Julie Ragins has sung in some giant venues, like the Hollywood Bowl, with some huge acts, like the Moody Blues.
But she can’t wait to play a Morristown courtyard, with a co-star who is not a household name–except in her household.
That would be her husband, keyboard ace Curtis Brengle.
Performing as Pear Duo, they are coming to the High Street Courtyard, near the Artist Baker café on Cattano Avenue, on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at 4 pm.
“It’s kind of astounding how well we get along,” says Ragins, who admits she and her husband had a moment of doubt when they embarked this year on their first cross-country tour together after 18 years of marriage.
They’ll be playing a benefit for the Morris Arts Gateway Totem Project, a public sculpture that opened last year to celebrate Morristown immigrants. Tickets are $40 online, and $45 at the door, with proceeds earmarked for arts events and solar-powered lighting at the Early Street site.
No cushy tour buses or fancy hotels for Ragins and Brengle on this tour. They have logged countless miles behind the wheel of their truck, even sharing a suitcase.
“Are we going to kill each other?” Ragins remembers wondering at the outset. “We’re actually having a ball.”
Togetherness is something new for the couple. Back home in Los Angeles, where they both are in demand for studio sessions and tours, their schedules often take them in opposite directions.
Brengle has performed with, or arranged for, Ray Charles, Sheena Easton, Englebert Humperdink, the Pointer Sisters and Chaka Khan, among others, and done recordings for Barry Manilow, Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO), Freaky Friday (Disney) and ESPN Football.
In addition to touring with the Moody Blues (“they’re old-school, just good guys”) and their lead singer, Justin Hayward (“one of the funniest dudes I’ve ever known”), Ragins has performed with Queen Latifah (“she’s like a road mom, one of the nicest people ever”), Sergio Mendes, Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Neil Sedaka and Brian Setzer.
She also has appeared on American Idol and Bachelor Pad, and written songs for Lifetime Original movies, the Biography channel (Bob Dylan), My Big Redneck Wedding, and Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team, to name a few projects.
While large venues are a thrill, Ragins says she also loves places where she is on a first-name basis with fans.
“Playing a big venue is really fun. But there is quite a disconnect between you and the audience…When you play in someone’s living room for 40 people, the connection is really intense. I really like that connection,” she says.
Video: Pear Duo perform ‘Nights in What Satin’ in NYC:
FROM FAIRBANKS TO THE GREEN
Although Ragins was raised in Fairbanks, AK (“idyllic, like growing up in Mayberry”), Morristown will be a homecoming of sorts. And not just because she has played the Mayo Performing Arts Center with the Moodies and Hayward.
Her cousin, Doug Greenberger, is a trustee of the historic Morristown Green, where she romped and ate ice cream cones during childhood visits to her grandmother.
“She would give us a quarter, and we’d go to the five-and-dime and buy penny candy,” Ragins says, referring to the former Woolworth’s on South Street.
One summer, she worked in the family furniture store, next to Macy’s (now Century 21).
Another Morristown memory: Catching fireflies in Grandma’s backyard. “There are no fireflies in Alaska!” Ragins says.
Ragins honed her craft at the Musicians Institute in L.A., the city where she met her husband. The music business “is scary,” she says, “but I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Brengle’s tastes lean toward jazz, Ragins skews toward pop. Expect an eclectic blend on Sept. 10, including a few original tunes, lots of stories, and maybe a Moody Blues cover or two.
“There is an art to picking the right songs to do in this grouping,” Ragins says. “It doesn’t hurt that I married a bad-ass piano player. He is so much fun to sing with. He is so good.”
Everything is working out just fine, in other words.
“I’m the luckiest girl alive,” Ragins says.