WITH A TOUCH of Janis Joplin, a bow to Ella Fitzgerald and a nod to Satchmo, a notorious stubbornness and an in-born sense of what art is really and how it digresses from the business of money, Eva Cassidy was a once-off. Kerry Hiles gives her story immortality at this year’s Hilton Arts Festival. It’s a powerhouse of a show that will fill your heart completely with a sense of being in the world. And it has two more performances.
Easily one of the best female vocalists in this country right now, Kerry Hiles has the range as well as the clear love and intimate knowledge of the music to pay tribute to Cassidy, who was a bit of a marketing nightmare because she would not, could not be categorised clearly into any genre. She was never the property of a music label and died at the age of 33, before she had had a chance to become the giant she was destined to be.
But in Hiles’s capable hands, the story told is one that is bigger than that of a shy, slight, blond girl conceived in Germany and raised in America, who succumbed to melanoma in 1996, having used up all her money in every which way. It’s like the story of Vincent Van Gogh, which set the cliché machines rolling in terms of what it takes to be a real artist in a world full of other challenges and temptations – or even like that of Franz Kafka, who kept his day job as a clerk in a law office throughout his life.
Cassidy’s sound is raw and soft, bluesy and guttural, jazzy and wild without being unrefined. She had a fresh take on so many of the standards she marked with her own take, and Hiles offers a beautiful range of songs here. It is as though she tastes and creates each word for both its sound and its meaning, and gives them to you, like transient phenomenal gifts. The show is just an hour, which feels short, but also just enough, because alongside the pure and strong sound, is the strength of the emotional impact of each single, crowned with Cassidy’s unique interpretation of the Arlen and Harburg cultural touchstone, Over the Rainbow.
As Hiles says, interspersing lyrics with words, songs with history, you will either know every single one of Cassidy’s moments, or you will never have heard of her. This magnificent gem of a show will ensure that you will yearn to join the ranks of the former, if you were one of the latter, as you enter the performance space. Cassidy deserves a place in any discerning music lover’s collection. See it! (Bring tissues).
The Story of Eva Cassidy is performed by Kerry Hiles (vocals), Rob Thompson (guitar) and Kristo Zondagh (drums) and performs at the Hilton Arts Festival on Saturday September 24 at 2pm and Sunday September 25 at 10am in the Music Auditorium.