By Rita J. Egan
Carolyn Brown-Benson has discovered that even though dreams can sometimes be delayed, they can’t be ignored.
The 51-year-old East Setauket resident always wanted to perform, and put that dream on hold more than 20 years ago. Now, she finds herself donning a brunette wig and transforming into pop singer Linda Ronstadt to front the tribute band Blue Bayou. Performing with the group she founded two years ago, Brown-Benson delivers the iconic hits of the singer who is known for “You’re No Good,” “It’s So Easy” and “Somewhere Out There.”
The sales associate at Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook said her entertainment dreams took a detour when she married her husband James in 1996 and soon after had her two children James, now 15, and Shannon, now 18.
When her son and daughter were younger she tried to return to the stage. She sang at the Performing Arts Studio in Port Jefferson and appeared in shows at Stony Brook’s Educational & Cultural Center as the iconic singer Ethel Merman, and as the legendary actress Mae West at Mount Sinai’s Heritage Center.
When she landed a role with the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” she realized she couldn’t pursue performing full time while raising her children.
“I was getting an itch [to perform], and I needed to, but I needed to be a mom first,” she said.
While performing at local restaurants Bliss and Mario’s, Brown-Benson realized she had a knack for singing Ronstadt’s hits, and that the crowds seemed to agree.
“I noticed that people would always — when I was singing “You’re No Good” or “Hurt So Bad” — especially the women, they would always turn around,” she said. “You could just see they really recognized those songs.”
Brown-Benson said starting a tribute band seemed to better suit her schedule as a mother. She reached out to contacts on Facebook and assembled a band, currently Linda Cusumano, keyboards; Don Waller, guitar; Jon Pell, bass; and Mark Pohl or Eugene Henriksen, drums.
“My husband is thinking about retiring, and I’m just gearing up,” she said. “And it shows my children, too, that no matter how crazy you think your dreams are, it’s really a calling.”
Denean Lane, general manager of Holiday Inn Express, has witnessed Brown-Benson, who performs at the hotel, in action.
“She has a very good energy about her and just a very feel-good mood with her range of emotion,” Lane said. “She’s really fantastic.”
She added that the performer’s presence at the hotel, be it in front of the microphone or at her desk, is an asset to the business.
“She’s well known throughout the community, and she’s really gifted and talented,” Lane said.
In November, the local singer met Ronstadt during “A Conversation with Linda Ronstadt,” at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Long Island University.
“It was surreal sitting in the audience,” she said. “All of a sudden, I’m sitting three rows from her and I’m going to meet her.”
Brown-Benson forgot everything she was going to say to Ronstadt during their brief meeting, but was able to tell her about the tribute band. Ronstadt, who has Parkinson’s disease, said, “I really wish I could sing with you.”
The local singer has future hopes to record original music and perform under her own name. For now, she hopes to at least be an inspiration to those thinking of chasing their dreams.
“You can feel what direction you should be going — you need to listen to it,” she said. “You get up off your knees when you are sort of praying for direction, and you keep going. Every time those doors close and you think it’s the end, it’s really not. There’s something else open for you. And when you start paying attention to those signs, you’ll be amazed at what comes along.”
Blue Bayou will hit the stage Aug. 1 at 6 p.m. at JFK Middle School in Port Jefferson Station, as part of the Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Summer Concert Series. For more information about Brown-Benson and her tribute band, visit www.bluebayoutributeband.com.