For the third consecutive year, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals will invite some of their friends to Potter’s home state of Vermont to show off the area’s natural beauty and hold a music festival this September. Joining Potter at this year’s Grand Point North on September 14th and 15th will be acts including Gov’t Mule, Charles Bradley, the Felice Brothers and Trombone Shorty. Potter met the latter in Australia on a fruitful trip where she also met Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant, and ended up opening multiple dates for the Zeppelin frontman. While Plant isn’t expected to be among the surprise guests at Grand Point North, Potter says, “We can and probably will shock people with some of the names that turn up at some of these festivals.”
Before Potter shared the stage with Plant at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium, Rolling Stone joined Potter and drummer Matt Burr on their tour bus to talk about the upcoming Grand Point North, how it will expand in coming years and how they’ve learned from years of playing other festivals.
How did you put the lineup for this year’s bill together?
Matt Burr: The original concept of the bands that we book are folks that primarily we’ve met along the way, our friends, because we’ve developed so many great relationships with so many amazing musicians. Last year, for instance, [we had] Dr. Dog, the Avett Brothers, folks that we cherish their music and they’re pals and it’s just wonderful to bring them up to the Green Mountains, where we love to play.
Grace Potter: We like to show off Vermont whenever we can.
Burr: [It’s] a really important element that we put the local bands on the big stage, to give them a spotlight, a big moment where they can shine next to these national talents. So it’s cool, it alternates between local and national. So this year we brought in Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, who we love.
Potter: So excited about that. And we had met Trombone Shorty in Australia. Similarly, we met Robert Plant in Australia, great trip for us. It was the best research and development journey of our lives, we really did accidentally stumble into some pretty great ideas. So, from that experience, we finally saw what the whole buzz is about with him.
We didn’t get Robert, but there are rumors. It’s always good to drop those rumor eggs. We actually do have some real rumor eggs, but it’s not Robert. Some very special friends might show up the night before the actual beginning of the festival.
Burr: We try to cover different levels: come to one of our shows, it runs the gamut age wise, which we always cherish. There are kids who are young all the way to folks who love music from the Sixties to the Seventies like we do. You see a lot of different ages and we try to keep that in mind when we book our shows. So Sunday you got Gov’t Mule coming, Trombone Shorty. We also like the idea there are musicians who know each other on the bill, other bands. So it might set up collaborations.
It probably also sets up some good backstage hangs.
Potter: Exactly. I think the idea of the festival being really about Vermont and being about family and showing the community we’ve built there is something we still value. It really is supposed to feel like family when you’re backstage and in the crowd as opposed to the exclusive, “Oh, the VIP section.” Obviously we want everyone to have a good view and the thing is, [with] a small site like we have, you can’t expand much. You can’t bring in these huge acts that are gonna choke the traffic in town. We want to keep the festival in a controlled and beautiful and comfortable space, as opposed to trying to let it explode off into this massive thing. And that’s partly why we craft the bill the way that we do. The lineup will draw the perfect amount of people for a sell-out show. Last year, we sold out. We grew up in the festival circuit at these big beautiful festivals, so we have a lot of respect for them. Bonnaroo is a golden time in our memories. Every time we go back it’s just like, “Oh, they get it right.” But for us, that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to conquer the world with this. What we’re trying to do is share a little piece of the magic that helped to sprout us into the band that we are.
Burr: It puts a spotlight on Burlington, Vermont, which we think is one of the most incredible cities around. Burlington is the star of this show and you can walk from the cobblestone downtown straight down to the lake and once you see the site you realize it’s irresistible.
Would you ever want to expand the festival into a traveling tour?
Potter: That’s why it’s called Grand Point North, there will someday be a Grand Point South, maybe a Grand Point West. The idea that this could grow and be a little bit of a traveling circus was always in our minds when we named the festival. And I think that probably is way farther down the pike.
Burr: It’s important to focus on music, but also focus on the local community. Also there’s Grand Point Local, which Grace worked with someone to curate all the food.
Potter: Being a foodie and loving food, I wanted to express my excitement about nurturing music through the food that you eat, because I have this deep belief that the better food you eat, the better show you’ll play. So we bring in incredible taste-making local snippets of what they do. They’ll bring in a cart and they’ll pick the four best things on their menu and make that at the festival. And it’s so beautifully curated, I’m really excited about it. This year we’re actually adding Grand Point Weird, which is more focused on the arts. And my sister is a glass blower, her name is Charlotte Potter, and she is now creating what we’re gonna call the “Tent of Weird,” where there’s gonna be essentially everything from interactive arts for kids to crazy projections of films that people made for their thesis at RISD, so all that crazy shit. But we’re gonna invite in a little bit more of that psychedelia, which is certainly part of what we do on stage, from our light show to our performance and the way our music flows, it seems like art is intrinsic in that. So it’d be nice in a lot of ways to reach out a little bit and give kids something to do during the day and the older generations something that can expand their minds late into the evening.
I’m sure it also helps keep a strong bond between you and the community, that you do come back and bring friends with you.
Potter: It’s a stumbling block for bands when they don’t realize, don’t turn into an asshole. Just because you become successful doesn’t mean that you have to forget about where you came from. And this festival, as earnest as that sounds, it genuinely is what we were gunning for when we decided to set it up and intentionally keep it somewhat more intimate, because we can and probably will shock people with some of the names that turn up at some of these festivals. But to promote a festival with a big name and really choke it of its integrity before the festival even happens, to me, it cuts off the chance for the festival to grow, cuts it off at the knees.
Burr: We do our best not to forget our roots because we love our fucking roots. Vermont’s incredible.
What other surprises do you have in store for attendees this year?
Burr: For anyone who are lovers of the Grateful Dead, we’re doing an afterparty called Grand Point Dead, which highlights late-Seventies Dead because our guitarist Benny Yurco, no joke, sounds exactly Jerry Garcia. Warren [Hayes of Gov’t Mule] is there that night, so hopefully Warren comes by and it’s the idea that it mixes it up. The whole point of Grand Point North is to make sure there are different types of genres so no one feels like, “Oh, it’s a jam festival or it’s an indie festival.”
Potter: Exactly. Sprawling, spread out, like a beautiful hooker with her legs wide open.