Wrapping up a grueling but fruitful concert tour for 2017, Samantha Fish came home to Kansas City to put on her last show of the year, packing a Knuckleheads Garage crowd willing to drop $90 a ticket for the evening, which included complimentary champagne and a balloon drop at midnight.
The show also included access to two other acts: the crowd-pleasing Atlantic Express gushing the best of the 60’s top hits (“My Girl”; “Chain of Fools”; “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”) and The Belairs out of Columbia, MO, who can put a blues spin on any music genre.
It was a little tricky to move between simultaneous shows inside on Knuckleheads‘ main stage and the Garage but once I soaked up several irresistable performances by Atlantic Express, I moved over to the Garage to cozy up to some Belairs blues.
After watching the brothers for several songs, I made up my mind that there comes a time in your life where you appreciate a sharp-dressed man who can handle an axe.
Brothers Dick and Dave Pruitt – who took on a 90 minute set Sunday night for the Knuckleheads’ New Years Eve concert – played everything from slide guitar blues to Johnny Cash.
..and they did so with a style that showed off what 30-year career musicians learn only from gigging all over the country for three decades
“From Austin to Boston” sums up the range these brothers bring to the stage – with Dick’s on-point range of vocals and bass guitar coupled with brother Dave’s gleeful command of lovingly-seasoned instruments that have clearly been distressed the old-fashioned way: by years of beating millions of notes through them.
If it’s the brothers’ style to bring a nod-to-the-sixites, sharp-dressed man look, they do so with the cool and confidence of the Rat Pack. But it’s their command of blues notes which permeates their music and their songs – whether soul, country, southern blues or rock -that satisfied the blues-discerning fans at Knuckleheads this New Years Eve.
Just before 11 p.m., Ms. Fish came out on stage in a mini-dress that look audaciously like it was coated in glittering mermaid scales (fish…mermaid scales…get it?). The dazzling dress was complimented by knee-hugging black boots which covered what has become famously-known as a pair of the best gams in the music business. Her gorgeous shock of oversize blonde curls above the winged eyeliner and capacious smile finished off the allure to her fans to join her down to the floor – closer to her – in front of the stage for the next two and a half hours.
But everyone who comes to see Samantha knows the essence of her gifts lie in her mastery of and fearless attacks on the strings. While we love her presentation, we love her songwriting and delivery even more.
Naught shall keep the blues from its appointed rounds, apparently, so even though this past Monday was Christmas, it was still Coyote Bill’s Monday night Open Blues Jam at Westport Saloon. Plenty of local KC talent braved the 21 degree weather to show out and warm up a dedicated crowd of holiday revelers.
Among the musicians who came out were Koolaide and Miss Bea of Koolaide Exact Change Band – their first time at Westport Saloon – bringing good tidings of great vibes accompanied by John Paul Drum on harmonica. Will Hawkins stepped in on drums and Rick Symmonds on keys.
Blues Jam host William “Bill” Bartelt has had a version of Coyote Bill band for the past 10 years, he said, and has hosted the Coyote Bill Blues Jam at Westport Saloon for the past four years. The current lineup of Coyote Bill includes Bill, Patricio “Pato” Lazen, who joined the band about a year ago, and Kris Schnebelen, who joined in October, 2017, on drums.
Westport Saloon is a cozy, friendly place boasting “live, independent roots music” in the heart of Kansas City’s Westport. There’s a decent size dance floor, two bars and lots of live music variety.
When Mike Zito puts on a concert, he only knows full throttle. When he came to Knuckleheads Dec. 9 with special guest Jeremiah Johnson Band, the energy couldn’t get any higher on a ride that lasted even longer. It felt like like doing shots of Red Bull.
With two bands each this good, either one could have packed a Knuckleheads stage house – each of them has before. Together, they sent Kansas City fans scrambling for tickets.
