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Grace Potter feels the vibe

Her fans will certainly get a good look at Grace Potter when the glamorous rocker takes the stage at Buffalo’s compact Town Ballroom on Sunday night.

But Potter won’t see much of them. You’d never guess it from watching her perform, but the 32-year-old singer, songwriter and guitarist is legally blind.

She sees shapes and colors and the outlines of faces.

“I can look out at an audience and see what color your hair is, or whether you wear glasses, but I can’t see your eyes or the expression on your face,” Potter said. “I can’t see if someone is in a bad mood, or enjoying the show, or mad at their girlfriend or boyfriend. I can’t see any of that stuff.”

She does feel, though, that her eye problems give her a better sense of how audiences react to her music. The audience reaction comes to her in waves and vibrations that she can hear and feel.

Lately, audiences are feeling pretty good about Potter, her band and their music. Her latest album, “Midnight,” has garnered strong reviews. The band is much in demand. “We’ll play about 180 concerts this year,” Potter said, speaking from a Los Angeles recording studio in a recent phone interview.

Over the summer, Potter opened a couple of concerts for the Rolling Stones, joining Mick Jagger on vocals for the killer song “Gimme Shelter.”

Potter recently returned from the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, where she visited American troops with first lady Michelle Obama and comedian Conan O’Brien. She played a huge concert on an air base, with a band that included O’Brien on guitar. She said she was humbled by the experience of meeting hundreds of service men and women.

“We stayed in the dorms where the soldiers live, and talked with a lot of them,” Potter said. “It was an amazing experience, meeting these people who are making such a sacrifice for their country. It’s not the easy life, I’ll tell you that.”

Potter grew up in a small town in Vermont, where she discovered her love of rock music by listening to her parents’ huge collection of albums. “At first, I was just fascinated by the album covers,” she said. “I loved the cover of the Beatles’ ‘Rubber Soul,’ the Led Zeppelin album with the little kids crawling around, King Crimson, Jethro Tull album covers. And that led me to the music.”

Potter sang in choirs as a child and people were surprised by her big voice.

“When people would hear me sing, they would say, ‘You’re from Vermont? You sound like someone from a Southern gospel choir,” she said.

She wrote songs and sang in clubs when she attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, which is also where she met drummer Matthew Burr, who became her longtime musical collaborator and – in 2013 – her husband. Their band has released five albums since 2005.

Known for blistering guitar work on rock songs like “Paris (Ooh-La-La),” Potter also shines on ballads, especially the poignant “Stars,” a song about a lost friend that brings the house down at every concert.

“Stars” is hard for her to sing, but Potter said it means the world to her.

“It’s about a friend I grew up with, a really special talented, amazing person I really looked up to,” Potter said. “About five years ago, while I was on tour, she took her own life. When I got to my hometown, I started writing this song. It just poured out of me in five minutes. I found myself sobbing. It was just such a sad loss for me.”

Potter said she also loves to inject fun and sex appeal into her live shows. Although serious about her music and the creative process, the beautiful blonde – who designs clothing and has been featured in a number of fashion magazines – fully realizes that her glamorous look helps fill the seats at her concerts.

“It’s not something that bothers me. I have loved fashion and glamour since I was a little girl,” she said. “For me, glamour is not a job, it’s a choice. You have to strike the right balance between the music and the glamour. If you do it right, it can really work to your advantage.”

Potter writes almost all of her own music, but likes to sprinkle her shows with surprise cover songs, such as the Stones’ “Wild Horses,” Elton John’s “Rocket Man” or Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.” She sings, dances and plays several different guitars, in addition to piano, clavinette and rhythm instruments. Her vocal style has been compared to Bonnie Raitt and the late Janis Joplin.

She and her band rocked the Town Ballroom to its rafters when they last played there on a sweltering night in September 2013, and the band also played a well-received show at Artpark in July.

Asked how she would describe her music to an outsider, Potter said it isn’t easy to categorize.

There are elements of rock, soul and the blues in her music, Potter said, and she is also inspired by country singers such as Loretta Lynn and the late Patsy Cline.

One of her friends calls it “cosmic boogie,” Potter said with a laugh. “To me, the best way to describe it is rock ’n’ roll.”

email: dherbeck@buffnews,com


Who: Grace Potter

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 6

Where: Town Ballroom, 681 Main St.

Tickets: $31-$35


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