She left home a young, small-town musician with big-time dreams and the hope of someday singing her way into a break. Cindy Kaza never thought that break might actually find her, of all places, on a return trip back home. But that’s what happened for the 22-year-old singer-songwriter. For as long as she can remember, Kaza, of Newmarket, has been singing. She was 16 years old the first time she performed at an open microphone night at the Bull and Bier House in her hometown of Plymouth. Nearly six years later, Kaza (pronounced Kay-zah) was back at the establishment in February, belting out tunes with The Amorphous Band. On this night, however, her soulful voice caught the right set of ears. And because of a chance meeting, Kaza, joined by longtime collaborator and friend Chris O’Neill, will be the opening act for John Hiatt and the Goners and the Robert Cray Band at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom on Tuesday, July 29. "It’s pretty exciting," Kaza said. "It’s so ironic. It’s one of those stories you’d hear on TV or something. I went back to my old neck of the woods, the place I left because I thought I’d never get any where, and this happens. "The Amorphous Band had played at the Bull and Bier Haus before. But in February there happened to be a music industry agent in the audience. In town for a family vacation, he heard her perform and was so impressed he approached her. "He came up to me and we started chatting," Kaza said. "We’ve stayed in touch." The agent had ties to the Casino Ballroom, which led to the opportunity to open for Hiatt and Cray. "For a few months, I was never quite sure. The guy pushed pretty hard to get (the gig) for me and it came through," she said. "It’s such an honor. I got to meet Robert Cray last summer. I really like his music." Kaza left Plymouth for the Seacoast after dropping out of college with hope of improving her musical abilities and hooking up with somebody who could help further her career. She scored with O’Neill and The Amorphous Band, getting plenty of gigs and plenty of face time as she and the band became a regular act on the Seacoast. Every Wednesday night the band, of which O’Neill also is a member, plays at The Barley Pub in Dover. Her ability as a singer-songwriter was also noticed by local guitar guru Harvey Reid, who included her on one of his Seacoast Songwriters compilation CD’s. So locally, her career had come a long way from when she first arrived. The big break, however, was still out there somewhere. After being asked to open for Hiatt and Cray at the Casino, Kaza asked O’Neill if he’d like to play with her. "Originally, when the gig got booked it was just me," Kaza said. "I decided to bring somebody with me. Chris will be playing guitar. I’ll also be playing guitar and doing my music. It’ll have a fuller sound." The two have played together for so long, so it seemed like the right thing to do, too, she said. "We play out a lot as a duo, so we have a lot of the material worked out," O’Neill said. "It seemed like the natural thing to do, but I suppose she could have gone out and gotten a more high-profile guitar player. I’m blown away by it." He said he saw Robert Cray in 1987, opening for Eric Clapton. "I’ve always been a fan," he said, adding that he also loves the Casino as a venue. The two are currently practicing a lot to fine-tune the six or seven songs they will play during the 30-minute set. The game plan for right now is to do all of Kaza’s originals, though they might stick a cover song in the repertoire. Both say they are slightly mind-boggled by the fact that they will be playing in front of an estimated 1,800 people. According to Kaza, the club has already sold 1,400 tickets forthe show, making a sell-out all but a sure thing. Yet just below the nerves both Kaza and O’Neill are also excited for the chance to perform in front of such a crowd. "I’m definitely going to be really nervous. But I think after the first song you start getting into it and I can be myself," Kaza said. "I’m walking into it trying not to have any expectations. I just want to do the best I can and get my music out in front of as many people as I can." For me, it‘s exciting to say I’m opening up for these people," she continued. "But I’m not walking into this thinking it’s going to bring me superstardom. It’s a great opportunity and it’ll be a great experience." And as Kaza has learned, who knows who might be out there among the 1,800-plus, listening to her sing? After all, playing a little out-of-the-way bar led to this gig. "That’s the thing with playing bars. You can go out one night, have a big crowd and think you’re a big deal," O’Neill said. "But, the next night, you go out and there might be only five people there. But any one of those five people might be able to help you. You always play your best every time you go out there."
Cindy Kaza and Chris O’Neill open for John Hiatt and the Goners and the Robert Cray Band at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom on Tuesday, July 29. Doors open at 6 p.m. Show time is 8 p.m. Reserved seating is $36, general admission, $26. Call 929-4100 or visit: www.casinoballroom.com