On song: Mary Bridget Davies brought the music of Janis Joplin to the Bermuda Festival (Photograph supplied).
Mary Bridget Davies isn’t so much an impersonator of Janis Joplin as she is the very embodiment of the influential blues and rock singer.
While Davies employs a few signature hair flicks reminiscent of the late singer’s style throughout her 90-minute tribute show, it’s her emotional interpretation of the Joplin repertoire that really tips this over the edge into a rousing performance. By the end of the show, the audience was utterly transformed by Davies’s powerhouse vocals chock-full with earthy Joplin-esque rasp and bluesy sound.
Davies played with Joplin’s original band Big Brother and the Holding Company, and most famously appeared as Joplin in the Broadway show, A Night with Janis Joplin, which earned her a Tony nomination in 2014. Davies continues to perform as Joplin on the official show tour, although for the evening’s performance she was backed by her band, the Mary Bridget Davies Group comprising Ben Nieves, Chris Hanna, Alfredo Guerrieri and Jim Wall.
And all props to her band, which had many standout moments during the show, including a breathtaking guitar solo from guitarist Nieves that literally left me lightheaded.
Local artists 4Time kicked off the evening with a short set of Sixties and Seventies classics showing the band’s dynamism. Veteran artists Robert “Sai” Emery, Jeffrey Marshall and David Skinner, joined by newest member Ben Payne, offered up a talented group of guys. Even in the short set and, though it was mentioned that they only recently began performing in this latest configuration, the group have quickly gelled and I would happily sit and listened to more.
Opening with a slowed down version of No Woman, No Cry, from the very beginning of the set the soaring vocals of Emery were a clear standout. But the nimble fingers of the guitarists were not to be overshadowed, and the set turned into a fantastic little jam session, capped off with a lively rendition of All Along the Watchtower that was the perfect starter before the main course was served up.
Heading on stage after a short intermission, Davies stuck with more of the blues/rock inspired Joplin songs parading out and delivering Joplin classics such as Cry Baby, Piece of My Heart and Me And Bobby McGeein all of their earthy, vibrant glory. I’m sure most of the audience who had seen and heard Janis Joplin before this iteration would disagree that any Joplin song would be considered “lesser known”, but this Joplin novice also enjoyed Davies’s interpretations of less well-known tracks including Turtle Blues and, in particular, Maybe. The latter really giving Davies a chance to tap into the emotional and gritty performances that Joplin will for ever be known for.
Davies treated the audience to a few of her own penned numbers and, while the big, soaring vocals of her Joplin interpretations were still present, she gave off more of a not unwelcome Kelly Clarkson-vibe, meaning she could indeed hold up against today’s modern rock goddesses. While there will never be anyone quite like Joplin, Davies certainly brought the Bermuda Festival a convincing performance.