Grace Potter talks Levon Helm, Capitol Theatre shows
As Grace Potter and the Nocturnals take the stage at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester this Saturday and Sunday night, the rockers will continue to honor the legacy of the late Levon Helm the best way they can: by turning the volume up and bringing the house down.
A day after Elton John, Mumford & Sons and other high-profile musicians performed "The Weight" at the Grammy Awards in honor of Helm -- The Band's legendary drummer who passed away in 2012 -- Potter, 29, told Newsday Westchester she hadn't seen the all-star tribute to one of her idols. She and her band were busy with their 10th anniversary show that Sunday night at Potter's upstate alma mater, St. Lawrence University.
"We were having a rager -- a rager -- in the hockey stadium. I got a bloody toe and a fat lip," said Potter, the band's sultry and spunky lead vocalist.
Despite not being a part of the Grammy tribute, Potter credits Helm with inspiring her band. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals were frequent guests at Helm's Woodstock farm, where they all played during the legendary Midnight Ramble concerts to raise money for his cancer-related medical and mortgage bills, and The Ramble is one of the reasons she "begged" to be a part of the Oct. 3 "Love for Levon" concert at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J., whose related CD and DVD are slated for a March 19 release.
"There were so many incredible people that night, I wasn't even really sure of my chances of being invited to get on the bill," said Potter, who sang "I Shall Be Released," which was written by Bob Dylan and covered by The Band.
Another night Potter shared the stage with some big-name talent was during a fall show at The Cap, just days after Dylan reopened the venue on Sept. 4. Scheduled acts for the Sept. 7 show included The Roots and Grateful Dead co-founder Bob Weir, who introduced the crowd to Potter and other surprise guests in Phish frontman Trey Anastasio, Gov't Mule guitarist Warren Haynes and Bobby Keys.
"That was a crazy night, man," Potter said. "I was really excited to see the venue, not to mention play with a couple of legends, so that was fun."
What was less fun was when Weir called Potter on stage for a Grateful Dead song she didn't know. "I was five flights up in my dressing room -- and all of a sudden I hear, 'Grace Potter? Grace Potter, where are you?' And the whole [freakin'] audience was waiting for me, and I'm like running down the stars. They start 'Birdsong,' and I didn't know how it went. It was a nightmare!" she recalled. "The night was off to quite a precarious start, but I ended up playing it off pretty well. I just made bird noises."
This go-round on the Port Chester stage, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals will stick with their own material, including their anthemic "Paris (Ooh La La)" and the mellower groove, "Never Go Back," plus their current hit, "Stars," which as of Friday morning, topped the rock chart on iTunes.
"It's a truthful song that kind of just fell out of me," Potter said of the track from "The Lion The Beast The Beat" album. "All of my favorite songs are the ones that are really easy to write, and that's one that was written in a time of deep honesty. I was grieving and going through a tough time, having lost a friend who took her own life. The process of grief is a very strange thing: It creeps up on you in all different kinds of ways ... It's amazing that ["Stars"] is doing that well. It's just a resounding affirmation that being honest pays off."
That kind of honesty doesn't always have to be a downer. Potter was happy to brag about how she knew "Paris (Ooh La La)" would get the band some unprecedented play.
"I knew that song was a hit the second I wrote it, and nobody else believed me," Potter said of the group's breakthrough track. "It's so funny: Levon always used to say about the song, 'Rag Mama Rag.' He was like, 'I thought that was a hit,' and he was right. I love that song."
While Potter, who grew up in Vermont, learned piano from her mother it wasn't until her days collaborating with the Nocturnals during college that she'd pick up a guitar. Despite her late start, her success with the six-string has since prompted Gibson to issue a Signature Flying V guitar that's named after her. Potter said she's honored, not only to be one of the few women with a guitar in her name, but also because she loves tweaking her bandmates about it.
"It's killer, and it's outrageous that it happened this way, especially when I have two of the greatest guitar players of all time in my band, because they don't have a specific guitar," Potter said with a laugh. "I do."
IF YOU GO
Who: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, and Sunday, Feb. 24
Info: The Capitol Theatre, 149 Westchester Ave., Port Chester; 914-934-9362; www.thecapitoltheatre.com; $35-$55; $40-$60 day of show; audience members must be 18 or older