Catch the winter blues beginning Feb. 27

kelly richey

As blues music fills the air, breaking up the winter months, the awareness of this genre continues to grow in our city with the help of events like the sixth annual Midwinter Blues Festival.

Hosted at various indoor venues throughout the week, the festival is for both adults and children. 

Cindy McLeod, producer of the event, says that with three guitarists performing headline acts, workshops and a dancer party, there’s a little bit of everything for Calgarians to get involved in.

“We also know throughout the winter months there are very few festival events going on in the city so it’s a welcome addition to Calgary’s cultural calendar.”

People are a little keen on doing something that’s different than just going to the clubs,” she explains.

The Blues Can, a live music and blues bar in Inglewood, will host workshops during the festival.

Nathan Hurd, general manager says The Blues Can wants the festival to call them “home base.”

“We’re probably one of the biggest advocates of pushing live music to live on further and what better way then to support any festival that promotes live music, especially blues, when blues is our forefront…. We are [the] blues,” he says.

American guitarist to headline

McLeod says that there are only three headliners because the festival is focusing on an event called Guitar Mania where they showcase the headliners individually rather than as a group.

One of the international headliners, Kelly Richey, describes herself as “Stevie Ray Vaughan trapped in a woman’s body with Janis Joplin screaming to get out.”

Richey began playing guitar at age 15. Although she started out playing classic rock, she soon realized that most of the rock ‘n’ roll music she loved was blues-based. 

kelly richey

Kelly Richey will be bringing her own style to the Midwinter Blues Festival as she headlines and participates in the workshops.
Photo courtesy of: Kelly Richey 

Although she hasn’t performed in Calgary before, she has played in Winnipeg and Thunder Bay.

Richey thinks some Americans take the blues for granted, whereas the few times she’s been in Canada, she’s noticed more fascination for it.

“It’s always refreshing to be playing this music for people that have a more fresh perspective for it or they’re more hungry for it or they’re more curious maybe,” she says.

Richey says she’s looking forward to playing in Calgary and introducing her style of blues music as a performer, artist and teacher.

She says if people want to learn an instrument, people should have the freedom to do so without any expectations that limit them, but rather expectations of fun and discovery.

“Don’t think you have to be Jimi Hendrix, or have to be anyone. Find out who it is you are through music,” she says.

“I like helping people learn how express themselves and go on that journey. So that’s really exciting for me to do a workshop and not just perform because I really love both.”

A woman’s perspective on the blues

“I’ve always wanted to be the best teacher and best player that I can be. The fact that I’m a woman is something that other people notice more than I do,” Richey says.

During Richey’s career, she has seen a progression of what people think about women playing blues music — they have become much more open minded about it.

“It’s not nearly as unusual as it once was,” she says. “However, I do think that as a female I bring a certain emotive quality to the guitar, that is maybe what’s most unique about my playing and my style.”

Richey explains that since women have to do more work to get their calluses and hand strength built up as well as find out how to leverage the power, they have to realize that they may not always bring the same qualities to the guitar as a man would.

Growing support

Support for blues music comes from both men and women.

McLeod says there’s more support for the Midwinter Blues Festival each time it runs with help from the Calgary International Blues Festival in the summer.

Ultimately, McLeod says the festival’s mandate is to “foster, preserve and present blues music.”

“We are meeting our mandate at each count willingly and happily and seriously because we’re so proud of talent around us,” she says.

Calgary Midwinter Bluesfest (Feb. 27 – March 3, 2012)

Calgary Bluesfest (July 30 – August 5, 2012)

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