Grace Potter road trip selfie.

During the summer of 2021, singer-songwriter Grace Potter felt the call of the wild and hit the road for a series of cross-country road trips, during which the songs from her new album, “Mother Road,” emerged – songs she’ll be playing Friday when she performs at the State Theatre in Portland.

Potter drove across the country, primarily on Route 66, three times – once with her husband and young son – between her homes in California and Vermont. On those trips, she met a diverse cast of characters and also did some life-changing soul-searching that helped her write and get ideas for “Mother Road’s” 10 tracks.

A follow-up to the double Grammy-nominated 2019 “Daylight,” the new album is Potter’s fifth solo release. She also put out four albums as part of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.

“Mother Road” is a rocking, swampy, bluesy treasure trove, with songs like “Ready Set Go,” “Good Time,” “Lady Vagabond” and “Masterpiece.” Guitar licks, piano grooves and Potter’s commanding vocals make for a tremendous listening experience as she sings about police encounters, cheap hotels, boozy nights and deconstructing the American dream.

The name of the album was inspired by listening to the audiobook of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” during one of those drives. Steinbeck referred to Route 66 as the “mother of all roads … the road of flight.”

In a conversation from California, Potter talked about the making of “Mother Road,” turning 40, and the feelings she has onstage.


Cover of the Grace Potter album “Mother Road.” Photo by Grace Potter, image courtesy of Fantasy Records

How does it feel to play “Mother Road” songs live?

It’s so cathartic. It’s a strange catharsis, though, because they meant something really deep and dark when they were being written. And now it feels like a celebration of being free from the burden of the struggle that I felt when I was driving. It was a hard moment in my life, and I look back at it like a high school yearbook. It’s not like suddenly I’m fixed, certainly not. I talk about that a lot onstage and there’s a bit of fun banter and storytelling and exploring how the songs relate to the audience.

What did you listen to, if anything, during all those hours driving?

I was listening to John Steinbeck. I started with “The Grapes of Wrath” then went into “East of Eden” on one of them and then “Travels with Charley” for the last road trip. There was also just my own stories going on in my head. So there’s a lot of silence there. And then if it was 4 in the morning, and I was about to run out of gas, and I had to just get to the gas station before the sun rose and the spell was broken, I’d put on Van Halen, and just blast it, or like Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath and just head bang.

Grace Potter finds a couch on the Hermit Trail. Photo by Grace Potter

Can you share with me a moment during your travels when a song, or idea for a song, came to you?

One that comes to mind because the visuals were so vivid is a song I was writing called “Slow Way Home.” I was on a street called Hermit Trail, an all-terrain vehicle track, just outside Barstow (California) and this crater I was trying to get out to that day. I got sidetracked onto a dirt road and there were abandoned burned out vehicles and a sofa in this gorgeous place.


It seems like significant attention was put into the track sequencing on the album. Can you unpack that?

It was all about the emotional arc that I felt I had gone on, even though that’s not the order in which the songs were written. I wanted to present them from the perspective of the reflection, so it had to start earnest and then get ridiculous. And then you see my true colors. By the end of the album, I’ve just completely unfurled into the beast that I am

You turned 40 last summer. How’s that feeling?

That was a big transformation. I was afraid of it before it happened, but now that it’s happened, I love 40. I was clinging to my 30s and scared of what the 40s would mean, but I think the 30s was actually the scary decade, by far.

You’ve been a touring musician for more than 20 years and have spent so much time on tour. What’s the feeling in your heart when you step out on the stage and start the first song?

I’m feeling powerful, I’m feeling purposeful, and I’m feeling the momentum of 20 years of waiting to be OK. And you know, I’m not always OK. When I get on stage, it’s all bets are off, and no promises made. But the show is divine. It’s a completely evolved experience and it really is about the audience. There’s an openness and an invitation for everybody that shows up, and it is never the same show twice. The crowd can help steer the ship, but I’m also just comfortable. This is what I do. I’ve worked these muscles for a long time, and I’m extremely comfortable being uncomfortable in front of people.

Grace Potter with Brittney Spencer
8 p.m. Friday. State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland, $49.50 in advance, $55 day of show, $174.50 VIP.

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