Grace Potter plays every concert like it’s an arena show.
The Vermont singer and frontwoman for The Nocturnals has been playing for an ever- expanding audience in recent years. Three years ago she played a show at People’s Court. Last year she played the main stage at the 80/35 Music Festival and earlier this year she played for huge crowds as a part of Kenny Chesney’s tour. This week she returns to Des Moines as a part of the Nitefall on the River series.
“I have a friend who said that even when we were playing bars 10 years ago I was performing like there were 15,000 people there,” Potter said during a phone interview. “I always acted like it was a big thing, even when there were 10 people in the audience. Every show we play like it’s our last show ever.”
That includes a lot of outdoor shows in very hot weather. Potter’s stage persona is part Janis Joplin, part Tina Turner, shaking and dancing around the stage in micro-skirts almost non stop. Potter said she hardly feels the temperature when she’s on stage. If the heat is unbearable she’ll just dump a water bottle over her head and keep moving.
“When I’m really worked up I’d rather fall down from heat stroke than stop dancing,” Potter said.
Potter’s career has been full of some unexpected highs lately. Last year she had a top 10 country hit with Chesney, “You and Tequila.” Every girl under the age of 12 knows her song “Something I Want” from the soundtrack to “Tangled.” But with The Nocturnals she has a unique sound that appeals more to blues rock and jam fans. She’s hard to pin down, especially if you’re just looking at one segment of her career.
“I think it’s more about being a leader and faithfully taking a dive into any and every direction,” Potter said of her style. “If I wanted to be a success I could make the same stupid record over and over again, never growing or progressing, but living a stable, safe life.
“Risking everything is what rock and roll is all about. I always want to take the left hand way from what people expect. After working with Kenny (Chesney) people thought I should make a country album. But I like to challenge the fans, I don’t want to follow them.”
So instead of going the country route she recorded “The Lion the Beast the Beat” with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. It’s straight-ahead bluesy rock, the kind of album you would expect from an Auerbach collaboration, but not what you might have expected from Potter.
And that’s the way Potter wants to keep taking things. Earlier this year she recorded a loungy cover of “Fly Me to the Moon” for the TV show “Pan Am.” She recently finished recording a song with Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips for an upcoming Tim Burton movie.
“I’ve got a lot of other weird side projects and strange excursions into wild terrain,” Potter said. “I think we need to come with a disclaimer, like the surgeon general’s warning: ‘This band is not what you think we are.’ That’s what makes it fun.”
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Simon Estes Amphitheater, Robert D. Ray Drive and Locust Street.
Cost: $20 in advance, $25 at the door.