May 29, 2008

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Hey—this is somewhere!
Going Nocturnal with Grace Potter
By Brian Early bearly@hippopress.com

When Grace Potter and the Nocturnals rock the Palace Theatre in Manchester next week, it will be the band’s first time in the state’s most populated city.

The band will open for the Black Crowes at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, and at 13 other shows. They also open for Dave Matthews Band and a show with Phil Lesh & Friends, and they just finished a five-show stint with Gov’t Mule. They fit well with those bands or other sounds. Or just take the show by themselves.

It’s a defining moment for the quartet. They’re positioning themselves for a long-term career, at the same time careful not to get pegged with a label they can’t shake. While they enjoy touring with the bands, “there’s nothing worse than being an opening act” as a career, said Grace Potter, lead vocalist, who plays the organ and guitars. With the release last fall of their third album, This is Somewhere, the band pushes their favorite sound of the early 1970s, but they don’t want to be branded as Luddites in music.

“There’s just something about it that just sounds so good,” said lead guitarist and harmonica player Scott Tournet about the rock and roll music of the early 1970s. On his MySpace page, the 31-year-old lists the year 1973 as one of his influences. “The instruments sounded better. The amplifiers were hand-made. It had more soul; it had more character. When they recorded, there wasn’t Pro-Tools. It was more organic. Now everything is computer-made.”

The band lugs around a Hammond B-3 organ and the Leslie speaker that Potter plays, given to her as a birthday present from the band a few years ago as a way to create a louder sound.

“Instead of getting a louder amp, we got a louder keyboard,” she said.

Touring with a B-3 organ is no easy feat, as it takes up to six people to move it from the van to the stage, and then there’s the Leslie speaker, the organ’s sidekick amp, though it’s not nearly as heavy. Other keyboardists, Tournet said, were amused with the organ, as many keyboards — ones that can be carried by one person and take a fraction of the space — can create a B-3 imitation sound.

But the sound is authentic, and it’s sexier too, especially with the 24-year-old Potter playing and belting out soulful tunes.

“It’s a more gritty, darker sound,” she said about the organ sound. “The Leslie is where all the grit comes from.”

Since 2002, the Vermont-based band has changed musical directions, moving away from a softer jazzier sound, playing at farmers’ markets and coffeehouses, to a louder, soulful, rock-and-roll sound.

This Is Somewhere, a nod to heroes Neil Young and Crazy Horse, signed with their new corporate label, Hollywood Records, gave the band access to media like The Tonight Show and a press packet filled with interviews from Billboard to The New York Times. The album was released to critical acclaim.

But the band still makes a living from touring, which they will start up again with the Mountain Jam Festival in Hunter, N.Y., followed by the Palace, after a half-month break from the road.

Scott Tournet said the band calculated they played more shows a year than the Grateful Dead and Phish ever did in a year.

“This is insane,” Tournet mused about the gigging. “We can’t go like this non-stop.”

The show at the Palace is part of a two-day swing through the state to raise money for Child and Family Services — the 23rd season of the Concert for the Cause. The band plays the next night at the Lebanon Opera House. The Leaves open the Manchester show.

Over the years, the Concerts for the Cause have raised more than $2.8 million for host of programs involved in “child abuse prevention, intervention and treatment; runaway and homeless youth services; foster care; home-based family strengthening and support; services to children with developmental or chronic health concerns; child advocacy initiatives; and our summer camp for disadvantaged kids,” Kat Strange, CFS communications director, wrote in an e-mail.


Grace Potter and the Nocturnals will play at the Palace Theatre on June 6. Courtesy photo.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Where: The Palace Theatre, 86 Hanover St., Manchester
When: Friday, June 6, at 8 p.m.
Info: www.gracepotter.com
Tickets: $36.50. 668-5588 or www.palacetheatre.org.