Leah Tirado performs with her band, The Big Payback

Hello, my name is Leah, and I’m a recovering Diva.

Let me introduce you to my twisted neurosis.

You may have seen me performing in a variety of concerts and theatrical productions in Southwest Michigan over the last few years, but I actually got my start in Madison, WI and Chicago. The Big Payback formed 10 years ago. Many of us have played together longer as we met in college. We play at all sorts of venues and types of shows:  weddings, corporate events, charities, and holiday shows. We love it most when we get to perform our original tunes. We play all over the Midwest, but mostly in Madison, so while I now live here in southwest Michigan, I still make the trip pretty often.

3 years ago The Big Payback was approached by Matt Gerding, the owner of the Majestic Theatre in Madison, WI, to be the house band for a fundraiser that he hoped would turn into an annual event. This was the beginning of R-E-S-P-E-C-T and it featured the top female vocalists in the Madison area, each representing a female icon. 

So, what about my neurosis? I was on my regular 4-hour drive to Madison and I was blasting Tina Turner – my chosen artist – in a desperate final attempt to capture her essence, because clearly, osmosis is just as effective as actual practice. Why did I choose such a formidable performer? I asked myself. I could never pull her off, do her justice, honor her properly. 

When I was honest with myself I knew my anxiety wasn’t just about covering one of my idols adequately. I also felt I needed to be THE BEST singer on that stage. I mean, The Big Payback is my band. I couldn’t just go on stage and do my thing, I had to outshine everyone else, thus proving that I deserved to be the front woman of such a talented ensemble.

Leah Tirado and The Big Payback

As I inched closer and closer to the state line on that drive, slowed by Chicago traffic, the terrorizing thoughts couldn’t be silenced. My biggest fear: what if the guys enjoy playing with someone else more than me? I felt trapped. I felt like I was stepping into this disguised audition and was about to be All About Eve’d. How could I call myself a feminist and still be so afraid to share the stage with other women? I started feeling a bit pathetic.

Get it together, Tirado.

I got to the Majestic as the band was loading in, before any of the other singers were scheduled to get there. I’d gotten there early by design: I had to stake my claim in the dressing room, naturally, plus, I needed a little time to examine the stage. 

Early on, I had decided the way that I was going to set myself apart was to do Tina Turner’s choreography to “Proud Mary”. I don’t really fancy myself a dancer, but I can move, I had done it before when I was a performer with the Wisconsin Singers, and surely, no one else was going to dance. 

As I got onto the stage I realized it was smaller than I remembered it. Argh. Could I still move? I’d have to make it work. No way could I cut it. This is what was going to make me stand out and I had to stand out.

The energy in the venue was electric. Everyone on staff was super excited and enthusiastic. See, the political climate in Madison is very liberal (we love a peaceful rally with a good drum circle) and the first show was very politically charged. We were doing a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood and everyone involved was very passionate about our objective.

The producers had been really sensitive to the fact that I was sharing my band. They’d let me choose my artist first, and I’d immediately known I wanted to do Tina. I chose her because of her story more than anything – she’s always been an inspiration to me. As I was getting ready in the green room that night, I realized that that was the whole point. To share the stories and music of such influential women and to share the stage with equally strong and talented women. I had let my anxiety get the best of me. (It wasn’t the first time, it surely will not be the last. I’m a work in progress.)

After a while, the other performers began to trickle in. The buzz heightened with each new introduction. Without coordinating with one another, we all had brought costumes and props, throws and tributes to the artists we were representing: it wasn’t about impersonation, it was about paying homage. We excitedly told each other why we had chosen our respective artists, shared personal stories about how Planned Parenthood had become a valuable resource for us or someone we knew, talked about our current artistic pursuits, commiserated with one another about breaking into a male-dominated music scene, and found common empathy. The night wasn’t about a single one of us, it was about the lot of us.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T 2018 at Shadowland Pavilion, St. Joseph

Women of different generations, cultures, belief systems, sexualities, and music preferences stepped onto that stage, sang their hearts out, and were surrounded by mutual support and respect. It was a beautiful thing, and I take that energy with me now every time I do this show. I’m also happy to say I didn’t fall off the stage. 

Based on that amazing first experience, my mom Norma fell in love with R-E-S-P-E-C-T and decided to bring the concept to the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra. A year later, The Big Payback was jamming on the shores of Lake Michigan with 10 area singers. Now, a fantastic lineup of local singers and I are preparing for R-E-S-P-E-C-T 2, to be performed this weekend, July 19 and 20. 

I’m excited to be representing Gloria Estefan when we bring the show here, and thrilled to be sharing the stage with these phenomenal women…and of course, my band, too. 

Show details:

July 19th @ 7:30 at the Acorn Theatre in Three Oaks; $30

July 20th @ 7:30 at the Shadowland Pavilion in St. Joseph; $20 presale, $25 at the door

Andrea Deleon as Sharon Jones
Kecia Deroly as Aretha Franklin
Candice Elders as Amy Winehouse
Meagan Francis as Debbie Harry of Blondie
Morgan Ingle as Stevie Nicks (on Friday) Nikki Gauthier as Stevie Nicks (on Saturday)
Meredith George as Ann Wilson of Heart
Carina Kanzler as Adele
Jenna Mammina as Bonnie Raitt
Yolonda Lavender as Lauryn Hill

And a special appearance by an up and coming star, Xiomara Urbina.

Leah Tirado
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