By: David Schultz
Near the end of Grace Potter & The Nocturnals opening set for Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule in Central Park, a small vocal group near the front of the stage began shouting “Paris! Paris! Paris!” Don’t fret; the engaging foursome from Vermont have not lost their minds and brought talentless hotel heiresses into their midst. Rather, they wanted to hear “If I Was From Paris,” a compact little rocker with a chorus that would make Maurice Chevalier green with envy. Before tearing into the number, the ever-cheerful Potter looked over at the chanting fans, telling the crowd, “We’ve got some diehards in the audience.” A couple years ago, demands for unreleased numbers might have been reserved for the serious fans. As it stands right now, the band’s faithful are being joined by legions of newbies anxious to smell what Potter, guitarist Scott Tournet, bassist Bryan Dondero and drummer Matt Burr are cooking.
Last May, I had the opportunity to interview Potter and the Nocturnals for jambands.com. What struck me the most about being around them is how, to a person, they seemed unaffected by the beehive of activity that surrounds them. When Potter talks about being a “little ol’ band from Vermont,” she’s not being disingenuous or affectatious. Despite appearances on Good Morning America, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and sit-ins with Steve Kimock and Joe Satriani, they are still the same people they were when they left the Green Mountain State to conquer the world.
Central Park’s notoriously strict 10:00 curfew can play havoc with the attendance for the opening acts. Sandwiched between an electrifying opening set from Earl Greyhound (who played before a criminally sparse crowd) and a smoldering headlining set from the Mule, Potter & The Nocturnals played to a nearly packed house; the fine weather and exceptional music combining to make a perfect early autumn evening. Knowing that Mule’s audience would want a bluesy, uptempo set, they expertly catered to the expectations. Opening with an organ-heavy extended version of “Mastermind” and plowing into “Treat Me Right,” they touched equally upon their sparkling debut, Nothing But The Water, their latest This Is Somewhere and weighty live staples like “Watching You.” Over the past few months, the middle portion of “Nothing But The Water” has evolved for improvisational soloing: a showcase for the band to stretch their musical chops. At Summerstage, they cut the solos short and congregated around Burr’s drum kit for an impromptu drum circle. Burr never strayed from the song’s beat while Tournet, Dondero and Potter, who lounged on her side by the bass drum, went tribal.
I have said this before but it bears repeating as it always remains a true statement: Scott Tournet gets better every time I see him. Even though he is an accomplished axeman in his own right, he still watches and observes other guitarists, always open to learning from fellow musicians. If you ever questioned the amount of respect Warren Haynes receives for his guitar work, the rapt attention Tournet and Earl Greyhound’s Matt Whyte paid to his playing should resolve any such doubts. Starting next month, Potter & The Nocturnals will set out on a month long stretch of shows with Gov’t Mule and Tournet is excited at the prospects of the extended exposure to Haynes. When asked about the prospects of sharing the stage with Haynes, Tournet’s hopeful expression said it all. I would wager that if he gets that opportunity, Tournet will not squander the opportunity and will open a lot of eyes with his skillful guitar work.
Nearing the end of Mule’s set, I told Potter that I would open up the column for her and give her free reign to discourse on whatever she wanted. A veritable quote machine, Potter gathered her thoughts with a bemused expression before telling Earvolution, “I would rather fuck the mule, than the horse.” I think I know what she meant, but it’s not chivalrous to give away a lady’s secrets.