'Beehive Queen' belts out Southern-fried soul

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PUTNEY — On New Years Eve, Christine Ohlman sent off a thank-you post to her friends and followers that says a lot about her musical roots and graciousness as a performer. It starts out, "Stopping for a righteous moment to give thanks for all the wonderful musicians and friends in my life and for all the opportunities I have been offered. To be deeply embedded in the Connecticut, NYC, New Orleans, Muscle Shoals and Nashville scenes is truly something I might never have imagined when I started playing teen clubs at the age of 15. The gratitude I feel is all a little overwhelming sometimes. Thank you, one and all."

Those of you who have seen the charismatic 'Beehive Queen" in action, know that she is relentlessly passionate as she prowls the stage, belting out her brand of Southern-fried Soul with a joy that is infectious, both to her band Rebel Montez and, of course, to her audience.

Although she is based in Connecticut and continues her long-term gig in New York as vocalist with The Saturday Night Live Band, when she appears this upcoming Saturday night in Putney, she will be taking the Next Arts crowd on a journey below the Mason-Dixon line, touching musically on those aforementioned "down-home" homes-away-from-home.

In an email exchange, I asked Ohlman to reflect on the highlights of her zig-zaggy musical journey of the past year. "I headlined the WC Handy Festival in Muscle Shoals and the Mystic Blues Festival, played many great theaters like Next Stage Arts! I sang with Smokey Robinson-transcendent, appeared on Nashville's great Jim Lauderdale-hosted show Music City Roots with Bonnie Bramlett, the McCrary Sisters, and my friend Sarah Potenza."

At that Music City show, Leon Russell rolled up to the front row in his motorized wheelchair — while no one there realized that he and Bonnie hadn't seen each other in more than 30 years. Sadly, Leon passed away in the Fall. Ohlman also shared the stage with Mac Rebennack (aka Dr. John) this past year. And her involvement tribute to June Millington at the Academy of Music in Northampton was an early 2016 highlight.

And there were more highlights. She added, " I'm sure I'm forgetting major shows! Oh, yes I was the commencement speaker at TAPCo Theatre Arts Production Company-a major arts public high school in the Bronx, and at Keating Hall at Fordham, where my parents met. What history!"

According to Ohlman things will not be slowing down for her this new year. "2017 will find me appearing at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival to benefit the New Orleans Musicians Clinic and traveling to Paris and Manchester UK in March with The Sessions, a great interactive all-star music panel. Of course I'll also appear at the Handy Festival in Muscle Shoals."

There is also a new record in the works entitled "The Grown-Up Thing, "Watch for a fundraising campaign as I and co-producer Andy York (John Mellencamp's longtime guitarist) plot and plan the tracks and special guests Get ready!"

Ohlman is certainly ready to launch into another jam-packed at one of her favorite venues. "I just love in general the whole idea of small theaters popping up across the country in churches It's the antidote to Clear Channel and iHeart and LiveNation It's where alternative roots music takes hold and grows. Next Stage goes it one notch better by being run by folks who tried for and won a major grant to renovate, and then did it so right. I'm proud to have been the first dance concert in the new facility last January, and we just couldn't help but reprise it this year. Come on out on the weekend-after-New-Years-Eve and let's kick it off! Dance, celebrate the love of music and each other!"

Christine Ohlman and Rebel Montez, at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at Next Stage Arts, 15 Kimball Hill Rd. Putney. Tickets are $18 in advance, general admission, $20 at the door, available at: nextstagearts.org, Turn It Up in Brattleboro, or the Putney Coop. For more information, contact Next Stage Arts at 802-387-0102 or nextstagearts@gmail.com.

Dave Madeloni may be reached at madeloni@aol.com


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