Jennifer Bivona is getting a second chance to live her dream, and is taking her good friends with her.
Bivona, 40, is lead singer for Jen & Tonic, a south Charlotte cover band finding success in and around the Queen City.
Bivona said she let go of her dream once - but not this time.
Bivona grew up immersed in music. Her dad was in a barbershop quartet, and she and her eight siblings constantly were performing for their parents and each other. Her childhood debut was in the church choir.
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"When we performed at church they called us the Ledyard von Trapp family singers," said Bivona. Ledyard is her maiden name.
Bivona spent her teens and early 20s performing with a youth music ministry, recording radio voiceovers and singing backup in her brother's band. Her passion slowly began to take a backseat as the ups and downs of life; marriage, motherhood and other obligations took center stage.
Before Jen & Tonic, her last public performance was at a friend's wedding when she was eight months pregnant with daughter Sammy, who turns 9 in July (she also has a daughter, Alex, 7).
Bivona says she also became her worst critic. "A lot of it had to do with my confidence and my nerves. I held myself back," she said.
Opportunity came calling two and half years ago at the South Park Swim and Tennis Club in the Huntingtowne Farms neighborhood.
"Cary Watts approached me and said they were looking for a female singer for this band," said Bivona. One question - "You want to try out?" - put her music career back on track.
"When I discovered Jen's talent I knew that she and I would play together at some point," said Watts. "After playing some neighborhood functions together, we decided to give it a go."
Since its creation, Jen & Tonic has seen members come and go, but Bivona is confident she has finally found the right combination of personality and talent.
Jen & Tonic has four members; three live in the Huntingtowne Farms neighborhood. Watts, 45, and Amy Majchrzak, 38, play guitar; Mark Hansen, 47, plays drums and Cajon (a box-like instrument played by hand); and Bivona croons popular tunes, from the Doobie Brothers to Aretha Franklin to Lady Antebellum.
Practices are held in whichever home is available that week. All band members have kept their day jobs in IT, sales, stay-at-home parenting and land surveying, so the group works around each career, Cub Scout meetings, family time, sports practices and volunteer obligations.
When they come together to jam, the payoff is worth the juggling and sacrifices.
"Music is an escape," said Hansen. "When I hear Jen, Cary and Amy hit a harmony just perfect, I can't help but smile."
Watts said, "Even now, after 36 years, I still get the same thrill from making music as I did in my dad's workshop."
Members have played solo or with different musicians, but the group says there is something special about playing and performing together.
"When you experience a collaboration of musicians where everyone contributes their talent to create a song, the feeling is overwhelming," said Majchrzak.
Audiences have responded to the group's popular tunes. Jen & Tonic have been regulars at Dilworth Coffee House in Ballantyne, Forty Rod Roadhouse in Mint Hill and Tailgators Sports Grill in Locust, and they've booked gigs at Park Towne Village and Lucky Lou's in Charlotte and Rocky River Vineyards near Locust.
With all this success, band members agree they've already made it.
"We're doing it. It feels good and it feels right," said Watts. "That's all the success I need."
Bivona is grateful for a second chance to feed her soul with music and offers advice to other aspiring performers.
"It doesn't happen overnight," said Bivona, whose husband, Jimmy, tries to see all her shows. "There are a lot of talented musicians in Charlotte. But don't second-guess yourself. If you want to do it, just do it."