“I’m having the best winter of my life!” Zoë Lewis exclaims, her enthusiasm infectious. One has the feeling that she would say the same thing of many seasons: Lewis is someone who always manages to look on the positive, if not downright delightful, side of situations and events.
Why this winter in particular, though? “I do my own bookings,” she says. “So I’ve been careful to book myself in warm places! I used to just go traveling; now I go traveling and I make money, so I don’t have to be quite so busy in the summer. It lets me relax a little.”
Lewis is what she calls “geographically driven.” She didn’t exactly start out in a warm place; she comes from Rottingdean, a small village on the south coast of England. “Every year in the spring when the lambs are born I go back to my village,” she says. “They treat me like I’m still ten years old! I usually play a gig in Brighton, and all my old friends from school come.” Does it make her nostalgic? “I’m from outside now,” she admits. “I have pangs for England, but I get it out of my system after ten rainy days in a row!”
Lewis began performing professionally with London Latin jazz ten-piece band Avanti back in 1986. She went solo in 1988, doing piano/vocal jazz standards in London pubs before the travel bug hit and she started working in South America and the Caribbean. She’s lived in the United States since 1990. “England’s easier to conquer, as it’s small,” she says. “This is different… but I love it here.”
She also loves it in Mexico, where she spends much of every winter. “I grew up on the road, in over 70 countries, so I can slot easily into a place, but I like staying still in Mexico. I can walk to work. My crowd is building there,” she says. “I do gringo places but more and more I’m playing for Mexicans and ex-pats.” That requires more language skills. “I have traveler’s Spanish,” Lewis says, and laughs. “Next year we’re going to immerse ourselves in language courses.”
In the meantime, though, summer calls. “I have some nice gigs coming up,” Lewis says. She actually couldn’t look more excited. “There’s a storytelling gig in Nebraska in June.” Wait—Nebraska? “I’m going with Roxanne Layton and Kate Wolf,” she says, nodding. “We have ten shows across Nebraska. The people there are so dear and sweet, they’re all from the prairie, and yes, they’re conservative, but they’re so dear. And that’s the way you change people’s minds, you see. I like to go and play those places.” Her storytelling might be coming close to overshadowing her prodigious musical talent; it’s her major billing in Mexico now.
She’s booked out now for the year, with her Provincetown gigs beginning with opening for the Indigo Girls at Town Hall on May 27. “I get to go perform onstage with them,” she says, smiling. “It’s a nice feather in my cap: here’s your homie!” The summer will be filled with various Zoë Lewis and the Bootleggers Speakeasy shows, the Zoë Lewis and the Souvenirs Herring Cover Summer Series, and more (catch the whole schedule here). And then there’s the new theatre piece, a one-woman show “that’s all about the magic,” she says. “I don’t want to give it away!” She’s in the studio recording a new CD, and has recently discovered the joys of animation.
But that’s not all summer is about. “We always do something beautiful every summer day,” Lewis says. “You’ve got to make sure to do that. It’s not tricky; you don’t have to go far. Imagine if we stumbled on Provincetown? Imagine we found this place on the National Seashore, how amazed we’d be? We can never take it for granted. People can get stressed out and crazed. I look around in August and there are people who haven’t gone swimming yet. Make time for that! Just jump in!”
You can be sure that Zoë Lewis will.