There was a time, not that long ago, when about the only thing Grace Potter did for fun on the weekends was hang out in record stores.

“When I was in college (at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York), about the only thing to do if you weren’t a fan of the hockey team was to drive to Ottawa and go to the record stores,” said Potter, 26.

Two of Potter’s main record store buddies were Scott Tournet and Matt Burr, who joined her to form a band. That band, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, was named one of the Best New Bands of 2010 by Rolling Stone magazine in March. They have appeared on NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” had a song featured on the hit ABC drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” and did a cover of the Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” for the soundtrack of Tim Burton’s recent blockbuster, “Alice in Wonderland.”

So Potter no longer has to hang out in record stores. Instead, she chooses to.

At 11 a.m. Saturday, Potter will “hang out” at the Bull Moose store in Scarborough long enough to perform a free show for fans as part of the celebration of the third annual Record Store Day.

Record Store Day was conceived by a Mainer — Bull Moose marketing head Chris Brown — and this year will feature free shows, limited-edition recordings and other events at more than 1,400 independent record stores around the world.

It’s a feel-good story and a positive publicity blitz for an industry that has been ravaged by electronic music sales over the past decade.

“In my opinion, it’s the most exciting thing to happen in music retail in a long time,” said Billy Fields, an executive with WEA Corp. in New York, which handles U.S. distribution for Warner Bros., Atlantic, Rhino and several other recording labels. “This has a romantic quality to it that brings people back into physical stores to buy physical things. It reminds people there’s a sense of community related to music and culture that you can only find in a record store.”

Part of the event’s success can be attributed to the fact that so many performers — including some industry superstars — have embraced it and are willing to help promote it.

Potter, who lives in central Vermont and calls Burlington her home city, jumped at the chance to be involved. In fact, after doing a show at the Bull Moose record store with Nocturnals bandmate Benny Yurco on Saturday morning, she’ll drive the four-plus hours back to Burlington to do a Record Store Day show there.

“Our band was built on the value of record stores,” Potter said. “When we started selling records, we found a community among record stores that just felt like home for us.”

Around the country, dozens if not hundreds, of musicians will be playing free Record Store Day shows. Most are not huge names, although Martin Sexton at Newbury Comics in Boston is pretty well known, as are Potter and her group.

But there will also be more than 150 limited-release or special recordings released by labels specifically for sale at participating stores on Record Store Day, and some of those carry big names.

Warner Bros., for instance, is releasing more than a dozen vinyl albums and singles of unique original material or classic re-mastered material.

There’s a new vinyl version of songs from Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” recorded by the Flaming Lips, Stardeath and White Dwarfs, and Henry Rollins and Peaches. There’s a 12-inch single of the song “Fresh” by Devo, and the band will be appearing at a record store in Indio, Calif., to sign the records.

Brown came up with the idea for Record Store Day when he was chairman of the board of Music Monitor Network, a collective of about 100 independent record stores that band together to work on marketing and strategy.

He just wanted to put together a “fun” day that would shine a spotlight on stores like Bull Moose. But the idea caught on fast with stores both in and out of the collective, and with major bands and labels. Metallica signed on to kick off the first Record Store Day at a store in San Francisco.

“Everyone loved the idea, and it caught on faster than any of us thought it would,” Brown said. “Billy Bragg read about it before the first one happened, and he went to his favorite store in London and said he wanted to do a show.”

Last year, Bull Moose in Scarborough landed Ani DiFranco for an in-store performance.

Being 26, Potter grew up with plenty of electronic ways to buy music, but has always preferred to buy physical discs at a record store. That may be because as she was growing up, her parents ran a business where they put together multi-media slide shows for events ranging from weddings to the 1980 Winter Olympics, and had lots of records hanging around the house for use on soundtracks.

So Potter grew up listening to everyone from Dr. John to Lowell George, and from Led Zeppelin to Gordon Lightfoot.

Potter’s sound represents that sort of eclectic upbringing. Her songs can be rousing, raucous and bluesy, or slow, powerful and bluesy. Sort of like Janis Joplin meets the Rolling Stones, or Bonnie Raitt playing an organ instead of a guitar.

Potter plays both guitar and piano, but started playing organ on stage instead of piano because her bandmates wanted her to have an instrument as loud as her voice.

The band formed in 2002, and by 2006, they were playing big gigs like the Bonnaroo Festival. They were on a major label, Hollywood Records, by 2007. So they are not technically a new band, as the Rolling Stone mention might indicate.

But they are new to the kind of star status they are approaching.

“The mention didn’t hit me until I was cruising around in Burlington and a young, fresh-faced kid shouts out, ‘Congratulations on Rolling Stone, you guys finally made it,’ ” Potter said.

And where did making it land them?

Right back in the record store.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]