SXSW 2010. I headed to Antone's, eager to witness the live debut of Courtyard Hounds. Shortly after their set, I turned for the door. A man who'd been standing beside me for the past 10 minutes gently grabbed me by the arm and asked me where I was going.
When I told him home, he urged me stick around a few more minutes to hear the next band up, promising they were worth losing sleep over. That band was Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, and I have been a fan ever since.
Though Grace Potter and the Nocturnals have been making music for 10 years, Potter jokes they keep being referred to as the next big thing. "It’s a wonderful situation to be in because we’re constantly considered this hot new band even though we’ve been around forever. It’s great," the frontwoman says.
"People come to a rock concert to get lost in the moment and to lose themselves. The best way to do it is to dance — shake off your inhibitions... just really let go and sing at the top of your lungs, whether you know the words or not." - Grace Potter
"We’re calling this the Roar Tour — we’re in all of our fury. We really have been roaring from place to place and because the record is called The Lion The Beast The Beat, we’ve been kind of channeling our inner animal instinct and having a ball," Potter explains.
The new album was a labor of love for the band. At one point, not satisfied with the direction the project was taking, Potter halted the recording to do a little soul searching. After a solo road trip, she returned to the studio with a more clear vision and a few new songs, and everything fell into place. She says the finished product explores “the duality of human nature” with a sound she describes as a bit more arena rock than expected.
“When I wrote the songs I thought they felt much more intimate and subtle and dark, but then we take them out of the road and they just light up. The crowd has reflected that and we’re getting a lot of people jumping up and down."
Despite being a band steeped in rock and roll, GPN's lyrics and melodies often cross genres — from blues to gospel to country. The band got a real taste for country crowds this summer after being invited to open for Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney on the Brothers of the Sun Tour, which sold out stadiums across the country.
“That whole tour was a highlight for me this summer... especially when I got to sit in with Kenny during his show and watch how he controls the energy of 50-some-odd-thousand people. It’s a pretty inspiring thing to see."
The band landed the gig after Potter recorded "You and Tequila" with Chesney, a country crossover hit last year. Potter says the tour exposed she and her four bandmates to a whole new audience and she was impressed by how well they were received. "My inside joke with Kenny is we didn’t get a single beer bottle thrown at us, so that’s a good thing!"
Chesney is a known practical joker and made sure Potter was initiated early on. After performing "You and Tequila" with Chesney on her first night on the job, Potter explains what happened.
"As I'm trying to leave the stage Kenny goes, 'Hang on a second.' And all of the sudden a marching band comes out. He brought in a high school marching band to play me happy birthday! That was epic. And they brought out a flaming birthday cake that was in the shape of my signature flying V Gibson guitar, so it was just like a double whammy prank and it was just amazing."
Though the band enjoyed the tour, Potter says it was exciting to get back out on the road as a headliner, expanding the shortened 35-minute set they played as an opening act into a two-and-a-half-hour rock and roll marathon that takes a different shape each night.
"I invited fans to make requests over Twitter, so actually this whole tour has been all request believe it or not. Every single show we’ve played, we fulfill as many requests as possible." The all request format will keep things fresh at Stubb's later this week, too, as Potter returns to one of her favorite cities.
"One of the great things about [Austin] is that you don’t need a plan... you can just kind of fall from place to place and something exciting is happening everywhere you go," she says.
One of her best memories of Austin is first meeting Willie Nelson during SXSW in 2006. Fate recently intervened and she was again able to spend some time with the music legend when he sang with her on "Ragged Company," a bonus track on the the band's new CD.
"Buddy [Cannon] and Kenny [Chesney] felt really deeply connected to that song so they said, 'We really think Willie would love this.' So somehow that connection was made... and all of the sudden it was happening and it was just really surreal for me and such an honor. Really, one of those milestone moments in life where you can say, yep, Willie Nelson sang my song. It feels very good."
On Potter's return to the city she holds in such high regard, she promises she and her Nocturnals will coax the crowds at Stubb's out of their comfort zones and onto their feet.
"People come to a rock concert to get lost in the moment and to lose themselves. The best way to do it is to dance — shake off your inhibitions... just really let go and sing at the top of your lungs, whether you know the words or not. That to me is a true visceral rock and roll experience."
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals will play Stubb's Nov. 8 and 9. Fans are encouraged to tweet requests to@gracepotter with the hashtag #GPNSetlists (include "Austin" and the show date in the request).