Grace Potter wants to be ‘inviting the good’ with drive-in shows in Vermont, Northeast

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shutdown have left us all feeling uncertain, scared and, just maybe, a little freer as we determine our own new paths forward.

That’s the approach Grace Potter is taking as she begins a socially distant, drive-in-styled solo tour of the Northeast with two shows this weekend at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction. She has no idea what to expect.

Grace Potter plays during day 1 of the Grand Point North Music festival at Waterfront park on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019 in Burlington, Vermont.

“All bets are off,” the musician said by phone Thursday as she renovated what she called a “chic ski chalet” at the property she grew up on in Waitsfield. “Nobody knows what the (expletive) is going on and that is awesome. I live for chaos. I totally know what to do.”

Potter is sure the tour that will take her from Vermont into New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Massachusetts is the right thing to do.

“If anybody walks away from one of my shows with COVID I am going to be devastated,” Potter said, though she and the promoters are making sure concertgoers are safe in the venues that include drive-in theaters, fairgrounds and spacious parks where patrons can be socially distant.

Potter believes the continually bad vibes of the past five months can’t be the only vibes people feel.

“I do know that I need to be part of a positive impact,” she said. “I’m much more interested in inviting the good.”

Grace Potter plays during day 1 of the Grand Point North music festival at Waterfront Park on Sunday, Sept. 14, 2019 in Burlington, Vermont. (BRIAN JENKINS/for the FREE PRESS)

Livestreams and ‘Star Trek’ geekdom

Chaos reigned for Potter when the pandemic shutdown began in mid-March.

She and her band had just arrived in Vancouver for the second leg of the tour supporting her latest album, “Daylight,” which came out in October. She said she spent considerable money and time choreographing the tour to be “the big roll-out” for the new album, including prominent radio and television appearances.

“It was a pretty big loss for everybody,” Potter said. “The anticipation of this leg of the tour was really heightened.” Abruptly, the tour ended just as it was about to begin.

“I could cry about it and say, ‘Woe is me’ and tell everybody, ‘That’s it,’” Potter said, “or I could completely reinvent my career.”

She turned to something many artists did after the pandemic shut down in-person concerts. She presented weekly livestream performances from her home in southern California and then from Vermont after arriving in mid-June with her husband, record producer Eric Valentine, and their 2-year-old son, Sagan.

Potter was thrilled to be presenting her own livestream performances, with no producer telling her what to do or say.

“The idea of having free reign over a livestream was kind of my dream come true,” she said. “It’s more like a lifestyle hour with a little bit of music wandering through.”

Online viewers would ask her what she was cooking in the kitchen or to play a David Bowie cover. She recently livestreamed from the “Star Trek” replica set just across Lake Champlain in Ticonderoga, New York, displaying her inner science-fiction geek complete with costumes.

She said she realized her fans didn’t know how weird she can be until she broke down the barriers her live performances had created.

“I’m literally on a pedestal when I’m on stage. I as the performer never really thought of it that way. I always thought of it as a collaboration with the audience,” Potter said.

“It was such a gift, a total gift. I think my fans are now perceiving the real me.”

From left, Jackson Browne and Kenny Chesney perform with Grace Potter at Grand Point North in Burlington, VT, on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018.

Grand Point North cancellation

That new connection, Potter said, should reveal itself in her drive-in shows and other future concerts.

“I think people do really know who they’re getting now and there will be more intimacy in these performances,” Potter said, as she has returned to her earthier side after fans saw her “get all polished up when I signed with Hollywood Records,” the Disney-owned label that helped shoot her into national prominence.

Potter will travel on her tour in a pickup truck with Vermont plates bearing her, Valentine and their son while towing a trailer on loan from Pete’s RV Center in South Burlington; Potter will leave her bubble only to perform. She’ll play solo at all of the shows except the Vermont gigs, where her longtime Burlington-based guitarist, Benny Yurco, will join her.

Benny Yurco and Grace Potter performs at Grand Point North in Burlington, VT, on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018.

The shows are important for her, Potter said, as the songs on “Daylight” deal in part with her divorce from her former drummer, Matt Burr. Playing those songs allows Potter to heal, and that healing was interrupted when the second leg of her tour was canceled.

“I don’t think people realize what live music does for them,” Potter said, “until they don’t have it.”

The tour will not be lucrative, according to Potter. “Honestly, economically, nobody’s making any money. Everybody’s losing their shirt on this,” she said. “It’s a public service.”

She’s upset that her annual Vermont party – the two-day Grand Point North festival held at Waterfront Park in Burlington every September – won’t be happening this year. Next month’s event would have been the 10th annual, and Potter planned for special guests, including one reflecting her interest in all things outer space, former International Space Station astronaut Jessica Meir.

But she’s excited to see her fans in-person again after five months away, and after reintroducing herself through her livestreams.

“This COVID thing has taught me how to find my audience, or my audience to find me,” she said. “We find each other.”

If you go

WHAT: Grace Potter

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8 and Sunday, Aug. 9

WHERE: The Higher Ground Drive-In Experience, Champlain Valley Exposition, Essex Junction

INFORMATION: $150 for a vehicle with up to four people. www.highergroundmusic.com

On tour

Grace Potter will play a series of drive-in-styled, socially distanced shows throughout the Northeast, starting in Vermont and including:

Thursday, Aug. 13 – Hi-Way Drive-In Theater, Coxsackie, New York

Saturday, Aug. 15 – Ridgefield Playhouse at Ballard Park, Ridgefield, Connecticut (two shows)

Sunday, Aug. 16 and Monday, Aug. 17 – Blu Grotto, Monmouth Park, Oceanport, New Jersey

Wednesday, Aug. 19 – Cheshire Fairgrounds, Swanzey, New Hampshire

Friday, Aug. 21 – Yarmouth Drive-In, West Yarmouth, Massachusetts

Saturday, Aug. 22 – Lawn at South Farms, Morris, Connecticut

For more information: www.gracepotter.com

Contact Brent Hallenbeck at (802) 660-1844 or bhallenbeck@freepressmedia.com. Follow Brent on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BrentHallenbeck.

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