Hiding Place

Ward of the state: Singer/songwriter Diane Ward travels across the peninsula this weekend

In the 1990s, South Florida native Diane Ward cemented her palm prints in the local walk of musical fame with Mirror (1995) and Move (1999). Miami New Times gave Mirror a Golden Mic as Best Album of the Past Twelve Months in 1996; in 1999, it dubbed Ward the Best Female Rock Vocalist. City Link followed suit in 2000, naming Move Best Rock CD. And when Ward won top band and vocalist laurels at the South Florida Rock Awards, even Billboard magazine took notice, calling Ward's music "husky," "emotional," and "stunning."

In the midst of all the attention, Ward was hiding in plain sight. "I was usually so incredibly, pathetically shy," Ward admits. "And I used to have this really long, long blond hair. My hair, just from the weight of it, would fall forward when I sang."

Her blue eyes and broad smile were like the show behind the show, the musician cloaked by her own blond curtain -- because of this, the audience wasn't responding to Ward as much as she would have liked. "Once I figured that out," she says, "I ended up cutting my hair off and making a point to really connect with the audience."


Diane Ward

Lowery Park Zoo in Tampa, Liquid Caf, 2236 First St., Fort Myers, and Skipper's Smokehouse in Tampa

At 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 16, at the Lowery Park Zoo. At 9:30 p.m. Saturday, May 17, at Liquid Caf. At 5 p.m. Sunday, May 18, at Skipper's Smokehouse.

Even in music, seeing is believing. And after almost a decade of keeping her music in-state, Ward is about to see what she can do in the rest of the country. Tracks from her third and latest release, The Great Impossible, have been picked up by MTV for the weekly docudrama Sorority Life, and the album is now Ward's first to be distributed nationally. Howard Goldberg (percussion) and Debbie Duke (guitar, keyboards, and didgeridoo) back Ward on this album, along with another well-known South Florida performing and recording musician, Jack Shawde, who recently accompanied Enrique Iglesias at the Latin Grammy Awards.

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Like car wheels on a gravel road, The Great Impossible's 15 tracks follow the tire treads of Southern guitar rock -- and the cover photo shows just such a path careening through wide-open spaces of dry grass and clouds with a great bed of mountains in the distance. "[This album] is about how huge things are and how overwhelming they can be" is how Ward sums it up. "That's why we chose the picture; it's so large and so stark."

The musician will admit that The Great Impossible is more vulnerable than her previous work -- both musically and lyrically. "It represents a lot of what Jack [Shawde] and I had been working on acoustically -- the softer and more textured composition. Lyrically, there's a lot more sensitivity." When Ward swells a note, it's impossible to avoid comparing her to Melissa Etheridge, but the local crooner actually works the ballads a bit more melodically than Etheridge does -- a skill on which she has relied more heavily for this album and with success, especially on tracks like "First Kiss," "Clumsy," and "Baby Look Up."

Regarding her newest full-length (recorded on her own label, Shiny Town Records) Ward says she went further back into her own past for material than she did on any of her previous albums. "Latch Key Kid" taps into the memories she has of the lonely years in her childhood, just after her parents divorced and just before music became one of her most loyal companions.

"That was a remarkable part of my life or in any kid's life -- when two people they absolutely adore and need and love say goodbye," Ward remembers. "My mom was working. My grandmother died, my uncle was a police officer who got shot in the line of duty, and then my sister married and moved away. So there was a lot of alone time."

Ward says her fans are sometimes surprised to learn she was a drummer first, singer/songwriter second. "I actually started out as a drummer in sixth or seventh grade; I really got good at playing the drums. I was teaching by the 12th grade, and as soon as I graduated, I was being hired out to run drum lines. The Miami Beach Symphony asked me to be an intern. When I went to college... I started singing a little bit. In one of my cover bands, the lead singer ran off with her boyfriend during a gig. It was some party or some wedding or some hall somewhere. I had to cover all the girl parts and all the girl songs. I ended up singing from behind the drums. That started me singing more."

When you consider that one of South Florida's Best Female Rock Vocalists may not have been a vocalist at all if not for one very impetuous girl, the existence of fate increases in possibility.

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