When Playing Favorites, Grace Potter Always Bets On Red Rocks

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals is an album of pulsating, in-your-face rock 'n' roll, with shimmy-shake-and-bake tracks worth repeating on your favorite playlist.
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Grace Potter knows all about hot summer nights, especially after spending a few days last week in Las Vegas, where the temperature always hovered around the triple-digit mark.

So while she's figuratively basking in the hot summer sun, Potter's actually sitting in bed, nursing a cup of coffee in her hotel room shortly before noon in Sin City.

"Don't worry, I'm by myself. I'm not having a Coyote Ugly moment right here," Potter says over the phone, having enjoyed fabulous dining at one of Mario Batali's restaurants in the Venetian and a few "What Happens in Vegas/Stays in Vegas" moments the previous night while celebrating her tour manager's birthday.

Calling herself a "really excellent" but conservative gambler ("It's the fact that I don't keep gambling is why I've been lucky"), she shares a few details about her "most amazing day ever," even if they aren't wild enough to make it into The Hangover's next sequel. "We spent the day sitting in a cabana that Michael Franti's tour manager hooked up for us," Potter says. "And sitting there at poolside in a cabana drinking Heineken and eating Goldfish. ... I'm very happy right now."

Welcome to another glorious day in Graceland 2011.

The Vermont songstress is on an emotional high right now, barely a year after she and her dazzling band's self-titled release, a record she says took awhile to "burn into people's mind" before becoming its own "Rolling Thunder Review."

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals (Hollywood Records) is an album of pulsating, in-your-face rock 'n' roll, with shimmy-shake-and-bake tracks worth repeating on your favorite playlist such as "Paris (Ooh La La)", "Money" and, of course, "Hot Summer Night."

The group that includes original members Matt Burr (drums) and Scott Tournet (guitar), along with 2009 additions Cat Popper (bass) and Benny Yurco (guitar), were making the most of their Vegas stay that culminated with a July 1 performance at Red Rock Resort north of The Strip. Even if, as Potter says, "It's so out of character for us."

Describing Grace Potter & the Nocturnals as "the slow-burn band," and ecstatic that the fame finally came, she admits, "Vegas is not exactly our city. But we have taken it over."

So you know you've made it when ...

"I wasn't there, but apparently the guys were saying they heard 'Paris' cranking through the casino (at Mandalay Bay) yesterday. So, there you go. It's a whole new fan base. We got the degenerate gamblers now."

She laughs at the notion that maybe they were playing it in her honor.

"I actually thought that for a second, then I felt like such an egotistical asshole for even thinking that way," Potter says, her self-assuredness tempered with the realization that fame is fleeting and she's enjoying it too much to let it slip away.

That grounded attitude, along with a powerful voice, gut-busting tunes, sonic dual blasts of guitar and a lot of hard work and nonstop touring, will likely keep their luck from running out. Not to mention a remarkable style transformation that's made them national TV darlings while catapulting GPN from what Potter describes as a "side stage beer tent band" to "overnight" sensations. Give or take seven or eight years.

More hot summer nights await this weekend in Colorado at Red Rocks, the natural amphitheatre west of Denver. The group will open separate sold-out shows July 8 for Kenny Chesney ("this completely out of left field connection ... who has just kinda adopted us and taken us under his wing") and July 9 for the Avett Brothers, with whom Potter hopes to collaborate in the future. "Their music obviously inspires a lot of people," she says.

Potter ranks Red Rocks "at least No. 1 or No. 2 on my list" of favorite venues, right there with the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington.

"Those are the only two outdoor venues that I really care to mention in the same breath," she says. "And that is because they're in the nature. That is not man coming in and demanding that things be turned upside down and made into something that they're not. That is the best example of nature and artifice working together."

GPN'S Red Rocks experiences have been memorable, including supporting Big Head Todd and the Monsters in 2006 and their warm-up act on July 6, 2010 for Film on the Rocks, though Potter recognizes the feature attraction was the Coen Brothers' Raising Arizona starring Nicolas Cage.

Then some moments are unforgettable for other reasons.

Potter recalls their side stage show for a series of concerts with Dave Matthews in September 2005 when "we weren't even allowed backstage. We were totally not part of the event."

