I remained unconvinced about the new vision at Vanessie until a chance conversation with local vocalist extraordinaire/reigning karaoke queen Michèle Leidig led me to the restaurant for the debut performance of her new band, Sista Petalaine & da Bare Bones. Now, after an evening of truly enjoyable music, I am prepared to eat (some of) my words.

As I wrote in a previous column [A Sharp, Oct. 12, 2011: "Willkommen, Bienvenue"], the new talent buyer, RJ Laino, has a great plan: new venue, new bands. But four months later, the club still hangs out with the long list of Santa Fe establishments that unofficially discourage youth by offering background piano music and stripped down/subdued versions of blues or Americana bands. Other than my favorite local AlternAmericana act, Anthony Leon and the Chain, just about all the recent shows at the "new" Vanessie have remained on my "thanks but no thanks" list.

Enter Sista Petalaine. Though advertised as a Delta blues act, Leidig says the band is also "into Édith Piaf and Django Reinhardt numbers…that old-timey, swingin' jazz-type stuff." Eclectic is the name of the game—I heard some Tom Waits and music from Disney's The Jungle Book; I even saw Leidig play guitar.

"This collection of songs has been gathering in my head for years, and I'm grateful to Vanessie and RJ for the chance to finally play the stuff I want to play," Leidig tells SFR. "I've been what you might call an accessory in bands for so long that it's so cool to finally have my own project."

As a longtime fan of Leidig's infectious on-stage passion and unique vocal work, I was hardly surprised to learn that Sista Petalaine is a standout act. Other than a brief foray into musical theater during her college years, Leidig is an untrained vocalist. And yet she just about blows most other local singers out of the water. The former vocalist for super-fun rock/funk band The Reverend Karol King Kong (precursor to new funk band The Sticky), Leidig has carved a niche for herself in the local scene as a musical force to be reckoned with—much more than a karaoke hostess.

Sista Petalaine is a who's who of Santa Fe music royalty. With drummer Dave Waldrop of now defunct New Orleans jazz act The Gumbo Project, pianist/jazz master Andy Kingston and guitarist Greg Butera of bluegrass act Hannah and the Hambones, Leidig's backup band is the stuff of musical dreams.
Waldrop and Butera are stellar musicians, but Kingston is the man to watch. He has that mind-boggling and rare skill that transforms a mere pianist (no hate letters, please) into a rock star. With complete ease, he manages to simultaneously fill the roles of bassist and piano slayer. It's no small feat to take up the mantle of the entire rhythm section.

For Leidig, the band is a chance to realize a vision she's held for 15 years while getting back to the basics of enjoying music. "I'm not a diva queen and I don't want to be," she says. "I'm just a small-town girl looking to play some music and earn her stripes."

So while I still maintain that Vanessie is the type of place for people with heavier wallets, I'm not ashamed to admit that the upscale atmosphere is a major selling point for Sista Petalaine & da Bare Bones' upcoming shows on Feb. 22 and 29. The room is warm and inviting and, as my mother would tell you, has a pretty nice wine selection. So yeah, I would—gulp—probably return.

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