By Lauren Tingle
It was a classic movie moment. Brett Eldredge, rocking a black, two-button Kilgour tux and holding a drink, stepped out on to the stage at Nashville’s The Sutler Tuesday night. He acknowledged friend after friend with a slap on the back, never spilling a drop, as he weaved through the brat-packed crowd gathered for a private evening of his favorites: the legendary Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and Nat King Cole.
The night’s emcee, Warner Music Nashville president/CEO John Esposito, gave a few opening remarks recalling his first impressions of the CMA’s New Artist of the Year. “I heard about 10 demos of Brett’s,” John said, “I took a meeting with him three days after that. Unknowingly, I said to him, ‘You’re the Velvet Fog of Country music.’ And the 22-year-old said, ‘I love Mel Tormé!’ I was gobsmacked. I said, ‘How in the hell do you know Mel Tormé?’ And he told me about how he went to Chicago as a kid on Friday nights to sing Sinatra.” John noted that the show was three days shy of what would have been Frank’s 99th birthday and continued with praises from People magazine before giving Brett the floor.
Brett and his seven-piece jazz band and horn section opened with, “Come Fly With Me,” then transitioned smoothly from “Under My Skin” into “Summer Wind.” He raised his hands to the beat on “That’s Life” as he sang, “I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king. I’ve been up and down and over and out and I know one thing.”
Then the room froze at least twice. Once when Brett held a long and glorious whole note in the final “One” in “One Mississippi.” Anything louder than a whisper in a colleague’s ear (“This is incredible!” or “Sigh…”) would have ruined the magic. Then when Brett’s blue eyes pierced the room to the resolution of “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” he left all hearts on the floor.
Recalling his time as a wedding singer, Brett introduced “The Way You Look Tonight” with, “I think it’s sexy and I want to sing it to a special girl one day, but I’m going to sing it to a lot of special girls right now.”
The audience felt all warm, cozy and ready to mingle as Brett closed with “The Christmas Song.”
Brett barely made it a foot off the stage as the crowd queued around to chat. He welcomed everyone including fellow “Beat of the Music” hit-makers Ross Copperman and Heather Morgan. Journalist Kristin Luna briefly quizzed Brett and his beautiful mother Robin at a high-top table for a few quotes for a People magazine piece. ABC News’ Hunter Kelly also got a question or two.
A little past midnight, Brett’s managers started wrangling folks out of the bar so as to not overstay the welcome. Not quite ready to turn in, Brett and an after party descended the stairs at the Melrose Billiards hall next door for more drinks. If Brett was still under the weather from his previous weekend with the flu while on tour in Chicago, it was unnoticeable. That big grin and sharp tux made him stand out easily in the clouds of cigarette smoke, hanging lights and pool cues.
The label’s hope is to develop Brett’s night of live standards into an annual benefit, and the idea is brilliant. I’d pay top dollar to see Brett sing Frank again. Tuesday will forever be remembered like those heart-stopping movie turns–when Audrey Hepburn gives Humphrey Bogart a French lesson while dancing to “La Vie En Rose” in Sabrina or when Richard Beymer spots Natalie Wood mid-“Mambo” in West Side Story.