Grace Potter onstage at Grand Point North music festival in Burlington, Vermont

Grand Point North: Keep it Local, Keep It Perfect

The fifth annual Grand Point North (GPN) Festival at Waterfront Park in Burlington, Vermont delighted festival-goers over the weekend of September 12 and 13.  Given the talented line-up of musicians, the outstanding price, and the atmosphere that only Burlington can provide, the weekend was darn near perfect.  Comparatively speaking, GPN is a festival that other festivals should model.

Commercialization, glamping, and preferred seating have nearly ruined the festival vibe I fell in love with over 20 years ago. So what set this little festival on Lake Champlain apart from the others? For starters, the price. Let’s get real here, the average person does not have $500 to $1,000 to spend on camping and music, which can easily be spent at other festivals. At Grand Point North, the price for a two-day pass was an amazingly low $79.99. Do the math: $40 per day and 17 acts breaks down to $4.70 per show. Where else can you see a show for that price?

The price is just the beginning of why no amount of rain, cold or line time could have placed a damper on this year’s festival. The lineup offered music ranging from rock to bluegrass, so if there was music you weren’t into, you only had an hour’s wait until something more to your liking came your way. Shaky Graves and Spirit Family Reunion were not only my favorites of the weekend, but also gave two of the best performances I saw all summer (and seeing them cost me a whopping $9.40). After seeing the Flaming Lips perform, I must say that if you have never seen them in concert, you truly haven’t lived. Amy Helm’s version of Atlantic City gave my chills the chills. And for those of you who need big names at your festivals, I should mention that Kenny Chesney made a guest appearance with Grace Potter, while Mike Gordon enjoyed the show about seven feet away from where I was standing.

Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips onstage at Grand Point North
Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips onstage at Grand Point North

How many times have you been at a festival and missed a band you were hoping to see because the stages were too far apart or it was so crowded you couldn’t even see the stage? GPN completely eliminated this problem. With two stages in close proximity and only a few thousand festival-goers, it was extremely easy to see all 17 acts. What’s more, there was no down time between acts: as soon as one band ended the next one began on the other stage 20 feet away. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Okay, I have to admit, the festival wasn’t entirely perfect (though it was darn close).  Maybe it was a bit wet and colder than average and there were a few long lines, but what outdoor festival is without a hitch? The price and the quality of the entertainment made any inconveniences seem trivial. Though beer lines were long, it was nice to see that our need for non-alcoholic refreshment was fulfilled in part by the efforts of Reverb, a non-profit organization that works to help green concerts and tours and encourage concertgoers to take action for the environment.  Reverb was on site, selling water bottles and providing free water for the crowd.

Yet another reason I enjoyed this amazing weekend festival was the setting – the wonderful city of Burlington. My favorite part of Burlington is its local pride. Everywhere you go in Burlington you see signs for “buy local” or “grown locally,” and it was great to see the local restaurants and breweries supplying food and drink for all of the water-logged music lovers. Kudos to GPN for not selling out and allowing only local vendors at their festival, and kudos to the local vendors for not price gouging fans.

Michael Arlen of Greensky Bluegrass onstage at Grand Point North
Michael Arlen of Greensky Bluegrass onstage at Grand Point North

The city of Burlington is a festival in itself, so being able to enjoy all the city has to offer was yet another perk. Prior to the festival you could find people doing acroyoga in the park, taking a walk along Lake Champlain, or touring the Magic Hat Brewery. At the night’s end countless after-parties, live acts in local breweries, art shows, local vendors, camp grounds and hotels were all within a short walk from the festival site.

Yes, the weather could have been better, more port-a-Johns would have made us more comfortable, and a few extra beer lines would certainly have suited me, but if you would like to hear some amazing bands, drink some good beer, take in some beautiful scenery, and enjoy a wonderful little town with great after parties, then be sure to attend GPN next year. Of course, if you’d rather go to your $1,000 commercial-fest with swimming pool VIP seating amongst 70,000 other fans, that’s just fine. There will be that much more room at the GPN fest next year for me.

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