Bettye LaVette brings soul to Sirens on the Mountain
The second annual Sirens on the Mountain music and arts festival will take place next week on June 20 and 21.
The event will once again celebrate the power of women in the arts, although the festival is geared to music and arts lovers of all genders, ages and cultures.
When the Sirens on the Mountain get-together happens at the High Country Fairgrounds in Boone, the bill will feature Grammy Award winner Rickie Lee Jones, Blues Music Award winner Bettye LaVette, Rising Appalachia, Melissa Reaves, Michelle Malone, Shannon Whitworth, Gigi Dover, Laura Blackley, Samantha O’Brien, Redleg Husky, Amythyst Kiah and more.
LaVette can best be described as a music business survivor. While growing up in Detroit, she found initial triumph as a 16-year-old singer, when her 45-rpm single, “My Man — He’s A Lovin’ Man,” climbed into the Top 10 of the R&B charts in 1962. But sustained success proved elusive in the years that followed, as LaVette experienced many ups and downs along the way.
Then, in the early 2000s, LaVette was basically rediscovered, and her soulful voice and groove turned the heads of many in the music world. Eventually, she would earn some Blues Music Awards and Grammy nominations, would perform a show-stopping version of “Love Reign O’er Me” at the Kennedy Center Honors tribute to The Who in 2009, and she also sang at President Barack Obama’s inauguration.
During the lean years, however, LaVette found herself as a backup singer a couple times. Her lead singer attitude and abilities, while on the back row, led to one of the more interesting events to happen in her 50-plus year career.
“I sung backup twice,” LaVette said. “For a long time, I would tease Dr. John, because Dr. John fired me. He’d say, ‘Stop telling people that.’ I’d say, ‘For many years, that was my only claim to fame, that you would fire me.’ But the reason I got fired was because I wasn’t singing background; I was singing in the front ground, and I kept sticking out. If you are a good singer and you’re a strong singer, you are going to stick out. He and I remain friends, but he knew that I had no business being in the background. What he needed was somebody to answer to what he sung, and I was singing with him.”
LaVette looks back fondly on her years in Detroit, because at the time the city’s music scene was producing some of the best sounds the world would ever hear. But even though she was touring on bills with Otis Redding, Ben E. King and James Brown, appearing on the TV show, “Shindig,” and recording songs, like “Hey Love,” written specifically for her by Stevie Wonder, many of that era did not yet realize the legacy that they were building.
“Do you know of any other circumstances like, say, the Founding Fathers, like Benjamin Franklin, saying, ‘One day, people are going to be dressing like me at parties?’” LaVette said. “I don’t think you think that way. We were just living life on a day-to-day basis. Everything that was happening to us was as surprising to us as it was for everybody else.”
This newfound notoriety has been a blessing for LaVette. But after being in the business so long, she is grateful, yet keeps her success in perspective.
“Well, (this time) has only been busier, but I’m an old woman, and I can’t change a lot,” LaVette said. “The same thing that is happening to Justin Bieber is not happening to me. This is not exciting. I am not excited. It’s wonderful to be able to pay my bills. It seems that in the last 10 years, they gave me 40 years of what I had wanted; I got a husband, a manager, a booking agent, a record company, I’ve sung for two presidents and was on the Kennedy Center Honors, all of the things I’ve been trying to do for 51 years.
“So, with all of these things, I’ve been more pleased, maybe, than anything else. It’s like a relief. If you pull somebody up from a well, they wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, I’m so excited.’ They would say, ‘Oh my God, I’m so relieved.’”
LaVette is scheduled to play from 7:15 to 8:45 p.m. on Saturday, June 21, on Sirens on the Mountain’s main stage.
Tickets are $75 for both days, with daily ticket prices at $25 for Friday and $50 for Saturday. Free tent camping will also be available, and arts and craft booths and culinary delights will add to the music experience. More information can be found at http://www.sirensonthemountain.com.
For more on Bettye LaVatte, visit http://www.bettyelavette.com.