Fourth Coast Entertainment -

By Garret K. Woodward
FCE Staff 

The State of Grace

 

Last updated 6/14/2016 at 5:45am | View PDF

Photo Garret K. Woodward

I had never seen something like that.

On Feb. 18, 2006, I walked into the Paradise Rock Club on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. I could hear the sounds of a tambourine and the howl of a female singer. I could hear the sounds of Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. Being told she "was the next big thing" by numerous friends in the music industry, I had to see what all the fuss was about.

Potter was headlong into "Nothing But The Water" when I grabbed a beer and squeezed my way to the front of the stage. I stood there, mere feet from this otherworldly voice, this woman who was lightning in a bottle. Sitting behind her trusty Hammond B3 organ, Potter pounded away at what was, at the time, The Band's signature melody. She commanded the stage. Melodies like "Joey" and "Stop The Bus" put goosebumps on my arms and raised the hair on the back of my neck.

At that moment, I was converted into the Church of Grace. As a 21-year-old wet-behind-the-ears music journalist, I made it my mission to follow the Nocturnals, to interview them, to write and describe to others not in-the-know that the future of rock-n-roll was a gorgeous woman from the backwoods of Vermont, who - in old blue jeans and a plaid shirt, with long brown hair - could have fit in nicely in Seattle circa 1992, but instead was here and now, and for all to see and listen to in utter amazement.

Soon, I befriended The Band. I would catch them at shows in New Haven, Connecticut, Lake Placid, New York, and again in Boston, hanging out backstage, going to after-parties together - all of us wild kids doing wild things. There was an innocence back then about the Nocturnals that was captivating, and also made one realize how precious their band was, something that needed to not only be protected, but also perpetuated in the right direction.

And while The Band rose steadily through the festival ranks, filling bigger and bigger venues, the foundation of The Band began to crack. From record executives to critics, management to John Q. Public, the group slid into the spotlight, for good or ill. Eventually, founding bassist Bryan Dondero left. The Band signed with Hollywood Records, which placed them alongside label mates The Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus. Fans of the Nocturnals were shocked - what is happening to "our" beloved band?

Sure, some of the subsequent records were good, some of the songs becoming Nocturnals staples. Sure, "Ooh La La" and Potter's transition into short blond hair and mini-skirts threw us all for a whirl. At the core, in the midst of live performance, The Band was still a rock-n-roll juggernaut, but the decisions being made were odd and, some might say, sacrilegious in terms of the Nocturnals' early years and influences. And yet, I myself, one of their biggest cheerleaders, began to lose faith in my "religion," where the Church of Grace seemed to be losing its way.

Around 2011, I started distancing myself from the Nocturnals. They weren't the same band I fell in love with. Even with the addition of renowned rock bassist Catherine Popper (who eventually exited The Band, leaving the Nocturnals in some kind of Spinal Tap-esque revolving door position that still exists today) and guitarist Benny Yurco, the sandpaper grit rock edge was being polished and overproduced.

Then, this past year came the news that founding guitarist Scott Tournet was (we think) exiting The Band. The six-string ace was an integral piece of The Band, a musician whose razor-sharp licks brought a Neil Young & Crazy Horse feel to their live show. Add that to their Facebook page dropping "& The Nocturnals," to which only "Grace Potter" remained, and you have a lot of people scratching their heads.

My curiosity was piqued with the recent addition of a handful of new musicians and another percussionist to play alongside founding drummer Matt Burr. The stage show is currently being presented as a solo project for Potter's upcoming album "Midnight," though the jury is still out as to if the Nocturnals will ever reconvene again. The first couple tracks from "Midnight" are definitely more pop than rock, more Hollywood than Burlington, Vermont. But, then again, she did perform with The Rolling Stones on their latest tour.

I didn't know what think of this "new" Grace Potter, at least that was until I saw her last month headlining FloydFest in southwestern Virginia. I stood there, not knowing what to expect, as Potter and Co. took the stage in a blur of sequins, howls and straight up rock madness. She blew the doors down with opener "Hot Summer Night," then shook the mountaintop audience to the core with a rendition of "Burning Down The House" into "Fire On The Mountain." Potter rocketed around the stage with her Flying-V guitar like the rock goddess she's always been - the pure intent was still intact.

And I watched, in sheer happiness, as my band (our band) was still alive and kicking, and sounding as fierce and determined as ever. When the performance ended, and I wandered off to another stage, I found myself mulling over what I just witnessed. Potter has always been a moving target, one who is a few steps ahead of her fans, steps that we all will eventually take, and all will be clear to the methods to her madness. There are reasons for the path she has chosen, all of which placing her squarely on the top as the "Queen of Rock" in our modern era.

Grace Potter will conquer the world. It is a sentiment I felt on a cold winter night in 2006 in Boston. It is a sentiment I felt in a field on a warm summer night in 2015 in Virginia. It is a sentiment that will only get stronger and more justified in coming years, as the road grows longer, the fruits of her labor sweeter.

 

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