The Frederick Fairgrounds is hosting a drive-in concert series all summer.
This Sunday, it welcomes back rocker Grace Potter, who played there last fall.
“It was fun because I got to be the guinea pig,” Potter told WTOP. “I was delighted by the entire experience. It was one of my favorite drive-in experiences yet on this COVID journey. … I did a crowd-sourced music video [there]. There’s a lot of footage of fans, me and my family running around at the fairgrounds because it was so picturesque.”
Born in Vermont in 1983, Potter grew up listening to her parents’ record stash.
“My dad and mom had the best record collection,” Potter said. “I got to develop my taste in music through my parents’ era and that was the best era for rock ‘n’ roll of all. You had Led Zeppelin, The Who, Jethro Tull, The Band, Carole King, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan. It was an amazing record collection … so I was a vinyl junkie early on.”
She says she was a terrible music student, but sang in choirs and school assemblies.
“I performed a song I had written called ‘River of Time’ for my entire high school assembly, which was terrifying,” Potter said. “Nobody knew who I was, I was a real shrinking violet, [but] that was the day suddenly people wanted to talk to me. It was a really strange thing. I wasn’t popular; I was still a weirdo, but it opened the door.”
She began performing at local farmer’s markets and arts and crafts festivals before attending St. Lawrence University. In college, she recorded a few demos and one ill-fated album, “which you should not try to find,” before forming a rock band in 2002.
“I met [drummer] Matt Burr, who was also a student at St. Lawrence and he suggested we start a band,” Potter said. “My classmate from high school, Corey Beard, his dad cornered me at a Christmas party and said, ‘My son is transferring from UMass, I’m really worried about him, he’s a great bass player, can you just make a band?'”
They named the band The Nocturnals after late-night gigs at The Java Bar and recorded four albums from 2005 to 2012, including the 2010 hit “Paris (Ooh, La La).”
“When I wrote that song I had just gotten my Flying V guitar,” Potter said. “I wanted to write a real rock record like The Kinks. … We recorded that song seven times. I was so determined for it to be a hit. Everybody was like, ‘This is a stupid song, the lyrics are silly, it sounds like a nursery rhyme.’ I was like, ‘Exactly! What’s wrong with that?'”
Eventually, she broke out on her own for the solo album “Original Soul” (2004).
“I didn’t want to go solo; the band just didn’t like any of my new songs,” Potter said. “I ended up collaborating with [future husband] Eric Valentine. … It was hard to watch the band dissolve over a couple pop songs, but it happens. A lot of other things happened in my life as well. … I have no regrets. It’s still my favorite album I’ve ever made.”
Her sound continued to evolve between her second solo album “Midnight” (2015) and her third solo album “Daylight” (2019), which earned two Grammy nominations.
“I think I matured a lot,” Potter said. “When I go back to ‘Midnight,’ I can hear the burning fire of a creative soul emerging from a cocoon. … Then with ‘Daylight,’ I think there’s a lot of humility and humanity in that record. It’s a very mature collection of music that wraps its arms around all of the influences and stories of my life.”
She earned a third Grammy nod with Kenny Chesney on “You and Tequila” (2011).
“My man, Kenny!” Potter said. “His publicist Holly Gleason … said, ‘Kenny was floating around in St. John and I had snuck your CD into a shuffle on his CD player on his boat.’ … My song ‘Apologies’ came on and he just laid there looking up at the stars one night on his boat floating around and said, ‘That’s the voice I want for this song.'”
She also performed that same song “Apologies” on TV’s “One Tree Hill” (2008).
“I actually made a guest appearance playing a street musician,” Potter said. “I’m not super proud of that performance, but I did get to score the show that week. I got to reimagine the theme song and put the music behind the entire episode, which was so fun. That’s always kind of been my dream gig: to score the music for film and TV.”
Next, she revamped “Something That I Want” for Disney’s “Tangled” (2010).
“That song was supposed to be in a different movie, ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic,’ but it didn’t end up getting used,” Potter said. “It just sat in the Disney music archives. … They were digging around when they were making the Rapunzel film [and] fell upon this forgotten song. … They just needed me to change some lyrics around.”
She also joined the Flaming Lips’ “My Mechanical Friend” on “Frankenweenie” (2012).
“Tim Burton did the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ series, so there was a collaboration with the Jefferson Airplane song ‘White Rabbit’ [and] I got to meet Danny Elfman,” Potter said. “When Tim Burton put together ‘Frankenweenie,’ it was so spectacularly bizarre with stop-motion. … I said, ‘Who are the weirdest people I know? The Flaming Lips.'”
Her “Stuck in the Middle with You” cover was the theme for “Grace & Frankie” (2015).
“It’s awesome,” Potter said. “Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin being amazing, hilarious.”
Not only has Potter performed in every major music festival, from Coachella to Lollapalooza to Bonnaroo, she created her own music festival called Grand Point North in Vermont almost 15 years ago with her friend and collaborator Alex Carruthers.
“We had been walking the waterfront in Burlington, Vermont, a beautiful marina with a gorgeous view of the Adirondack Mountains and a big, beautiful lake,” Potter said. “It just seemed like an amazing site for a festival, so we started guinea pigging the site — kind of like what we’re doing with these drive-in shows.”
Sunday’s drive-in show in Frederick happens to fall on Mother’s Day, which is extra special because she and Valentine recently welcomed a son in 2018.
“Hey mommas, if you want to feel like a real rockin’ momma, come out to my show Sunday on Mother’s Day,” Potter said. “No better way to celebrate the mommas than to come rock out with me. … Dads out there, if you want to look super cool … don’t get your wife, girlfriend, or baby mamma flowers, get them tickets to a rock concert.”