Zito showed off his star quality by goading an already hyped-up, on-their-feet crowd into staying for a pairing of both bands well-into a three-song encore. Sharing the stage with the already popular Johnson, was fine with Zito, who seems to thrive on choosing to play with the very best. After all, not only is Johnson an award-winner also but he brings Frank Bauer’s dipping, back-arching saxophone performance, the personable Benet Schaeffer on drums and seasoned bassist Tom Maloney keeping everybody on track.
And Zito’s band is one of the best anywhere with Terry Dry on bass and Matt Johnson on drums. Plus, they can all sing and are performers who carry an intuitive showmanship into Zito’s performances.
These two bands are clearly among the most audience-satisfying acts touring right now. They easily interact with and take charge of the audiences who clearly are pumped and energized by these performers. When Zito took his wireless guitar out into the audience, exposed as he was, the fans cleared the way and egged him on. Well, let me just show you Mike Zito untethered:
At the sold out show for Jeremiah Johnson this past summer, nobody left the packed Gospel Lounge at Knuckleheads the entire performance as the St. Louis native blues home boy and his fiery saxophonist Frank Bauer, drummer Benet Schaeffer, and bassist Tom Maloney, solidified their hold on the Midwestern blues scene.
On another night this summer in the Knuckleheads venue, another St. Louis-born bluesman, Mike Zito similarly fired up a crowd on the outdoor stage opening for Tab Benoit – then, together with Tab Benoit. And, yes, (why do you even ask?) the crowd went wild.
But if putting both Johnson and Zito together on one ticket is winning a blues bash lottery, then you have a chance to cash in your prize this weekend:
Both performers were big winners at the Independent Blues Awards this year: Johnson for Best Independent Contemporary CD for “Blues Heart Attack” and Best Funk Song “Sun Shine Through” and Zito for Best Blues Rock Song: “Redbird”.
It’s about the music, yes, but it’s also about their incredible bands and both performers’ stage presence along with their incomparable abilities to lasso an audience not just with their talent but with their down-home genuineness. Okay, to boil it down: these guys actually really like their fans.
So, get out of the holiday doldrums, leave the world behind you and get transported inside the happy cocoon of Knuckleheads. Get your tickets via Knuckleheads directly as this is always the best ticket deal.
Here’s a visual taste of the shows from this summer:
A lot of people who love the blues know that Southern Avenue is a street in Memphis, TN.
But it’s also the name of a young blues band with a namesake debut album Southern Avenue.
Coming back for another run at Kansas City’s great roadhouse Knuckleheads Nov. 30, those who didn’t catch Southern Avenue the first time around this summer are going to get a second chance – which is a coup for the fans who recognize they are lucky enough to still get in to see this band’s star rise at a smaller venue.
Just a refresher of Southern Avenue’s July 14, 2017 appearance:
The band lit up the Knuckleheads outdoor stage Friday, July 14, 2017 – on a beautiful summer night in front of a standing room only, overflow blues crowd. Opening for the TUF (Trampled Under Foot) Reunion, sisters Tierinii (vocals) and Tikyra Jackson (drums) along with Israeli-born Ori Naftaly on guitar and keyboardist Jeremy Powell, coaxed the crowd into filling their cups with a fresh brew of youth-infused blues – a special blend of blues tones, youthful lyrics, gospel and Tierinii’s arousing delivery.
Like a choir director stirring up a congregation, vocalist Tierinii kept up an unrelenting invitation to jump into a groove with an energetic lineup of original songs like “Don’t Give Up” and “Rumble” – all while heel-stepping, hip-gyrating and swinging her long, brilliant red locks. The band broke out in several solos by Powell, Naftaly and Tikyra, creating a bubbling cauldron of excitement inside the ever-more hyped up crowd.
The set wrapped up with the wave-inducing “Don’t Give Up” that would have gotten the band elected to Congress if it had been a political rally. You can get a free download of the song if you sign up with your email here. If you don’t get anything else out of this article, I recommend getting that song. It has a great mantra that is at the heart of how Southern Avenue connects with their fans.
