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Meet Long Island’s Janis Joplin, Linda Ronstadt impersonators

Amber Ferrari and Carolyn Benson by day have normal jobs but on nights and weekends they transform into Janis Joplin and Linda Ronstadt.  The two perform in tribute bands around Long Island and love being on stage and performing. Credit: Randee Daddona

Amber Ferrari spends her weekdays bookkeeping for a real estate developer. But on nights and weekends, she lets her hair down — or, technically, throws it on — to portray ’60s rocker Janis Joplin.

Ferrari has been a tribute performer of the music legend for more than a decade. And she’s always had the backing of her husband, Chris, on and off the stage.

On Friday, Nov. 17, she will rock a wig and wispy flower crown at the Suffolk Theater in Riverhead, where she’ll share the stage with her nine-member band, including her hubby on guitar.

Ferrari is part of a community of Long Islanders who, in addition to holding down a 9-to-5, double as celebrity impersonators by way of tribute bands.

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Ferrari got her start as a tribute performer in 2005, after she was asked by her vocal coach, Ellen Michelmore, to cover Joplin’s music in a production of “Woodstockmania” at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson.

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“I didn’t think I could sing like Janis, but Ellen did,” said Ferrari, 45, of East Patchogue.

Audiences did, too.

During the production’s run, Ferrari said she received standing ovations in the middle of the show after singing “Piece of My Heart.”

“I knew then that I had something when singing Janis and that’s when my Janis Joplin tribute show, ‘Joplin’s Pearl,’ came to fruition,” Ferrari said.

A classically trained musician, Ferrari has expanded her repertoire to include Madonna and Pat Benatar. The “Material Girl” tribute group came about in 2015. Ferrari launched “Benatar” this summer, which she says has allowed her to showcase her vocal range. These roles have helped her land gigs at major venues across the Island: The Paramount in Huntington, Dix Hills Performing Arts Center, The Landmark on Main Street in Port Washington, Vail Leavitt Music Hall in Riverhead and at 89 North Music Venue in Patchogue.

Her musical wages vary by venue — tickets to Friday’s show cost $35 to $45 — but Ferrari said she isn’t motivated by the money.

“I do this for the love of performing,” she said.

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Carolyn Brown-Benson, 51, a sales manager at Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook, always had dreams of being an entertainer and pursued them in her early adult years. But Brown-Benson, a Linda Ronstadt tribute artist, put them aside when she married her husband, Jim, in 1996. Soon after, they had two children, Shannon and James, who are now 18 and 15.

When her children were younger, Brown-Benson tried to return to the stage and landed a role with the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Brown-Benson, who was in her 40s at the time, said she was faced with the choice of being in a starring role onstage or at home with her family. She chose her family.

In some ways, Brown-Benson found her voice as a tribute performer after the woman who she impersonates lost hers. In August 2013, Ronstadt, a Grammy- and Emmy-winning singer, revealed she could no longer perform as a result of her Parkinson’s disease. A year or so later, Brown-Benson — who’d eased her way back into performing in her neighborhood at East Setauket restaurants — developed a bigger itch to perform. Bored with the bar scene, she decided to tuck her blond locks under a brunette wig to portray Ronstadt in a tribute group, Blue Bayou.

“When I would be out singing in these small restaurants and bars, nine times out of 10, anytime I would sing ‘Hurts So Bad,’ ‘You’re No Good’ and ‘Tracks of My Tears,’ people would turn around and really be into it,” said Brown-Benson, who has taken the stage at The Paramount, Resorts World Casino New York City and CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale. “They’d stop talking. They’d look.”

Brown-Benson said she hopes her career path inspires others.

“I sometimes feel this rush at 51, that I have limited time, but maybe I’m not limited,” she said. “Maybe this is when I was meant to be flying.”

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