of the Avett Brothers and Kenny Chesney. Potter concurred, then added a revealing sentiment.
“We get enough attention,” she said, suggesting the media spotlight might be better aimed lower on the marquee. “You should talk about those guys.”
Is that an odd thing to say at a press conference of your own creation? Yup. But it also touches on an important aspect of Grand Point North: the local bands.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — probably several times between now and next week, in fact. Whatever your thoughts on GPN’s music or image, the band’s support of Vermont music is real. And GPN (the festival) is the manifestation of that.
When the fest started three years ago, the Vermont musical contingent were relegated to a small side stage far away from the main stage, and their inclusion felt more like a token gesture, even if it wasn’t. But last year saw the introduction of twin main stages, meaning that instead of playing the rock-fest version of the kids’ table, locals shared the big stage with the grown-ups, er, headliners. That novel setup will continue this year and will see a lineup worthy of high billing.
Saturday kicks off with the DuPont Brothers , the excellent new indie-folk duo who were voted onto the GPN lineup by 7D readers in a recent online contest. They’ll be followed on the adjoining stage by Seven Daysies award winners Kat Wright & the Indomitable Soul Band . After that, catch Middlebury-based indie-folk upstarts Alpenglow , followed by Josh Panda and the Hot Damned , two local bands I see poised for big things in the coming months.
On Sunday, the latest countrified endeavor from Honky Tonk Tuesday ringleader Brett Hughes, Belle Pines , open the day. That band is a collaboration of Hughes and vocalist Lesley Grant. They’ve played a few smaller gigs recently, but their appearance at GPN will be their coming-out party. As a longtime fan of Hughes’ original songs, I’m particularly excited to check them out. Rounding out the local lineup that day are slacker folksters Paper Castles  and the sons of Death, Rough Francis .
If the official GPN after-parties — the Stepkids  at Nectar’s on Saturday and the Grand Point Dead all-star jam at the Higher Ground Ballroom on Sunday — aren’t your thing, fret not. There are a few ways for you to boozily fritter away the evening hours. Like, for example, Saturday, September 14, at Signal Kitchen, where our favorite suspender fusionistas, the Vermont Joy Parade , will play a live album recording party. A VJP show is always a rambunctious affair, and this one promises to be extra rowdy. Meanwhile, in Winooski … the Monkey House plays host to a quartet of Montpelier bands this Saturday, including hip-hop outfit Boomslang , garage blues duo Lake Superior , rockers Pistol Fist  and a new group called Mystery Points . I don’t know anything about that last one, except that their Facebook profile pic is of the gang from “Scooby Doo,” which bodes well, methinks.
If you’re more of a pre-party person, I’d recommend stopping by the Skinny Pancake Friday, September 13, and catching up with our old friends — and honorary Vermonters — the Toughcats . The band is actually from a small island in Maine, but since they got booted from Church Street Marketplace a few years ago for daring to play upbeat, pop-informed bluegrass music without a permit — oh, the horror! — we’ve claimed them as our own. Welcome back, boys.
Last but not least, Champlain Lanes in Shelburne is about to unveil an experiment combining two of my favorite pastimes: standup comedy and bowling. Teaming up with the Vermont Comedy Club , the cozy mom-and-pop bowling alley on Shelburne Road will be hosting standup showcases on the second and fourth Saturday of each month, beginning this Saturday, September 14. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that in my, ahem, spare time I help run an aging-hipster bowling league at CL to kill off the winter months. (What’s up, Whiskey League?!) I should also mention that my average last year was 182. Dan bowls.
A peek at what was on my iPod, turntable, eight-track player, etc., this week.
Hey Monea!, Cheap Souvenirs
Royal Canoe, Today We’re Believers
Animal Parts, Six Arms to Hold You
Sunwolf, Angel Eyes
Jackson Browne, The Very Best of Jackson Browne