Women in Blues Manitoba
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Women in Blues Manitoba

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
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"These Women Are Singing the Blues, and They’re Happy About It"

These Women Are Singing the Blues, and They’re Happy About It
Oct 18, 2008
Winnipeg Free Press

Musicians often come to the blues by epiphany, not design. And on a sombre October Saturday, over pints and the crack of pool cues in the Windsor Hotel’s iconic blues room, three of Winnipeg’s finest musicians share their testimony.
Debra Lyn Neufeld was 30 years old and caught in an unhappy marriage when she stumbled on the sound. Within a year, she had ditched the dude, picked up a guitar, and hit the road.
“I heard the blues and it changed my life,” says the self-taught Neufeld. “I gave up everything to play. It answered the sound in my soul.”
Kathy Kennedy first fell in love with the blues 16 years ago. In 1992, Kathy Kennedy was a rock and pop singer living in Calgary when a whim brought her to the King Eddie Pub. “I said, ‘I’m going to see a blues band,’ and that was it. Blues is something you’ve got to hear live. There’s nothing like it.”
Vocalist Angel Calnek, a “child of the ’60s,” came to her epiphany by comparison. “I was into the folk genre, and a lot of folk music was resurrecting old blues performers,” she says. “But when you compare Peter, Paul and Mary singing If I Had A Hammer to Odetta singing This Little Light of Mine… my God, the woman just walked onstage and stabbed you in the heart with her performance.”
Want to see these women testify onstage? Tonight’s your chance: starting at 9 p.m. at the Windsor, Calnek, Kennedy and Neufeld, along with Brandon-based vocalist Shelley-Lynne, hope to recreate that experience when they paint the town red (pink?) at Winnipeg’s second Women in Blues event.
The first concert, organized by Kennedy in 2005, was planned as a one-off event. Its sequel has been three long years in the making, but the final push was a tragic one: last year, rising Manitoban blues singer Kristi Johnston died suddenly after a fall. “We decided to do it for Kristi, because she should have been here,” says Kennedy.
Tonight’s show, which will be recorded for an upcoming CD, is part tribute to Johnston.
“She had been to the crossroads,” says Calnek. “She had something very special.”
So, of course, do many women who sing the blues. It takes guts for a female to go front ‘n’ centre in a genre where content tends to be about women that done broke your heart and stole your car, but the history of double-X blues is a colourful one.
“We do a lot of (Depression-era singer) Memphis Minnie,” says Calnek of her band, Hillbilly Burlesque. “And she had songs like… ‘I don’t want no one man, I’m gonna have ‘em all.’ That was radical for the time.”
Not too edgy these days, but that doesn’t mean that women are yet beating down the blues’ door. On that end, Kennedy and Co. hope that tonight’s Women in Blues showcase — which they hope to turn into an annual touring lineup — will inspire confidence in the next generation of female blues wailers and guitar pickers.
“I get so many women coming up to me after a show and saying, ‘Oh, I would love to play guitar.’ Well then do!” Neufeld says. “Men tell their stories, and women tell theirs. We need it all.”
Women in Blues hits the Windsor Hotel tonight. Doors open at 7 p.m.; tickets are $17. The show is hosted by Howard Mandshein, and features a silent auction, door prizes, and 50-50 draw. For more info, check out http://www.myspace.com/womeninbluesmanitoba
- Winnipeg Free Press


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