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The Scenestress: Sophie B. Hawkins is the cat's meow

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Sophie B. Hawkins delivered a high-octane headlining performance at the first annual Pussycat Festival. Photo by Stacey Hines.

Sophie B. Hawkins delivered a high-octane headlining performance at the first annual Pussycat Festival. Photo by Stacey Hines.

Until Saturday, I never knew there was a riverside beach up in Bradenton. But curling the toes into soft sand at the Tarpon Pointe Grill & Tiki Bar (801 Riverside Dr. E., Bradenton, FL 34208) is believing -- as they say. I was sipping a cold one on the long wooden pier with a girlfriend as American Idol finalist Melissa McGhee belted "Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay" into the sunset. Except for a huddle of pre-teen girls going totally nuts for Melissa in front of the stage, the scene was rather sleepy. Most folks lounged under the shade of the giant tiki bar, while a handful of couples, mostly women, had staked out seats close to the stage. These I took to be some diehard Sophie B. Hawkins fans. Right now it looked like naptime, but little did I know they were just saving up their energy to pounce in three hours' time, when the headliner of the first annual Pussycat Festival would stride into the spotlight.

Bradenton-bound Sophie B. Hawkins still gives a 'damn': interview

Leave it to Twinkle and Rock Soul Radio to shake up a lazy Florida bar crowd. Twinkle's voice was electrifying, and she must have cleaned out the backstage supply of Red Bull to jump around like that. My girlfriend and I had inched to the lip of the stage to soak up the rock and roll. Twinkle shimmied while guitarist Lenny Brooks shredded, and my girlfriend leaned into my shoulder to shout, "Can you believe she's a grandma?!"

The Voice and the Idol: Beverly McClellan (L) and Melissa McGhee join forces for a special duet. Photo by Stacey Hines.

The Voice and the Idol: Beverly McClellan (L) and Melissa McGhee join forces for a special duet. Photo by Stacey Hines.

After Twinkle knocked it soundly out of the park, the energy of the festival picked up a growing charge. Not to mention the ample bar had barely seen a vacancy for at least an hour or so. Powerhouse that she is, even The Voice's Beverly McClellan couldn't hold everyone spellbound forever. Much attention was drawn to the VIP tent, which had been draped in black fabric to shield the headliner from prying eyes. Every once in a while between Beverly's songs, a long, slow whoop could be heard rising from the dark tent, transfixing anyone close by -- Sophie was warming up.

As the excitement edged into agony, the backup musicians glided into view. I don't think it was the emcee who summoned Sophie to the stage so much as the palpable pull of desire from the crowd. And once the light hit Sophie, I got it.

She was radiant -- golden, even, with that famous foamy mane whipping around her face as she bent over her keyboard or djembe. Honestly I could have watched her pound on that drum for half the set. This look of pure joy suffused her face while her hands hammered on the skin, and I felt that smile spreading to my own lips. Some women in the front rows were clearly experiencing their own ecstatic moments as well.

See what I mean? Photo by Stacey Hines.

See what I mean? Photo by Stacey Hines.

On this evening, Sophie's voice had a lot more smoke in it than I remembered from the radio. So when she channeled the spirit of Janis Joplin for a couple of numbers, I could have sworn Janis was really there. Sophie rode that wave of wild abandon to the end of the show, when she shucked down to a white beater and made the ladies yowl like -- well -- a bunch of pussycats.

"Once she gets off that stage, those girls are going to eat Sophie alive," my friend muttered into my ear. I heard there was an encore, but I was already being pulled by the hand to the parking lot. "To avoid the carnage," my girlfriend said.

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Last modified: November 12, 2013
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