I finally got what I wanted for Christmas.

Over the last few years‚ Grace Potter and the Nocturnals have made Burlington their home for the holidays with an annual three-day run of shows‚ ending the year on their own terms. And over those same few years‚ I have been disappointed in Santa with the lack of tickets (none) for any one of those shows intently placed in my stocking.

But‚ this year was different as I finally found myself waiting outside‚ in the cold Vermont evening‚ making my way into Higher Ground for a dose of holiday cheer from Ms. Potter herself.

It seemed the baby-boomer sector of the region was in full force as a mature crowd dominated the landscape of the ballroom‚ well-dressed and sipping the "best" of whatever their Christmas bonus could afford. This proved an interesting dichotomy as Akron/Family emerged from the backstage.

Adorned in sweatbands‚ wifebeaters and jeans‚ the trio casually picked up their instruments and slowly plucked their way into the set. Though this was my first encounter with them‚ I was immediately taken aback by the power and grace radiating from each member.

It felt like an ocean of sound as they would crescendo‚ climax and fall into complete destruction within every minute of every tune‚ wave after wave crashing into the listener. From hand clapping‚ to chanting‚ to screeching‚ to primal beats‚ any possible sound capable by a human being was included. The energy and emotion was nonstop.

Sometimes you felt like you were walking down a dark alley by yourself as they ravaged through heavy metal riffs‚ then a punk styling. Sometimes you felt like you were watching a sailboat pass by as they fiddled through a folk song or just let loose and explored the space.

Many people didn't seem to share my interpretation though. One by one‚ the baby boomers made their way from the front of the stage to the back‚ fingers stuck in their ears to block the "noise." Random booing was also overheard when the band announced they would play one more song. Regardless‚ this wasn't Akron/Family's first rodeo; they knew some would get it and some would turn their back to it. As they exited the stage‚ the threesome treated the faithful to a beatbox chant‚ picturesquely ending a flawless performance.

Sauntering into the spotlight‚ Grace Potter and the Nocturnals were met with raucous cheers as they aimed headstrong into their ever-growing catalogue. This was their old stomping grounds‚ a stage they've owned on many memorable nights past. They weren't just playing for fans and the curious; they were playing for family and friends alike.

Ms. Potter herself sparked the evening as she engaged the audience in her seductive lyrical ways‚ "Come a little closer baby/Come a little closer now/Come a little closer hunny/I'm goin' to show you how."

The set plateaued a tad as the group seemed to go through the motions within the first handful of songs ("Mastermind"/"Treat Me Right"/"Joey"/"Sweet Hands"). One might have thought they were saving the juice for the New Year's Eve show or just were sick of the songs after playing them so often on their never-ending tour‚ but that thought quickly diminished with "Here's to the Meantime."

The pieces of the puzzle came together through the slide guitar and harmonica of Scott Tournet. Conjuring the Delta blues‚ Tournet ripped the tune to pieces as Matt Burr (drums) and Bryan Dondero (bass) pushed the number right smack into the face of the audience like a stripper's breast. Bringing out local guitar guru Benny Yurco (Turkey Bouillon Mafia/Blues & Lasers) to add a little more fuel to the fire‚ the ensemble hit all cylinders‚ breathing new life into "Ah Mary" and "Some Kind of Ride" as if to silence any who sense the possible stagnation of the foursome.

With Tournet and Yurco holding the reins‚ "Stop the Bus" invoked goosebumps with the "We've been on the road all year; time to let out some fuckin' steam" emotion seeping out of their dueling axes. The guitar duo shook the room as Potter's vocals soared over the amps. Not to let the others have all the fun‚ Dondero and Burr cooked up a menacing underbelly that left no doubt what the highlight of the evening was.

A rendition of "Jet Airliner" (Steve Miller Band) and "Big White Gate" was offered up to cap the evening‚ while a thundering encore of "Nothing But The Water (I)" > "Nothing But The Water (II)" contained an all-member drum solo with the entire cast of Akron/Family.
Finally baring witness to a Grace Potter and the Nocturnals show at Higher Ground‚ another item is crossed out on my "Things to do before I die" list. This was my eighth show in seven states over the last three years and I have not been disappointed once.

I've seen them with the sun setting over the San Francisco Bay. I've seen them while at college in Connecticut. I've seen them during a blizzard in Wyoming. I've seen them on a scorching field in Colorado. I've seen them in Boston while I was trying to figure out my life‚ and now I've seen them with my feet firmly rooted in the lands of my childhood.

Watching this band grow up‚ I see the changes in myself as well. It's a full circle moment to be a part of this experience. This annual holiday run has become a reality check‚ for good or ill‚ between the members onstage and the members in the audience. As we all make our way through our separate lives‚ there is an unspoken bond shared between those on both sides of the stage. It grows stronger each year‚ no matter how much time passes between our paths crossing. The feeling is mutual‚ and that's what keeps us coming back for more.