The Singer Behind the Beat: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
She started by performing as a busker on Church Street in Burlington. Today, Waitsfield, Vermont, native Grace Potter is a nationally acclaimed musician who has performed with artists such as Kenny Chesney and Mavis Staples. She even has her own chocolate bar at Lake Champlain Chocolates called “Grace Under Fire” containing vegan dark chocolate with red pepper and pistachios, with a picture of the singer herself on the wrapper.
After her band, “Grace Potter and the Nocturnals” released its debut album entitled “Nothing but the Water” in 2005, the band quickly rose to national fame. In 2010, the band was named one of Rolling Stone magazine's "Best New Bands of 2010,” and, in 2011, Potter’s duet with Kenny Chesney, “You and Tequila,” earned three Country Music Award nominations, including “Song of the Year.” Their latest album, “The Lion the Beast the Beat,” came out in 2012.
Today, at 31, Potter said she never questioned where she wanted to end up.
“I didn’t have this idea of moving to a big city and becoming a big star,” she said. “There’s certainly a part of me that was totally not expecting to do the national thing, but there was another part of me that was really hungry for that.”
“I always figured that if I was going to college from high school I would use that to do international programs, and do that city experience in college,” she said.
Potter said that Vermont has always been the place to which she returns to keep herself focused.
“It’s always been the place I go back to... remind me that no matter how many miles you travel, that essentially we are aiming to be wholesome human beings as a band and as people, maintain humility and respect for where we came from,” she said. “I think that’s true for a lot of places in the world. [It was] ingrained in me to be grateful for everything you have, and to not expect everything to be handed to you.”
While she looks up to many people, she especially admires her parents, who “built a beautiful life by taking risks and working very hard,” she said.
“They were the ones that taught me that living your dream can actually be a realistic goal,” she said.
She was born in 1983 at Gifford Hospital in Randolph and went to Harwood Union High School in Moretown and St Lawrence University in Canton, NY.
Her family was already famous in Vermont before she became internationally famous. The Sparky Potter Design Group and Wood & Wood sign makers are her family’s businesses based in Waitsfield. You see their work every time you enter the Ben & Jerry’s factory store in Waterbury.
In terms of musical inspiration, Potter said that hearing Mavis Staples for the first time was a big deal for her.
“She was the original icon for me,” she said. “When I heard a record of her family, the “Staple Singers” when I was about 15, that really changed things for me.”
She will soon be doing a tribute concert for Staples, with whom she said she enjoyed collaborating.
Potter, who learned to play piano from her mother at about age six, and who sang in school choirs, said that she was glad to have had the opportunity to learn music in school.
“Many schools struggle to keep their Arts & Music programs up and running and I'm so grateful that I was able to grow as a musician in an incredible music department,” she said. “Inspiration comes from keeping your heart and mind young, so I look forward to playing music and collaborating with awesome young people every chance I get.”
Potter, whose musical style has changed over the years, said that any amount of experimentation leads to growth.
“I think musical styles change all the time if you're a true artist. It's never fun to stay in a safe zone,” she said. “Just because you've mastered classical music on one instrument doesn't mean you shouldn't pick up the drums or a keyboard or base or a crazy rainbow thing with buttons that plays twinkle twinkle little star backwards.”
As for advice for young aspiring musicians in Vermont, Potter recommended finding one’s own individual sound.
“Imitation of bands or artists that you like can be a good learning tool, but not the end goal if you want to be considered a true artist,” she said. “I hear so many young singers who have incredible vocal quality but they are just mimicking the voices they hear on the radio instead of letting their own true voice fly!” she said.
Potter also suggested writing one’s own songs – even if they’re “not perfect at the beginning.”
“Take risks, try to push yourself out of your comfort zone and you will get better,” she said.
Favorite Vermont escapes?
Sunset Rock in winter or summer. It’s a killer sled run although quite dangerous!
Favorite social media site?
“I don’t know what social media is.”
What’s one fun fact about each of you that few people would guess?
I have quit and re-started biting my nails at least 350 times in my life.
Matt Burr (whom she married in 2013) has a hard time tying a bow tie, so occasionally he borrows my father’s wooden carved one.
Michael Libramento plays all his instruments left-handed and upside down.
Scott Tournet may or may not be a black belt in karate.
Benny Yurco grew up one town away from Matty Burr but they never met until they moved to Vermont and started playing music together.
Favorite class in high school?
My favorite class in high school was probably art or three democracies. I also had an amazing English teacher, Gretchen Stahl, who basically taught a master class to a bunch of sophomores. It taught me to love poetry and literature in a way I never thought I could.