Betsy Kingston is several things. Among them: A Savannah native, a graduate of Armstrong Atlantic State University, a bartender at the recently-rebuilt Georgia Theatre in Athens, and one hell of a rock/rhythm and blues vocalist.
Concentrating for a moment on that last one, Kingston is back in her hometown this week for a May 18 performance at Loco's, in the company of her menagerie of madcap musician buddies (that would be the Crowns).
Her voice is a little Janis Joplin, with a bit of Bonnie Raitt, and when she's in country/Americana mode, she's world-weary Neko Case and Patsy Cline and even Scotland's KT Tunstall.
However, it's the soulfulness of her soul music that'll get ya every time.
Betsy Kingston and the Crowns played its first-ever gig less than a year ago, in August 2011. Do you have any kind of musical background?
Betsy Kingston: I was always really shy about singing. I did community theater a little bit growing up, at Savannah Theatre, and I originally was a theater major in college. I decided I wanted to be a little bit more rounded than that. Because when you're a theater major, you spend a lot of time indoors - which I didn't mind at all, but in college I just wanted to explore a little bit more. And I changed to an English major. But I've kept a journal on and off since I was 10 years old, so I've written songs just for myself. I always enjoyed singing, in the shower and stuff, and I made a bet with my boyfriend that if he quit smoking cigarettes I would get up and sing four songs with this band at a party, onstage. It's hilarious to look back and think that was two, three years ago. It was such a big deal to me then; it was so hard to do. And now I know I wouldn't think twice about it.
From a degree in English to a rock ‘n' roll singer. How did you get here?
Betsy Kingston: I graduated from Armstrong in 2007, and I had a job in the propane industry in Washington, D.C. for a little while. I worked with some really great people. The job was great, on paper, but it just wasn't for me. There are a lot of people that would love jobs like that. I decided, why not do what's in my wildest dreams? So I started trying to learn the guitar a little bit, and trying to put together a band. And I moved to Athens because I have some good friends here, it's close to home, but beyond that it's just a great music town. And of all the music towns I was considering, it was by far the cheapest. It's really easy to be a starving artist here.
Guitarist Joe Dinnan, who co-founded the Crowns with you, has been the only constant in the band. He produced your album Blue Laws. But he isn't with you any longer. How come?
Betsy Kingston: The band originally started when I tried to find a ton of people to work with, through Craigslist, friends of friends, open mic nights, stuff like that. Joe's family in Colorado happened to know my family; we sat down together and wrote a lot of songs. We went out to Oregon and recorded and album that he primarily produced. Then we took it on the road for a little while, and he rapidly realized that he needed to get off the road and be more of a family man. So he's trying to focus now on producing albums more than anything. We had a lot of people who played with us a lot of times, but it's sort of been per gig, and per who's available. What I'd really like to do is lock in a lineup, to really take it to that next level, where everybody's totally synched in and committed. And able to create incredible things.
Any words of found wisdom after your nine months as a bandleader?
Betsy Kingston: A lot of this is learning to wrap your mind around the fact that, if you do want to make a living doing music, it does need to be treated like a business. A lot of musicians are insanely talented, but they never had the opportunity to take it anywhere because they don't know where to begin. We try our best to be both, but it is hard. When I first started doing this, one of my friends told me this: "The thing about being a musician, you're not paid to play. That's your reward. That's your candy. You're getting paid to call people a ton of times, have them not call you back, have people be rude to you and turn you down. You're getting paid to load up the equipment, drive and unload it 45 minutes later." So for me, performing is really ... I just love performing. I would like to record another album, hopefully with a year.
Betsy Kingston and the Crowns
Where: Loco's Grill & Pub, 301 W. Broughton St.
When: At 9:30 p.m. Friday, May 18
With Dank Sinatra, Byron Hatcher