Let’s have a listen to Music City Roots‘ video of Southern Avenue’s “Don’t Give Up”:
Outside the Knuckleheads front entrance during the intermission (Trampled Under Foot Reunion was up next as the headliner), the newly-minted fans were able to snap up CDs of the Southern Avenue namesake debut record – also available on LP vinyl for those who like to take their music for a vintage spin on a platter.
I didn’t know what to think this past summer when this little pint-size pixie sidled up to the microphone on the stage one Wednesday night during the 2017 Levee Summer Blues Jam. Jam nights are pretty laid back…Newman, casually bespeckled – but even so, nothing could obscure those big eyes underneath. I thought right then, in fact, that she was reminiscent of one of Margaret Keane’s paintings – waif-like and barefooted. I squinted a bit wondering what this gal was doing in a blues jam.
But, then…something about how she wore that big ol’ bass like a comfortable accessory and how, with a smile and flick of her locks, the fellas around her took que and struck in. I quickly surmised I’d better pay attention: she wasn’t there to follow.
She was there to LEAD.
Sure ’nuff, after her step up to the mic, out came a big woman voice that boomed a whole lotta blues outta seemingly nowhere.
Yeah. Fool me once. Never again. Welcome to my first experience of Heather Newman.
I got a chance to catch up with her after her set and found her very down-home friendly. From Omaha originally, Newman has made Kansas City home recently but, clearly, she has that Midwestern approachability. I promised to catch her one of her professional appearances in the future and as luck would have it, the next time I got to connect with her was at Knuckleheads with her own band, The Heather Newman Band.
After waiting around for her to greet her fans before the show, Ms. Newman said she was excited because she had written a new song the day before and run the band through the new tune in less than a day to try it out this very next night. To understand this level of ability, one first has to know that, even though she is only 23 years old, she’s been performing since she was 10, so in Heather Newman years, she’s a seasoned pro.
With the debut of “Burn Me Alive”, it’s easy to see how she taken her raw talents to bolder levels.
With Lee’s Summit’s Keith Ladd on guitar, classically trained Ryan Matthew on keys and Cole Dillingham (formerly with Amanda Fish band) on drums, Newman is clearly comfortable as a leader of the band (more like keeper of the band’s happiness.) Coaxing her guys through songs with smiles and attention, she never misses a beat while doing what it takes to make sure the sounds are on track. Talent builds talent and begets talent so Newman surrounding herself with such a worthy crew has clearly served to put her at the helm of a great sound at an opportune time in her career – and theirs.
Rollin’ through on electric grooves this summer from California was Orphan Jon and the Abandoned – partnered up with Johnny Main and The 44’s. Hitting Kansas City twice in their tour of the Midwest, I first encountered OJATA at BB’s Lawnside BBQ – and was caught a bit off-guard when this beatnik looking daddy-o strolled up from out in the audience to grab the mic where the band had already fired up their first number. Jon English commenced to jiving and crooning, swaying a backside and raising his eyebrows invitingly at the audience over a pair of dark glasses – while a slim and seasoned Bruce Krupnik coaxed an electric cigar box guitar into a string-bending blues whine.
It became clear that we were all there to witness Orphan Jon having a good time and we could either join in or not – it was gonna happen…and it did happen. Everybody got bitten by the groove and pretty soon the place was hoppin.
Then, Jon English stepped back as guitarist Bruce Krupnik entered a zone and took everyone into it with him. Fortunately, I managed to gather myself enough to capture a goodly clip of it. Grab your favorite beverage, close your eyes and have a listen – I promise you, he’ll be gentle but you are gonna feel it:
That song, “Leave My Blues Alone,” is on the Abandoned No More CD coming out on Rip Cat Records after the first of the year (2018) – so you get a first taste of here. Thankfully, my unprepared backside got a second chance to video this number entirely and live when OJATA did a loop back around to KC on the tail end of their Midwest Tour and graced the Gospel Lounge at Knuckleheads a few days later. You want more than just a taste of this song? Well, here’s the 16 minute live version – with special guest Johnny Main injecting extra energy and mojo:
A lot more is coming here on Blues Insights about OJATA in the near future – as I truly believe in the amazing songwriting matchup of Jon English and Bruce Krupnik. But, yeah, even though the weather was balmy in the summer of 2017 – the Kansas City blues scene was hot, hot, hot.
