Grace Potter & The Nocturnals to be featured at first Mile High Music Fest

:: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals ::
:: Mile High Music Festival ::
:: July 20 :: (2:45 p.m.) ::

By Timothy Dwenger

Grace Potter and The Nocturnals are one of the hottest acts to come out of Vermont since Phish. Fronted by their striking namesake, the band has stealthily clawed their way up the rungs of the music industry with a retro sound that injects their sultry jazzy blues with just the right amount of ragged glory to appeal to a huge cross section of music fans.

Seemingly unfazed by her recent surge in popularity, the songstress took some time to speak with The Marquee on the eve of her 25th birthday. As she spoke, she set the scene of her surroundings and painted a picture of the idyllic life of a New Englander. “All I see right now is leaves. I have a panoramic view of the woods and these are not dark and creepy woods, they are very beautiful. There’s lots of sunshine and there is a little river that flows right by me here. It is a nice place to be settled, I’ll probably never leave,” Potter said.

The place that she is speaking of is a collection of buildings that her parents built and that Potter’s family and friends call “Potterville.” “It’s inspired by The Lord of the Rings and it looks very much like The Shire,” she said. “All the buildings are built into the hill and there are roofs with grass and moss growing on them. It’s very much like a farmstead but there are no goats, just art.”

While this setting sounds like the perfect place for a rootsy band to feed off the inspiration of the land, Potter confessed that she doesn’t do much writing at home. “I really write on the road mostly,” she said. “I tend to over-think things when I’m writing at home. On the road, you’ve got so much free time and you’ve got guitars in the van or the bus. You just pick at things and you have music around you all the time. It’s really easy for me to write out there.”

With all the touring the band has been doing over the past several years, Potter has completed a large number of songs that haven’t made it onto an album yet. “I am always writing. I like writing without thinking about where it’s going to go. We probably have 30 or more songs that are in various states and aren’t on one of our albums. Some are done, some are in pieces, and some are just plain bad,” she chuckled. “They are my little orphan songs.”

Those “orphan songs” may be on their own for now but they were born by a good mother who counts among her primary influences The Godfather of Grunge. “Neil Young has been a huge influence on me. Even back when I was doing solo gigs on my tinkery little piano in a coffee house I was playing ‘Old Man’ and songs from Harvest. As the band grew, I got way more into the Crazy Horse stuff and got very excited about the idea that there is a way to be dynamic and tasteful and still really hard edged. I love the line that Neil walks between nervous breakdown and total consciousness. That’s been my mantra in writing songs. I try to keep that balance at all times.”

It’s a balance that she has managed to keep in focus for most of her relatively short career as her band has been compared to the likes of Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams and Bonnie Raitt on one side of the fence, while also drawing comparisons to Crazy Horse, My Morning Jacket and The Band on the other.

Accolades like these have landed Potter and her band on the road with some of the biggest touring acts on the scene today. Dave Matthews, who will headline the Mile High Music Festival, took them under his wing early and offered The Nocturnals a long opening stint during his summer tour in 2005. This run gave the band their first opportunity to get in front of huge audiences and play at such legendary venues as Red Rocks. It also opened many people’s eyes to the power that The Nocturnals pack and the dynamic presence they are on stage.

“It takes a lot to stick your neck out for another band and there are a lot of musicians out there that have stepped up for us,” Potter said. “Gov’t Mule has done a lot of great things for us. North Mississippi All-Stars brought us on a huge tour with them a couple of years ago when we were just a little tiny fledgling band. Taj Mahal has been really supportive and Bonnie Raitt has been wonderful as well.”

As one would expect after only a brief conversation with her, Potter strives to do the same for other young bands that has been done for her. “I don’t have the girth to do anything for any other bands yet,” she said. “But, when I do get to that level, I think it will be really fun to help nurture other bands. You have to get to a certain place where people actually listen to what you say and I’m not there yet.”

She is, however, quickly approaching that place and as more and more festival slots and high profile tours are attesting to, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals are becoming a force to be reckoned with in today’s music scene and they are doing it largely on their own terms.
“Before we signed a record deal we did three records plus a live release on our label, Ragged Company,” said Potter, as she discussed the changing dynamics within the music industry. “We had a lot of independent success but when you are that small, success is measured in a very different way. We were literally driving to every single country store in Vermont and delivering piles of CDs for them to sell to tourists. That was our level of success and that was success in our minds and in our hearts.”

It wasn’t long before major labels were inundating Potter and her bandmates with meeting requests and offers. True to form, the band took their time making a decision that they were comfortable with and that allowed them to retain creative control over their output. When they finally signed with Disney-owned Hollywood Records, Potter immediately noticed some changes. “Many of the things that slipped through the cracks when we were on our own were taken care of and in addition to that, there was a whole new level of exposure. We weren’t super up-to-date on the internet stuff until we got more funding to do a website the right way and get our myspace page up and all that. I just didn’t know about all that stuff because I’m from Vermont,” Potter quipped.

From Vermont or not, Potter got a crash course in the new trends in the industry and quickly became a convert to the relatively recent idea of song placement in commercials, TV shows and films. “The film and TV stuff never would have happened without a label. While I was skeptical about it at first, that is one of the only sources of income that bands can find these days. Film and TV is really where it’s gone. That’s where the energy and money is these days,” she said.

Clearly, the strategy is paying off for Potter and her band as their songs have been featured on everything from “House” and “ER” to “The Hills” and “American Idol.”

With her music getting out to more and more people and her live shows getting rave reviews in outlets ranging all the way up to The New York Times, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are poised for a very exciting summer. When they stop here in Denver at the inaugural Mile High Music Festival, Denver fans will have one hell of a reason to brave the afternoon heat to catch their set.

:: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals ::
:: Mile High Music Festival ::
:: July 20 :: (2:45 p.m.) ::

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