Virginia music venues and events have grown in number and size over the last few years. With all that activity, there is one event which has been a solid base and simultaneously expanded its genres, talent and diversity in music, dance, theater and artistic expression ⎯ the VA Arts Festival in Norfolk, VA. Since 1997, the VAF has brought world-class performing arts to Virginia and the east coast. 

This year we are pleased to see featured Storm Large, celebrated American singer, songwriter, actress and author. We had the pleasure of speaking with Storm about her life, work and upcoming performance in Norfolk with James Beaton at the Virginia Arts Festival on May 1, 7:30 pm, at the Perry Pavillion.

Storm Large VA Arts Festival

When were you first drawn to music and songwriting?

When I was young I was lonely, felt weird and had a Mom struggling with mental illness. I was around people of an older generation who would never talk about mental illness, if they did in whispered tones. When I was nine years old I was told that I was going to end up like my mother in a hospital. Music was like a magic trick I could do. I could imitate bird and animal sounds, and I slowly started to imitate music I heard on the radio or tv commercials. I found that I could disappear in that. When I was away from those sounds I would mimic them for my Mom in the hospital and even strangers. I would get shut down a lot by my family and they’d say, “She just wants attention,” and I’d think, “Yeah - yeah I do!” I didn’t have any parents consistently in my life and when I caught a glimpse of people reacting to my voice with delight, I was like, “Ahhh … Ok, I have something here.” I did school plays and stuff like that and teachers would tell my dad, “She’s talented, remarkable; you should really support her in that.” He’d grumble and say I’d end up with a bunch of losers. I think that pushback came from fear, that I’d end up like my Mom. At her best, my Mom was so sweet, quite a little dancer. Maybe if she’d been in a more creative, artistic, open-minded family, she'd have had a more creative outlet. My Dad wanted me to be (what he thought to be) normal and I’d end up with an all right life. But art saved my life. It got me off of heroin and other drugs, I was miserable. The world sees a drug addicts as expendable, disposable, at the bottom and bad things happen at the bottom. Some really horrific things happened to me during that time. When I’d hit rock bottom, I remember laying there thinking, “This sucks and if I continue on this path I’m on, I’ll end someone’s sad story over the Thanksgiving table.” I hit rock bottom, then pulled myself up and told myself, “This isn’t going to be me.” My music and weirdness have been a light that I’ve always had. Even today, when others don’t understand me or try to squash me down and say, “You’re too much,” I think, “You just haven’t found your light.” If you keep going to people who are shining their light, it will bring out yours. Don’t be afraid of your own light.

You’ve got a big talent toolbox - music, acting and writing. Who has influenced your work? 

When I was a kid and could sing and everyone thought it sounded very pretty. But inside I was a punk rocker. I used to fantasize (in my mind) that Henry Rollins was my dad because he sounded like I felt. Early on Nina Hagen, opera singer and the mother of punk, was important to me. She has a crazy, multi-octave range and beautiful operatic voice but can also scream like a banshee on fire, totally weird and beautiful. I love her. I got to meet and open for her at the Dna lounge in San Francisco. When I got back to the hotel I just cried and cried - I sobbed. I couldn’t believe it. It made me think about when people ask, “When do you know that you’ve made it?” I ended up thinking, “You don’t make it. You keep making. You can’t make It. There is no It  … The It is you. The It is your life.” There are moments along the way where you think, “Holy Sh*t! That was amazing. I’m going to burst into flames now.” 

When I was really young, I loved Miriam Makeba. She’s a South African protest singer  against apartheid. She had a beautiful voice and at the same time, could project powerful african, tribal sounds. She sang in English and I think Swahili and Zulu. I could tell in her words, language and music what she was feeling … the pain, in the delicate, into the muscular. Looking back, I love so many different genres (in many languages) of music, mostly people who are authentic and real, not writing or performing prescriptively, not performing what is expected of them, representing their true selves. And they care, with a lot of heart behind what they are doing - peeled, and naked and real.

Storm Large

In your 2012 memoir Crazy Enough you offer glimpses and stories into your life’s relationships, challenges and outcomes? How did you find the writing process compared to music, stage and film performing - any more challenging than the other?

