The sold-out crowd of middle-aged suburbanites at Big Daddy’s Place witnessed budding fame first-hand. Hailing from Tacoma, Vicci Martinez was featured on NBC’s The Voice on Tuesday, April 26. I wouldn’t expect a contestant on a vocal talent show similar to American Idol to appear in a small suburban nightclub, but there she was, singing her heart out while the crowd danced, ate, drank, and shouted for more.
We got to Big Daddy’s around 7:30. The place was already packed with fans anticipating the arrival of Martinez. Big Daddy’s is located northeast of Seattle in a one-level industrial park. Not a very pretty setting, but the rent’s cheap compared to any venue in Seattle proper. They’ve done a nice job with the acoustics and have plenty of restaurant and bar seating. It’s one of the few nightclubs outside the city that hosts quality live music.
The opener was Red Cup, the house band. Red Cup’s lead singer, Steve Stefanowicz, is blind, but that doesn’t stop him from playing a mean blues guitar. The bass player is owner Mike Summerfield, a.k.a. Big Daddy. Adding to the blues/jazz flavor was Eric Robert on organ and Darin Watkins on drums. Both would play with Martinez later in the evening.
The band played several covers, including B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone,” Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle,” Van Morrison’s “Moon Dance,” and The Eagles’ “Hotel California.” They also did an original song called “Desiree,” and finished the clean set with Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild.”
After a long intermission, Vicci Martinez took the stage to a shouting, whooping crowd. Many people there were veteran fans of hers; and many others must have seen her on The Voice, judging by the cheer of the audience when she asked if people saw her on TV that week.
Martinez started the show by first saying, “I know it’s TV and it’s cool, but we still do what we do the way we do it.” Cheers erupted. In other words, she’s staying true to herself and her band by playing her original music the way she wants to do it. She actually auditioned for American Idol at sixteen, got through to the Hollywood round, and decided she wasn’t quite ready. That was a pretty big decision for such a young woman. Martinez, now in her mid-20s, is about to make it big.
Her voice is clear, bluesy, powerful and emotional. It is surprising to see that much power expelled from such a diminutive frame. When she gets into the upper range of her vocals, she tends to get raspy, similar to Melissa Etheridge.
She got down to business during the long set. Most songs were original, except for a fun Michael Jackson medley near the end. She played rhythm guitar, letting the long solos go to her lead guitarist, Rod Cook. She crouched down while getting into a song, threw her head back and wailed, smiled, and hammed it up with the dance crowd. The rest of the band was tight: they wavered between pop, blues, rock, and jazz, with organ and guitar leading the way through long jam sessions. While jazz isn’t my genre of choice, the music worked with her voice. Martinez could easily cross over and go country, too.
She played over a dozen songs from her five albums. She also has a new live album that was recorded at Tacoma’s Jazzbones in 2010. Some of the songs from her set list included “Leave The Light On,” which incorporated a great slide guitar with a very bluesy feel; “Hold Me Darlin,'” a gut-wrenching, emotional song that has been featured on our local radio and TV stations; and “Mexico,” which has a cool, laid back south-of-the border vibe throughout. All of the songs on her albums can be streamed and purchased on her website.
No matter what the outcome is on The Voice, Vicci Martinez will keep doing what she does, the way she wants; and her loyal fans will be right there with her.