Tag Archives: Bobby LeRose

Ladies Sing The Blues

When Beth Iovinelli belted out a song at last year’s Blues, Views & BBQ Festival, she basked in thunderous applause.

Then — referring to the Levitt Pavilion stage, site of the sold-out 2-day event — she asked her friend Suzy Bessett, “Notice anything missing?”

She meant: Any other woman.

Iovinelli was the only female singer the entire weekend.

The blues boasts plenty of legendary ladies — think Etta James, Big Mama Thornton and Janis Joplin. But over the years, bands have become male-dominated.

This year, Bessett and Iovinelli take one small step for (wo)mankind.

The 10th annual event (September 2-3) will include a rock-the-house show by the Sisterhood Blues Project. They’re set for Sunday (September 3, 12:30 p.m.).

Sisterhood Blues Project (from left): Beth Iovinelli, Betsy Benham Fruda and Suzy Bessett.

On a weekend filled with powerhouse performers — Galactic, Deep Banana Blackout, Bonerama, Paul Barrere & Fred Tackett, and the return of Anders Osborne — this is one you don’t want to miss.

The 3 “soul sistahs” grew up in Norwalk. Bessett — who organized the group — began singing as soon as she could talk. But she stopped when real life — an investment banking career, marriage, kids, a move to Westport — intervened.

Eventually, the lure of karaoke proved powerful. Then in 2009, she joined Ms. Suzy’s Opus. For years, they — with Bessett fronting — were a popular fixture on the local scene.

Bobby Q’s rooftop was a favorite venue. That Main Street restaurant/bar has moved to Norwalk, but the blues festival it spawned is still here.

Ever since the new Levitt opened 3 years ago, Bessett dreamed of singing on its stage. When Iovinelli noted last year that she was the only female singer at the festival, Bessett asked Blues, Views & BBQ founder Bobby LeRose about a celebration of women musicians. He instantly agreed.

Bessett recruited Iovinelli and Fruda. Both spent over a decade with the Third Sister Band, opening for GE Smith, Rick Derringer and Murali Coryell. They currently front the B Side Band.

The new group weaves together powerful vocals, harmony, soulful blues — and of course, sisterhood.

They’ll be backed by some strong brothers. Westporter Crispin Cioe played sax with the Rolling Stones. Westport native Tim DeHuff is a renowned guitarist. Drummer Vito Liuzzi played with the Johnny Winter Band. John Mulkerin is on horns; Mike Ventimiglia (Pimpinella) plays keyboard, while bassist Scott Spray has performed with Johnny and Edgar Winter, Eric Clapton and Joe Walsh.

They’re still working on a set list. But, Bessett says, they will probably perform at least one song from one of the great female blues singers.

The sisterhood lives.

(For more information on the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival — including musical lineup, food, activities for kids, tickets and more — click here.)

Smokin’ The Westport Blues

As a new member of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association 8 years ago, Bob LeRose wanted to make an impact on the area.

LeRose — the “Bobby” of Bobby Q’s restaurant — zeroed in on his 2 passions: barbecue and music.

The result — organized in conjunction with the DMA, 2nd selectman Shelly Kassen, the Westport Library and Levitt Pavilion — was the 1st-ever Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

The name might be a bit clunky — what’s up with “views”? — but it quickly became a fixture of the downtown late-summer scene. Its attraction spread far beyond Westport — kind of like Festival Italiano — but like that Saugatuck celebration of yore, it’s still ours.

Westport's Emergency Medical Services staff participated in last yeear's hotly contested barbecue competition.

Westport’s Emergency Medical Services staff participated in last year’s hotly contested barbecue competition.

The 8th annual Blues, Views & BBQ Festival is set for Labor Day weekend (September 5 and 6) at the Levitt Pavilion and library and Imperial Avenue parking lots.

Once again, there’s kick-ass music (including Westport’s own Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Mark Naftalin); cooking demonstrations by top local chefs (including Da Pietro’s, Vespa and of course Bobby Q’s); rib- and pie-eating contests; bull riding; a drum circle; kids’ activities (from bounce houses to face painting), and the very popular Kansas City Barbeque Society competition.

The Levitt Pavilion is the perfect spot to hear great, get-up-and-move blues. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The Levitt Pavilion is the perfect spot to hear great, get-up-and-move blues. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

A specialty food court is filled with wood-fired, grilled and roasted meats, and handcrafted beer.

New this year: a “People’s Choice Wing Contest.” Whole Foods is donating the goods.

I’ve heard a few snarky comments about the price (tickets range from $30 for Sunday bought in advance, to $85 for a two-day pass bought onsite). Children under 12 are free with a paying adult.

But the event sells out. And plenty of out-of-towners seem thrilled to be there.

This couple was VERY happy to be at the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

This couple was VERY happy to be at the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

More importantly, it’s a way for the DMA to continue their great job of keeping downtown attractive and lively; promoting commerce, culture and community, and bringing something unique and fun to the area.

The DMA uses its funds to improve downtown. They also support other organizations like the Westport Woman’s Club, Rotary, Levitt, Library and First Night.

The Blues, Views & BBQ Festival does not fall out of the sky. It costs money to produce. There are bands and police to hire, port-a-potties and fencing to pay for, signs and programs to produce, tents to erect, and clean-up to be done.

Oh, yeah: rental for the Levitt too. (Plus sound guys, lighting guys, and ribs for the bands.)

Vegans are welcome at the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival. But meat-lovers will have an especially great time.

Vegans are welcome at the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival. But meat-lovers will have an especially great time.

It’s all worth it. As Bobby LeRose says, “Thousands of people support this event each year. We get support from everyone. We see smiles all around. People are so happy with the music, food, activities and sense of community.

“You just don’t see this caliber of talent on one stage for the price we charge this close to home, in our beautiful and intimate Levitt Pavilion.”

Westport was recently named one of Connecticut’s 10 Most Boring Towns. Any of the thousands of happy folks who ever heard 2 days of fantastic music, scarfed down ribs, ridden a bull or done anything else fun at the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival would beg to differ.

(The 8th annual Blues, Views & BBQ Festival is set for Saturday, September 5 [11 a.m.-10 p.m.] and Sunday, September 6 [11 a.m.-9 p.m.] For ticket options, daily schedule, and entry forms for the eating and BBQ competitions, click on www.bluesviewsbbq.com.) 

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