IF YOU GO
What: Nightfall concert series featuring Alexis P. Suter Band.
When: 8 p.m. today; Ashley and the X's open at 7.
Where: Miller Plaza, corner of M.L. King Boulevard, Market and Cherry streets.
Ashley and The X's are a local blues rock quintet led by vocalist Ashley Hicks. She is backed by guitarist Matt Shigekawa, munstrumentalist Eric Parham, bassist John Prevos and drummer Dan Walker. For more information, visit the band's Facebook profile at Facebook.com/ashleyandthexs.
In the message-driven genres of blues and gospel, the bigger the vocals, the better that message is conveyed. When it comes to pipes, Alexis P. Suter's are as big as they come.
When the New York-based singer stands behind the mike, her booming baritone aches with a raw intensity that demands attention.
"It's just being real with people. When you do that, they can feel it and have a connection with you," Suter said. "If you sing it from your heart, you can sing about toast and coffee and make someone cry."
Tonight, Suter's big, commanding voice will fill Miller Plaza as the first headliner of this year's Nightfall concert series.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Suter was introduced to music through her mother, a music teacher and singer who had worked with artists such as Harry Belafonte and Mahalia Jackson.
Growing up, she felt a kinship with the big vocals of male artists such as Barry White, she said, although she also respected the work of female singers such as Irma Thomas, Aretha Franklin and The Weather Girls.
Suter began singing in churches at age 4, but by the early '90s, she had recorded an underground dance hit, "Slam Me Baby." Although she still appreciates house music, Suter said she felt drawn to the emotion and honesty of the blues and, once she tried it, she never looked back.
"When people see me sing and they see that emotion and see this beautiful energy that comes over the band, it's like we are giving to you the energy and the love that we have," she said. "It feels like ... a musical meditation, a musical prayer."
As a blues artist, Suter attracted the attention of musical luminaries such as former The Band co-founder Levon Helm, who frequently featured Suter and her band on his Midnight Ramble Sessions and whom Suter said she considers the band's mentor.
Suter also has formed a friendship with blues legend B.B. King, whom she met at his Blues Club & Grill in New York City. She has opened for King three times, and after first hearing her, he reportedly said, "It's a rare thing to share the stage with great talent like that young lady."
For her Nightfall set, Suter said she will pull from her entire catalog, with perhaps an occasional cover of Helm thrown in. The unifying theme of the evening will be honesty, and that's a message she said should come through loud and clear.
"What we do is the truth," Suter said. "We mix it up, and it's like soup; we have a little bit of something for everybody. That's basically the deal."
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...