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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Pink Martini will go down easy at the Festival at Sandpoint

Pink Martini is heading to the shores of Lake Pend Oreille for a performance Sunday at the Festival at Sandpoint.  (Courtesy photo)

When China Forbes played a recent festival in the middle of France, the Pink Martini vocalist’s mind raced toward the band’s upcoming date in Sandpoint.

“We performed in this big field in the middle of nowhere,” Forbes said. “It was rainy and muddy, but the crowd was just incredible.”

The common denominator between the France gig and Sandpoint is that both events are in small-town locations. It’s common for fans in tertiary markets to be a bit more enthusiastic than aficionados in big cities.

“I totally agree with that take,” Forbes said while calling from Germany. “There is definitely a connection playing a place like we did in France and what we’ll play in Sandpoint.”

Forbes, 52, recalls what it was like performing at the Festival at Sandpoint in 2017. “It was just so cool,” she said.

“It really is beautiful in Sandpoint and it’s a fun place to play. But I really enjoy festivals. It’s different than the normal (theater) gigs. People are running around. It’s not as comfortable backstage. It’s hot and communal. I get to see other recording artists. Like out here we recently played with (singer-songwriter) Corinne Bailey Rae. We got to watch her set and having the chance to see someone like that is always a bonus.”

There is no band that sounds like the eccentric and adventurous Pink Martini, which will perform Sunday at during the Festival at Sandpoint’s opening weekend. Jazz, swing and world music are just some of the styles embodied by Pink Martini, which is led by pianist Thomas Lauderdale. Get ready for a samba followed by a bossa nova and then a tango when Pink Martini performs.

“Part of what makes it so amazing being in this band is that we move in so many different directions,” Forbes said. “What I love about this band is that we are unlike any other group.”

Forbes never dreamed of being in such a band. While growing up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Forbes hoped to become a singer-songwriter a la Natalie Merchant. However, Forbes met Lauderdale while studying at Harvard.

“On paper it didn’t seem like it would work with us musically,” Forbes said. “Thomas was a classical pianist and I was in rock bands. We developed this special connection. I told him that I wanted to study opera. It wasn’t his thing, but Thomas got some sheet music, and he accompanied me. We became very good friends. We played together, but we didn’t write a song until Pink Martini started.”

Nearly 30 years have passed since Pink Martini formed in Portland, and the group will do whatever it takes to continue.

When Forbes had vocal surgery in 2011, which forced her to take a hiatus from the band, Lauderdale called a reluctant Storm Large to take Forbes’ place until she could return. Both Forbes and Large front the group.

“I have no complaints,” Forbes said. “Storm is a great singer. Sometimes she goes out with the band and that’s been fine. I love Pink Martini, but I don’t have to focus on the group every minute.”

Forbes is working on a solo album and basking in the glow of winning the Ella Fitzgerald Award at the Montreal Jazz Festival.

“It’s a huge honor,” Forbes said. “I’m a massive Ella Fitzgerald fan. When I saw the list of people who won the Ella Fitzgerald award, I was blown away. Liza Minnelli, Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross are some of the prior winners. I’m so honored to be recognized. It’s funny. I received the award at a festival. Good things happen at festivals. We’ll see what happens when we return to the Festival at Sandpoint.”