Grace Potter has a simple way to measure whether she and her band, The Nocturnals, had a good run this summer when they were on tour with country superstars Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw.

“We haven’t had any beer bottles thrown at us,” said Potter, 29. “When I walk out and see people’s faces, there’s everything from horror to wonder, from people singing every single word to people shaking their heads. Fan’s aren’t stupid — they know we’re not country, we’re a rock band. It’s a mixed bag.”

And that’s really what Grace Potter and The Nocturnals have been musically since they began gaining national attention about five years ago.

They’re a rock band, of that’s there no doubt. But the music also has lots of blues, folk, hard rock and even country rolled into it. Potter can belt like Janis Joplin and pound out some wild notes on the Hammond organ as well.

So while some of the band’s fans might find it odd for it to be playing a country stadium tour, Potter says it’s all part of its musical and career growth.

“This is our first time playing stadiums, so it’s really been a learning experience,” said Potter, who grew up and still lives in the Mad River Valley area of Vermont. “And our new record (‘The Lion the Beast the Beat’) is all over the place, which is exactly where we’ve been.”

Potter and The Nocturnals will be in a familiar place next week when they play the State Theatre in Portland on Wednesday and Thursday. (Thursday’s show sold out so quickly, the Wednesday show was added to appease disappointed fans).

The band has played Portland several times during the past few years, including a free show at Bull Moose Music in Scarborough on Record Store Day in 2010. Band members will do a CD signing at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Bull Moose store in Portland, but they are not scheduled to perform at the store.

Being from Vermont, Potter was familiar with Portland anyway. But by playing here over the years, she has discovered how much she loves the city’s vaunted food scene. She raved about a meal at Fore Street, where she remembered dining on chicken prepared with “something really crazy, like caramelized kumquats.”

“I’m a big foodie, and I have very fond memories of the food there,” said Potter. “This time, I really want to go heavy on seafood. I’m looking for some oysters.”

Both the band’s stadium tour and the new album came about at least partly because Potter and her bandmates wanting to collaborate with other musicians. Potter sang a duet with Chesney called “You and Tequila” that became a hit on the country charts last year, and that led to the tour with Chesney and McGraw.

The song happened simply because Chesney sent it to Potter and asked her to do it. And she liked it.

“The Lion the Beast the Beat,” the follow-up to the band’s 2010 self-titled breakthrough album, was released in June and peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard 200, the band’s highest-charting record to date.

It was meant to be a concept album, where all the songs make perfect sense when listened to together. And they do, especially given that several are high-energy tunes and feature Potter really reaching down into her gut for her vocal delivery. (Though she nails a soft song or two as well.)

The new album also features three songs that were co-written with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. Potter said she liked working with Auerbach because of his “geeky” knowledge of music, which reminded her of her days as a teen hanging out in record stories listening to everything she could.

“He’s a really good listener, and what I mean is, he’s got this plethora of music on his iPod that is just amazing,” said Potter. “He’s like a librarian when it comes to his knowledge of music. I grabbed his iPod and geeked out to it some myself.”

Potter and her band have been together since 2002, when Potter was still in her teens. So in her mind, they’ve had a slow and steady buildup to get to where they are today — opening for country superstars, headlining theater shows, playing the occasional late-night TV talk show.

“You know, we’re still having fun,” Potter said. “We’re not tired of anything yet, and I think that’s because we didn’t have that overnight success some bands have. Some bands have that one big hit and then nothing to back it up. It would be easy to bite down on the first bad pop song offered to you, but we clearly don’t want to do that.” 

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

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