Bonnaroo Buzz brings Grace, Gary Clark and Futurebirds to Louisville

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The Bonnaroo Buzz Tour (Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Gary Clark, Jr., The Futurebirds)
Headliners Music Hall

Louisville, KY
May 24, 2011

With the summer music festival season now in full swing, it’s time to hear some old favorites as well as discover some of music’s budding talents under the bright and sunny skies of Bonnaroo.  The road to ‘Roo is long one, however, and bands have to physically travel from point A to Tennessee this June, so the folks at Stubhub decided to take advantage of this scenario and match up a few of the acts performing at Bonnaroo for a series of dates to give folks across the country a sampling of the festival experience under the moniker “The Bonnaroo Buzz Tour.”

Beyond savvy marketing, there is also a very human, personal and professional side to this. Bands play these fests for exposure to new crowds and fans of other types of music in an effort to get their own message out.  Working class bands fill out the undercards of festivals that we will be attending  all summer long. They are hungry for a chance at getting to the big stage that will be held by the likes of Phish, Widespread Panic and even Lil Wayne and Eminem.

On this evening, a young lady and her band, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, presented as the headliners who have already made it to the big stages at many festivals. In tow were two of the most promising up and coming acts (Gary Clark Jr. and the Futurebirds) who are set to follow in the footsteps of those who came before them.

bon buzz clark.jpgGary Clark Jr.’s brash debut on the blues rock scene has brought his fiery chops and songwriting to the masses.  He has managed to wow audiences from coast to coast with his passionate play and riveting stage presence, in spite of his relative short time on the national scene. Listening to Clark on this night gave one the impression that he is a man who is trying his absolute damnedest to bare his soul through his fingers with each and every passing riff.

Clark stuck close to the traditional blues topics of love and loss, but did so while interjecting a modern sensibility to the lyrical expressions of his thoughts. But even at his most gut wrenching moment vocally, it was his fingers that held the attention of all within earshot.

His play was fast and clean whilst remaining somewhat grungy with an inherent emotional density that was impossible to deny.  It is very feasible to surmise that his Bonnaroo will have the propensity to catapult him into new stratospheres of popularity.

The next act getting a chance to expose themselves to the crowd was Georgian sons, The Futurebirds. Watching them gather mandolins and banjos gave the notion that an Americana workout would soon be… then the bombastic drums began and with them, the realization that any preconceived notion about particular instruments should immediately be cast aside.

bon buzz futurebirds.jpgWith a set that was diverse yet straight forward rock that crackled with energy amid the chaos of the onstage interplay between the band mates poured forth from the stage. Showing off a little bit, everyone seemed to take a turn at the mic and switching instruments was the norm for their set. With an across the board exceptional level of musical competency combined with  the ability to turn a crowd into a frenzied bunch of arm pumping dancing loonies, The Futurebirds ignited the fuse just in time for Grace Potter to come in and explode.

Completely owning her mixture of searing soul singing and raw charisma, Grace Potter seems to have every crowd that she stands before at her back and call. Earlier in the day, she packed a local music store, Ear-X-Tacy, for a signing; dutifully smiling and signing all the mementos that were  placed before her. Potter would jump up to snap pictures with the children in attendance while working the crowd like a carnival barker without breaking stride.

Her onstage persona of purring sex goddess was quickly juxtaposed in this setting to her good natured, easy smile and disarming silliness. For example, a young girl brought in a guitar hero controller for Grace to sign and told her “when I grow up I wanna be you!”

Grace smiled, laughed and said, “I wish I was you right now too sweetie!”

bon buzz grace 1.jpgThis more casual reality was put aside as Grace took the stage dressed to the typical nines: short black dress and sky high heels, rocking out on a flying V electric guitar.  With a band so tight she can focus solely on connecting with the crowd Potter was, as she usually is, in her element. Clearly, the stage is her home as demonstrated on this night by a strutting of the boards with the authority of ownership.

Those who focus on her looks miss the talent under that lovely skin as her voice would move a blind man to tears.  Though the crowd would surge in whatever direction she went, the rest of the band held the ground under her stilettos solid. For a moment it was tempting to feel bad for the Nocturnals. With so much attention turned on their front woman, they can at times disappear into the background. But then you see the smiles and enthusiasm they exchange throughout the performance and realize that not only are they are having a ball, but they are clearly the ties that bind the entire performance together.

With an earthy blues-rock combo, the Nocturnals can hush down to a whisper while Potter holds the audience with one of her anguished cries while ascending with her to that great organ solo in the sky.

Grace sang from the pit of her soul on this night as she and her Nocturnals  navigated through   fan-favorites like “It’s Only Love” and “Paris” that were counterpointed by numbers like the hushed and  stripped down slow paced cover of the Rolling Stones classic “Paint it Black.”

With the power of the Nocturnals behind her and her own seemingly infinite reserves of talent and charm to draw upon it is clear that Grace Potter can paint the “red door” any color she likes.

On its whole, this night was a complete success. It brought bands to ears that may not have heard their sound for a considerable amount of time and it did so without a “boring opener.”

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