Two years ago, I went to see the Big Blues Bender at the Plaza Hotel. In Rock Vegas, I write about it and its creator, AJ Gross. The Big Blues Bender, is as Gross describes it, a “land cruise,” just took place (September 7-10) Gross books over 16 bands that play all over the property in the three-day festival. Buddy Guy, BB King, Marvis Staples and Beth Hart have played the festival. In 2015, I was going to the festival on Saturday night, so I loaded up Spotify with the acts I’d be seeing. I was particularly drawn to Beth Hart.
Do you like rock? Do you like jazz? Blues? Tina Turner? Celine? Put them all together and that’s Beth Hart. Her performance at the Big Blues Bender “land cruise” did not disappoint. Subsequently, I bought all her CD’s (used) at Zia records. She is now my favorite female artist.
Whenever I travel, I look for an opportunity to see a live show. On September 14th, I spoke at the International Festival and Event Association at their annual convention in Tucson. On September 13th, Beth Hart was playing the Rialto Theater. The Rialto Theater is in downtown Tucson and a perfect contrast to Vegas theaters.
As the theater approaches its 100th anniversary in 2020, it hosts 200 events and draws over 100,000 fans annually. In 1930, in addition to “talkies” movies with sound, the theater hosted vaudeville – dance, comedy, and singing – interspersed with newsreels, cartoons, and short-subject silent films, as well as the occasional feature.
The theater was basically dormant until it was renovated in 1996 and began to book contemporary music, including The Band, Black Crowes, Maroon 5, Dave Chapelle, String Cheese Incident, White Stripes, Modest Mouse, Merle Haggard, and The Roots. It is one of the renowned concert venues in the Southwest and recently named #84 in the 100 Greatest American Music Venues by Consequence of Sound.
The Blues Magazine once dubbed Beth Hart “the ultimate female rock star”, and there’s no doubt that her two-decade career has been a thrill-ride. Born in Los Angeles, she released a fistful of hit albums through the ’90s, then reignited in the post-millennium as both a solo artist and a head-turning vocalist for guitar heroes like Joe Bonamassa, Jeff Beck and Slash.
“Anybody singing the blues is in a deep pit, yelling for help,” Mahalia Jackson once remarked. “Hart was an up-and-coming vocalist before drugs, alcohol and numerous trips to the psych ward derailed her career,” writes Mike Greenblatt, Gold Mine Magazine. A second act is one of the hardest things to achieve in the music business, but Hart earned hers in fine style at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, where her show-stealing performance of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” had everyone asking, “Who’s that girl with Jeff Beck?” (If you haven’t seen her performance, you owe it to yourself to view it: http://bit.ly/14oE8QS.) His full article on Hart is below.
For Hart, the Rialto was setup for 900 with folding chairs on the floor. For $47, with a $3 service charge, I had a seat five rows from the stage. The historic theater is decorated with pictures from 25 years of concerts, has a bar in the main entry (it is too small to call a concourse), and one merchandise stand. A t-shirt was $20.
Harts three-piece band perfectly accented her strong vocals and piano. It is very hard to describe a Beth Hart Concert. A highlight of the show was a heartfelt rendition of “Mama This One’s for You”, with her mother only two rows back.
Below is a video of one of her songs in a performance with Joe Bonamassa. You tell me!