Two women approached my cab as I sat idling in front of Nectar’s on Main Street in Burlington. It was Saturday, the second night of Grace Potter’s two-day music festival, Grand Point North, at Waterfront Park. The thing had wrapped up about an hour earlier, and it seemed that every one of the few thousand attendees had walked up the hill to the downtown area, intent on keeping the fun going postconcert. The whole town was, in a word, rocking.
“Heidi, you get in this cab. I got the fare. How much, cabbie? She lives just off Five Corners.”
Before I could reply, Heidi said, “Seriously, Diane? Do you think I’m gonna let you pay? The cabbie can take me to an ATM. I got this covered.”
I’ve witnessed this scenario countless times — I’m paying/No way, I’m paying — and, as entertaining as it was, my sole concern was getting the show on the road. The night was busy, and I don’t make money unless my right foot is on the accelerator. “It’s 15 bucks,” I announced, trying to convey my impatience in the tone of my voice.
Diane was not backing down. “Forget about it, hon,” she insisted, taking her friend’s arm and shepherding her into the backseat of my cab. Smiling and shaking her head, Heidi said, “I’m gonna get you for this. Mark my word.”
Diane walked around to my open window and handed me a 20 and two ones, saying, “You get my girl here home safe and sound — you got it? I’ll remember your cab, and I’ll come kill ya if anything goes wrong.”
“Nope, that won’t be necessary,” I replied, chuckling. “I’ll take good care of her, I promise.”
“Oh, my God,” Heidi said as we ascended the Main Street hill, “it’s so amazing to get out for a night. I have a 2-year-old daughter at home with my husband, so this is a rare occurrence.”
“Good for you, getting out and having some fun,” I said.
“Are you a Grace Potter fan?” she asked, leaning forward in her seat.
“How could you not be?” I replied. “Grace and her band are totally, crazy awesome. Were you at the concert tonight?”
“I sure was. I’ve seen the band more than a dozen times. I pretty much go to all their Vermont shows. Well, it’s gotten a little complicated with the baby. Anyway, I’ve seen them in Johnson and even St. Johnsbury. Have you seen the band live, too?”
“Oh, yeah, a bunch of times. When the band was first getting launched — maybe five, six years ago — they were booked at Nectar’s every Tuesday night this one January. I went to every show. I couldn’t believe how polished Grace was on stage at such a young age. It felt like the second coming of Bonnie Raitt, or even Janis Joplin. Then, last year, one of my regular customers comped me to the waterfront festival — with VIP tickets, no less! His company was the main sponsor, and I got to hang out in the VIP tent and eat all this great free food. Proving again, I guess, that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
Conversation doesn’t get more fun than this: two fans of an artist comparing notes. As we got off the highway onto Route 15, I asked, “So how do you come down on the big question? Some of Grace’s early fans think she’s ‘sold out,’ or something, in order to make it big. Like, they point to how she glams it up now and goes for a more commercial sound.”
“Well, that’s a good question,” my customer replied. “I have to say, I do prefer her earlier recordings — the more bluesy, soulful stuff. But I heard Grace interviewed where she said that she’s always been a rocker at heart. So I guess she’s making the music with her band that she always wanted to make. And you can’t fault her for that.”
“Yeah, I heard the same thing. She once said that when she was being courted by the big record labels, one of the executives told her that, with their help, she could be the next Norah Jones. What they didn’t know, she explained, is that she didn’t want to be the next Norah Jones; she wanted to be the next Robert Plant!”
“That’s great,” Heidi said. “I think I heard that. Anyway, if you really love a performer, you have to let her grow and be creative. You might not like every direction she takes, but an artist needs to express herself, don’t you agree?”
“Absolutely. And I myself think there’s nothing wrong in Gracie using her great looks and sex appeal. It’s show business, for crying out loud. It’s performance — why not use everything you got? But I think the real key to her success is, like you were touching on, her incredibly fertile creativity. Did you happen to see the PBS special she did where the band got to spend a day at Sun Studio in Memphis, where Elvis first recorded?”
“No, I don’t think I heard about that.”
“Well, during the session, Grace composes a brand-new song, and you get to watch it happen in real time. I think she names the tune ‘Elvis Was a Rebel,’ or something like that. And then the band learns it and records it right before our eyes. It was incredible. The girl is just so prolific.”
In the rearview, I watched a smile spread over Heidi’s face. She said, “And the best part is, she’s our girl, isn’t she? In, like, every interview, she’s always talking about Vermont, about her roots, and how it keeps her grounded and makes her the performer she is.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, “and, like, she’s always doing benefits for Vermont causes.”
“Yup,” Heidi said, “like raising money for rebuilding after the hurricane. What did they call the concert? It was something real cool.”
“Good Night, Irene,” I replied. “Yup, I didn’t get to go to the concert at the Flynn, I guess it was, but I saw it live broadcast on TV.”
Heidi directed me to her home on East Street, off River Road. “What did you name your daughter?” I asked, pulling into the driveway.
“We named her Virginia. It’s real old fashioned, I know, but we both just loved the name. Everyone calls her Ginny.”
“So when will you take Ginny to see Gracie in concert?”
Heidi laughed. “I don’t think next summer will be too soon, do you? Never too early for a girl to get her rock and roll on.”
?“Hackie” is a biweekly column. To reach Jernigan Pontiac, email firstname.lastname@example.org.