Grammy-nominated country singer Kenny Chesney has been featuring an unusual element on his concert tour with Tim McGraw this summer. It's not a fledgling fellow country musician opening their show, but indie-rockers Grace Potter & the Nocturnals.
Instead of earthy harmonies and slide guitar, Potter wields a Flying V Gibson, screams like a banshee when the urge strikes, and leads a band that won't be mistaken for Rascal Flatts anytime soon by the surprised if not intrigued country fans filling the stadiums.
"Overall it's positive, but I do think there's a lot of baffled people," Potter says during a recent telephone interview from California. "I look on some people's faces and there's a look of utter confusion. And I look on other people's faces and there's pure joy and they're dancing around like crazy."
Potter and her Nocturnals – guitarists Benny Yurco and Scott Tournet, drummer Matt Burr, and bassist Michael Libramento – travel a road familiar to many outsider musicians who, at one point or another, found themselves on Music Row in Nashville, Tenn.
Bob Dylan switched directions way back in 1969. More recently, so have Darius Rucker, Robert Plant, Bon Jovi, Nelly, Kid Rock, and Lionel Richie, among others.
For Potter, it started with a phone call out of the blue from Chesney, whom she had never met, asking whether she would be interested in singing together. Potter downloaded a demo track and thus began her unexpected foray into country music.
"Within the first three words of the song, I was in love," she says. "A couple of days later, I flew down to Nashville, and the rest is history," meaning a duo-recorded Grammy nominated hit song.
Potter's recent genre-hopping all but makes her a one-woman iPod shuffle. She captures the range of rock and country on her band's new album, "The Lion The Beast The Beat." The deluxe edition features duets with both Chesney ("Stars") and Willie Nelson ("Ragged Company").
R&B legend Stevie Wonder, pop-soul hitmaker Daryl Hall, and guitar hero Joe Satriani have all shared stages with Potter in recent years. Of late, Potter has been writing with Wayne Coyne, front man for psychedelic rockers The Flaming Lips. Their charge: making music for a Tim Burton Disney movie, a mash-up of styles emblematic of what Potter and her band mates see as a crucial ingredient for success.
"It just goes to show that [when it comes to] genre and music, it's not about putting something in a box and categorizing it," she says. "It's about finding your own sound within it and being true to a song."