alabama shakes v grace potter and the nocturnals

April 12, 2012

Five Years Ago

Last Year

In many ways I would argue that this is the same story. Female fronted genre based rock band with little to no recognition hits the web. The big difference? Social media in 2011/2012 is much more advanced than it was in 2006. The ability of a band to be pushed by the hive mind collective is really something to see. The Alabama Shakes clearly have talent but the power of the tools at hand to disseminate their story to the wider public has grown exponentially. The path from this first high profile post about “The Shakes” to where they are today is nothing but amazing.

Blogs, news organizations and the public are always looking for something “new” and the Alabama Shakes fit that bill nicely. While GPN’s slow steady upward trajectory is heartwarming and rewarding I wonder what would have happened if the Grace Potter and the Nocturnals of the first video were to hit the net today.

Mr. Furnari – your analysis please.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tedheadone April 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm

I saw early buzz on them, and have had the same thoughts. Just not as

2 toofarnorth April 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm

ditto re: TH1′s post ..
It would have been great for GPN if they had hit the way A.S. has – but then maybe not .. it will be interesting to watch A.S. ride this rocket they’ve caught.
On a totally selfish level .. I’m very glad we had those 5 years of watching GPN get to the place they are now.

3 caryl April 12, 2012 at 2:56 pm

You don’t want my analysis? I could go on for days about hairstyles but whatever.

Don’t hurt me, but I never saw that video of Grace. (it’s fantastic) Guess I’m not receptive to media sharing because I’m sure you or my buddies up there in the comments must have posted a link to that performance at some point where I would have seen it.

Oh. OK, I see now why you didn’t ask specifically for my analysis. Kinda the opposite of what you’re talking about. Someone else talk now.

4 John Furnari April 12, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Cortez, this might be my favorite solicitation of all time to try to pontificate upon. But, I will restrain myself from a time consuming stream of consciousness and try to keep this short :)

It’s such a tough question to really nail in hindsight, but if everything GPN was moved forward 6 years I think there would have been 3 primary differences, some parts good and some parts bad:

1. The NBTW Boston Video would never have happened. At least in the sense that there wouldn’t have been that one epic piece you could point back to and say “that’s when they first hit digital culture.” First, because so many iPhone recordings would have hit the web before we ever had a chance to get a real version up (a year later than it was produced). Second, because the band’s trajectory would have soared well before they hit the stage that night. I saw GPN in front of 30 people at a 100 person venue in Boston a year earlier. If there was YouTube or Soundcloud, that would have been their last non sold-out show of the year.

2. We wouldn’t be having this conversation. At least not on this site, and not amongst some of the most dedicated music fans I know. That same early trajectory would have meant no Posse, no Yellow Shirts, no and no 10,000 or 50,000 or how every many people can right now say “I really did listen to this band before they were an it thing.” We wouldn’t feel the ownership we do, the more meaningful version of this attitude ( The band would still be huge and probably bigger, but the foundation wouldn’t be there as strong as it is. Even now you can sometimes hear the whispers from long-time fans of GPN wishing they’d return to their musical roots. But still, they stay in love. Because we know that no matter if the latest single sounds like it was recorded the same day as Original Soul or not, this isn’t a fly-by-night band that’s “changing.” It’s a true blue rock and roll band that’s growing and evolving, and we’re growing and evolving with them. If GPN were a 2012 blog band, we’d have no patience for departure/evolution. We wouldn’t have had the luxury of watching the magic grow and already knowing how real the magic is.

3. We’d all be worse off. At least those who know how it really went down. From someone who moved 3,000 miles with the initial purpose of getting involved in music, I can confidently tell you how easily jaded one can be around this stuff. Stars are made off of pay-to-play. Careers are ended because marketing team members got lazy. Image is everything. The best of the best don’t always make it. GPN proved this all wrong. They’re not the only band (see Black Keys, Jack White, Esperanza Spalding), but they are a damn good example. This is a band who did nothing but tour their incredibly talented hearts out for 100 shows a year for coming up on a decade. An “overnight success” who’s been blowing crowds away in every state in the US. Who might not please every fan with every song, but has meant every note they’ve played. If they launched in 2012, they’d have the same attitude, but wouldn’t have had the chance to prove it. And to prove to a lot of us that great things do happen to the right people.

with love,

5 snowbird April 12, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Okay John, you have made this old posse gal shed a tear with that post.

