Merle Jam 2019 – Amanda Fish, OJATA, Tommy Castro and More

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Merle Jam 2019 was another successful fundraiser at Knuckleheads KC with Friday and Saturday concerts spanning two stages on beautiful Kansas City spring nights.

John Findlay of Liberty, MO, opened the show Saturday night with a performance of Scotland the Brave, The Streaker and two jigs Cork Hill and Out of the Air on bagpipe. Findlay is a 2016 heart transplant recipient.


It was a great lineup of musicians for this year’s Merle Jam event with Outlaw Jim and the Whiskey Benders, Jim Lauderdale, Sarah Morgan, The Grisly Hand and Lily B Moonflower performing Friday night.

Saturday, May 4th featured Tommy Castro & the Painkillers, Amanda Fish, Head Honchos, Orphan Jon and the Abandoned and Donnie Miller & the Rude Awakening.

Amanda Fish took the outdoor stage first – bringing in her lyrics words the meat of messages that we all wish we could say – with the fist-raising delivery we all wish we could say them. Fish’s presence has always been commanding but something has gotten even more affirmative now.  She’s bringing even more star-power as she snagged a well-deserved 2019 Blues Music Award nomination for Best Emerging Artist Album with her latest album Free.

Amanda’s lyrics lay down an emotional gauntlet that is also part of the journey for so many of the rest of us. The crowd certainly was moving in unison with her during the performance – almost like a nod of “yeah, I’ve been there, too.”

From that album’s song Not Again, Amanda made a commanding connective statement with her audience as she belted out I’m not that same doormat you used to step on back then/Don’t go looking for her now, she won’t be back here/Again/Not again.

And, the namesake cut Free – Feels so good to finally do what’s right for me (Feels so good)/I’m in control of (Feels so good)/My destiny (Feels so good)/It feels so good to be free/It feels so good to be free/It feels so good/To be free.

Make no mistake – Amanda is part of the blues youth, having just started her professional career in 2012. But in these few short years – and it looks like with Free – she has harnessed a grit, if you will, with very personal lyrics delivered as only her commanding vocals can deliver them. Emerging artist? Yes, thank you. I’ll take some more of this, Ms. Amanda Fish.





While Amanda was performing on the outdoor stage, bluesman Donnie Miller out of Nashville, took over the Garage stage at Knuckleheads. Joined by Kansas City musicians Adam Hagerman on drums and Jacque Garoutte, on guitar, Miller wooed a Kansas City crowd for a repeat appearance at Knuckleheads. A truly interactive crowd-pleasing entertainer, Miller has 45 years as professional – pretty good for a small town kid out of Coffeyville, KS. Check out the Donnie Miller story here

After listening to the a skeptical Kansas City crowd raving over Donnie Miller Saturday night, we’re thinking Knuckleheads is gonna want to be having him back on a regular basis.


Kansas City’s very own Adam Hagerman performing with Donnie Miller Saturday night in Knucklehead’s Garage. ©2019 Peggy Stevinson Bair Blues Insights LLC

Tommy Castro & the Painkillers took over the outdoor stage for the late show Saturday night, putting together enough energy to bring a pulsing crowd to their feet. Tommy Castro’s CD Killin’ It Live is what Castro describes as “what you hear when you see us live.” Castro is the recipient of six blues music awards, including B.B. King Entertainer of the Year in 2009. As for his Kansas City performance Saturday night – honestly, the guys on stage just looked like they were having a blast with a few hundred of their best friends. Castro tears up the guitar, then afterwards, his smile is so infectious and warm, like he played that song just for y’all – and he loved every minute of it.


In Knucklehead’s Carl Butler Lounge, Orphan Jon and the Abandoned out of Bakersfield returned as part of their spring Midwest tour. The Midwest fans who have caught Orphan Jon on their first two tours in 2017 and 2018 may be familiar with their debut album that garnered Blues Music award nominations – Abandoned No More – and their performances also at B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ on the south end of Kansas City.

But there’s more in the works for this remarkable group, starring Orphan Jon English and a really talented Tony Jack on bass, Brett Cox on guitar and Jason Blakely, drums. The fanbase that has formed around this band I’m sure feel like they’ve discovered a secret stash of treasure because these guys are completely fresh and original in their lyrics, music and delivery. Check out  their story here on Blues Insights.

By the way, a little birdie told me there’s a new OJATA album in the works…




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