Vermont Indie Bands Look to Bust Out, With the Help of Grace Potter

by Dylan Stableford

Like a growing number of touring bands with loose Bonnaroo ties, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals now headline their own music festival. Held over two days overlooking Burlington, Vermont’s picturesque Lake Champlain last weekend, Grand Point North featured a lineup—handpicked by Potter—stacked with relatively unknown acts, many of them local Vermont bands seemingly on the verge of a national breakout–something Potter, from nearby Waitsfield, knows a little about.

“We wanted to show how great Burlington is,” Potter explained later. Rubblebucket, a colorful, quasi-local band that now calls Brooklyn its home, practically melted the main stage on Saturday with a set synth-and-horn-heavy grooves, most from a recent album (“Omega La La”) that was recorded at DFA’s New York studio.

To get an idea of Rubblebucket’s sound, imagine an afrobeat band fronted by Katy Perry, or a more earthy Stereolab (especially when frontwoman and saxophonist Annakalmia Traver sings in half-French, as she does on “L’Homme”). It’s the perfect approximation of hippie-meets-hipster, as if you can tell who’s who anymore.

There was plenty of dancing during Rubblebucket’s set, both on and off stage, though it was not always pretty. Vocalist and trumpeter Alex Toth frequently put down his instrument to engage in what might be described as “The Epileptic Seizure.” (Toth—like Traver, a University of Vermont graduate—made up for it later, wading into the crowd for a late afternoon trumpet solo.)

Potter graced the stage on Saturday shortly after sunset, with her trademark signature short, sequin skirt, bangs and long blonde hair straight out of a VO5 Hot Oil commercial.

She switched effortlessly between Flying V guitar and organ, her soulful, pitch-perfect voice unwavering for over two hours. Meanwhile, the Nocturnals guitarists, Scott Tournet and Benny Yurco, spent most of night trading solos behind Potter’s slow, almost-sensual blues.

Grace sounded less than full during her somewhat generic covers—Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” Joan Jett’s “Rock and Roll”—but it didn’t matter. Her stage presence—and, sure, a pair of incredible legs—had both men and women in the crowd transfixed, 8,000 eyes following her every shake, rattle and roll, a display that was downright Jagger-like.

Fitz & the Tantrums–one of the few, non-Vermont bands handpicked by Potter–offered their brand of highly-danceable, hook-heavy R&B that tended closer to ’80s new wave than ’70s soul. Frontman Michael Fitzpatrick brings the whole Morrissey vibe, while irrepressible vocalist Noelle Scaggs sounds like she grew up listening to Motown and Stax records. The guitarless group performed their hit single “MoneyGrabber,” and even the local, mustached stagehand knew the words.

But Maryse Smith, who ostensibly opened the festival on Saturday, was the weekend’s biggest revelation.

Smith—a singer-songwriter who looks more or less exactly like Kirsten Dunst—played introspective, brutally honest folk songs elevated by a pleasantly cheery persona that matched the late summer weather.

“I’m losing my mind/It’s getting worse all the time,” Smith reflects on “The Fear,” a song that could be confused for darker reading of She & Him. “You can cover the stains, but you can’t erase the trace.”

There’s no affected singer-songwriter stance here; Smith sings from the heart.

Click here for more photos from the festival.

[All photos by Dylan Stableford]

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