Roots Report: Sarah Potenza Crossman Comes Home

Okee dokee folks … I know I have said over and over (and over) again that I don’t like those singing contest shows on television. Well, I DON’T like them, but when you know someone on one of those shows, you want that person to win. Unfortunately, she didn’t. The person I am talking about is RI’s own Sarah Potenza Crossman. Though Sarah and I didn’t meet until a few years ago, we have a lot in common. We both graduated from Smithfield High School, albeit 20 years apart. We had the same music teacher at that high school, Mr. Robert Cleasby, who gave me the confidence to sing. People told her that she really didn’t have a good voice because it was deep for a woman and raspy. She sang baritone then and Mr. Cleasby helped her with her voice. We were both in a production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta, The Sorcerer. We both sang in All State Chorus. We both went to RIC. We both turned out to be musicians, though she obviously is doing much better at it! And I also used to hang out and play guitar with her father-in-law when I was in high school. That is how Sarah and I initially connected, through him. It’s Rhode Island; it’s the way it works here! She has performed at the Rhythm and Roots Festival several times over the past few years and is scheduled to be there again this September. You don’t need to wait until then to see her, but you will want to get to that, too! Sarah will be performing a headlining homecoming show on May 14 at Fort Adams in Newport as part of the Magenta Music Night presented by Team SCA at the Volvo Ocean Race. I talked to Sarah, by phone, from Nashville, where she currently resides.

Potenza Crossman is trying to get her newest album recorded, and since her appearance on “The Voice,” she is getting lots of offers and lots of e-mails and is having a hard time keeping up with it all. She needs an assistant or a secretary or a really good manager. I was fortunate that she had time to talk with me for a bit. The first thing I wanted to know was what happened to the Tall Boys of the band Sarah and the Tall Boys. She told me that the band is no more because her time with the Tall Boys had run its course. The move to Nashville and her desire to move on to a new style of music left the old band and sound in Chicago, which became her home after leaving RI. I was curious about how she wound up in Chicago with Ian Crossman, another RI native. Besides being her husband, Ian is also Sarah’s guitarist. Sarah and Ian were high school sweethearts, but broke up. They hadn’t seen each other for about six years when Sarah happened upon Ian on MySpace (remember that?). “It hit me like a 5,000 pound brick,” she said when she recalls seeing Ian’s photo on MySpace. Sarah contacted Ian and they had some marathon long-distance calls. Ian decided to go to Sarah in Chicago and asked her to marry him as soon as he arrived. “He’s my guy and that’s that … he was the one, always.” she said of Ian. They started making music together and have toured the country doing so.

About a year ago she had the opportunity to audition for “The Voice” and she said the show taught her a lot. Being on the show enabled her to “come out from behind her guitar and sing.” The show released her soul and rock side and freed her up to take this style to her own music. She also learned that “The Voice” is more about appearance or, as she puts rather directly, “my fat ass would still be on there!” At 35 years old she was just about the oldest contestant on the show. “I couldn’t have a bad moment … I had to spend much time being conscious of what I was saying and being all smiles.” “The Voice” seems more geared to a younger demographic and younger contestants. She says, “They want to be able to sell records and hit the mainstream market.” They did wardrobe makeovers on the show and she was schooled in stage attire. She now loves being dressed up and says that “it makes a show even better for the audience to experience.” All in all she feels very fortunate to have had the experience and doesn’t want to knock the show. It was great exposure (and yes, she did get paid). In fact she will be returning to perform on the season finale of “The Voice” on May 19.

When Potenza Crossman takes the Fort Adams stage on May 14, she will be playing with mixed bag of performers. The band will consist of Sarah on guitar and vocals, Ian on baritone guitar, Todd Snider (who is coming up from Nashville with Sarah) on bass, Steve Vallante — the keyboardist from RI’s Brass Attack, and another local, Tom Petteruti on drums. They will do an intensive few days of rehearsal for the show, but they all are pros have been prepped with the tunes. At the Newport show you can expect to hear Sarah’s original material as well as some choice cover songs –“Wasted Love” that she did on “The Voice” and even an AC/DC song. “If everyone is awesome and I am feeling the vibe I may even do some Janis.” She has been compared to Janis Joplin for years and has a love/hate relationship with the comparison. “It’s not really my style of singing,” she says, but admits Janis, as well as Joe Cocker, were influences in her musical style.

Potenza Crossman got her start on stage at Stepping Stone Ranch in Escoheag where her father brought her for the festivals they once had there. At 15 years old she sang on that stage, and her father used to send cassette tapes to Ed McMahon’s “Star Search” in hopes of getting her on the show. It’s no wonder that she eventually wound up on “The Voice” — it was her dream to be on a show like that. She is excited to be doing a homecoming show in RI and hopes that folks will be as excited to see her as she is to be back. About her stay in RI she says, “I hope that I get some free pizza! I may just crash an open mic!”

After her last “Voice” performance, she will get back to working on her new recording. She hopes that her celebrity can muster up some money to produce it through an online fundraising campaign. She says of her songs, “They are about the working person. I want to champion regular people who everyone can relate to … people who get up every day and struggle to make their dreams come true. They are my heroes.” She feels that this is her best work. She has her dream studio, The Bomb Shelter in East Nashville, lined up as well as producer Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes). And she will continue to juggle her many hats — booking agent, manager, songwriter, bandleader, performer, PR person, and whatever else needs be done until she gets help.

Sarah Potenza Crossman is truly a talented, warm and REAL person. She is very deserving of the leg-up that “The Voice” gave her and more. I sincerely hope that RI will give her the homecoming that she is worthy of. Catch Sarah and Ian at Fort Adams in Newport on Thurs, May 14, and you can help them out with the CD soon on pledge.com. Also appearing at the Newport show is another “Voice” finalist, Anita Antoinette, and special guest, RI’s Emma Joy Galvin. By the way, you can see the Big Blue Bug on 95 wearing Sarah’s trademark white glasses right now. For more about this show and Sarah, “Ring Forth Ye Bells” to newportwaterfrontevents.com.

BTW, “Ring Forth Ye Bells” is an obscure reference that no one will get. Oh, well. That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.

www.JohnFuzek.com

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