By: George Varga
Grace Potter doesn’t shy away from looking her best when she’s on stage with her band, The Nocturnals, or in her new music video with country-pop star Kenny Chesney, “You and Tequila.” But this Vermont-bred organist, guitarist and hard-rocking vocal dynamo is determined to make an impact with her formidable musical gifts, not her wardrobe.
The importance of doing so was reinforced for Potter when she and her band performed Dec. 3 at San Diego’s Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, where they appeared alongside Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Keri Hilson and Sugarland, as part of the TV special The USO Presents “VH1 Divas Salute the Troops.” The glittery Perry, et al., engaged in multiple costume changes, but not the equally photogenic Potter, who turned heads with just a single outfit — and her powerhouse singing.
“I thought I looked pretty fabulous at the ‘Divas’ show and I wanted to have a costume change! I thought I could crank it up,” said Potter, who turns 28 on June 20.
“But when I saw what (the other ‘Divas’ stars) had, I realized I can’t compete on that level — and I don’t need to. I have a great band and artistic integrity, and I don’t need costumes to entertain people. I want people to see that there’s a musician behind the miniskirt.”
That’s a wise move for Potter and her one-woman, three-man band, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year. Steeped in classic rock, blues and soul, the group’s concert repertoire mixes its well-crafted original songs with choice covers of classics by other artists. Those artists include Neil Young, Otis Redding, Jefferson Airplane, Junior Parker, the Rolling Stones and Heart, whose 1976 hit “Crazy On You” Potter performed with Heart co-founders Ann and Nancy Wilson as part of the “VH1 Divas” show here.
“It was amazing,” Potter said.
“Ann and Nancy are true professionals, and we had so much fun talking about Neil Young and the reasons why we play music. It was such a big deal for us to play at Miramar, and I was so moved being able to perform for the troops and being face-to-face with these incredible soldiers.”
Potter wrote and recorded the title song for the recent Disney animated film, “Tangled.” On Aug. 13 and 14, she and her band will host and headline their first Grand Point North Festival, which will be held in Burlington’s Waterfront Park in their native Vermont. Other artists performing at the two-day fete include blues great Taj Mahal, Fitz & The Tantrums, the Wood Brothers and at least a dozen other acts.
A devoted classic-rock fan, Potter cites The Band, Van Morrison and Tom Petty as three of her biggest inspirations. Her musical epiphany came, she recalled, when Nocturnals drummer Matt Burr took her to see the classic 1978 rock concert film, “The Last Waltz,” which featured the farewell performance by The Band and such guests as Morrison, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Ronnie Hawkins and Dr. John.
“I was a freshman in college and Matt took me to a screening of ‘The Last Waltz,'” Potter recalled. “I remember thinking: ‘This is the kind of band I want to be in,’ and everything I’ve done (since then) has been built around that. The part of the movie that really got me was when Van Morrison came out and sang ‘Caravan.'”
With five albums with The Nocturnals under her belt, along with constant concert tours and festival appearances, the charismatic Potter seems poised for bigger things. As for seeing her embrace a glittery, eye-popping stage wardrobe and engaging in multiple costume changes at her shows, don’t hold your breath.
“For me and the music we make, it’s not about the outfits, which is a bummer for me, because I love fashion!” she said.
“But the music speaks for itself with our band. I’m a proponent of having it all, of being a musician — a great singer and performer — and looking fabulous. But it’s never good when the art suffers because of (image). If you can’t really feel what you’re singing, an audience can tell.”
To find out more about George Varga and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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