Major artists and celebrities I interview are typically extremely busy and almost never available to chat on weekends, so it was with great delight on a recent Sunday night that I had the chance to do a relaxed Zoom call with the very accommodating singer Storm Large. The reason for our call was so that she could promote her concert on Saturday, Nov. 20 at The Palladium at The Center For the Performing Arts. It is a venue she is quite familiar with, having performed there with Michael Feinstein at a CAP gala in 2016.
I have seen Large perform in Central Indiana on several occasions and was impressed each time with her distinctive style and larger-than-life stage persona. But it was not until last May when I saw her at Feinstein’s at Hotel Carmichael that I experienced the dynamo up close. Here’s a quote from my review of that show, “Something else that made the evening a once-in-a-lifetime experience was a surprise Feinstein delivered in the form of rock, metal and jazz singer Storm Large. Taking the stage, Large…electrified the crowd with the rollicking AC/DC hit ‘You Shook Me All Night Long.’ Reminiscent of the legendary Janis Joplin, Large was a force of nature, shaking the rafters with this rock anthem, a departure from Feinstein’s more low-key repertoire.”
On the onset of our call from her home in Portland, Oregon, I mentioned her special cameo in Feinstein’s Carmichael debut. She was flattered by my comparison of her to Joplin, but proceeded to downplay it, leading me to quickly discover just how humble and authentic the 52-year-old performer is.
Joking that she is one of the “most famous person you’ve never heard of,” Large’s humility belies the reality of her true status as a major artist. Billed as a performer who “combines cabaret style with rock attitude,” Storm Large (her real name) has performed with major symphony orchestras across the county and since 2011 has been performing as guest vocalist with Pink Martini. As an author, her 2012 memoir “Crazy Enough” was an Oprah Book of the Week selection. She first stood in the national spotlight in 2006 as a contestant in the CBS competition “Rock Star: Supernova.” Earlier this year, she astounded the judges, live audience and viewers across the nation with her audition on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” Known for her powerhouse voice, affecting stories and spicy humor, Large fills a niche for music fans who prefer artists who march to the beat of a different drummer.
Accompanied by her longtime pianist and music director James Beaton, Large said her upcoming show will also feature a string quartet consisting of musicians who play for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Asked about the show’s content, she said, “There’ll be some Christmas-specific stuff as we are getting into that time of year. The theme is hope and resilience. We must acknowledge that what we have been through, are going through, during the pandemic has been an extraordinarily stressful time. Thank God we are still here and blessings to the people who have lost loved ones. We have all had to keep on keepin’ on. So, what does that look like? And what does the future look like? And so, I will use familiar songs, traditional, and some original songs and thread it together with a narrative of either anecdotal stories from my life or things or jokes that I came up with along the way.”
As for her busy schedule that continues to fill up, Large said she is grateful to be back performing for live audiences now that she feels safe to do so since the pandemic forced cancellations for her and all of her show-business colleagues. For her, the quarantine began officially on March 13, 2020. “I came back from my last shows with Pink Martini in Palm Springs, and we were all reading and watching the news and I called my manager and said, ‘I am going to have to cancel my shows because this is getting really serious.’ My ear, nose and throat guy also told me, ‘This is really serious. Don’t let people tell you this is the flu.’”
As the quarantine unfolded, Large was inspired to help others. “What ensued was all this politicization and polarization. So, the first thing I did was get a bunch of my friends together and create a not-for-profit for performers who needed funds for housing costs because we didn’t know how long this was going to go on, but we were aware that most musicians, strippers, drag-queen performers, actors, who are gig workers, were going to need help. They are restaurant and bar people and everything was closing, so they were screwed and because they rely on tips, their unemployment compensation would be laughable. So, together, we created Gimme Shelter PDX, a performer’s emergency fund, which gave grants of up to $500 to artists in Portland.” After the fund was up and running, Large said she tried to keep others’ spirits up as well, but was “fuming out of gas.” Then, a friend lost her father to COVID-19, so Large drove from Oregon to Massachusetts to help her friend with her dad’s affairs and getting his house ready for sale. Following that act of kindness, Large said, “I took a hiatus from life for about a year. I played some socially distanced, outdoor things. I did a Detroit Symphony fundraiser, outside Symphony Hall in the parking lot, but it was really awkward and cold and weird, but I would do anything for them. Even though I did some livestream shows, the Carmichael show was my first indoor show in front of a live audience.”
As far as her mood during the hiatus, Large, who has thankfully since rebounded, said she fell into a depression and experienced anxiety “because it just seemed we were spiraling into such a dark place in this country and the pandemic had taken on an entirely new space in our human history. It was no longer just a highly infectious and potentially lethal virus. To certain people, it became a means to pit people against one another. It was a pry bar and so the reality of that was that people were bloodthirsty to be right. When we are all locked up and isolated, human beings are equally frightened. Isolation is the cruelest torture.”
I asked Large if there was a silver lining to the quarantine and if she “paused and reset” like so many others. “I don’t think I reset. I just tend to throw everything away and just start over,” she replied with a laugh. “I did a PSA for Habitat for Humanity. It is one of my favorite charities. I did it with Mel Brown, who is the drummer for The Temptations. He lives here in Portland. He is in his seventies and in great health. We were together and doing this little bit on camera. He had started playing gigs. I asked him, ‘Are you worried? How do you feel about being back out there and around people?’ And he looked me in the eye and said, ‘Storm, we have to. We are what is going to bring it back. The artists, the singers, the musicians…we have to.’”
As for what has come out of the pandemic, Large theorized, “We all paused, and I think the whole world reset. Lots of places do not have offices anymore because people are working from home. Kids are struggling with the new approach to school. Art, however, will always be the voice of the ambiguous side and the tumult and turmoil of the heart and the human psyche. Trying to put syllables and melody and rhyme around the chaos that everybody is experiencing, including the artists, is a hefty responsibility.”
As our chat concluded, I had to ask Large about her stunning “America’s Got Talent” appearance in June and how it was she came to audition for the hit show. “When I got asked to do it, I said I would only appear in order to have a platform to remind everyone that during the pandemic, we have been leaning our entire humanity on the creative world. We have depended on literature, podcasts, comedy, music, theatre… everyone. And maybe now, we can see the value in the kid you never heard of. The kid you never heard of is going to be Patton Oswalt one day. The girl with the pretty voice, who sings in church, is going to be Adele. She is going to be to be Beyoncé. We do not know. We just do not know where the next lifesaving art is going to come from, the humanity-saving, civilization-salvaging song, music, play, allegory. We all had to think creatively during that time.”
Finally, I asked Large how it felt being back on the road again. “It is hard work,” she answered. “It is lonely. But it is all I know. I am fairly not hirable at this point (laughs). I do not know anything else. I enjoy it and I am used to it. When I was a little kid, I was always antsy and curious. My dream was to drive a truck and be a long-haul truck driver and my truck would be full of animals and we would travel the world and have adventures. That is, kind of, weirdly, my life now. Maybe without the truck filled with animals, but most of the time, traveling the world and having adventures.”
For tickets and information about Storm Large at The Palladium, visit thecenterpresents.org.