The concertgoers bundled up in quilted coats and held wine glasses with leather gloves. The headliner wore sequins and rhinestones and chiffon — and a glow brighter than a full moon over a Minnesota lake.
The concertgoers dressed for the damp 46-degree weather on Friday night for a two-hour performance inside a giant tent. Jamecia Bennett dressed for opening night, which it was for the new Belvedere at Crooners in Fridley. But she always dresses like she's ready for opening night. In Las Vegas. As the headliner. A diva in search of a diva turn.
Bennett was gloriously over the top in the Belvedere big top on Friday, the first of her two nights to kick off the new normal at Crooners.
This is the second consecutive year that the ambitious six-year-old supper club has set up a sizable tent for socially distanced concerts during the pandemic. This year's model has a bigger capacity (150), a floor (not the ground), full dinner service (not just wraps and flatbread) and a name (not just "the tent"). But the same view (Moore Lake) and similar talent (the best and brightest of Minnesota plus a few out-of-town names).
Bennett, 47, may be one of the Twin Cities' more underrecognized talents. She has made her name in theater productions at the Guthrie, Ordway, Park Square and other playhouses. She steps forward as the lead singer of the Grammy-winning Sounds of Blackness, a mighty choir that's been around longer than she's been alive. But Bennett seldom performs in hometown clubs under her own name.
After opening speeches by Crooners' owner and music director and Bennett herself, the vocal powerhouse launched into something nice and easy. Because she never does things nice and easy.
"Summmmmmmm-errr [pause] time," she crooned with a voice as deep as a Great Lake. Slowly but surely, her voice soared on those oft-sung lyrics about fish jumpin.' She stretched one syllable into a 10-second held note while moving her mouth to and fro across the microphone.
When Bennett sang about spreading her wings, she did exactly that with grand arm gestures and an animated face. She clearly found her groove in this bluesy-jazzy treatment of the Gershwin classic before suddenly segueing into the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams," done all fast and slightly funky. Some gospelly shouting and beguiling scatting ensued. Eventually, her deep voice re-emerged, ending the 11-minute opus with the last line of "Summertime."
In that opening number of a program entitled the Evolution of Jazz and Blues, Bennett reminded the full house just who she is — a wondrous, showy force with a big voice, big presence and big personality.
Bennett demonstrated exquisite control and great knowledge of her vocal characters and when to summon them. She launched "Fly Me to the Moon" with the tenderness and grace of Roberta Flack and then swung it like a gleeful Frank Sinatra. Her take on "Takin' a Chance on Love" had one foot in cabaret, the other in Broadway. Her theatrical inclinations emerged more often than her nuanced jazz instincts. An irresistibly emotive and physically demonstrative singer, she chose Stevie Wonder's crowd-pleasing "All I Do" to close her first segment before turning the stage over to her band for the jazz-fusion original instrumental "Not Today Karen, Not Today."
For Bennett, it was time for an outfit change (more sequins, different color scheme) and a sonic segue into the blues. She sparkled with robust testifying on Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "How Far from God," a forceful reworking of a Bo Diddley classic, into "I'm a Woman" and a jazzy roadhouse reading of "Stormy Monday" wherein she traded piercing vocal licks with the roaring notes of her guitarist. It was one of the highlights on what they could call glitzy Friday — and Saturday was sure to be just as grand.
Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719