Dane Waters and her French Cabaret Quartet last Sunday at The Limbo, featuring Chris Tolbert on guitar and Mike O’Bryan on accordion.  | Photo by Eli Keel

Imagine, the sun is just dipping down on a Sunday evening, as you sit under a huge umbrella, surrounded by an impeccably executed tiki bar. You’re sipping an umbrella clad drink, probably something strong and sweet. As you sigh and close your eyes, the quiet strains of the Édith Piaf classic “Ma Vie en Rose,” start to float toward you … hold on. Isn’t this a tiki bar? Why is there music that sounds like it ought to be drifting down some Parisian street about 60 years ago?

Because you’re at The Limbo, that’s why, and the Dane Waters French Cabaret Quartet is playing its weekly Sunday set. And while the musical time period and the décor don’t technically fit, they blend to create a mise-en-scène that is perfect for a bit of whimsy and melancholy, and even better for a date with your special human. 

I recently spent an evening at The Limbo, with Waters voice coloring the sunset a little rosier, and making the eyes of my companion shine just a little brighter. After Waters’ set had finished, she sat down and talked with us about her training as an artist, her many musical projects, and the songs that influence us decades after their popular heyday has passed.

Waters, a Louisville native, spent time wandering the globe before she settled down in her hometown.

“I left for about 10 years, lived in different places, lived in France twice,” Waters said.

Her love of French cabaret music predates her time in France.  

“You get to know a culture sometimes, if you really love something, it attracts you, you check it out,” she said.

But the culture she experienced when she moved to France she wasn’t the culture she had gone there seeking.

Dane Waters | Photo by Eli Keel

“It’s like the light from a star. It’s coming, and it may reach you long after the star itself has expired. That’s how I feel about the music, like Edie Piaf, from the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s. I didn’t get hip to it ’til they were long gone.”

Waters’ musical tastes vary, as displayed by her broad range of projects in Louisville. The night before we spoke she had been performing at a beer garden with a German folk band. She also sings at funerals and weddings, and recently performed some of her own compositions at the Speed.

The French Quartet sprung from a gig playing a completely different style of music.

“I met Mike O’Bryan, he’s the accordion player, and I think he was playing at Luigi’s, and we just got thrown together. I knew some of these songs, and he could play some of these songs … We’ve been working together, I guess since 2005,” Waters said.

They were joined by the guitarist Chris Tolbert and their quartet features rotating members, including frequent appearances by violinists and others string players.

“They have to be comfortable with this sort of, improvisational jazz milieu. But it’s really about enjoying these older tunes,” said Waters, adding: “There are so many talented musicians in Louisville. We’re so lucky.”

As strange as it may sound, not everyone loves this style of music. Waters says that you need to find the right place, and the right people. According to Waters, The Limbo has both.

“This place in particular just attracts people who are thoughtful and romantic. I think Olivia (Griffin, owner of The Limbo and The Mysterious Rack) has an acumen for what types of music to present here. And I feel right at home.” said Waters.

She constantly collects songs that fit with the aesthetic of the French Cabaret. She’s amassed a big catalog, and uses that collection to tailor each performance to the mood of the crowd. She feels the vibe, and selects the right musical ingredient to add next; a sad song or a happy one, something light or something dark.

When she’s not reminding audiences that “a kiss is just a kiss,” she’s likely to be found working on her own music.

Dane Waters and Ashley Thursby, in a performance at The Speed.| Photo by Chris Denny

“I’m trying to finish up an album of five songs, based on Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus. It’s violin, and voice …. I like to kind of recreate a more contemporary form of the art song.”

So don’t expect an easily digestible intro/ verse/ chorus/ verse/ structure if you go looking for Waters’ compositions when her album drops this fall. But you can still expect it to be fabulous, in the more traditional meaning of the word.

“I’m using Rilke’s poems, so he’s writing about everything from unicorns to the Earth to these ineffable things,” said Waters.

Despite experiments and experiences across a number of genres and mediums, Waters’ work is, in its own way, unified.

“It’s all about dreaming right? That’s what we’re trying to do. Just dream.”

You can step into Waters’ dream once a week at The Limbo, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Appropriately, it’s also happy hour. To keep up with The Limbo’s many excellent anachronisms, like Insider favorite Rannygazzoo, follow Limbo on Facebook and Instagram.