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Grace Potter returns to Roanoke for Berglund Center parking lot concert

Grace Potter returns to Roanoke for Berglund Center parking lot concert

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In a normal timeline, this article about Grace Potter would have appeared in July 2020, before FloydFest, where Potter was scheduled for a return after several years away.

In the COVID-19 timeline, this article about Potter appears now, to set up her concert in Berglund Center's parking lot, where grids will be drawn to keep people physically distant, under public health guidelines. In this timeline, Potter's short run of performances is her first time on the road since the virus consumed the live entertainment business. 

Potter described the months in-between with a term known scientifically as “epididymal hypertension.”

“It was the worst,” Potter said by phone from the road. “You’ve got to find your flow, and every tour is like a total restart of your engines. As I changed so much in my life and become a mom and took this huge break from music in which I wasn’t sure if I was ever gonna come back, the amount of energy that it had taken to just get to that point of booking all these shows … you get yourself worked into a lather for the whole thing.

“It’s like the worst case of rock ’n’ roll blue balls ever, you know?”

Release has come on a run of shows that began in Florida on April 22 and found her exultant in a social media post last weekend.

“This whole tour is bringing me back to my roots,” she wrote. “I'm connecting with the audience in new and profound ways. These shows are not just performances; they are conversations. This is why I got into music. Thank you!”

Such experiences are directly attributable to the enforced break, she said from her recreational vehicle, parked on Monday in Birmingham, Alabama. Potter, a small town Vermont native, felt it necessary to resume her career the way she had started it, as a solo act.

“When I started out as a young songwriter, I was really confident in myself as a performer, because I had never considered … that I would need a backing band or a production or anything.

“What I had seen growing up in Vermont was these singer/songwriters that would come through town, like Chris Smither or Bruce Cockburn or Shawn Colvin, or even some of my heroes, like Townes Van Zandt, and Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.

“You can do incredible things with one person, and you can share your spirit and feel like you’ve had a real connection with an audience in such a singular way, that it didn’t really occur to me to look for a band. And so I forgot how much I trusted myself on stage.”

She still loves a rocking band behind her, and a rock-style production surrounding her. 

“So while we can’t orchestrate that, you know, we’ve invited in a whole other level of creativity, and it’s brought out the performer in me, in a totally new way. The audiences have been incredible. I really feel connected to my fans.”

When she started the tour, she asked them to make requests for her to build her set lists. Ultimately, that didn't work, because she was reading her crowds in the way that the best performers do, and following their lead in constructing her sets and taking those requests in real time. She's playing the occasional number from three albums worth of material she has written on the COVID break.

She has even written new songs onstage during this tour — her husband, producer Eric Valentine, is recording every show — and she has pulled cover songs out of thin air.

A Tennessee venue's COVID-related term for social distancing, “safe sound squares,” sparked her to one off-the-cuff cover jam, she said.

“For some reason it made me laugh so hard, I got the song ‘Safety Dance’ in my head, and I didn’t really know how that song goes, but I just faked it till suddenly everybody was dancing and we were doing the ‘Safety Dance,’” she said. “It was a hilarious moment, and now I think I’m going to have to work that song into the set, because it’s just so appropriate for the times.”

Speaking of era-appropriate, Potter and Valentine have a young child, and he is touring with them in the RV. She was watching them splash around in parking lot puddles as she discussed the tour and recalled fun times during many past concert stops in Roanoke, often alcohol-fueled.

“It’s just a really, really special town,” Potter said. “This time, I'm with my family, so hopefully it will be a more wholesome experience, but I’ll probably still have a real good time.”

“I'm driving the RV myself, and it makes it a more intimate experience, so we can really feel like we’re in control and we have a lot more say over how life is gonna flow and how life feels. So it doesn’t feel like quite such a grind. I’ve been able to really embrace each experience and have deeper and more memorable experiences in each place we’ve been, because it's just us. And I'm sober, because I’ve gotta drive.”

A safer timeline on two levels.

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