Three-time Grammy nominee Grace Potter said growing up in The Valley and attending Harwood Union High School helped set her on her path. “This really happened at Harwood,” she said, citing teachers such as Gretchen Stahl, Diane Phillips, and David Munford as inspiration for what became a very successful music career. “Thanks to some teachers recognizing I was a bit of an oddball.”
Potter, who grew up legally blind, struggled with grades and fitting in at school, but began to find her place at Harwood in the music, art and theater departments, where she acted and designed sets. “The musical always played a huge role in my year,” she said. Her senior year, she starred as Sally Bowles in ‘Cabaret.’ “It changed my life.”
When the Common Ground Café opened in the school’s lobby, Potter painted it bright terra cotta orange. She and her friends invited musicians to play in the café, including Tammy Fletcher and Greg Douglass. “We threw a reggae festival!”
HELPED FIND HER PASSION
She said Harwood’s teachers and administration helped her find her passion. “It really was that feeling of support. Teachers took me under their wing” and made her feel like “there was a place for me, I had potential. They believed in me and it’s so important to have people believe in you … I’m really glad I was given as many chances as I was.”
After high school, she spent a gap year working at American Flatbread in Waitsfield and painting houses with her sister while deciding what was next. During that year in The Valley, she turned to her music, made a lot of demos and even an album in a barn on North Fayston Road. She realized that she could use her musical talents to get into college. “That was a pivotal moment. My music opened doors.”
She studied film at St. Lawrence University, where she met drummer Matt Burr, her former bandmate and ex-husband, who tried for a while to get her to play music with him. She finally relented after another Harwood alum and musician, Cory Beard, transferred to St. Lawrence and his father asked Potter to help him transition to the new school. “That was how the Nocturnals started,” she said. “It was only Cory’s dad pleading with me to help him get settled in and find his footing” that created the band that would become Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. “The only slot we could get at the Java House was the 2 a.m. slot,” she said, which inspired the band’s name.
The band recorded three albums before Potter released her solo album “Midnight” in 2015 and subsequently “Daylight” in 2019. The latter album garnered two Grammy Award nominations, for Best Rock Album and Best Rock Performance. Potter had previously been nominated for Best Country Duo/Group with Kenny Chesney in 2011.
She said she has an album in development now and is interested in dabbling in film. “I’m so lucky in my career to have found success,” she said. “I’m exploring some of the things that got left behind.”
She and her husband bought a farm in Waitsfield a few years ago, where they are building a recording studio. “We’re converting a beautiful barn in what is our dream scenario.” She called it a “creative playhouse,” which is currently under construction. “It’s a fun project for me. I’m basically just a general contractor in a rock star’s body,” she said.
“I’ve traveled the entire world. Coming back to the Mad River Valley and watching it change … it was a huge revelation for me, coming back to Vermont. To actually come here as an adult and mother, I see how special the Mad River Valley is, Harwood was [for me], how fundamental those experiences were. It’s a reflection of how lucky we all are to live in this place.”