Pink Martini at the Kennedy Center

I do plan to write some book reviews this weekend, but last night I went to see Pink Martini perform with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in D.C. and it was awesome.

Pink Martini is based out of Portland, Oregon, but my discovery and following of the band has been largely a D.C. experience for me.  I moved to the D.C. area for graduate school and several other friends from my undergraduate college also moved to the area.  One friend had a photograph of hers chosen to be part of a Bethesda gallery exhibit.  I had no car and took the metro there.  On the way back, a bunch of us piled into a different friend’s car.  She played Pink Martini as we swung around the Beltway.  I was immediately struck by the exuberant, warm and inviting music.

Years after that first listen, long after I’d discovered Pandora.com and established a “Pink Martini” online radio station, I heard that Pink Martini was going to be at Wolf Trap, an outdoor concert venue in northern Virginia.  Two cousins, one cousin’s husband, other cousin’s friend, my friend M. and I all optimistically bought uncovered seating on the lawn.  Of course, there was a thunderstorm.  All of us lawn concert-goers stalwartly held up umbrellas as we waited for the concert to start.  And with only ten minutes or so to spare, the storm went away, and Pink Martini took the stage as a lovely summer evening commenced and the stars came out.  With good company & good music, I felt supremely content.  I heard several new songs from Pink Martini that night, but the one that perfectly matched the evening was “Splendor in the Grass”.

Which brings me to last night: my friend M. and I decided to go in for good seats near the front of the Concert Hall and I’m so glad we did.  I had never been to the Kennedy Center before, so I was already impressed by my surroundings.  And then Pink Martini and the National Symphony Orchestra started off with the band’s version of Bolero:

By the time trumpet player Gavin Bondy finished the song out, I was transported.

Sadly, China Forbes, the incredible lead vocalist for Pink Martini was not with the band at this performance, having been medically advised to give her voice a rest for a while.  She was replaced by Portland-based singer, Storm Large, who on short notice familiarized herself with Pink Martini’s multilingual repertoire.  Though I still missed China Forbes, I was entertained by Storm’s powerful voice and brassy personality.  Both of these assets were well show-cased as she tore through a rendition of “The Lady is a Tramp.”

NPR nerds like myself got several treats at the performance.  Apparently, White House correspondent Ari Shapiro is a huge fan of Pink Martini.  As band founder Thomas Lauderdale explained, one night – at a party after the thunderstorm concert at Wolf Trap (!) – Pink Martini band members found out that Ari Shapiro could sing quite well.  So well, in fact, that he was invited to sing a number of songs with the band at their Kennedy Center peformances.* Looking very sharp in his suit, Shapiro acquitted himself well.  He was obviously thrilled to be there, saying that this experience ranked up there with being on Air Force One.

At one point, Scott Simon was also cajoled up onto the stage from his seat in the audience to help sing along with a Turkish song.  This he gamely tried to do despite his self-admitted lack of musical ability and despite not knowing Turkish.  For the last song “Brazil”, an Oregonian congressman and his staff were also persuaded onto the stage and handed maracas and other small percussion instruments. Rather a Washington D.C. moment right there.

And thus ended my little glamorous night.

*[Edit: Just looked up some more info and apparently, Shapiro has sung with Pink Martini at a number of previous occasions, not just these Kennedy Center performances.]

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Pink Martini at the Kennedy Center

  1. Oh I love Pink Martini! But how odd to have a replacement lead singer! Sounds like a great performance nonetheless.

    • Pink Martini is truly an ensemble group, with a couple of other singers and a number of instrumental pieces, so it’s not as odd as it might be for a band that depends heavily on their lead singer.

  2. Sarah

    Great to see your post here! I took my mom to this show at the Kennedy Center for her B-day and we were both pleasantly surprised with the amazing performances by Storm Large filling in for China Forbes and the very entertaining Ari Shapiro. What a great show 🙂

  3. katyv

    I was at this concert too and it was just as wonderful as you describe. 🙂 Did you stay for the second encore? I’ve had that song stuck in my head for the last week. I need to figure out which one of their CDs it was from and buy it! Hmm.

  4. Sarah – Thanks for stopping by! The guest singers definitely were an unexpected treat.

    katyv – Maybe you went on a different night? They sort of skipped the encore on Thursday’s performance. They joked “pretend that we have walked off and are coming back now for the encore” and then they performed “Brazil”. Which song did they play for the second encore? I think Sympathique is an album I should probably add to my CD’s, as it has some of my favorite songs of theirs.

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