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Taken by Storm

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Portland fave heads out on endless series of gigs — and that's way she likes it


COURTESY PHOTO: JANICE PIERCE - At a recent concert in Tampa, Fla., Storm Large sings 'Eight Miles Wide.'Few women fit the word “chanteuse” these days the way Storm Large does.

She is a 21st-century performer who is an actor, singer and playwright. But few are prepared for the mayhem and mash-ups, the ribald repartee that she puts on — unless you have seen her before.

This spring, Large is crossing the country and the world, touring with both Pink Martini and her new band Le Bonheur, and performing with the National Symphony Orchestra. In March, she will be in Istanbul, Turkey.

Though she calls Portland home, she said her life is on the road, and she is in Oregon only two months of the year.

“Where is everybody?” she calls out to the crowd on a recent Saturday night in Tampa, Fla.

Across town, her unlikely competition was Donald Trump, who made a sudden stop at the University of South Florida, stumping to a crowd of 10,000.

“I like intimate,” Storm says.

Not yet a household name in Florida the way she is in Portland, Large begins her work to strangle the stiffness out of the room with her trademark talent for telling it as she sees it, with stories of her life and imaginings and belting out original songs, old standards and re-imagined hits from Cole Porter to Black Sabbath. It’s a slice of her life onstage in another city, as the Portland performer spreads her wings.

COURTESY PHOTO: JANICE PIERCE - Barefoot and banging a tambourine,  Large performs with bandmate and bass player Matt Brown.Large came to national attention in 2006 as a finalist on the CBS show “Rockstar: Supernova.” In 2007, she starred in Portland Center Stage’s production of “Cabaret.”

Her autobiographical musical, “Crazy Enough,” sold out for 21 weeks in Portland in 2008, spawning her trademark song “Eight Miles Wide.”

Used as a sing-along in her Tampa show, male members of the audience sang the chorus — a tribute to the troubles and triumphs of her life in Los Angeles.

To the surprise of her band and the audience, Large leads a 13-year-old girl onstage, holding her hand so she doesn’t trip on the wires.

“Just being on stage with her — being lost in the moment — I will never forget it,” the girl, Sarah Hardwig, says. Blind since birth, Hardwig had waited outside a South Florida show last Christmas to meet Storm.

Though nervous, Hardwig asks Large about the Queen song that she had performed, and Storm immediately says, “Why don’t I pull you out onstage?”

She did just that, and the duo decimated with “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Somebody to Love,” setting fire to a 13-year-old’s dreams. (The video can be seen on YouTube.)

After the show, T-shirts are sold and autographs signed.

When “people see Storm once, it’s like a virus,” says drummer Greg Eklund, overlooking the faithful who are lining up after her performance for a photo opportunity. “They just can’t get enough.”

Marilyn Goetz has been a Large fan since seeing her on “Rock Star: Supernova” in 2006.

“I was on the Balls board,” she says proudly, referring to an Internet site that listed shared interests and acquaintances, including the schedule for Storm Large and the Balls, her band at the time. As to Storm’s no-holds-barred style, Goetz adds, “They coined a phrase for it back then: ‘Lounge-core!’”

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JANICE PIERCE - Large invited young talent Sarah Hardwig onstage. Hardwig did not disappoint as she and Large sang a duet on 'Somebody to Love.'Backstage, Large is on a post-show high, talking stream of consciousness about how cute manatees are, her mental health speech at the Albertina Kerr Centers some months back, and a specialty drink in Miami called the Island Royale.

“Few shows are big exclamation points,” she says, shaking off the small crowd.

She begins listing her gigs, ticking off the time until the band members —James Beaton, piano; Scotty Weddle, guitar; Matt Brown, bass; Greg Eklund, drums — have to be on the road the next day.

“She likes the name Le Bonheur,” drummer Greg Edlund explains, “because it means happiness.”

As she leaves for her hotel and a few hours of sleep before back-to-back shows in Miami, Storm pauses for one more photo — “unicorning,” as she calls a photo op — for one more fan.

“Oh, and I’m playing for Carol Channing’s 90th birthday party!” she says, remembering a gig not listed on the exhaustive schedule on her website.

“I’m not building up to anything,” she says, indicating a small audience is the same as a large one. “It’s an endless stream of gigs. It’s what I do.”