As Christie Lenée stood in the front row of a concert at a West Palm Beach amphitheater in 2003, she had a number of career options.
Then a Blake High senior, she had spent her high school years studying classical guitar, but also dabbled in jazz, folk and rock. Writing poetry was another passion. She wasn't sure what direction she would take after graduation.
All that changed when the Dave Matthews Band took the stage. The popular jam band, with guitarist Tim Reynolds, made Lenée realize she didn't have to choose.
"The concert was a huge turning point," Lenée said. "I realized I could do all of those things: singing, playing guitar, writing poetry, dancing on stage. That played a huge role in shaping my craft."
Fast forward to 2010, and you find Lenée a bona fide professional musician. She opens for jazz saxophonist Eric Darius, another Blake alum, at the Winthrop Festival of Arts tonight at 6:30 in Riverview, but that will be just one entry on a growing resume. Lenée also has a studio CD to her credit, and an EP in the works. Equally important, she cherishes the unforgettable experience of sharing the stage with the people she once looked up to.
She played with Reynolds in New York and Philadelphia, and once opened for him at Skipper's Smokehouse. She also recently recorded with Jeff Coffin, who plays sax for Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and the Dave Matthews Band.
"It's pretty amazing," said Lenée, who moved from Tampa to Philadelphia after the release of her CD last year. "Tim Reynolds is my favorite guitarist in the world and a huge hero of mine. Playing with him is a huge accomplishment for me."
The path she took from Blake High halls to jam sessions with Reynolds contained a lot of turns and twists. She enrolled in the University of South Florida and began studying jazz and music composition with noted professor LaRue Nicholson.
She took a break, however, to live and perform in Taiwan for a year. Along the way, she released two live CDs and two CDs recorded in a home studio. When she returned, she set a new goal of crafting her first studio CD and released Set It Free in 2009.
Lenée remains undaunted by the ups and downs of the music profession.
"There are a lot of people in this world who are really talented, but it takes so much more than that to make it," Lenée said. "It's really about believing in yourself, having a vision and going for it.
"To me, it's about sharing a positive energy with the world. I'm willing to go across the roller coaster of finances to follow my dream."
Lenée's latest efforts includes work with her new band, the Christie Lenée Project. She brings two of her new bandmates from Philadelphia for tonight's show, and will be joined by local friends Joe Cosas (keyboards) and Joshua Formanek (guitarist).
An intriguing mix of genres fuels Lenée's dreams. In her own words, it's "funky-folky-jazz-rock with elements of classical incorporated." What it's not is boring. Lenée promises to bring high energy to tonight's festival.
"In the end, the most important thing is putting something out that makes me smile and brings joy and smiles to others," she said.
I wonder if someone in tonight's audience will look up and dream about playing with Lenée some day.
That's all I'm saying.