Osborne impresses Strand audience

http://www.butlereagle.com/graphics/nothing.gifBy Paula Grubbs
Eagle Staff Writer


ZELIENOPLE — The 259 people who braved Thursday night's snowstorm to hear an acoustic performance by Grammy nominee Joan Osborne quickly learned that the singer/songwriter is much more than a one-hit wonder.
Osborne, whose 1996 hit “One of Us” climbed to number two on the Billboard Pop Songs chart, delighted the crowd at the Strand Theater by effortlessly belting out an eclectic mix of tunes showcasing her soulful and soaring voice.
The intimate setting allowed for a unique connection between Osborne and her audience, and the affable chanteuse took advantage of the cozy atmosphere.
“Someone needs to tell me how to pronounce the name of this town,” Osborne said after amazing the audience with her first song.
An enthusiastic fan in the front row shouted out the answer.
“Zelie-en-ople?” said Osborne. “That is a name that needs to be in a song.”
With the hooting hometown crowd firmly in her pocket, Osborne demonstrated her impressive vocal range with only her keyboardist, Keith Cotton, accompanying her.

Joan Osborne performs Thursday with keyboardist Keith Cotton at the Strand Theater in Zelienople. The singer/songwriter graced fans with covers as well as original music, and of course her 1996 hit, “One of Us.”

Osborne alternately strummed a guitar or thumped a tambourine against her leg as she sang covers including Van Morrison's “Tupelo Honey” and Otis Redding's “Champagne and Wine” along with original tunes old and new.
Dozens of cellphone screens appeared and began recording after Osborne turned to Cotton and said “Time to play the hit.” Soon she was asking the rhetorical question that earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Song in 1996.
“What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us?” Osborne sang, accompanied by the crowd.
The evening also served as a fundraiser for the American Red Cross, which netted $4,700 for the organization. Donation cans were placed inside the theater and in the heated tent outside, where Osborne appeared for a meet-and-greet after the show.
First in line was Rick Elster, executive director of the Red Cross' west central region.
“Outstanding, wonderful, great,” Elster said of the performance. “How many adjectives can I use? It was beautiful.”
Elster picked up two CDs for his wife, who was unable to attend.
Rick and Rhonda McGuirk of Harmony said they became Osborne fans after seeing a performance on television 10 years ago.
“When I saw her name on the marquee at the Strand, I was like, ‘Wow!'” Rick said.
The McGuirks said they marveled at Osborne's ability to hit every note with perfection, never once sounding even faintly flat.
Mark Helgerman of Harmony said Osborne's performance exceeded his expectations. He also called Cotton's skills at the keyboard “phenomenal.”
Craig Koehnke made his way from West Mifflin to hear Osborne, who is one of his favorite artists. Koehnke appreciated the acoustics at the Strand, where he saw Osborne for the first time.
“She has exceptional range,” said Koehnke. “She's fantastic. Talented and caring.”
Ron Carter, president and CEO of the Strand, is amazed that the broken down theater he committed to resurrecting has hosted Debbie Reynolds, John Oates, the Celtic Tenors, and now Osborne.
“It's a thrill,” Carter said. “It's so exciting to have these marquee performers in this intimate space.”
Carter said he cannot help but hearken back to 2001, when the difficult initiative to save the 1914 theater from the wrecking ball began.
“This is what makes all the aggravation and work worthwhile,” Carter said. “I love to look at the audience's faces as they are transfixed by the performers. I get to bring joy to people for a couple of hours.”
For upcoming movies and events at the theater, visit www.thestrandtheater.org. More information on Osborne is available at her official website, www.joanosborne.com.