“All the festivals felt like it was a Grace Potter and the Nocturnals kind of year!”
Grace Potter was nice enough to spend a few minutes chatting with me prior to her blistering set at this year’s Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival, one of the initial stops on her and her band’s conquest of America that will take them to Bonnaroo, Mountain Jam, and Lollapalooza among many other festivals and tour stops. Potter and the Nocturnals are riding a surge of positive momentum as their recent self-titled album has been widely praised and continues to pick up positive buzz. And although they continue to attract legions of new followers, their relentless touring schedule and exhilarating performances are no secret to those who have been following along. In fact, dancing in the heat to their grooves has turned into a summer staple. Potter, herself, no stranger to Wakarusa, said returning here after a few years away “brings things full circle,” and her familiarity with the audience resonated onstage as she admonished the crowd for being too reserved and implored them to “act crazier” while also encouraging the general mischief and misdeeds that go hand in hand with the festival atmosphere. Coming from other artists on the slate, these words may have been diluted with a false sense of bravado, but coming from Potter things just sounded natural and the crowd ate it up, responding with cheers of approval and recognition. Potter thanked the masses by pouring her entire heart and soul into the performance, rocking along with an urgency and purpose that demanded the attention of even the most casual festival attendee. Whether rocking hard with tunes like “Only Love,” “Hot Summer Night,” and especially show closer, “Medicine,” or dialing it back with slow burners like “Tiny Light,” Potter, guitarists Scott Tournet and Benny Yurco, bassist Catherine Popper, and drummer Matt Burr prove to be a force to be reckoned with, lighting up the stage with unabashed skill, power, and dedication. Pre-order your tickets to their shows soon as they are going fast.
Highlights from my conversation with Grace:
In looking through your schedule, I see that you guys are playing a lot of festivals. Is that something you guys consciously seek out or are you starting to get approached by festivals?
We get approached. I think festivals, no matter what year it is, want to make sure they have a good diversity of bands and that they’re not inviting the same bands back every year. So, one thing I like about this year is that we’re making some returns to festivals, but these are festivals that we haven’t played in maybe three years, like here at Wakarusa, which is great because now we’re kind of coming back around, and we know the deal. The same with Bonnaroo, which is great and then we’ve got some first time festivals that we got approached about playing like Lollapalooza, which I’m really excited about playing. You don’t really go in begging to a festival. I think a festival either wants you or they don’t. Festivals curate and set the tone for the year and whatever they want for that year they go for. So, I guess all of the festivals felt like it was a Grace Potter and the Nocturnals kind of year!
Any particular festival favorites?
Oh man, I love the Hangout! It is amazing and we’ve done it two years now. That was a festival that asked us back and it’s so well-run and you’re playing right on the beach and it’s just insane and beautiful. And Wakarusa right now is pretty great. I love this location. And I’m really looking forward to Bonnaroo because it’s just huge and is like a city that just builds itself. And I like being part of something that is sort of larger than the sum of its parts and you really feel like you are part of something.
In reading a lot of your press, something I noticed are the comparisons to performers like: Joplin, Tina Turner, Bonnie Raitt, etc. Do you enjoy hearing that or is it a distraction that is starting to get old?
I enjoy hearing it and I do appreciate it but I also think one of the problems in comparing music is that it immediately cancels out the listener’s ability to listen with open ears. If I had never heard us before and somebody would sum me up in a ball, and said it was like Tina Turner fronting the Rolling Stones, yeah sure maybe as I listener I would say, ‘Wow, cool. That sounds interesting I want to hear that,’ but then you’re listening with that impression. So I’m honored by those comparisons, but I do think they can take away from the listener’s objective.
And along those same lines, critics always throw the southern rock, jam band tag around your music. Again, is that something you get tired of talking about?
Not really because it happens to a lot of bands. I mean look at a band like My Morning Jacket, who is doing amazing things that couldn’t be further from the southern rock tag, and they can’t be held down either. So, I think in a lot of ways a good band should have all those influences. A good band should shine a light on the best parts of every great genre. For us, that’s a lot of blues, gospel, and soul music that has been a big influence over the years and somehow that sort of wound up in a jam capacity mainly because of the venues we were playing and the festivals and I think that shines a good light on southern rock and all of the gospel that we listened to as kids. So the jam thing is great and it allows us to stretch out on stage without looking out at the audience and seeing them yawning. The audience comes to the shows with an expectation of some of that and it allows them to enjoy the show without wondering what’s going to happen next or asking ‘Why aren’t they playing their single?’ Our crowd has been tuned to not expect the short, quick pop song but also not to expect seven 25-minute songs.
You recently did a great cover of Gillian Welch’s Elvis Presley Blues. Seeing that she has been a favorite of No Depression over the years, do you admire her work or any other alt-country artists that have graced the pages of the magazine?
Gillian and David (Rawlings) really do stand out for me. Time the Revelator is my Bible. We also had a funny hang with Jay Farrar at Bonnaroo in 2006 where he just sort of wandered on our bus and started playing music with us. So, I sort of had this reverence and saw these artists in a serious way, but now that I know Gillian and David a little bit and after talking to Jay all that kind of serious, dark-cloud kind of stuff has gone away and they’re just great human beings who love to play music. That’s been the thing I reflect on as we all grow up and come into our own. It’s a cool thing to see that.