During that make-or-break summer tour, wondering if the band still had a future, Potter says that appearance was, "one of my deepest burned-into-my-brain memories. There was a massive storm that blew through. And all of our gear was at risk of getting not just wet, but blown over and blown off the hill and off the mountain completely. And we were in an RV that was broken down and it was just a huge shit show .... it really was like a Dorothy Wizard of Oz moment. And that was the most trying summer of our lives."

Less than six years later, she's working with some giants in the industry while further expanding her musical and pop culture horizons. Not content to stay within the lines of her true coloring book, Potter displays crossover moves as nifty as any NBA point guard's.

Already a staple of late night TV talk show and festival circuits, she's very much in demand: there are more scheduled chatfests, including with Cee Lo Green (Fuse's Talking With Strangers, airing July 13) and Jay Leno (The Tonight Show, July 21); appearances at Chicago's Lollapalooza (Aug. 5) and GPN's own Grand Point North Festival (Aug. 13-14) near the band's home base of Burlington, Vermont; a featured role on country cool Chesney's "You and Tequila" chart-climbing video and song, a harmonic opportunity she plans to duplicate at Red Rocks ("I know how to muscle my way onstage," she says, practically guaranteeing a duet will happen); and a chance to rub elbows with the likes of diverse acts from Stevie Wonder, Janelle Monae and Sharon Jones for a night of Global Soul (July 24) to the All-Americana Avetts ("They're such sweet souls").

Upcoming Colorado shows also include a July 10 headlining return to the Odgen Theatre, which she sold out for the first time last February. (See The Huffington Post review here.)

Potter is so enamored of the Centennial State that she's having her parents, Sparky and Peggy, come out from Vermont just to see what their little girl has accomplished. Potter offers, "Colorado, it holds a special place in my heart, so I hope they'll appreciate it as much as I do."

She characterizes Colorado -- and her strong fan base there -- as "a huge gigantic version of Vermont. I mean, the love that I feel. It almost is like I'm a home state girl there at this point because we've played there so much.

"As a ski bum and someone who came up in a ski bum family, I understand the essence of what Colorado is all about. Because everybody in Vermont ends up moving to Colorado."

Potter follows with a boisterous laugh, as engaging as her gleaming smile.
She may not be ready to leave Vermont yet, but conquering Colorado, in the form of selling out 9,450-seat, 6,450-foot Red Rocks as a headlining act, is her next goal. It ranks right up there on her bucket list with making a movie and performing on Saturday Night Live.

Even someone as attractive as Potter has her celebrity crushes, and she reveals that after recently spotting Seth Meyers, SNL's head writer and "Weekend Update" anchor, walking around The Grove in Los Angeles, "I was freaked out. I mean, totally freaked out."

Grace Potter with original Nocturnals Matt Burr (on drums) and Scott Tournet.

Such is the power of TV, which Potter credits as being hugely responsible for GPN's breakthrough year. "Which is so funny because I don't watch TV very much," she admits. "It's just a strange thing for a band from Vermont to be known through TV ...

"With the anxiety-driven young girls, the crying, the screaming ... that's new as well. A lot of that must come from the different levels of media that are reaching people now that maybe we didn't have the capacity to do a few years ago. So we kind of climbed the ladder to the point where we know how to seize and maintain people's attention."

Already a dynamic and confident performer, Potter has turned into a bona fide sex symbol, whether she likes it or not. The makeover from small-town Vermont girl to Hollywood glitz-and-glamour siren can't be ignored, but she prefers to focus on the music.

"It's all part of the package. And I'm not dumb, I get it," she says, resigned to the fact that her physical attraction is part of the reason for her success.

Potter remains upbeat, though, preparing to roll the dice again while figuring that what people hear is just as important as what they see. She says, "I'm having the flutterings of the beginnings of a record, for sure. I'm teaching the band new songs every night just to keep things fresh. And if they're really, really good, we might even unveil one or two onstage any given night. And I think it's lending itself to making this next record a pretty stunning collection of music, if I do say so myself."

Not one to take herself too seriously, Potter cracks up again. "I need to temper my ego a little bit," she adds, wondering if she'll have enough time for breakfast before sound check for a private event later that day in Vegas. "I think I better go gamble and lose some money right now."

Fat chance of that happening. Want an odds-on favorite whose appealing demographic covers anxiety-driven young girls and degenerate gamblers all over the country, from the Gorge to Vegas to Red Rocks to Lake Champlain?

Lady Luck is a safe bet.

The video for Kenny Chesney's "You and Tequila" (featuring Grace Potter), courtesy of CMT: