Just before 8:30 p.m., with the sun setting majestically over the historic Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, platinum-selling, two-time Grammy-winning singer LeAnn Rimes stepped onto the stage to put the cherry on top of the annual Starry Night in the Garden fundraiser.
With thousands of fans camped out in lawn chairs, on blankets, and even across the street from the venue, the “Blue” songbird delivered a set that was vintage Rimes. It has been a few years since she performed in Western New York, and her 2015 show at the Seneca Niagara Casino and Events Center was cut short due to a bout of laryngitis.
This time around, Rimes was not only healthy, but she seemed to be genuinely having fun on stage. In between her songs, which spanned the last two decades of her catalogue (hard to believe the 34-year-old has been performing for a quarter century) she laughed, danced, blew kisses, and appeared at ease and at peace with herself on stage in a way that has been missing in the past.
While Rimes delivered the usual suspects including her 1996 breakout hit, “Blue,” and her smash crossover song, “How Do I Live,” she also showed she isn’t an artist living off her past. Her offering of her newest single, “Love Is Love Is Love,” from her 2017 album, “Remnants,” drew a huge reaction from the Botanical Gardens crowd.
[Photos: Rimes, James T.W., Johnnyswim perform at the Botanical Gardens]
Rimes, who co-wrote the track, said it was inspired by the struggles of the LGBTQ community, telling her fans the song is “meant to start a conversation.” Social issues aside, it should start a conversation centered on the fact that Rimes sounds as good today as she has in 20 years.
Preceding Rimes to the stage was the husband-wife duo Johnnyswim.
Though far from a household name, the folksy tandem of Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez energized the crowd with a 30-minute set highlighted by “In My Arms,” a soulful song that pays homage to the couple’s own love story. Though the duo seemed better suited for an upscale, old-time dinner club, they delivered a stirring set mixed with some heartfelt tales of their struggles to make it in the music business.
On most nights they could have carried the stage, but being sandwiched in between a multi-platinum recording star and up-and-coming star James T.W. is a tough card to draw.
James T.W., a baby-faced British teenager last seen in these parts when he opened for Shawn Mendes at the Erie County Fair, offered up a set that left you wondering not if, but when, he will be headlining sold-out venues across the globe.
[Photos: Smiles before Starry Night in the Garden]
With a voice that belies his age, James T.W. drew a crowd of ladies to the front of the stage as he ran the musical gamut from his first charted song, “When You Love Someone,” to a cover of Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn.” Though he still appears to be developing his stage presence, he has the voice, the looks, the songwriting ability and the “it factor” to be a superstar.
Starry Night in the Garden has always been far more than just a concert. For the faithful who make the event an annual pilgrimage, it is an evening to enjoy a few glasses of wine, nosh on some tasty treats and relax with family and friends surrounded by the tranquility of the Botanical Gardens.
This year’s event featured food samplings from more than 20 restaurants and food trucks as well as tastings from a wide variety of regional vineyards. Add an eclectic mix of live music into the fold, along with the chance to tour the historic Botanical Gardens and the night was magical.
Starry Night in the Garden, featuring LeAnn Rimes, James T.W., Johnnyswim
Wednesday night outside the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens