Grace Potter On Taking Her Act Solo, Festivals, and Coming Into Her Own as a Woman In Music
The musician, songwriter, and founder of Grand Point North music festival is using her experiences to enlighten her next steps—and yours.
You might not have heard Grace Potter's voice on repeat on the radio ad nauseam, but trust that if you stumbled across her performing at Bonnaroo, you'd take notice. The Vermont-native grew up—like many kids who found solace in a walkman or boombox, or in her case, listening at the local farmer's market—with the dream of becoming a musician. She didn't dream of recording studios, though; Potter first became enamored with music for the live performances.
"My whole musical experience started and was cultivated based on the live show," says Potter. "And by live show, I mean I was playing farmer's markets and craft fairs and slowly moved my way into playing bars, cafes, and restaurants... and, ultimately, people started noticing."
Fast forward, and she's channeled that passion for live music into a venture much grander than her and a guitar in the corner of a coffee shop: Potter is now in her ninth year producing the Grand Point North music festival, a two-day event (that she headlines herself) celebrated every September in Burlington, Vermont. (BTW, did you know that listening to music makes you more active?)
This year, her life won't calm down post-festival (not that it's ever calm, considering the mom still tours regularly and has a 20-month-old son, Sagan, at home)—but she's due to release her fourth album, "Daylight," at the end of October, four years after her last (titled "Midnight"). This record marks a return to her "naive teenage" sound, as she calls it, after a tumultuous period of life (namely the dissolve of her marriage and her band, The Nocturnals) in which she had "fallen out of love with music," as she wrote in an Instagram post. The result? Honest and raw lyrics that are just as cathartic for the listener as they were for Potter to write them. She's emerged ~into the light~ with some storied, badass energy and an immense urge to share.
Here, Potter talks about her journey to into music, balancing life as a female entrepreneur, mom, and musician, and shares some priceless lessons she's learned along the way.
Sometimes, you just need a push.
"I really wanted to be a film major and I'd been studying it in college, but it really felt like the momentum was moving in a musical direction for me. Finally, my college advisor actually called my parents and said, 'I don't think there's anything more for her at this school. I think she's gotten everything she can out of her college education, and you should just let her take a couple of years and see what happens with the music stuff.'
So, yeah, this really unorthodox chain of events led me to the touring life. It was super grassroots. I had no idea what I was doing. I was flying by the seat of my pants and relying on friends and family to help me out and managing and booking shows. Slowly, I think it caught on, and soon people would be flying up [to Vermont] from New York to watch me play at these tiny bars."
Start feeling like you've made it—but start now.
"At any given moment in my life, I think I'm doing great. Even when I was painting houses and waitressing. I've always had this inner dialogue with myself that I'm in the right spot and that I'm doing what I should be doing. Whenever the alarms go off in my head saying, 'this is not where you should be' and 'this is not where you belong,' I instantly acknowledge it and listen to that voice because its always seems to always lead me in the right direction." (Related: How to Be As Happy As You Look on Instagram)
The evolving role of women in music.
"I benefit from a lot of years of women paving the way and women have created opportunities for each other in this industry, but alongside that there's a lot of competition. In my formative years, it was really hard to find women who were willing to support another woman. I was really surprised to find that a lot of empowered women took the stance of, 'I worked hard to get my power, don't come in and try to take it from me. Go get your own.'
It's hard to talk about. And it's sad. And it's definitely curved my career in a direction where I never want to do that to another woman. I never want to say, 'I don't have any advice for you; figure it out for yourself.'
I do feel like that has shifted fundamentally in the last few years, though. The women who have always been an inspiration to me, who I love and adore musically have really continued to prove to be wonderful people in my life. They checked in when I had my baby. I got a lot of messages from some amazing people that I hadn't heard from in a really long time. There's definitely a wonderful group of support and supportive women who are there for me now, but I think it took this turning of the tides that we've all been experiencing over the last couple of years for me to really feel it."
On rising from the ashes.
"After the dissolving of my band and my marriage, I found myself in the position of being completely alone and really isolated from everything that I had built my career on, which was my band. It was a very divisive experience but from the ashes of the destruction that I had sort of created or manifested somehow, came the most incredible reaffirmation of my life and who I wanted to be as an embodied woman in the world. I was able to step out of the traumatic parts of all that and into a position of really understanding myself and claiming the gifts I have and the things I've worked for in a way that I never felt confident enough to do before. So I just sort of stepped out of the shadow of that experience. And that's really what this whole record, Daylight, is about." (If you're not a songwriter, don't worry: You can journal to get similar mental and emotional benefits.)
The unique magic of festival performance.
"When my band, The Nocturnals, and I started getting interest from the music industry, our booking agents would say things like, 'we've got to get you into the festivals.' And it's true: You have to be seen in front of people.
When people don't know who you are, but they wander by and listen, that's a discovery. It fulfills the hunter spirit in us as humans because we feel like we've found something really special and rare. Like, 'what are the odds that I would run into this at this place?' It comes back to connect all these incredible positive neurons in our brains."
What sets Grand Point North apart.
"Grand Point Noth is really a tribute to the Vermont way. It's a very outdoors-y place, but it's also an incredibly creative place full of entrepreneurs and people that are inventing things and creating something from nothing and doing it themselves. They're not relying on a cubicle job or a pension plan; there are a lot of risk-takers. The festival was built around celebrating that spirit and highlighting some of the artisans, microbreweries, chefs, and creatives who are going out on a limb to follow what they believe in. And the whole festival has always been in that spirit." (Related: Fitness Festivals Are Basically the New Kind of Music Festivals)
Self-care then and now.
"My self-care ritual has changed a little bit. My favorite moment of the day used to be when I would pour a glass of wine and do my makeup for an hour and a half before a show. I loved it. It was like my favorite thing to do. Now, I've actually cut my makeup/glam time in half and I spend the other half of it playing with my baby instead of worrying about what I look like. But I do still drink the glass of wine." (Related: Self-Care Tips from Wellness Pros)