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Solo life takes a village

Grace Potter performs at the Pemberton Music Festival



When a band splits after a decade, there is a lot of reflection and tons of hope lighting the next steps forward.

Catching up with singer-songwriter Grace Potter as she prepares for Rachael Ray's Feedback Chicago festival, she is full of these things, having left her band Grace Potter & the Nocturnals around 18 months ago.

She says it has been a renewing experience.

"I'm somebody that people may have seen before and they have a sense of my voice and my songwriting in a different context," she says. "At the start of my current tour, about a year-and-a-half ago, there was a whole lot of trepidation, with promoters and concertgoers wondering what it was going to be like. Would it be like a full-on pop show, with fans blowing and backup dancers?

"But once people realized that it did not happen, the concert experience shifted and has grown in an unexpected way. It's dynamic — my band has expanded, not contracted. We've been checking out a new side of ourselves."

The Vermont singer's first solo album, Midnight, was released in 2015. And she confirms that she and the Nocturnals have parted ways; her next album is solo, too.

"I definitely enjoy the styles I've been exploring. I wanted to tap into many different styles of music, whether it's new-wave, punk or Afro-beat... Some of the elements that weren't invited to the party with the Nocturnals," she says.

"I don't like doing anything twice!"

Potter agrees that it takes a village to go solo.

"It's so true. The change in my band membership was one piece, but also I had a shift in my understanding of how many people have played an incredible role in getting me to where I am at," she says.

"There are people who show up and commit their lives, even fans. I woke up yesterday morning to a group of people camping outside my bus with a huge birthday cake they had decorated (it was Potter's 33rd birthday the day before the interview).

"It made me feel that there was really a heartbeat to the contingency of folks who are committing to live music. The concert is more the way that people physically consume music now, I play a small role in a much bigger thing."

Pemberton Music Festival fans will have the chance to make their own connections when Potter performs on Thursday, July 14, at 5:15 p.m.

"I've been gearing up for the full-on festival season. I like the onslaught — it doesn't feel busy when it's a bunch of beautiful outdoor festivals all in a row," she says.

"Occasionally, it is fly-by-night which is the sad thing. We just had that happen in (the Tennessee music festival in) Bonnaroo. Busy is good and the more people you can reach out and connect with, the better."

She's eager to get to this region.

"Two winters ago, my dad was in Pemberton with friends and he tortured me with photos," Potter laughs.

"Once you get out of Vancouver, the landscape is just breathtaking."

Potter takes an interest in politics, though without specifically taking sides in the rancorous atmosphere now pervading America's political life.

For her, it's more about empowering others and human rights.

In the 2016 U.S. election year, her concerts have welcomed Rock the Vote — the organization that registers young voters.

"It is the most volatile and potentially dangerous time politically in our nation in my lifetime," Potter says.

"I'm not really about a candidate as I am about awareness."

In June, Potter took part in A Time for Peace, an event to support human rights, which took place at The Carter Center in Atlanta.

"It was a really powerful experience," she recalls.

"I met some of the most incredible leaders. Terrifyingly smart people — I listened to an African prime minister whose life was put in danger by militants because she was a woman (Sylvie Kinigi of Burundi). To hear the passion, it was beyond eye-opening.

"There's still a ways to go, but there is hope and to join the conversation is the greatest action I can take."

For more information, visit www.pembertonmusicfestival.com.

Pique has more on the Pemberton Music Festival on pages 50, 51 and 58.