Getting to one’s table was a little awkward: enter by the front door, check in, pass the coat rack, go down a few stairs, head left, wait by an exit for someone to come and lead you outdoors along a path and into a large tent. Once inside the tent, the air was chilly. The new heater wasn’t working. But the tables were filling up for what would be a sold-out show. People were talking, raising glasses to their lips, looking at menus. Servers glided through.
It felt like being in a dream. Your first venture out to a live public event, if you haven’t yet done that, might feel the same. After more than a year of lockdowns and quarantines, we’re all bears emerging from our dens. We’re bats, box turtles and bumblebees coming out of hibernation to a place where a stranger, mask on face, notepad in hand, stands beside you and asks, “Are you ready to order?”
Last Friday night was the grand opening of the Belvedere, Crooners’ latest outdoor venue, a 150-seat double big top with a floor, a real stage, a sound system, lights, tables and chairs, and it was grand indeed. It was fun, it was festive, it was totally live. It was the newest phase in the Fridley club’s plan to keep live music going, even in a pandemic.
When you want to open in a way people will remember, call Jamecia Bennett. Wearing sequins and a cloud of black tulle, trailing a trio of backup singers dressed in gold, the powerhouse singer and three-time Grammy winner took the stage and christened it with “The Evolution of Jazz and Blues.”
Her show was steeped in rhythm and soul, and it had something for everyone: “Summertime” and “Sweet Dreams,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “My Funny Valentine,” “I’m a Woman,” Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “How Far from God.” She thanked her cousin, Dennis Spears, for bringing her into jazz. She dedicated “Willow, Weep for Me” to Debbie Duncan, her late “musical godmother” and a frequent performer at Crooners who died in December.
Bennett soared and scatted and dropped into the black velvet of her lower register. During a break, she made a complete costume change. The members of her band – on keyboards, drums, electric bass, saxophone, guitar – all had their own opportunities to shine. Her drummer made sure we remembered where and when we were, in Minnesota during a racial reckoning, by thanking Black women, saying “Being a Black man in Minnesota is peculiar,” and leading the band through some fiery fusion in his song, “Not Today, Karen.”
We’re not sure exactly when the heat came on, but it did. The martinis, made by an actual bartender, were cold. The food, prepared in a restaurant kitchen and not boxed for takeout, was hot and tasty. And the music was live. You could feel it on your skin and in your bones.
At the same time Bennett was performing in the Belvedere, Mick Sterling was holding down the Fridley supper club’s recently remodeled main stage. Early Saturday evening, pianist Javier Santiago would perform with his trio in the Dunsmore Room while staff readied the Belvedere for Bennett’s return. The place – all three spaces, plus a small speakeasy tucked between the main stage and the Dunsmore, with its own piano – was hopping. It’s currently open Thursdays through Sundays, with 48 live events already on the calendar from now into June, including the return of Marilyn Maye for a four-night residency.
V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.
V Tonight (Tuesday, April 27), 5:30 p.m.: Rain Taxi: Kim Todd and Kathryn Nuernberger. Todd is the author of “Sensational: The Hidden History of America’s ‘Girl Stunt Reporters,’” a portrait of America’s trailblazing female journalists. Nuernberger is the author of “The Witch of Eye,” a collection of essays that investigates the horrors inflicted on so-called “witches” of the past. Booklist called it “a poetic and hypnotic trance of a read.” Both women are on faculty at the University of Minnesota. Free with registration.
V Wednesday, April 28, 7 p.m.: Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute: LUNAFEST: Minneapolis. Rated E for Equal, the 20th annual (and 2nd virtual) LUNAFEST will feature seven short films by and about women. All of this year’s films are documentaries, exploring topics including women’s perseverance, migration, art, and breaking barriers. The welcome begins at 7 p.m. Your 48-hour screen pass will let you view the full lineup through April 30. Proceeds benefit MN Peacebuilding’s racial and economic equity trainee scholarship fund and community education programs. FMI, trailer and tickets ($29).
V and L Wednesday, April 28, 7 p.m.: Mizna Film Series: “Al Asleyeen.” Since February, Mizna has programmed a different SWANA film each month (yes, they will also hold their annual film festival). The films are presented virtually and in person at the Trylon Cinema. Directed by Marwan Hamed, “Al Asleyeen” (The Originals) is a thriller about a man in midlife, supporting his family, doing everything right, who suddenly learns that they have all been under surveillance, their most private moments caught on camera. Wednesday at the Trylon, 7 p.m.; FMI and tickets ($10; COVID protocols limit total seating to 30). Thursday through Sunday, on demand: FMI and tickets ($8).
V Thursday, April 29, 6:30 p.m. CST: Academy of American Poets: 18th Annual Poetry & the Creative Mind. The annual benefit for the Academy’s K-12 Education Program usually brings 1,000 poetry fans to Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. COVID canceled 2020 and has shifted 2021 to a virtual event anyone can attend. This year also marks the 25th anniversary of National Poetry Month. Poems will be performed by Elizabeth Alexander, Lauren Ambrose, John Darnielle, Terrance Hayes, Regina King (who opened Sunday’s Oscars ceremony with a now-famous single-shot power walk), Delroy Lindo, Samin Nosrat, Sandra Oh, Jason Reynolds, Meryl Streep and Sarah Sze. With special appearances by U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo and Academy of American Poets Education Ambassador (and Obama’s second inaugural poet) Richard Blanco. Free with registration. On the topic of poetry, you can sign up here for the Academy’s Poem-a-Day email.