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Hastings native returns to Hastings stage

Jennifer Eckes, right, is pictured performing with Arne Fogel. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Canter)

Jennifer Eckes is returning to Hastings, her hometown, to get up on the Hastings Arts Center stage and sing.

Eckes is a professional singer who has decades of performance experience in musical theater, opera and cabaret. Next weekend, Feb. 24 and 26, she'll join jazz club performer Arne Fogel on the HAC stage to pay tribute to composer Burt Bacharach and lyricist Hal David. The names might not be familiar, but the music they wrote is. They have produced blockbuster singles like "(They Long to Be) Close to You," "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head" and "I Say a Little Prayer," which are just three of the hits Eckes and Fogel will perform.

While Eckes has been a professional vocalist for years, this will be the first time she's performed professionally here in Hastings.

"It'll be neat to be singing in that space again," she said of the Hastings Arts Center. "I have so many memories of that church when it was a church."

Eckes got her start in music much the same way as many people do: through music classes in elementary school. She attended the Hastings Parochial School and was in the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School's first graduating class. She sang in school and sang in church, and when it came time to move on to high school, she sang there, too.

"In high school, when there was a choir program, was when I really started to get involved," she said. "High school band and choir were really big for me."

She gave credit to choir teacher Lin Warren and retired band teacher Bob Casperson for helping her develop her passion and her talent. After she graduated from Hastings High School in 1992, she went on to study music at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

Her career path since then has been a little less straightforward.

"It's been a wild ride," she said. "I do a lot of different things. I try to be very versatile."

Her versatility, she added, has led to her getting hired for all sorts of projects. She started out in musical theater, which shifted to opera. Her longest tenure has been with the Minnesota Opera, but she's performed with many others.

Eckes' latest passion has been cabaret.

"I started doing cabaret and concert type (performances) about 14 years ago and that really became a passion for me," she said.

She likes it because it's a style of performance that allows her to be herself, as compared to musical theater or opera, where she plays a character. As a cabaret singer, she can interact directly with her audience as herself.

"I find that real powerful, to have a connection with the audience instead of putting up that fourth wall," she said.

Next weekend's Hastings concert will be in the cabaret style, she said. She and Fogel will tell a few stories, talk about the composer and lyricist and give background on the songs as well as perform the music.

"And that's really what I love to do the most," Eckes said.

Eckes connected with Fogel about nine years ago. They're both founding members of the Twin Cities Cabaret Artists Network, met each other through that group and started working together from there. Next week's concert is one result of their collaboration.

Her parents, she explained, are big fans of Bacharach's music. As she was growing up here in Hastings, she would hear his songs often played at home. Fogel, on the other hand, lived through much of the era when Bacharach's hits were gaining popularity. Together, they decided to create a tribute concert.

"This is music I really love," Eckes said. "It's kind of music I grew up listening to."

Fogel is primarily a jazz vocalist, Eckes said, as are the musicians they'll be working with for this concert.

"He's kind of a crooner," she said. "People hear Arne and they think of Frank Sinatra."

Fogel brings a wealth of musical experience to the stage. According to his website, he has been inducted into the Mid-America Music Hall of Fame, has hosted several radio shows in the upper Midwest, is a frequent singer at top jazz venues in the Twin Cities, has recorded hundreds of jingles and even acted in a number of commercials, among many other accomplishments.

Fogel and Eckes have given the concert a couple times already, first in 2013 and again in 2015. This will be their third time performing the show.

Show times

The Hastings concert, titled "What the World Needs Now: The Music of Burt Bacharach and Hal David," will be given twice. The first performance will be at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 24. The second performance will be at 2 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 26.

Tickets are $20 if purchased in advance or $25 at the door. This is a featured concert on the Hastings Arts Center season pass.

The Hastings Arts Center is located at 216 E. Fourth St. in downtown Hastings. Tickets are available online at www.hastingsartscenter.org.

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