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Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Calvin Theater, Northampton, MA – 12/2

Photos by David Barnum

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals have been riding an unstoppable wave lately that includes the release of a new album The Lion The Beast The Beat, mainstream radio play, and a sold-out, two-night run at The Beacon in NYC. GPN was also the opener for the top-grossing Brothers of the Sun summer stadium tour with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw. As the band’s profile continues to rise, and the doors keep opening to a broader audience, the Northampton stop on their Roar Tour was an opportunity to pause for a moment and take a look back. Having played in the music city over a dozen times over the past decade, GPN first started at the smaller Iron Horse Music Hall, then moved on to the larger Pearl Street Night Club, before capping it off with a sold-out show at the Calvin Theater. Grace Potter stated “we came up in this area and worked up the ranks in Northampton.”

Grace Potter, herself, has gone through a transformation from performing in jeans and a flannel shirt in her earlier years, to embracing a more glamorous look. Potter’s talent as a high-powered vocalist, songwriter, musician, and performer was always evident, regardless of the image. The Nocturnals include guitarists Scott Tournet and Benny Yurco, drummer Matt Burr, with the 2011 addition of bass player Michael Libramento, who replaced Catherine Popper.

GPN took the stage to the opening fanfare theme music from Twentieth Century Fox and launched right into “Some Kind of Ride.” The stage was decorated with strings of glass light bulbs, giving it a circus atmosphere. No matter how you try to classify GPN, make no mistake, they are a hard driving rock and roll band. The evening’s song selection was drawn from the band’s past three albums with fan favorites “Ah Mary,” “Apologies,” “Joey,” “Big White Gate,” “One Short Night,” “Paris (Ooh La La),” and “Nothing But The Water Parts 1 and 2.” During “Oasis” Potter hung back to let each band member shine with scorching solos. Potter took a request and busted out “Belladonna,” last played in 2008. They also did a trippy, psychedelic cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.”

The concert was also an opportunity to connect with family, with several members of Potter’s family, down from Vermont, in attendance. Potter conveyed “we’re going to try something special. In fact, I’m going to get weird and sit down Joan Baez-like. My brother Lee is a poet and troubadour and for his birthday we set music to a poem he wrote.” Potter, Yurco, and Tournet sat in front of the drum kit, each with acoustic guitars, and called Lee up on stage while they presented him with the poignant and appropriately titled “Words to a Song.” The beautiful song was much appreciated by the audience and Lee.

Before writing The Lion The Beast The Beat, Potter took a solo road trip to get fresh inspiration and to go within herself to come up with several of the songs. GPN played the break-out hits from the new album- “Stars” and “Never Go Back”- along with “Roulette,” “Keepsake,” and “The Lion The Beast The Beat,” which sounds like a nod to one of Potter’s idols, the band Heart.

There was a surprise in store for the encore when Grace Potter relayed “when I was younger, I was in front of the Calvin Theater and looked up at the marquee and said I want to be up there one day. The person’s name on the marquee that day was Martin Sexton.” Potter then called out special guest Martin Sexton, on acoustic guitar, to join the band for the Rolling Stones’ cover “Wild Horses.” The audience didn’t want the evening to end and coaxed out the band for the second encore song “Medicine.”

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