I am tempted to say she looks like Whitney Houston and sounds like Tina Turner, but truth be told, Bettye LaVette is one of a kind, and this past Tuesday, October 29, at City Winery, she let it all out.
City Winery is located at 1200 W Randolph Street, right in the center of Chicago’s culinary hot spot. Opening in 2012, City Winery brings winemaking, culinary craft, and musical talent together. It is a functioning winery with around 10 house-made wines on tap and a nice bottle selection as well. The menus flows seamlessly from wine to food by pairing the food with the wine (obviously the wine comes first). All of this served-up in a great space for a good show.
With the lights dimmed, only a glow from the illuminated wine casks in the back of the venue light the room. The blue and purple lights shine on the four-piece band, cheers and claps swell from the adoring audience, and Bettye struts on the stage like she’s been doing this for years; and in fact, she has.
Bettye started recording over 50 years ago and is touring to celebrate her longstanding career in the business. She first recorded in Detroit in 1962, singing soulful R&B and it’s that sound of the sixties that established her as a singer. She has toured with Otis Redding, been on stage with Sir Paul McCartney, performed with Bon Jovi, and recorded with Drive-By Truckers. She has received a Blues Music Award and has been nominated for a Grammy. Although she did not reach national fame until 2007, she has been putting out quality tracks for over half a century.
The intimate venue helps to connect the audience with Bettye. People sit at long tables right up to the front of the stage, reminiscent of a 50’s nightclub. Bettye also adds to the comfortable feel by setting up each song with an anecdote, making the audience feel as though they have been a part of her musical journey since the beginning. She tells a story of her first trip to Chicago in 1962 to record, and how she was so excited, but not to record, to go to a Walgreens Drugstore! She then breaks into her one of her first recordings, “Let Me Down Easy.” Her raw vocals fill the room, capturing the audience as she doubles over feeling the pain of the song. During, “Right In The Middle (Of Falling In Love),” Bettye shakes it on stage and boogies with her band members, clearly enjoying herself.
She jokes about her overnight success between songs and also warns the front row that she has a cold, telling them they should be on snot patrol. Her humor and high energy on stage really make her a great performer, and it doesn’t hurt that she is a hell of a singer.
Sipping on a glass of Petite Verdox from one of the many house-made wines on tap and listening to a captivating Bettye LaVette, makes for an all around entertaining Tuesday night at City Winery.
City Winery Chicago
1200 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607