Breckenridge hosts a throwback to the good old days of espionage, gambling and Frank Sinatra this month in the form of two back-to-back events from the Breckenridge Music Festival. The first, on Saturday, July 20, is Steve Lippia in “Simply Sinatra,” a tribute to the music of Frank Sinatra that features the sought-after Las Vegas-based vocalist backed by the Breckenridge Music Festival Orchestra. Then on Friday, July 26, the annual Applause fundraising gala returns to the Beaver Run Resort and Conference Center, this year styled after the James Bond film “Casino Royale.”
It takes talent to do Sinatra justice, and by all accounts, Lippia is the man to do it. His mother — whom Lippia said “was a natural” and “could have had a major career” but instead focused her efforts on work and family — instilled a love of singing in him early.
“In that time, standards and jazz were overlapping with a surge of interest in rock ’n’ roll,” he said. “I was kind of a transitional generation.”
Lippia garnered numerous accolades while singing in his church and high school choirs and later sang with the Bobby Kaye Orchestra in Hartford, Conn. But he pursued a degree in psychology, worked as a stockbroker, did a stint in law school and opened a paving business in Florida before coming full circle back to music 20 years after graduating from college. When he did, he shot right to the top.
Headlining in Vegas
Lippia began singing with the Gene Mattis Orchestra in Florida and then the Woody Herman Orchestra. Meanwhile, his father sent a tape to a friend who worked at the William Morris Agency in Hollywood. That tape ultimately landed in the hands of Vincent Falcone, Frank Sinatra’s own conductor from 1978-1983.
“Within a year of my discovery, I was headlining in Vegas with a 21-piece orchestra,” Lippia said.
And Falcone was loaning him Sinatra’s original charts.
Today, Lippia performs both with his band and in front of symphony orchestras throughout North America, including a recent series titled “Music of the Mad Men Era,” which he headlined with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops.
“It’s always cool for symphonies to come up with something thematically compelling,” he said of the series, which featured standards from the late 1950s through 1969, including the works of Tony Bennett, Bobby Darin, Nat King Cole and Vick Damone.
Not an impersonator
At the Saturday, July 20, concert in Breckenridge, attendees can expect the music of Sinatra sung by Lippia. Though his voice may sound uncannily similar to that of Ol’ Blue Eyes, complete with the clean vocals, class and character, Lippia insists it’s purely coincidental.
“I’m not an impersonator with a wig and blue contact lenses,” he said. “I’m not trying to be Frank Sinatra. There’s only one Frank Sinatra.”
He broke it down like this: “Linda Ronstadt said that you don’t need to be original; you just need to be authentic, and that’s really what I’m trying to do. I’m not trying to come up with a crazy way to produce it; I’m trying to be authentic to the style of music, to tap into a certain amount of nostalgia.”
At the same time, Lippia said it’s “not necessarily ‘blue hairs’ and ‘grandma’ music.’” Instead, he will perform approximately 20 songs that range from “very lush ballads to very high-energy music.” He will be backed by the Breckenridge Music Festival Orchestra, rearranged with the brass players up front to evoke the sounds of the big-band era under the under the baton of Michael Linville, who also leads the Festival Orchestra in its annual big band-style “Swinging at the Summit” concert.
“It’s really special when one person can hold their own and lead an entire orchestra with their singing,” said Olivia Grover, marketing director for the Breckenridge Music Festival, which puts on a crossover concert that pairs the orchestra with a range of musical styles each season. Last year, they did music by The Beatles.
Though best known for its orchestral repertoire, the BMF also puts on the Blue River Series each summer, featuring popular music such as the upcoming Aaron Neville show on Sunday, Aug. 4, and Toad the Wet Sprocket on Sunday, Aug. 11. The crossover concerts are intended to bridge the gap between the two series.
“One of my secret hopes is that we might be able to attract a new audience, one that thinks the orchestra alone is scary,” said Grover. For Sinatra lovers, the Steve Lippia concert should prove an irresistible draw.
A few days later on Friday, July 26, comes “Casino Royale,” this year’s gala by the BMF’s fundraising arm, Applause. The group is changing it up this year with a more casual dress code that event co-chair Nancy Sawvell described as “modern Vegas,” ranging from jeans to cocktail dresses. There will be food stations instead of a formal, sit-down dinner and gambling with blackjack, poker, craps and roulette dealt by 17 local celebrities, including Breckenridge Mayor John Warner and Town Council members. Also new this year is the chance to win a diamond at the martini bar. Among the many cubic zirconias being handed out will be one real diamond — to be identified and announced by Don Ghezzi, owner of Matheu’s Fine Watches & Jewelry.
The live auction will boast numerous prizes, including getaways to Hilton Head, S.C., and Scottsdale, Ariz. Also, tickets are on sale now for the raffle (you don’t have to be present to win) for a seven-night stay in Kauai, Hawaii, along with $1,000 in spending money. Tickets are $20 each or three for $50 and are available at BMF concerts and various locations in town from now until the party.
There will be “a little bit of Bond interwoven through the night and some surprises,” said Sawvell, who co-chairs the event with Mary Grace McAlister.
Erica Marciniec is a paid writer with the Breckenridge Music Festival.