When you think of great blues musicians, who comes to mind? Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Kenny Wayne Shepherd?
But what about female blues singers?
Bridget Kelly can come up with only one: Susan Tedeschi. That’s a big, glaring red flag for Kelly, an internationally known blues singer and guitarist.
“I noticed several (blues) festivals around my area that had zero women,” she said. “I’d call the producer and say, ‘Women in blues is a buzzword. You’re going to look bad if you don’t include women.’ It’s a subtle thing, but if you look closely, you’ll see that mostly men play those festivals. Women are just starting to break in.”
Kelly took it upon herself to create the Women in Blues Showcase, featuring musicians who’ll each perform two songs, minus Kelly’s Bridget Kelly Band, which will cap the evening’s lineup. The Friday concert at Sunshine Studios is also a benefit for the National Women in Blues nonprofit organization and Help Autism Center.
The musicians are Shaunda Fry, Jeanie Marie, Cara Lippman, Juliana Logan, Niecie, Brigitte Rios Purdy, Cat Rhodes, Cheryl Rinovato and Taylor Shae. Colorado-based performers Michelle Castillo and Jodie Woodward will play in the house band for women who can’t bring their backing bands.
“As women, we are all about support, and none of us are trying to be the headliner,” said Kelly, who organized the lineup in alphabetical order.
She took a roundabout path to arrive at the blues but credits her mother’s great love of music as the first step in her journey. A singer and pianist, her mother performed in Chicago clubs and filled Kelly’s childhood home with the tunes of George Gershwin and old blues. As a college student pursuing a degree in sculpture at the University of Wisconsin, Kelly worked in the art studio to the music of Waters and other blues musicians. But while she fell in love with the genre, her career path turned toward playing folk and Americana music.
“It was what I could do at the time,” she said. “I played guitar by myself.”
In 2007, she met Tim Fik, a blues and rock guitarist who challenged her to step outside of her musical comfort zone and play in a band with him. (Spoiler alert: They also got married.) The group since has released five CDs, including its latest, last year’s “Blues Warrior” addressing a number of serious issues, including domestic violence, homelessness and human trafficking.
“He asked if I wanted to be in an electric band,” she said. “I said no, but he said, ‘You have a bluesy voice.’ We started singing, and it was so effortless and fun. And now we’re still doing it.”