Friday, November 03, 2006

A strange thing happened on my way to Nepean...

...last night women stole the blues.

Last night, at the CentrePointe Theatre in Nepean, the strangest and most wonderful thing happened...women stole the blues. Sure, women have played the blues forever, as long as there has been the blues - and the senses of playfulness, irony, righteousness and sincerity have always shone through in a way that can make you smile all the way inside or drag tears from your own tired souls comradery with the idea of the song. But last night was different, last night they stole the blues forever. And they have no intention of giving it back.

Humour me, I am going somewhere with this.

Perhaps it was the collective force of unique approaches and new blood that the collection of Sue Foley, Ellen McIlwaine, Roxanne Potvin and Rachel Van Zanten that meandered through the evening with a slow and careful collecting of all things blues and placing them in the front of their game.

Sue Foley would probably tell me women stole the blues a long time ago and she would know. Taking on what is probably the dream of many established women blues players, her Guitar Women project (a book, website and CD series) proves beyond a doubt that there were a lot of people in on the plan to steal the blues, and that the plot dates back to the beginning. But I had no idea, so all I could do was sit there while she effortlessly nailed some of the fastest, cleanest and most pronounced blues leads and heavy Telecaster-driven rhythms I have heard in a long time.

Ellen McIlwaine would share with me that it takes a lifetime of work, trial and tribulation in order to feel what she knows you have to feel to play like she does. Her approach to the guitar is nothing short of brilliant, transporting and hiding the blues in the tones of India, the middle east, and Japan where she was raised. At one point I was glad when she reminded the audience that "...remember this is just a plain old six string" because I know we had all gone with her on her journey around the world and with our eyes closed there was no way that it was one woman sitting up there with an acoustic guitar.

Gatineau native Roxanne Potvin doesnt mess around too much with "the way things were" choosing instead to take the blues on her own path - a sort of honky tonk meets rag meets funk with some really naked and clean guitar poking its way through the lush fabric she sows around her striking vocals. I was amazed that Ottawa could stay in their seats and sort of nod their heads back and forth, because my whole body was wiggling around my chair trying to steal the blues back and just collectively bring us to our feet to dance.

The star of the evening for me though, was emerging slide artist Rachelle Van Zanten. Her job in the dark quartet of theives is to ensure that we men never ever take the blues back again. From the tear-jerking soulful fingerpicking kind of theivery that leaves you all coccooned in your own blues to the thumping, sliding, grinding and old-school vocal stylings of some tunes that you know in a different setting would have had the whole room moshin' - come on grandma, I know you've been a member here at the theatre for years, but why not write your tag on the bathroom wall, grab another drink at the bar and come right back in here for some heart-pounding, sweaty dancing.

Now that women have stolen the blues, and sent Rachelle in as their guardian of the flame, we never have to worry about listening to some bad balding basement chunkers with out of tune guitars slinking their way through a CCR song.

The other part of the night that proved that we are not worthy was the art show, silent auction, and announcement of a bursary fund for young guitarists right here in the Ottawa area. As a father of some budding young musicians I was more than happy to help - and I am the proud owner of a 4' x 5' Paul Alain painting of Ellen McIlwaine, one of a series of four that hung behind our shameless theives. We are secretly planning to bring the paintings back together one day (we collect art about music) and build our own monument to that cold night in Nepean, when women stole the blues.

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