One of the great tragedies in American music was the far-too-early passing of Patsy Cline, at age 30 in a 1963 plane crash. Cline not only pioneered country music for women, she brought a whole catalog of great songs to the public consciousness. Standards such as Willie Nelson’s “Crazy”, Don Gibson’s “Sweet Dreams” and Alan Block’s “Walkin’ After Midnight” owe much of their status to Cline’s renditions. The first female solo artist inducted (posthumously) to the Country Music Hall of Fame, it’s no small task for anyone to take on Cline’s oeuvre. Fortunately, a modern-day singer, Margaret Belton, is up to the task. Graced with a warm, powerful and supple voice as well as riveting stage presence, Belton is not only reviving Patsy Cline’s musical legacy, she’s making it her own.
Belton first heard “Walkin’ After Midnight” as an 11-year-old growing up in Indiana. Within a few years, she was singing those lyrics to appreciative ears in area bars. Soon after moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, she formed her own band “The Patsychords,” which quickly became a local favorite. In 2014, Belton won the part of Cline in the Altarena Playhouse staging of “Always … Patsy Cline,” and not only mastered her portrayal, she took home a Theatre Bay Area Award for Best Principal Female Actor in a Musical.
Fortuitously, no one, including Belton, really wanted the fun to stop. In 2015, she reprised the role in a New Orleans production of “Always… Patsy Cline,” and set about assembling a band for a Cline tribute show at the Freight & Salvage.
On Mother’s Day Weekend, Belton and an all-star band of Bay Area musicians romped through 18 Cline favorites in the tribute, “Today, Tomorrow & Forever.” Leading off with a faithful rendition of “Sweet Dreams,” honoring the mothers in the audience with “Back in Baby’s Arms,” and romping through “Lovesick Blues,” Belton faithfully revived the spirit of Cline. Likewise, her band was comprised of a crew who eagerly raised bars with each solo: if Henry Salvia wasn’t burning up the keys, David Phillips was seducing everyone with his pedal steel. By the second set Belton was in a red dress and the band was on fire. Beginning with “Walking After Midnight,” and gliding through versions of “Fall to Pieces” and “Crazy,” their rendition of “Your Cheating Heart” was fully, and joyfully, realized.
Guitarist, vocalist, and not-so-secret-band weapon Maurice Tani did triple duty as guitarist, unofficial MC, and show opener. Tani, an exceedingly fine songwriter and singer in his own right, demonstrated why he periodically headlines the Freight himself. He ably started the show with an assured three-song performance, including a stellar version of Cindy Walker’s “You Don’t Know Me.”
The night was simply golden: a fitting and glorious celebration of Belton’s dedication to Cline’s legacy thus far and perhaps a hint of what is yet to come.