Horrible! Writing a book is so lonely, it's so lonely. I only drank more during the pandemic than when I was writing the book. My imposter syndrome sat on my throat that whole time going, “Who do you think you are, you are barely educated and writing a book. You have so many friends who’ve been writing their whole lives and YOU got a book deal. How did YOU get a book deal?” My editor got so many tearful messages like, “Has anyone ever gone to jail for writing the worst book in the world?” I’ve quit drinking, thank God. When you are a musician and writing music or coming up with something spontaneous on stage, a story or a joke, there are people who are delighted and they react. There’s joy, mirth and gratification at the work you are doing in the moment. I'm very spontaneous. When I was writing the book I was imagining these intense stories where I was like, “I’m an *sshole, and handled that so poorly.” At the same time I was just a child. But I was being very hard and critical of myself in those times. Then I realized that this book is going to leave my mouth and someone else is going to be reading it and hearing a voice that isn’t mine, and I won't be there to back it up with physical comedy or a song or, “I was just a kid.” They will have this tome of me and I was terrified. I was still performing my show Crazy Enough which was intense. And I was worried it would be labeled a gay, self-centered thing and people were going to scoff at my arrogance. But what I learned through that whole process is that the book, the show and my story are healing to so many people. I grew up in a time when you did not talk about it, because something was wrong with you if it was happening to you. Now, it’s easier to talk about your OCD, your depression or anxiety and other mental health issues. Sharing vulnerabilities and being humanly in touch with one another, real-time in a community experience, is so healing to so many people. They need to feel seen, understood and hear their story in my story. To feel they are not crazy and alone. It was something I didn’t expect and still marvel about. And it saves lives.  

I love the "lounge-core” concept and read that your “cabaret” is described as you singing and storytelling ─ a genre mash up. Do you have a favorite example when you felt like a project really brought all your work together into something super special?

The first time I played with the Oregon Symphony. Thomas Lauderdale, who I’ve played with in the band Pink Martini, convinced the Oregon Symphony to have my band play with them. I went there like it was a gig and didn't know what to expect. I didn’t have a chip on my shoulder, but knew it was a big deal. We did two sold out shows, three-thousand seats, both nights and the biggest show my band and I had ever done. We did a few standards and a couple of our own original arrangements. I remember being asked, “Was that a dream come true?” I had to say no because I had never dared to dream anything. I just wanted to live and to matter to somebody. And to be standing on stage in front of three-thousand people who were smiling, grateful and delighted; with an incredible orchestra behind me, the instruments swelling up and supporting and celebrating my story - that was a big milestone in my life. And my jagged life path had brought me there. It was so affirming and very emotional and historical for me. For me, God steers you into a storm (no pun intended) and into experiences you can’t have in your living room or in a comfortable place. By going through the hard times, you will shepherd others into the light and bring them together, and remind them that love is the why of everything and worth every tear along the way.

Storm Large

I saw a great 2011 TED Talk online where you performed and talked about the experience of creating your autobiographical musical Crazy Enough. Any plans for future updates to that?

I was talking with my friend, publicist and media guru Laura Vogel, who’s so funny, smart and amazing. She told me, “I just watched a video of Crazy Enough … and we have a talk about Crazy Enough again.”  I know I have more shows in me that I want to look at. It’s been coming up again and again, but it's been fifteen years. We are in new times and I want to move forward into new stories. So many people tell me they appreciate my story, but there are other stories that need to be told to do a little more good in the world. We are in a really weird place and people need light. People need guidance, reassurance and each other. I’ve been a musician for thirty-three years and I tried to quit in 2002. I was out for eight months and then it sucked me back in. I think because I feel like music is my service. It’s also a sneaky art form that gets into you unexpectedly, like comedy. If you are laughing you are blasted open and you can receive really important messages. When you forget yourself you can access your shine, your light. Music does the same thing.

You just wrapped up a Midwest tour. What is on deck for you next?

Norfolk is next for me and my long-time friend, business partner and piano player of twenty-plus years, James Beaton. I want to have an intimate and super personal experience where I can go in any direction; bombastic sometimes, then tripping it down with piano and into any direction I want.



You can purchase tickets for Storm Large’s May 31 performance at the Perry Pavillion in Norfolk, VA > here


You can follow Storm and her future appearances on her website and social channels: @stormof69 (Instagram) @stormlarge (Facebook) and official storm large (YouTube)


Check out other VA Arts festival events 2024 VA Arts Festival and book your tickets now!