Thanks KC for asking the question. And thank you JF for writing what many of our hearts feel.

Hoping that this year all the dreams, that this hardworking crew have poured their heart, soul, blood, sweat and musical creativity amid the laughter and the tears, comes true.

6 Rick April 12, 2012 at 6:39 pm

A little off subject, but I noticed that David Letterman has Alabama Shakes as his musical guest tonight.

Did not see it mentioned on the GPN Forum at all either. I would post it myself over there but for some reason I have absolutly NO posting permissions and never have since I signed up. Not sure why, Do you have to be sponsored in over there or something? LOL

7 Saygracenow April 12, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Well said Mr. Furnari. Well said!

8 melissa April 12, 2012 at 9:55 pm

agreed. pleasure to read, mr. furnari.

9 toofarnorth April 13, 2012 at 12:14 am

Thank you, John. Excellent synopsis .. and I know without a doubt that I would have enjoyed reading your stream of consciousness thoughts too.

10 k. cortez April 13, 2012 at 5:10 am

John, thanks so much for your analysis – I knew you’d nail it. I have a few more random thoughts.

Echoing what you said, I don’t think it’s possible for a band with the talent of GPN/AS to remain ‘underground’ for as long as GPN did anymore. We got years from GPN in which they built their following by PLAYING IN FRONT OF PEOPLE who almost always got ‘converted’. These days the digital opportunities to get in front of people are so many and so varied it’s more a problem of over supply than anything else.

Still, there will be occasions when an unknown band blows away the right crowd at the right time. Did anything like that happen at SXSW this year? Well, maybe down on the genre level (see, for me, “Field Report”) but no way on a large scale because everyone already knows everybody.

Still, it’s not hopeless for discovery. I can talk about three or four bands that I think are on that path to being very popular as long as they get themselves in front of as many people as possible (the GPN model). Most of these folks though would not appeal to the general public or, more importantly, to the ‘tastemaker’ crowd.

If I stumble upon another GPN quality act I’ll let you know – or maybe I’ll start a blog . . .

11 Angelemerald April 14, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Kenny, You’re not wrong that social media is much more critical to artist promotion now than when GPN started but the Shakes has more going for it than Facebook. Apparently Patterson Hood from Drive By Truckers liked them and the Shakes were signed to ATO. ATO is the reason they have a nice little machine helping them get the word out and broker decent gigs. Things were a little different for GPN. I remember when GPN took the stage at Mt Jam in 04 and there were but a handful of people watching them on the side stage. I was one of those people. I’ve written about and posted info about GPN in certain music circles from the beginning. Sure it was no Facebook, but GPN’s touring with Gov’t Mule helped them move from a Vermont State act to the beginnings of a national act status and gave the people in the band encouragement and support to help them go the next step (and even more steps after that, right). Why GPN and ATO never made a deal is not of concern really. There’s a lot of different paths in the field of music today. Grace Potter is much more able to garner mass appeal than the Shakes’ Brittany Howard and I can see how ATO would not have been the right label for her and the band. (Grace probably knew this at some level.) And anyway, Grace and Brittany are two very different singers as well, though both have great voices. Grace’s voice can transcend the rock/blues/soul arena. How far Brittany and the Shakes can go remains to be seen. I saw them at the Bowery Ballroom the other night and really loved them. I have some ideas about how they can improve (being the bit of a critic that I am) but I want to listen to the cd before I say anything. I liked them a lot so I will be bumping them up in the social media stream when I can. LOL. I do however think that most artists can do a better job as they interface with the social media world, but alas, that is a different topic. Ang

12 Tedheadone April 14, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Nice, John, thanks.

Take todays compressed arc back to to 2004.
Try to imagine what Grace might have said if thrust onto a red carpet! :-)

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