Boom Town

Peggy Ratusz reinvents herself for almost every show. Photo by Audrey Goforth

Baby Boomers need their music. For some time now, vocalist Peggy Ratusz, who says her music resonates most with that demographic, has been one of the busiest musicians in Western North Carolina, playing between 100 and 200 dates a year. She’s as comfortable belting the blues as she is singing sultry soul or crooning standards. In addition to her Bygone Blues Duo with Aaron Price, she performs often with Paula Hanke in a presentation called “Love is a Rose: a Tribute to Linda Ronstadt.” On occasion, Ratusz takes a break from the themed shows; she’ll do just that when she fronts the Peggy Ratusz Trio this month in Saluda.

Part of your repertoire focuses on early female blues vocalists. What’s special about those artists and their place in history?
Women of color of the early 1900s — Bessie Smith, Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey, Mamie Smith — kind of started the bigger movement of blues. I think they’re a little bit unsung, so I’m trying to honor them by bringing their songs and stories into some of my shows.

You’ve put together quite a number of themed shows, including an annual tribute to Elvis, and several others. How is this show different?
We’re going to marry all of those shows together. I stay pretty close to home for performances, and I don’t want to give people the “same old same old.” So I kind of reinvent myself for every one of these special shows. Jonathan Pearlman is my go-to guitar player and arranger, and he suggested to me, “You need to do a show where we conglomerate all these wonderful themed shows into a single night.” So it’s a sort of sampler.

Because you do so many different kinds of shows, is the audience different for each one?
A good one-third of them are Baby Boomers and people [40 or over]. They like reminiscing, and the nostalgia of it all really brings joy to them. Also, I’m a vocal coach to a lot of young people; some of them come to shows and bring their friends. So the demographic is pretty varied. It’s growing … I have a pretty steady schedule ahead of me, and that’s wonderful.

What’s the common thread that ties all of your projects together?
It’s the camaraderie. Jonathan and Grant Cuthbertson [upright bass] and I have such a kinship, and we all really enjoy the songs we do. I think those songs resonate with people —even the ones they might not have heard before — because of the way we play them. That ropes them in; I think the common denominator is our hearts and souls.

There are indeed some songs in your set that many in the audience won’t recognize, like Dolly Lyon’s “Palm of your Hand.” What’s your goal in presenting those tunes?
Part of it’s to provide a kind of musical canvas to which we can apply our own musical character. When I sing, I try to help the audience understand why I chose this song to share with them, so that they can love it as much as I do.

The Peggy Ratusz Trio plays the Purple Onion in Saluda (16 Main St.) on Saturday, May 26 at 8pm. For more information, call 828-749-1179 or see purpleonionsaluda.com.

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