The loft energized by Vesta!
By Larry Buford
Sentinel Contributing Writer
What do singers like Vesta Williams and Ollie Woodson have in common? They have tapped into and rejuvenated an audience that thought they'd never see the appearance of big-name entertainment in their neighborhood ever again.
As I climbed the stairs I wasn't sure what to expect: a nightclub on the Eastside of Los Angeles, better known as "the 'hood", showcasing world-renowned talent?
Well was I in for a surprise! There is a classy place called The Loft located at the intersection of El Segundo and Avalon Boulevards, and on Saturday night it featured the lovely and electrifying Vesta Williams, the singer best known by the one name, Vesta. Demographics amaze me! Just five miles away to the south is Cal State Dominguez and the still-fresh Home Depot stadium.
Anyway, just before show time I was invited backstage to interview Vesta, a very beautiful, lovely, down to earth, shoot-from-the-hip person that one can't help but adore. Her presence fills the room. She told me about a new project she's working on in addition to her acting, studio voice-overs, and being a spokeswoman for various products and projects. Her latest CD titled "Distant Lover" debuted on independent record label Shanachie, and on it Vesta reinvents some timeless R&B songs made popular by Marvin Gaye, The Spinners, Smokey Robinson, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Deniece Williams, and other R&B icons. At one point during the interview I mentioned to her that she resembled actress Diahann Carroll, and she said, "I've had that said to me and what an absolute honor...I met her, and I couldn't breathe...it was Diahann Carroll...when I went up to her...oh my God...I was bowing...I told her she was royalty, and I loved her, and I said 'you don't know me, my name is'...and she said 'I know who you are, you're Vesta'...and I started crying...I said you know Me!?" She ended the interview by stating, "In everything I put God first [and I say] thank you for every rock that has made me the mountain that I am!"
A short time later when Vesta hit the stage she opened with her signature song "Once Bitten Twice Shy", and put her thumbprint on other songs like "Make It With You" and "Use Me" among others. She is very dynamic, animated, humorous (I loved her Tina Turner impression), and literally aerobic onstage; and she really knows how to connect with her audience! I was on the money when - as she acknowledged some of the artists she'd covered on her CD - she mentioned Sly Stone and I immediately thought of "If You Want Me To Stay". I had no clue what songs she had covered on her CD but from her persona, it just seemed to follow that she would do that song, and that turned out to be the one.
Nightclub owner and manager Alonzo ("Lonzo") Williams said, "The Loft [this location] is a club I ran over 30 years ago. It was originally called "Eve After Dark"... it opened in 1979 and it was a teen nightclub. Back in the day it was the ground for Hip-Hop where Dr. Dre, Easy E, and myself were discovered...World Class Wrecking Crew, Ice Cube...this was the Mecca for Hip-Hop 30 years ago. This is my fifth nightclub I've had over the past 20 years." Lonzo went on to say that after making some hit records he became famous and went on world tours, but after returning and gangster rap came into the game he got disenchanted and went back to his second love of managing nightclubs. This latest venture, The Loft, has been open about a year. The original owner (legendary) Jefty Harris retired from the business. Harris had hosted the likes of Ike & Tina Turner, The Whispers, and War. Lonzo said his goal is to "try and bring some of that type of entertainment back into the "'hood"...just because you're in the 'hood doesn't mean it has to be a 'hood club." In between the highlight showcases (former Temptation Ollie Woodson appeared there a couple months ago); there are a multitude of cultural activities taking place at The Loft he said, "To keep something happening in the neighborhood."
Lonzo also said fighting the bad-side-of-town stigma is a struggle but he's a fighter. He said, "We grew up here, and if people don't stay here and put up a unified front, the knuckleheads will take over." He provides tight security for customers to feel safe. Guys like promoter "Big Ron" and others let you know they are keenly aware of everything that's going on in and around the entire premises.
All the comments I got from customers, dressed to the nines, were very positive and enthusiastic. One gentleman, "Joe", said he drove all the way from West Covina to see the show.
Lonzo and his wonderful partner Venetta, along with all the wonderful team they have assembled (thank you Camilla, Keda, and Valerie!) say "come one, come all to the hottest and classiest nightclub on the Eastside of town!! Reflecting on the infamous Central Avenue (also on the Eastside) that decades ago attracted all the top entertainment from all over, Lonzo said, you know how they say 'Off-Broadway'? Well this is 'Off-Central'".