Miss Tess has made a name for herself among roots music fans.

Both figuratively and literally.

First, she calls herself Miss Tess and nothing else. She says her real last name doesn’t “flow,” so she doesn’t disclose it — not on websites, not in interviews, not on Facebook. She’s sort of like Meat Loaf or Prince in that respect, except much smaller than Meat Loaf and without the flamboyant wardrobe of Prince.

Miss Tess and her band, The Bon Ton Parade, have toured furiously across the country and the world, building up a large and loyal following among fans and music-industry folk. She writes original songs but plays in vintage jazz, blues, folk and country styles. Her voice and singing has been compared to everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Madeleine Peyroux, with the humor of Tom Waits thrown in for good measure.

Georgia-based roots music veteran Caroline Aiken summed her up neatly when she said “If Billie Holiday and Chet Atkins had a musical baby, it would be Miss Tess.”

Miss Tess says her biggest musical influences included her parents, who are big band and Western swing fans and who played on one of her albums. She also lists Waits, Fitzgerald, Chuck Berry, Patsy Cline and Peggy Lee among the artists who stirred her soul and influenced her voice and sound.

She says “Americana” would be the best way to describe her music, if you have to “blanket” it with a general description.

“Songs I write definitely stem from influences in traditional swing, country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll,” said Miss Tess in an e-mail interview for this story. “But in truth, you have to see it live to understand what I’m doing. Sometimes people don’t even know how to describe it even after they’ve seen a show.”

Well, you can hear Miss Tess and The Bon Ton Parade for yourself and come up with your own musical labels, because they’re playing a show Saturday at One Longfellow Square in Portland. Or, if you don’t have a chance to see her then, she and her band are scheduled to perform at the Ossipee Valley Music Festival in South Hiram, scheduled for July 26-29.

Playing a vintage 1940s archtop guitar, Miss Tess leads a band that features an upright bass and a lap steel guitar. She moved from the Baltimore area, where she was raised, to Boston around 2005 to be part of that city’s vibrant roots scene.

In 2007, she released her debut album, “Modern Vintage,” a term she coined for her emerging style of music. She’s released a slew of critically acclaimed material since; her latest, the double-live album “Live Across the Mason Dixon Line,” came out in December.

Today, Miss Tess is based in New York, spending much of the year on the road. Although extensive touring has helped gain her fans and rave reviews, touring constantly does present some challenges, she said.

“There are many. Making money, finishing songs, keeping a band together, maintaining a tour van, then parking it in New York City,” she said. “Keeping relationships when I’m gone all the time, being my own manager, and trying not to let the music industry make me forget why I started doing this in the first place.”

Miss Tess confesses to not having much of a life outside music, saying that when she’s not playing or recording herself, she’s sleeping or seeing other artists perform.

She says her songs come from “heartbreak and relationships,” from daily life, and from thinking about “things you’re not supposed to do” and “things you’re not supposed to say.” A song she wrote that fits the latter category is “I Only Really Miss You When I’m Stoned.”

On the road, Miss Tess loves to play “cavernous” venues where people can drink and dance while enjoying the music, or just sit and listen.

The type of venue she plays often helps determine what sort of songs she’ll play.

“A more intimate setting will lend itself to playing some of the more intimate tunes, whereas a raucous bar will encourage a different set,” she said. “Lately, my favorite experiences are when we’re playing something like ‘I Don’t Need That Man,’ a jump blues tune I wrote, when everyone’s shaking a leg. Also, I’ve been getting more into soloing on the guitar, especially on tunes like that.”

And even though she’s not forthcoming about her name, Miss Tess doesn’t mind divulging some trivia about herself.

When asked for one fact about her that she’d want people to know, she replied:

“I like Moxie, and so does the rest of the band.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]


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