I didn’t know what to expect for my first time playing at Ebey Island Freedom Fest as part of the all women blues show. I thought it was a backyard party with a small stage and a few folks gathered round a campfire or barbecue grill. To my surprise it turned out to be a huge regional four-day music festival, with 40 of the finest bands in the Everett and Seattle area all converging at Jim McLaughlin and Donna Marie McMillin’s property out at Ebey Island. This event feels like a modern-day Woodstock of the Pacific Northwest with a huge stage, professional lighting and sound, and an enthusiastic and peaceful crowd decked out in everything from biker leathers to tie dye t-shirts.
During our set, I played lead guitar and sang along with several top local female vocalists, Mary McPage, Mary Ellen Lykins, Sherri Roberts Greimes, Marilyn Beebe. Lissa Ramaglia was there on bass and vocals while Darlene Jones held down the back beat on drums. It was a rockin’ set with a screaming crowd who were clearly enjoying seeing the women kick ass on some blues tunes. The highlight for me, was when we slowed things down during a rendition of Angel From Montgomery. We invited other female vocalists from the audience to join us – Michelle Taylor and Polly O’Keary stepped up.
The Ebey Island Freedom Fest runs over the Labor Day weekend and although it’s been the area’s best-kept secret for the past seven years, I think word has finally gotten out.
It’s always entertaining playing with WA International Blues Challenge winner, Kevin Sutton, and our August show at the Highway 99 Blues Club in Seattle didn’t disappoint. We opened the show for national touring act, Danielle Nicole in front of a full house. Farko Dosumov played some really impressive percussive/bass solos and owner Steve Sarkowsky held down the backbeat on drums. The highlight of our show was kicking off Kevin’s song Washington Blues with a ripping slide solo on my Danelectro as Kevin reminded me to “play too loud.” It was a memorable night and great to share a show with another female instrumentalist, singer and songwriter.
What better way to spend a blazing hot June Sunday than to perform at H20 in Anacortes among some of Washington’s best blues bands in the 2016 IBC Semifinals. The competition started with the duo and solo categories followed by the bands with my group consisting of Don Wilhelm, bass and Chris Leighton, drums and me on lead & slide guitar and vocals leading off the band performances. Standing before an enthusiastic audience, some of the best musicians in the area, and in front of a panel of six judges was thrilling and nerve-wracking. We gave it our best shot and got a great response from the audience and the judges. Audience members asked me when and where they can see us again. I was approached after our performance by judges who told me they had never heard of me, and where had I come from, and where had I learned to play the blues like that. That afternoon, the CD Woodbury band was the well -deserved winner – decked out in matching red and white suits with hats and shiny shoes to match. It was a competition among some of Washington’s best, but there was a spirit of camaraderie in the room with musicians who are often too busy playing to check out each other’s shows, together in one room hooting and cheering for each other. We didn’t win, but I walked feeling that I’d won – new fans, new friends and a warm welcome into the Washington blues family. We’ll definitely be back and who knows maybe next year we’ll try some matching outfits.
A few Saturdays ago down at the Madison Pub in Everett, I joined in with a group of some of the finest Washington female vocalists for a showcase performance at Ladies First 5! The performances with Terry Parker, Heather Jones (and Donny), Marilyn Beebe and Leah Tussing were great and backing band with Mark Riley on guitar, Dave McCabe, drums, Paul Quilty, bass and Ken Caldwell, keys did the women proud. I was the only instrumentalist among the women performers that night as is often the case. And Mark Riley (who is a dynamite guitarist) didn’t seem to mind when I asked him to sit out for a set. I ripped through a set of Joe Bonamassa songs, some slide standards and even some of my originals to a cheering, enthusiastic packed house. Paul Quilty, bassist and organizer along with his lovely partner, Willow really know how to put on a show. It’s one of my favorite venues North of Seattle and I’ll be returning there as a featured guest on July 27th.
It was a lot of fun doing a live broadcast as part of our Sunday night show at Guilt & Company in Vancouver, BC. I love the buzz in the room with a full house of folks who really want to hear live music. It was awesome to have the host and manager of the club, Tonye Aganaba, describe me as a woman who shreds the blues. And we did shred that night with lots of slide guitar and rocking original blues.
Prior to the show, Tonye asked me some questions about how I feel about being categorized as a “female guitarist” rather than just being known as a guitarist . As someone who plays in a lot of events that showcase women who play the blues, I’ve given that a lot of thought. I don’t think women should be segregated into to a separate category. I think that a guitarist should be judged on the merits of their playing.