Stay tuned (ha! get it?) for more as we will soon be discussing the upcoming CD:
I thought I’d coast into this fall by bringing you a retrospective of some of this summer’s sizzling events in the Kansas City Blues scene. A beautiful summer for weather in ol’ KC town, there were plenty of balmy evenings to enjoy a great lineup of blues concerts.
First up, Kansas City’s own Danielle Nicole Schnebelen, perfunctorily known as Danielle Nicole.
Danielle Nicole holds a powerful blues presence as evidenced by her vocals-only performance Tuesday (July 11, 2017) at Knuckleheads where she wow’d an overflow crowd in opening for The Robert Cray Band. Kansas City loves Danielle Nicole and it’s easy to see why – not only is she a riveting guitarist, her vocals hit every note with an emotional barb that hooks her fans into feeling the core message of the lyrics. Plus, she’s beautiful. There’s that.
Danielle Nicole is well-paired with the handsome and talented Brandon Miller who can go toe-to-toe with Danielle in a frenzied instrumental duel – or back up her vocals with harmony on solo acoustic. His smile and good mood contagiously amps up the on-stage vibe between the two, making them one of Kansas City’s great blues combos.
When the Universe conspires to push you into your purpose, you answer the call. It was when the venerable James Harman didn’t take no for an answer that pushed seasoned Kansas City bassist Patrick Recob to get up in front and sing at BB’s Lawnside BBQ one night.
“Nah, James, I ain’t gonna sing no songs.” Recob recalled telling Harman. But Harman wasn’t listening…he was already conspiring, as if an ESP moment had descended upon him – and the scene of Recob’s next career move had just unfolded in front of him. He insisted not only that Recob sing…but also start writing songs and come to California and make a record.
As Recob entertained a crowd at his Perpetual Luau CD release party Oct. 11, 2017 at Knuckleheads Saloon, he provided proof of his songwriting and entertainment chops with diversity that ranged from deep blues in “Dark Night of the Soul” to the love song “We Have Got It Going On.”
Let’s have a listen to how Patrick recalls the Harman encounter (he’s going to follow his story with “Frustration Blues”) from his CD Perpetual Luau:
When an artist writes from the heart, anything and everything can happen. When he pulled out “We Have Got It Going On” – a love song he wrote for his wife, Lisa – Recob rolls out that youthful love feeling, producing a catchy, foot-tapping retro beat reminiscent of the very early blues emergence later termed “Rock and Roll” – stuff that came out the 1950s Sun Records in Memphis with the likes of Kings of Rhythm and Elvis Presley.
Have a listen:
More to come about this artist as we interview him going forward about the distribution of this tasty collection of songs from heart of a true Kansas City bluesman bringing us the pleasure of Perpetual Luau.
Small Town Tonganoxie Family & Friends Set the Pace for Visitors Seeking a Quiet Reprieve
As the cool air of autumn slips through the closing door of summer, plumes of dust rise along a narrow country road just outside the town of Tonganoxie, KS.
Rows of vehicles from distant counties and towns have their turn signals on for the same turn off, pointing their now-dust-powdered grills at a set of gentle slopes plump with thick nubby green stalks shoring up massive heads of bright yellow sunflowers.
The mostly-city-folks who pull into remarkably neat rows of parking in one of the five mowed spots around the sunflower fields, saunter slowly towards various accidental gaps between the yellow-headed stalks – wandering in and disappearing to no place in particular, sometimes stopping to take pictures and sometimes ducking and squealing at the urgent buzzing of pollen-laden insects diving into the blooms.
