If you go
What: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals with Chamberlin
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Howelsen Hill
Steamboat Springs Two weeks ago, the Free Summer Concert Series kicked off with Hot Tuna, featuring Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady of famed Jefferson Airplane.
But Thursday night, taking the stage with the fiery ambition that’s propelled them into the mainstream public’s eager ear, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals will shed light on the next generation of American rock 'n’ roll.
It’s no coincidence that Potter and friends recorded Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” on a recent compilation; Their clanging blues rock and wistful ballads share a strong commonality with the 1960s and ’70s rock tradition.
“I love to see things come full circle like that,” Potter said about following Hot Tuna on the Summer Concert Series stage. “And I love to see a town come together and celebrate music.”
Billed as the 20th anniversary celebration show for the Free Summer Concert Series, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals will go on at about 7 p.m. Fresh Vermont folk rock act Chamberlin opens at 6 p.m.
Potter, who sings and plays guitar and piano, is backed by the raucous rock ‘n’ roll band the Nocturnals, featuring the driving blues riffs of lead guitarist Scott Tournet. Another original Nocturnals member and Potter’s boyfriend, Matt Burr, plays drums, and Benny Turco on guitar and Catherine Popper on bass have been added to the lineup in recent years.
Free Summer Concert Series board Vice President Scott Fox said that about 5,000 people likely attended Hot Tuna and that he expects at good turnout at the event despite its Thursday night timing.
“She’s phenomenal,” he said about Potter. “She is rock and roll. She really can throw it down.
“It goes to show we’re growing; we’re still able to produce some really good shows and get some really good acts in some difficult times. We’ve had some successful events, and we’re real appreciative of what the community does for us. We’re really fortunate to have the acts we have.”
Potter said she spends almost nine months out of the year touring, but that’s a comfortable place to be after almost a decade with the band.
Lately for Potter, the road has been “long and luscious,” with live show piled on live show, with outdoor venues, indoor clubs and TV appearances. Last weekend, Potter opened for the Avett Brothers at a sold-out Red Rocks Amphitheatre show.
“I always love it here,” Potter said about Colorado. “It’s one of my favorite places. It’s a big sister to Vermont.”
The small town of Waitsfield, Vt., was where Potter was born into music. She doesn’t recall a particular moment when music became her life; it was just always like that.
She sang during class and got in trouble. She made up her own harmonies in choir and became obsessed with record after record in her parents’ vinyl collection.
So fittingly, she also never felt a specific moment when she realized that Grace Potter and the Nocturnals were hitting it big with songs on TV shows and mainstream radio play for the hit “Paris.”
“I always expected it,” she said with a sunny inflection and that hint of a rasp that draws comparisons to Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin. “As a band and as an ambitious group of people, we had a clear sense of the direction we wanted to go in.”
Several years ago, the group returned from a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers show in an arena and held a meeting immediately after.
“We said, ‘We want to be that,’” she said. “We felt strongly that was a goal that that would make us happy. To see what music does for people, to see what happens when they hear that song they want to hear all night, it makes you want to be a part of that.”
These days, Potter is known for tossing her blond locks around as she wails into the mic, and for banging away on her Hammond B3 organ or Flying V guitar in boots and a spangled mini dress.
It’s a far cry from the flannel shirts and coffee shops of years ago, but it’s still Potter, living up to the sassy nature of the group's 2010 self-titled album.
And it’s the live shows where the sass and the band’s fearless energy shine.
“We do everything for those two hours on stage,” she said. “We want to make it matter. The energy just pours out of you.”
— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteaboatToday.com