Once upon a time, Tammy Fletcher was the benefit queen, performing 30 or more shows a year for local nonprofits with her gospel-tinged r&b outfit, The Disciples. But the group "took a break" a few years back, and Fletcher has been keeping a relatively low profile near her home in Eden with husband Joe DiLiberto and son Dakota Foley. That is, if you can call starting another band, taking on a new job as a para-educator in Eden Central's third grade, and becoming a diabetes activist "low-profile." One thing's for sure: Part of Fletcher disappeared from sight forever. The formerly full-figured diva has lost 140 pounds, and gained a more positive, philosophical attitude.
"I'm just trying to change my life and be healthy - I became a diabetic," she reveals. "It's an emotional rollercoaster, the way you have to eat and think about food, to maintain a fitness program, be a wife, a mother, a teacher and a foster parent - I have a young man with Asberger's syndrome . . . Unfortunately, my music has taken a back seat in all that, trying to make a living and keep insurance," Fletcher adds. "The state of Vermont is not very accommodating in that respect."
Nobody said she was less outspoken than before. Or less sassy: "I'm half the woman I used to be, but I'm still a ton of fun," Fletcher assures. "And I still have a big-ass voice."
Local fans can rejoice, because - hallelujah -the singer and her band are reuniting. And, yes, it's for another benefit show. Tammy Fletcher & the Disciples perform this Friday, September 21, at the Unitarian Church in Burlington for Volunteer Vermont. The charity group formed 10 years ago, led by Rev. Mark Bolles - then pastor of the Charlotte Congregational Church - after he and some of his congregation traveled to Summerton, South Carolina, to help rebuild black churches that had been burned in arson fires. The two communities have continued their relationship, with the Vermonters making an annual trip south to work on various projects. In gratitude, Summerton is sending the Prayer House Mission Gospel Choir to Burlington for Friday's concert.
Fletcher says she'll perform first with the Disciples, followed by "the real gospel singers." Then, in what will surely be a rafter-shaking finale, the Vermont musicians - Fletcher, guitarist Bob Hill, bassist Stacey Starkweather, drummer Simon Plumpton and pedal steel player Jim Pitman - will join the choir.
For her part, Fletcher is delighted to participate in the benefit. "I just believe that one has to give to get," she says, adding, "I know there's a reason why I am where I am . . . I love to sing, and I love to bring joy to people."
Though Disciples gigs may be few and far between, Fletcher, now 48, is spreading the joy with a new band called Mountain Girl, with her son - on mandolin - and longtime cohorts Hill and Starkweather. She's also working on a more personal project: an album "about things that have affected me in my life," Fletcher says. That includes the death of her mother almost a year ago. "That was a turning point for me," she confides.
The album, slated for release next year, will feature "a whole host of guys," Fletcher says, including former Disciples as well as Vermont folk legend Pete Sutherland and pianist/producer Chuck Eller. "They're all folks I really admire and think are terrific," she notes. "The music is a little bit different than what people are used to me doing, but still soulful, with tongue-in-cheek humor.
"The older I get, the more creative and uninhibited I will become," Fletcher vows. "I think we've come to a place in our society where the powers are confused, and so are the people . . . We're looking for leaders that are sensible, and that we can believe in and trust. I want to be that kind of leader in my community," she concludes. "My music will reflect this."
Volunteer Vermont benefit with Tammy Fletcher & the Disciples and the Prayer House Mission Gospel Choir, Friday, September 21, Unitarian Church, Burlington, 8 p.m. $20. Tickets, www.flynntix.org or 86-FLYNN.
Fletcher will also be the MC at the Easter Seals Walk this Saturday, September 22, at North Beach Park in Burlington. She'll briefly perform and send walkers on their way at 10 a.m. $25 donation.