It’s great to shine a spotlight on women who play the blues. Women should be given more opportunity to participate in festivals and other bigger shows and not limited to women’s events, or the token female player. When I taught at girl’s rock camp I was blown away by some of the young women that seriously want to play and are getting really good. It’s been a slow process, but I think things are evolving in a positive way.
I played a show recently as part of Chicks With Picks, a benefit for the Vancouver based Positive Women’s Network, in which a variety of solo acts and bands played songs festival style. There was some really great talent at this event and equally good original material, but I noticed very clearly how much stronger the audience response was to the cover material – songs they recognized or could sing along with from Fleetwood Mac’s Songbird and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to a rousing rendition of High School Confidential.
As a songwriter, there’s nothing like hearing my songs on the radio or performing them for a live audience and seeing folks enjoying the music. But I can understand from the perspective of club owners and some booking folks their general lack of enthusiasm for original material. I know the cringe-worthy feelings that arise when a performer announces they’re going to play an original song and it truly sucks or simply doesn’t resonate with the audience. It seems that whether original songs are strong or not at some point audiences want to hear something they know. I’ve been struggling with the realization that after two albums of original material, it’s time to add more cover material into the mix. It’s been a good run playing primarily originals and while I will continue to write, my focus for now will be on bringing in more covers. The Rolling Stones had a lot of their early success with covers like Howlin’ Wolf’s Little Red Rooster. John Hammond Jr. features several songs by Tom Waits (one of my favorite songwriters) on his release, Wicked Grin. And even Joe Bonamassa’s recent CD of cover songs (2014) Different Shades of Blues features a Jimi Hendrix song. I know in the blues world songs like Sweet Home Chicago, Stormy Monday and Born Under a Bad Sign are always going to be popular with folks, but there’s room for other versions of some great songs. Sharing the stage with a woman named Avi and hearing her scaled down acoustic version of Michael Jackson’s Beat It was very cool. If the Stones, John Hammond and even Joe Bonamassa can do it, I guess I can too.
After a summer on the west coast that was possibly the driest and hottest in a century, we are finally heading back to our familiar rain showers, misty mornings and fields of green. With that, our shows and concerts move from outdoor venues and festivals to the warmth of an indoor circuit.
I’ll be spending the fall and winter seasons playing shows from Vancouver’s Guilt & Company with my trio to a solo performance at Chicks with Picks at Vancouver’s Fairview. Then I’ll be heading back to Washington with a trio performance at the iconic, Conway Muse where diverse acts like Eric Bibb, Duffy Bishop, and the Fabulous Roofshakers have recently performed. I’ll also be participating in upcoming Blues to Do women’s shows in Seattle.
Happy fall everyone and stay tuned for more postings.
This year’s Northwest Folklife Festival is all about beats, rhythms and the traditional roots of the music we enjoy today. I’m thrilled to be a part of the 44th Annual Festival as a blues performer and have been inspired by the artists who paved the way for contemporary blues artists, especially the women. From the guitar stylings of sister Rosetta Thorpe and Memphis Minnie to the slide playing of Bonnie Raitt and Debbie Davies, there are plenty of women who’ve led the way for the next generation of female blues musicians. I’ll be playing a featured set as part of the Lady Sings the Blues Showcase on Friday May 22nd at 4:45pm. C’mon out and enjoy the Festival.
It was one year ago, the day before Mother’s Day that I released my original blues CD, Lovestruck Blues and performed my songs at a club in Vancouver, BC. The evening was delightful with a full house including friends, family and talented musicians who’d been a part of my project and who joined in the performance. But the most poignant moment of the show came when we dimmed the lights and my daughter, Michelle and I sang together on my ballad, Without You.
It had been a great experience recording with Michelle. I’m not sure if I was inspired by Levon Helm and daughter Amy or perhaps the Judd’s, but there’s something really special about recording and singing as mother and daughter, no matter how divergent the styles. We were never a typical family; performing together in musical theatre shows with my daughter acting and singing and me playing guitar while dressed in black so the audience wouldn’t be distracted by the band. We often found ourselves driving home from shows way too late on school nights. And it wasn’t unusual in our household for me to be rocking out on Kurt Cobain riffs or Led Zeppelin, while my daughter, as a young child, belted out the newest show tunes and told me to turn it down.
Michelle recently graduated with an opera degree, while I continue to write and play my roots infused blues. It seemed fitting that we recorded together and sang the new tunes in front of an audience filled with family and friends. As Mother’s Day approaches I am reminded of that special CD release performance and of how proud I am of my daughter and the recording we made together.
Happy Mother’s Day to all!
As part her month long International Women’s Day celebrations, Marlee Walker of Blues To Do will be featuring female musicians and I’ve been invited back to the Feedback Lounge in Seattle with my blues trio on March 24th.