Winter’s first appearance in Billings didn’t keep about a hundred friends and fans of Jeni Fleming from turning out for the Bozeman-based jazz artist’s CD release party on Friday evening at the Billings Depot.
In the Depot’s dimly lit space Fleming expressed gratitude to her fans for braving the roads. “It is so nice to be back in Billings,” she said.
With a sense of humor about her, Fleming joked her band only seems to travel to Billings when the weather is terrible. Leaving for Billings at the “crack of noon,” she said, the group embarked on treacherous travel across I-90. Fleming estimated they were witness to more than 15 wrecks before arriving in Billings—only to snap the key off in the trailer’s lock due to the frigid temperatures. After breaking into their own trailer, the group quickly prepped for the evening, appearing only a bit shaken.
“We said our prayers and here we are,” Fleming said. “So, we’re especially excited to be here playing music for you.”
Before Fleming took the stage, her husband Jake led an instrumental number. “Hope you didn’t bring anything to throw,” he said. “If you must, throw snowballs.”
The weather may have kept people from filling the Depot on Friday night, but the Fleming warmed crowds with tales of time spent in Hawaii, Valentine’s Day forgetfulness, and other stories of the musicians’ time together.
The six-piece group included Chris Cundy on keyboards, Craig Hall on guitar, Sean Lehmann on bass, Jake Fleming on saxophone and acoustic guitar, Adam Greenberg on drums, and Jeni Fleming on vocals. When Fleming took the stage, she opened her voice with a rendition of The Association’s “Never My Love.”
A conversational and comfortable performer, Fleming prefaced songs with personal stories and details of her and Jake’s life together.
“Here I Stand” sprung from a daylong fight she and Jake were in. From the new album, “Happy Valentine’s Day” is a piece Jake wrote after he awoke on Valentine’s Day and realized he had forgot a “gift and/or card,” Fleming expressed.
When Fleming performed Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away,” she described a gig in Hawaii she attended. “We played two hours to 200 people who had no idea we were there,” Fleming said, “and we stayed a week.”
A sultry and smooth cover of the Beatle’s “Can’t Buy me Love” further hit home Fleming’s theme of sharing moments of life and love together.
Three years in the making, Fleming released her seventh album, “Come to Life,” in early November. “It took a while to bring to fruition,” she said. The group continues their CD release celebration in Whitefish on Dec. 18 and in Kalispell on Dec. 19.