When we connected with Kaleigh Baker at her home recently, we had a solid reason for taking the scenic 15-minute trek out of town: specifically, we wanted to talk about her love for Tom Waits. And while we did accomplish just that, we also played (and got chewed on) by an adorable half pit, half Dalmatian dog, stared at an explosion of just-bloomed backyard sunflowers, played the guitar, sang a lot of songs, and shared as many stories and YouTube videos as seemed appropriate. We even managed to score warm country-style BBQ ribs care of her brother in the midst of all else.
It was fun without limits. It reminded us of that A.A. Milne quote, the one that reads, “Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” We got there around noon, left well after the sky had gone dark and had absolutely no regrets.
If you haven’t heard about it yet, allow us to be the bearers of this good news: Kaleigh will be performing Tom Waits songs for two hours straight this New Year’s Eve at Lil Indies along with her star-studded band of Enablers. Tickets for the appropriately titled Blue Year’s Eve are $15 in advance (or $25 DOS, 11pm).
The way she tells it, the whole Tom Waits tribute came together without a whole lot of planning. It wasn’t part of any conscious decision, that’s for sure. She even half-contemplated not taking the stage this holiday and going to listen to someone else perform instead.
That lasted for a couple days,” she says. “I mean, why wouldn’t I play on New Years? I always have such a good time.”
Devoting a night to the gravelly-voiced iconic singer was something she’d not tackled before, hence the draw. She manages to slip a fair amount of his tunes into her regular Thursday night sets (“Dead and Lovely,” “Chocolate Jesus”) but this came down to wanting to do more of his music for more people.
Kaleigh’s love for all things Tom-related has managed to grow exponentially since she started to tackle this project. She’s currently learning and practicing for a rather impressive 22-song set. She discovered Rain Dogs six years ago (thanks to friend Jeff Nolan) and became obsessed with Blue Valentine more recently. Both have proven to be turning points.
An example: she was on a two-week sabbatical and happened to be traveling through Moab, Utah, not long ago. She drove as far as her car would take her and pulled out a portable Crosley record player. The sun was going down and she was surrounded by red light and red rock as she cued up “Blue Valentines.” It allowed for a kind of magic she hadn’t entirely expected.
It changed my life,” she says.
It’s too soon to say whether or not her evening of All Things Tom will have that same effect, but it might. Kaleigh’s just jazzed she’s been able to handpick her players, managing how everything will sound. She’s got a wide cast of musical Enablers helping her accomplish her vision, people like JD Mackinder (bass), Jeff Nolan (guitar), Josh Lamkin (guitar), David Gibbs (keys), Aaron Fowler (who is expected to be hitting his drumsticks across a junkyard brake drum), Chris Charles (sax), Matty Creswell (muted trumpet), and Nalani Rothrock (vocals). Keep an eye out for some special guests as well.
If that’s not enough to look forward to, consider this: in keeping with the theme of the event, the entire inside of the venue will be awash in blue. And, as is certainly appropriate, free whiskey shots will replace the traditional midnight champagne toast.
When not practicing up for Dec. 31st, Kaleigh’s amused herself by transforming Christmas songs, switching out the major keys for minor ones (“Add a whistle to ‘Santa Baby,’ throw it in a Tarantino film and you have a spaghetti western holiday,” she quips), but the upcoming night’s been her main focus. Tom’s a wordy guy and tends to be all over the place. She wants to get things just right while still maintaining the weird, loose spirit of the man. Still, she’s not real nervous about what will play out. In fact, she can’t wait.
Because the venue is small, space is also limited. Expect the tickets to go pretty quickly. It’s not all that often something this special takes place.
“To me, Tom’s music doesn’t sound like a celebration of what’s to come, but beating yourself up about what happened in the prior year,” she says, before mentioning she never makes any resolutions. “I never go into any New Year’s Eve saying, ‘Next year is going to be better.’”
And why is that? The reason reveals itself pretty easily, even matter-of-factly.
“I’m tortured,” she says.
Kaleigh Baker & Her Enablers Preview by Dainon, edited by Matthew Weller.
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