They’ve arrived to capture the fleeting pleasure of a gentle brush with nature at the sunflower fields of Grinter Farms
The cooperation level among the visitors is something in itself to behold. There is no competition or me-first attitude to be seen anywhere this particular day. Visitors will spend the next hour or two not thinking much about what they left behind them – only the fact that they are surrounded by acres and acres of what some feel is just…sunshine and happiness.
A Family Tradition Born Out of an Oil Crisis
Every story has a beginning and this one started with Tonganoxie farmer Jim Grinter, who had a vision for making alternative fuel to run his farm. His daughter-in-law, Kris Grinter, shared what Jim started out to try and do during the 70s to fight the cost of rising gas prices:
When the idea of using sunflower oil for fuel became impractical financially, he decided to keep growing them anyway, which, as Kris Grinter said, over the years, turned into a family tradition.
The Grinters have profitable row crops of corn and soybeans – although, for a few lucky years, there was enough demand that the family grew more acres of them. Apparently, in spite of Kansas being known as “the sunflower state,” it’s actually the Dakotas that grow the majority of sunflowers.
The family currently have about 40 acres planted in sunflowers (that’s still about three million plants, according to Grinter Farms worker Curt Somers.) Kris Grinter, known also as “the farmer’s wife,” explains:
Feeding the Masses
Besides a great walk through the sunflowers, visitors this year can also enjoy home made pies, cookies, and cinnamon rolls thanks to the new food kitchen that was added this year. It’s first come, first serve though – on Kris’s baked goods – and they sell out fast by 10 a.m., depending on the crowds. (Food trucks with additional lunch options have been added this year, though. Check Grinter Farms for serving times and details)
On his most recent visit out at Grinter Farms September 8, Blues Insights’ videographer Terry Bair happened upon Ted out among the sunflowers and had a chat with him about how the operation is going now and how it has evolved this year from previous years:
New this year also is the addition of food trucks. We caught up with Debbie Robinette, a longtime friend of the Grinters, (who grew up with Ted), as she manned one of the new concessions. She said that this year, more fields were mowed for visitors to have places to park and more workers were on hand to help visitors get oriented and provide them with water – so visitors will have an easier time doing what they came to enjoy.
Local Artisans at The Store
The store has been expanded and is a place where local artists and vendors have their wares for sale – leather crafts, quilts, metal craft, jellies, and local honey. Friends and family pitch in to help keep the operation running smoothly for the two or three weeks of blooming season. And Ted knows plenty of friends:
Paul Van Cleave sells some of his exotic jellies (Cabernet, Champagne, Sunflower) at the Grinter Store during the sunflower blooming in the first couple of weeks of September. Van Cleave, who grew up on a farm in Tonganoxie, KS, is one of the many local artisans selling their wares to visitors at the farm prior to the seasonal sunflower harvest. Van Cleave owns and runs Imbibe Jam’s LLC. Local artisans sell their wares in the Grinter Farms Shop.
Happiness and Hope
For one visitor at Grinter Farms this year, the sunflowers represented more than a family outting. Not only was it a place for Isabella Gamino’s senior pictures, but it is a place that represents happiness …and hope. Gamino, 17, who lives in Topeka and traveled to Grinter Farms with her mother Tracy Gamino for the photo session, said she is now at ease discussing the depression she struggled with as a young teen.
She advocates for young people to talk more openly about how they are feeling and being honest about their intentions with their families to get the help they need for depression.
“I’ve had a lot of struggles throughout my entire school life. And just thinking about how the sunflowers come back every year, their faces look up towards the sun…they are always so positive…it’s just something that I really relate to and feel within my heart. [Sunflowers] are happiness…positive…very much an optimistic thing.”
The sunflowers are in full bloom right now at Grinter Farms and, according to the website, the blooming season is about 2 weeks or less before the heads get heavy with seeds and start to droop. Harvest is at about Halloween. The photos for this article were taken September 2nd, 5th and 8th – for more information and store, bakery and food truck hours, contact: Grinter Farms