Blues-Rocker Grace Potter Brightens Inaugural Panorama Festival

Grace talks about all things New York, the upside to playing festivals and one memorable night spent in an NYC hotel room

Grace Potter is simply one of the best singers and musicians of her generation. The Vermont- based powerhouse went solo in 2015 with her album “Midnight,” but continued to work with long-time Grace Potter & The Nocturnals band members and joined forces with pop/rock producer Eric Valentine, whose previous work ranges from Nickel Creek to Third Eye Blind. Potter plays the inaugural Panorama Festival at Randall’s Island Park July 24 on a bill that includes Alabama Shakes, Kendrick Lamar, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem and Sia, running July 22-24.

She’s unapologetic and fearless like Pink, approachable and cool like Sheryl Crow and timeless like Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin. New York City Monthly had the pleasure of speaking with Grace about all-things New York, the upsides of playing festivals as well as clubs, and one memorable night she spent in an NYC hotel room…

Grace, you have been on tour most of the year with recent stops at Bonnaroo and New Orleans Jazz Fest. You often play somewhere in New York state but do not always play New York City, so how did you decide to play the inaugural Panorama Festival on July 24?

I always get excited about these new festivals. New York City is a place I wish I could play more, it is one of my favorite places to be in the whole world and I’m definitely not a city girl. It just gets under your skin in a really beautiful way—I mean some of my closest friends live here. Everything under the sun is available to you on this small block of an island. I want to make them miss me—I miss New York City; I hope they miss me. I played Radio City Music Hall in October. It is a thing where, I rarely dip into New York more than twice a year for public shows, so this would be my second visit since this record [Midnight] came out.

Your live show has always been a celebration of rock and blues, but now you have included in your catalog funk, dance and pop songs as well. Do you prefer playing outdoors in an open space where you can really be a free spirit vs. in nightclubs where it’s more of a fixed space?

I think it’s both. I’ll take it any way I can get it, but outside there’s more control and you can fit more people. A lot of the breakthrough moments of my career have been outdoors, when the soul is going out of my body into the stratosphere, especially outdoors at sunset. There’s something exciting about the witching hours, but with Panorama and Coachella and Bonnaroo it’s always daytime, ‘cause I’m one of 400 bands or whatever it is. With Panorama I’m interested to see what time of day I’ll perform, how the sun is oriented, and where the stages are.

It’s always a different experience. I have played most of the theaters and clubs in New York—Radio City Music Hall, Webster Hall, Irving Plaza, Mercury Lounge, and Joe’s Pub. I’ve played everywhere, including Hojo’s Lounge one time early on which was my first gig ever in New York City. There’s still a picture of me and my dad standing in Times Square—at the time we were just sort of a dinner band. There’s more room to breathe in an outdoor setting, but there is so much history in New York and there’s a contained energy that is kind of a boiler of the visceral energy in a captive space of being indoors.

Your longtime fans know you as Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. You went solo on most recent album MIDNIGHT, still including many of your original band members. What are some of you and your band’s best memories over the years of playing in New York City, of fans and just of your leisure time while visiting NYC?

There’s one classic, iconic moment. We had a really nice hotel room and one of my bandmates decided he wanted to invite some homeless people up into our hotel room and we felt guilty that we were in a hotel and they weren’t. It’s one of those feeling-love-for-humankind kind of moments. That band member forgot we were sharing that room with the whole band. These two homeless guys were going through the mini bar, eating chips and McDonald’s, and that’s something that only happens in New York. A new naive band trying to show the love and be good and nobody got hurt and those dudes had a place to stay.

Your music evokes several sounds from the 60s and 70s that provided folk, rock and blues soundtracks for an entire generation. When you perform the same day as Sia, LCD Soundsystem, A$AP Rocky and Nathaniel Rateli & The Night Sweats, what do you hope will be the takeaway from those who see Grace Potter perform at Panorama?

I think that I want people to remember the experience or the feeling. At my live show I have an advantage there—my band and my live show includes some of the best professional music being played
in the world. I don’t mean to toot my own horn but we make a compelling argument for people to stop and listen. Kenny Chesney, or the summer I was playing with The Rolling Stones, I couldn’t get up and leave during “Gimme Shelter” (she performed it with them in Minneapolis). At a festival, I look at it as an opportunity, not a battle of the bands, but an opportunity to gain people with my music because it spans so many genres. It’s got country, heavy metal and there’s a lot of heavy metal in the live show—it’s getting deeply Black Sabbath-y. These festivals, especially the new ones are going to have a wide array of fans to explore, so I do hope to gain new fans.