First Flush Festival
Charleston Tea Plantation, Wadmalaw
May 15

Thousands marched as far as a mile from their distant cars, folding chairs in hand, to have some free tea, enjoy great tunes, and revel in the fantastic atmosphere that was the First Flush Festival, held on Sun. May 15 at the Charleston Tea Plantation.

Early performers Gaslight Street rocked the main stage with their hits “April Morning” and “Vicksburg,” young jam-stars Long Miles brought their own boisterous, enthusiastic crowd down front, local guitarist Sarah Cole and her gang did some hot blues, and Emily Hearn smiled her way through a beautiful set at the local stage alongside Hootie guitarist Mark Bryan. Hearn joined Bryan and Occasional Milkshake on stage as well.

But Leslie got everyone ready for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, amping up the late-afternoon crowd thanks to their bad-ass sound and frontman Sadler Vaden’s inexorable energy. Looking like a rock ‘n’ roll energizer bunny, Vaden missed no opportunity for audience participation, constantly jumping down to the grass, initiating call-and-response, and berating the folks sitting down to get up on their feet. He raised heartbeats by sheer force of will.

But for all the fun of the day, all the face-painted kids and all the beer that was sold, it all came down to one thing: Grace Potter (a.k.a. the Sexiest Woman in Rock) and her tighter-than-glue band, the Nocturnals. From the moment Potter strutted on stage, her leopard-print mini-dress flapping in the wind, the old cliche was intact: every man wanted her and every woman wanted to be her.

They wasted no time. Potter screamed, “It’s a great day to be in South Carolina!” as they tore into “Joey,” their fat blues-stomp rhythm punctuated by Potter’s seductive screams.

On “Big White Gate,” the band, showing off a skill they have become remarkably good at, began a series of rolling crescendos that continued throughout the show; slowing down before gaining steam for minutes on end and finally erupting so violently that the crowd had to take a breath. Combined with Potter’s sensational stage presence, it made for a masterful strain of performance art.

With the power of her voice and the sultriness of her swagger on “2:22,” “Only Love,” and “Apologies,” Potter exemplified pure sex. Each movement she made and every inch of sound she released was drenched in the sensual. Like Marilyn Monroe — if she were a smart, cool rock chick.

As they punched through their encore, “Medicine,” Potter apologized that they couldn’t do a longer set before joining the entire band for one of their patented all-band drum sessions, each member banging on a different part of the set, and they built to another insane crescendo.

The sun was setting over the gorgeous island plantation, but I didn’t even notice it. I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage.