Grace Potter at Virgin Mobile FreeFest 2011
Grace Potter at Virgin Mobile FreeFest 2011 (Josh Sisk/Special to the Baltimore Sun)

I went to see Stevie Nicks the other week, and she was predictably great, enveloping the audience in her magic, as usual, if without the agitated brio of her heyday.

I was thinking of Stevie as I watched Grace Potter and the Nocturnals perform on the pavilion stage Saturday. They're both brassy blondes with a penchant for soulful turns of phrases and old-fashioned rock, in particular the music of the early 70s.

Only, if Stevie's favorite on-stage move is to play with her shawl, Potter's is to play with her hair. She throws it around like she wants to get rid of it, like it's in the middle of a wind tunnel.


The hair-tossing is one of several rock affectations Potter tries on during her live-shows. She's also a manic guitarist, especially on songs that play direct homage to classic rock 'n' roll ("Stop the Bus") and a furious, head-banging player of her Hammond organ (see "Only Love.")

But, rock is not her only register.

In fact, since their start as a a traditional, meat-and-potatoes rock outfit, Potter and her band have moved to explore other genres, most recently, flirting with country music. Last year, she recorded a duet, "You and Tequila," withKenny Chesney.

On Saturday, both sides were on display, though, the Chesney duet, which would have been woefully out of place here, did not make an appearance.

She underplayed "Goodbye Kiss," a twangy ballad covering time-honored country territory: unrequited love. Another ballad, "Apologies," came across as demure, and all the more moving because of it.

As a country singer, she's grittier, and more fashionable than most; think a country singer in the body of Sienna Miller. But flitting between rock and country suits her. Like Stevie, she's a fungible stage presence, uncomfortable pegged to one genre.

It's worth noting that Potter and the singer who followed her on the pavilion, Patti Smith - who was in fine form, both singing and sermonizing beautifully from stage - are outliers at FreeFest on two counts. They're traditionalists rockers at a festival dominated by dance and club music.

And, they were the only women on this year's bill.

Set list:

Ah Mary
Only Love
Goodbye Kiss
Stop The Bus
Nothing But the Water