Monday, October 1, 2012

Show Review: Shirley Nanette and Friends at Billy Webb Elks Lodge

Surely you're aware of Shirley Nanette.


Shirley is a vocalist, one of the rare species to be native to Portland. She usually sings jazz (Mount Hood Festival of Jazz, Jimmy Mak's) but has been a guest vocalist with the Oregon Symphony on occasion since 1981. She was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame in 2007. Oregon Art Beat ran a segment about her a couple of years ago.

Why haven't you heard of her then?

As it turns out, she doesn't record much: just Never Coming Back from 1973 (listen to my favorite track—"Sometimes"), See You Later in 1992, and Starting Here, Starting Now from 2008. You could very well miss her completely unless you frequent the Billy Webb Elks Lodge on Sunday nights.

Which is exactly what I did this Sunday evening!

After years passing by the intriguing building, three years ago I went inside the Billy Webb Elks Lodge on a historical tour of North Portland. (Did you know? Portland's most happening jazz club of the 1940s-1950s was just across the street!) Inside, the recently restored Elks Lodge looked gorgeous, and I vowed to one day check out the bar that was open to the public.

A few weeks ago, I discovered Shirley on the intertubes and navigated to her website, where I saw that "Shirley Nanette and Friends" plays regularly at the Billy Webb Elks Lodge.

When I needed to organize a happy hour celebration, a cunning plan was conceived!

Shirley and her friends perform in the ballroom, across the foyer from the lodge bar (where a great time can be had if you're a little early for the show). The ballroom is spacious and sports a hardwood dance floor, a modest stage and satellite bar. Onstage, an elk head serves as benevolent overlord.

Sunday, Shirley introduced the evening by noting "this is where friends meet and greet each other." On this night, Shirley's "friends" included Dan Gaynor on piano, Bill Athens on double bass, and Tim Rap on drums. Rich Arnold joined Shirley onstage for a quick-tempoed duet about halfway through the second set. But Shirley's friends also pack the audience—the ballroom held 50 people, most of whom were specifically there to see Shirley perform.

And what a nice woman! After the first set, she made her way around the room talking to every single person in the audience. Whether they were there for the first time (like me) or were old friends, they were personally greeted and conversed with.

As a performer, Shirley is a crowd-pleaser as well. Her voice is glassy smooth, she's a pleasure to listen to and watch, her warmth emanates from the stage, and she highly encourages audience participation. In addition to an audience sing-along, she sang a few song requests, including a dynamite "How Glad I Am," followed in short order by Etta James' signature piece, "At Last." She closed out her second set with "Ain't Misbehavin'," jovially trying on a variety of character voices including jazz icons Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday.

Perhaps best of all, there is no cover charge to see Shirley and the band! If you go though, make sure to buy a drink or two. Check the schedule on Shirley Nanette's website and plan on a great evening when you head out to see her.

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