The former Miss America Pageant contestant has had several 'Billboard' No. 1 dance hits, and will perform during Harrah’s three-day LGBT-themed “Out in AC” event Oct. 29-31
Halloween weekend will be a homecoming of sorts for Kristine W, a singer/songwriter slated to perform two gigs at the Harrah’s Entertainment extravaganza on tap for Oct. 29-31. Dubbed “Out in AC,” the weekend-long LGBT bash will also feature famed gossip blogger Perez Hilton, “Queens of Comedy” comediennes Whitney Cummings, Margaret Cho and Sandra Bernhard, a gala party at The Pool at Harrah's, a Hallo-Queen brunch and more. Each night will conclude with after-hours events for late-night partygoers.
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Kristine W last performed in Atlantic City as Miss Washington in the 1981 Miss America Pageant (winning the pageant’s preliminary swimsuit and non-finalist talent portions). The Seattle native, born Kristine Weitz, went on to a professional career in show business following her A.C. debut, and after graduating from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with a degree in broadcast journalism.
She released seven albums and achieved 15 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot Dance Club songs chart, but her latest release, a two-CD, 30-song compilation called Straight Up with a Twist, came out in September. The Straight Up song list includes soulful spins on such classics as Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” Donna Summer’s “On the Radio,” the Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit” and others. Many of the other songs she co-wrote or wrote herself, including introspective numbers like “Save My Soul” and “Dream On,” and many of the musicians who back her up have toured with such music luminaries as Carlos Santana, Diana Ross and Paul McCartney.
In the 1980s and ‘90s, before going solo, she performed on the Las Vegas casino circuit with her band "Kristine W and the Sting." Weitz will be part of the second annual “Out in AC” event that includes events at three Harrah’s properties. She will sing dance hits Friday night (starting 10pm) at Showboat-House of Blues’ Club Worship for the Charity Monster party, then perform jazz versions of her hits on Sunday at Caesars’ Forum Lounge for the Hallo-Queen Brunch & Tea Dance (11am-5pm).
Atlantic City Weekly recently spoke with Kristine W by phone.
I noticed that Straight Up with a Twist was four years in the making. How come it took that long to produce?
There was the financial element that was part of it. It was expensive to do, and basically my live dance shows financed the jazz project. So we just had to go little by little, and having all the musicians record in the same room at the same time was an ominous task, but a necessary task in order to have a continuity of sound — more like a mood — which was important to me. I didn’t want to just have a record that you cut song by song by song. It had to have a vibe from beginning to end, it had to sound cohesive, and the only way to do that with jazz is if all the musicians get in the same groove, and get to where you’re like playing a live gig. But that can be tricky. It was actually kind of hysterical at times.
It’s on a label called Fly Again Music — is that your own label?
Yes, I started it in 2008 basically out of sheer frustration from being on a corporate label for 10 years. You run all over the country promoting music for a company that you don’t see any money from, or something ridiculous like three cents a download or something, while the corporate executives get rich. Label companies have become professional rip-off artists.
It’s actually pretty cool how you pull off putting jazz spins on songs like “Stairway to Heaven” — how did you select the song list?
My brother’s in band in Seattle that does a lot of classic rock tunes, and I just fell in love with the lyrics of some of them, honestly. And I always loved Donna Summer and all the different things that were happening with dance music at the time. When you listen to the words reframed, or put into this kind of [jazz] context, I think you can appreciate them more. A lot of people think these are brand-new songs too, and it’s kind of fun to get e-mails that say things like “Oh I love that song ‘What I Like About You,’ [originally by the Romantics] — did you write that?” Sometimes they hear a song like “Take it to the Limit” and it’s like “No way!” and their eyes get as big as saucers.
The song “Dream On” I started writing in my first semester in college, when I was like 18 and scared to death, coming from a little farm town near Seattle and heading to Vegas, so it was about that — far from home and all alone. Sometimes I just sit at the piano or hang around with my guitar, and a lot of times [song inspiration] is based on personal experience or a friend’s personal experience, and I’ll write a song about it. It happens at different times, but once it does it’s like you just can’t stop until you’re done writing it.
We went through dozens of songs and picked about 30 that we thought we could make jazzier, or put sort of a Bossa nova [Latin jazz] twist to them. Some we found to be just complete dogs that couldn’t be put in that context without making them sound cheesy. That’s our joke now — remember there’s a fine line between fabulous and cheesy.
How big an influence was your mom [Donna Lee] on your career, because I see you dedicated Straight Up to her and your music teacher, Mike Garrett?
They were both a huge influence. [Garrett] was very inspiring in high school, and would always encourage me and challenge me. He’s an amazing man. I studied scat and jazz at UNLV, which had the number-one jazz choir.
If you had talent and [Garrett] recognized it, he’d tell you it’s your gift and help you to cultivate it and tell you to go out in the world with it. My mom was like that too, but she was a little more apprehensive about me going into show business because she knows how much of a struggle it is, and that you don’t always make a lot of money doing it and can end up spending a lot of money promoting yourself. It’s not always a steady paycheck. She lived that part of it, so she was hoping that I’d to it more as a hobby and go more into TV broadcasting, because that was my major. But I have no regrets. I’ve been luckier than most. I should say it was more due to perseverance and sheer will than luck.
What brings you to this Atlantic City event, and will you be sticking around town for a while after it’s over?
It’s a big weekend for the gay community, and I’ve got a big gay following that basically said, “We’ve got to get Kristine here for this.” And everybody’s digging the jazz album so far, so I’m doing my dance show with my singers at Club Worship on Friday, and bringing in my New York band and doing the jazz show for the brunch at Caesars on Sunday. My girls [her backup singers], Fran and Alysha, who star in The Lion King in Orlando, will be with me in Atlantic City too.
I think we’re going to go Birdland [a famous jazz club in New York City] on Monday. In November I’m going to Hong Kong to perform, so I have to get home and start getting ready for that.
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