Lauren Mitchell mixes a great voice, talent, and a good band, but she’s a smart businesswoman as well. The popular blues and soul songstress seen locally mainly, but not exclusively, at the Blue Rooster in Sarasota, performs steadily throughout Florida from Naples and Fort Myers to St. Pete, Tampa and on to Orlando. They recently performed as far north as Ontario, Canada, but also at gigs in Michigan, Delaware, Virginia and Ohio.
Lauren sings with confidence...confidence in singing the blues about a broken heart, being letdown. If you’ve seen her perform people listen intently as they also seem tuned into the message and the emotions.
Lauren Mitchell mixes a great voice, talent, and a good band, but what she’s also good at is economics. In the challenging world or art and commerce —singing ‘cause you love it and still making a decent wage, she is the master of supply and demand.
The popular songstress seen locally mainly, but not exclusively, at the Blue Rooster in Sarasota, performs steadily not just here, but all points in Florida from south to Naples and Fort Myers to north in St. Pete and Tampa and on to Orlando. It doesn’t stop there. She and her band frequently hit the road and head north. In June, one of their multi-stop sojourns took them as far north as Ontario, Canada, but also to gigs in Michigan, Delaware, Virginia and Ohio. The latter was significant and meaningful as Lauren played in her hometown of Canton for the first time when she performed at the city’s community center.
The travel explains the economics: you supply ‘em a performance in one place, but you’re not back again for a while. The result: they demand more. And when you do return, you pack the place. So dispel immediately any kind of living out of a suitcase or car, singing in dives for a few bucks here and there. Lauren is a businesswoman. She recently hired a booking agent which reduced just slightly the things that she does to keep the Lauren Mitchell Band singing and playing over 250 gigs a year.
This past January, sponsored by the Suncoast Blues Society, the band went to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis
where, according to Lauren, they scored high, competing against 255 acts from around the country.
Locally, the intimate nature of the Blue Rooster suits her and the band well. They’re close to the audience, but not so cramped that servers pass by the stage and people talk over the band. And how could they talk over Lauren? She sings with a confident bluesy soul sound. Her formerly soprano, opera-trained voice is now grittier, slightly raspy (she calls it
“texture”) and possibly more interesting when not confined by the strictures of opera.
Dispel too, the drama and excess when it comes to bands. Hey, her guys wear suits— yes, suits. And they’re expected to be on time. Maybe that comes from wanting something so much. Lauren has studied music most of her life. Opera was where she was leaning, but life had other plans. Though Florida based, Lauren is not Florida grown as she hails from Canton, Ohio. After her folks split up, her dad moved to Florida. On one of her visits with her him, he took her to the Tampa Bay Bluesfest and she “kind of got hooked.” Finished with school, over a boyfriend and basically “done” with life in Ohio, Lauren moved to Sarasota.
To support herself, she started as a bartender and worked her way up into managing a restaurant. Working 70 hours a week gave her little opportunity to sing, however. While she was admittedly “miserable” it got worse when she found she’d been fired from her job. Lauren can laugh (somewhat) about it now —this was back in 2011— and she promptly calls it a “lemons moment” for her. But still, it was a blow.
Upset, she left work that day and called her buddy Michael Hensley who is also her keyboard player. Sarasota was mired in its most recent recession then and work was hard to come by. Michael gave her some advice: “Now you have time. I don’t want to hear you say you don’t have time.” He got some musicians together in his living room and they were ready to play.
In April of 2011 she was out of work— by August of 2011 Lauren and her new band were playing and, as she puts it she, “never looked back.”
Lauren started voice lessons at nine. As she got older she thought opera was “it” but “it” wasn’t meant to be even though she still loves it. That explains why on her facebook page she has among her favorites Maria Callas along with Etta James. She also admits she loves Lady Gaga and laughs a hearty laugh at the paradox of that trio of favorites.
But like opera singers you need to—as she calls it—“take care of your instrument” by avoiding germs and dry climates. You also have to practice and just plain sing a lot to stay in form—something she clearly loves to do. There isn’t a lot of down time and if there is, that’s not good. The goal is to sing just about every night if possible. And of course, the money is better as well when you do.
Lauren sings with confidence...confidence in singing the blues about a broken heart, being letdown. If you’ve seen her perform people listen intently as they also seem tuned into the message and the emotions. In person, she’s friendly, but serious at times, especially about her music. She is after all, the band’s manager.
Her music is still evolving. The trip to the International Blues Challenge made Lauren think her music was really more soul—and not quite fitting in with the new definition of blues. Fans should not be concerned. “We call ourselves a blues band, but maybe we’re more soul,” she says reflectively, but adds her music harkens back to R&B and music from the 50s and 60s.
It’s “all encompassing,” she explains, “I’m more Etta and Aretha,” referencing two goddesses of soul Etta James and Aretha Franklin. James—the woman whose music Lauren especially likes—was known as someone who could perform all types of genres from blues, R&B, soul, rock, jazz and gospel. Lauren deepened her understanding of blues music by making two trips to the “Mississippi Blues Trail” which makes it possible to GPS places in the birthplace of the blues, rural Mississippi.
The open road beckons in many ways, but Lauren will be around Florida most of July— from Sarasota (two performances at JR’s Old Packinghouse Café; one at the Blue Rooster) to Sanford, Tallahassee, Lakeland. Punta Gorda and New Port Richey. “I have awesome hometown [Sarasota] fans and the ‘road’ gives you energy.” She clearly enjoys both.
Lauren released her first CD in 2003 called “Please Come Home” and that’s been followed by her “sophomore” album, “Live from the Bradfordville Blues Club” (Bradfordville Blues Club is an historic juke joint in Tallahassee). The release party back in May at The Palladium Theatre in St. Petersburg was packed. The Lauren Mitchell Band is: keyboardist Michael “The Professor” Hensley, Howlin’ Bob Fieberts on guitar and Willie Miller, Jr. on drums.
Stay in touch with Lauren on her facebook page or at www.laurenmitchellband.com.
Story: Louise Bruderle
Photo: Evelyn England