For her second Joni Mitchell tribute concert, taking place this Saturday at Istanbul (formerly Your Inner Vaganbond), local promoter Maree Gallagher is bringing in some of the big names in the Pittsburgh singer-songwriter scene. One performer isn't so well known, but has a unique tie to the woman being feted: Ruby Vere, a longtime Joni fan, spent some years in the '90s in Los Angeles, and returned to Pittsburgh ... having swum in her idol's pool.
Vere, a Montour graduate, left town after high school to attend the Musicians Institute. A diehard Joni fan, she saw Mitchell play in L.A., and rushed the stage to tell Joni how much she adored her. "Then, of course, [security] came and dragged me away," Vere recalls with a laugh. End of story, one might think.
The next year, though, a close friend at school dropped a bombshell: Mitchell was, in fact, her godmother. "I knew it was meant to be," Vere says. She spent time at Mitchell's house, swimming with her friend and listening to Joni play; Mitchell returned the favor, coming to a show of Vere's in L.A. and a party at Vere's apartment. ("She dropped a beer all over my floor," Vere recalls, "and she wanted to clean it up herself.")
After a car accident, Vere returned to Pittsburgh, where perhaps you're less likely to run into your musical idol, but more likely to end up in a tight-knit group like the musicians associated with Acousticafe. Through an open stage at Club Café, Vere met Heather Kropf, who hooked her in with Gallagher and the Joni tribute.
Vere -- whose sweet vocals don't recall Mitchell as much as her songwriting cadence does -- realizes that, given her story, she'll be expected to really perform at the tribute show. "Oh yeah, I'm well aware," she says. "I've been practicing hard. The pressure is on."
Happy Birthday Roberta Joan: A Joni Mitchell Tribute with Autumn Ayers, Brewer's Row, Mark Dignam, Maddie Georgi, Heather Kropf, The Thomas Twins, Ruby Vere and The Weathered Road. 7 p.m. Sat., Nov. 7. Istanbul, 4130 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $8. 412-683-1623