Back to Rockville

She sings the blues but Samantha Fish had plenty to celebrate in 2017

Samantha Fish had a great year in 2017.
Samantha Fish had a great year in 2017.

You can argue whether the two most recent Samantha Fish albums are the best of her six recordings. But there’s no doubt they are her most successful, her most critically acclaimed and her most diverse

In April, Fish released “Chills and Fever,” a collection of obscure soul songs treated with garage-rock guitars and New Orleans horns; in November, she released “Belle of the West,” a collection of rustic, blues- and country-infused folk songs and an album that prompted Rolling Stone magazine to name the blues artist “one of 10 new country artists you need to know.

The album, it said, “evokes the painted skies of the American Southwest with subtle Spanish guitar and Fish’s yearning vocal.”

Both albums have done well commercially. “Chills and Fever” spent 18 weeks on the Billboard blues chart, peaking at No. 1, and jostling for position with albums like “Blue and Lonesome” by the Rolling Stones.

“Belle of the West” peaked at No. 1 on the blues chart, and the week of Dec. 18, it rose six spots to No. 7. It also hit No. 13 on the Billboard Americana/Folk chart.

The critics have praised both albums, as well. “Chills” came in No. 22 on the New York Times list of the best albums of 2017.

At Offbeat, the voice of music in New Orleans and Louisiana, Fish, who moved to New Orleans from Kansas City this year, is a nominee for best album and best blues performer, among fellow-nominees like Sonny Landreth, Chris Thomas King, Little Freddie King and Marc Stone.

The Philly Voice recently ran a story about Fish under the headline “Samantha Fish is breaking up the boys club of blues singers.”

At his website, blues-guitar ace Joe Bonamassa named her one of the “top women in blues,” along with Ana Popovic, Larkin Poe, Susan Tedeschi, ShemekiaCopeland, Ruthie Foster and fellow Kansas Citian Danielle Nicole.

And before one of her shows in New York in May, music critic Jon Caramanica wrote in the New York Times: “Samantha Fish is an impressive blues guitarist who sings with sweet power. For the past several years, she’s been slowly riffing her way through the blues-revival circuit and has released three strong albums — including one produced by Luther Dickinson — that marked her as one of the genre’s most promising young talents.”

Fish will perform New Year’s Eve at Knuckleheads, her first Kansas City show since May. From the road in the midst of an East Coast tour recently, Fish talked about the year and its many rewards.

Rolling Stone said you’re a country artist to keep an eye on. How does that feel?

I love it. At the same time we were on blues charts. The Blues Foundation put me in the soul category for ‘Chills and Fever.’ And Rolling Stone Country falls under the Americana umbrella. It’s interesting because there’s such a fixation on genres. But it feels like everything goes well together. You can call us whatever you want. Whatever they call it, I’m glad it’s getting recognized. It’s awesome to get accolades. I’d never thought in a million years I’d get a bump from Rolling Stone.

You’ve done more than 200 shows this year. What have been some of the highlights?

Telluride was great. I just did a show at the Fillmore (in San Francisco) with Devon Allman. The Crossroads shows in Kansas City were very cool. We had our own weekend. And we did a big tour of Europe that was very cool — to go over there with my own and and do sold-out shows in London and Berlin. There were just so many good shows.

How do you work two albums that have few if any similarities into one show?

It’s crazy. It’s a challenge to fit it all into a cohesive live show. But it’s fun. I didn’t want to abandon one of the tours in favor of the other. So we’ve kept the six-piece with the horns and keys, and I brought in a fiddle player, so now it’s a seven-piece band. We go back and forth between the material and create a set that flows well and the songs complement each other.

Are you already working on another album?

Oh yeah. I’m already writing, This one will be how we marry the experiences with the last two albums and create something new.

We talk about labels in the blues world a lot, trying to figure out exactly what something is. It’s fun and interesting for me to take things that inspire me, different genres, and push the genres a little further and try to make it work. I have ideas for the next record. It’s going to be bigger. I won’t be stripping back to a trio any time soon; I know that.

You’ve been living in New Orleans for a bit. How has it influenced you musically?

The best part about it is most of my band lives there so it’s easy to get together and rehearse. There’s so much going on all the time there; I don’t have to be in the bars or clubs to be inspired. There’s music everywhere. I’ve always loved that city and it was just time for me to try something else and dip my toes in other water. Plus the weather is always nice.

Tech N9ne

In April, Kansas City’s most successful hip-hop artist released “Dominion,” his 18th studio album and the seventh in his “Collabos” series.

The album reached No. 28 on the Billboard 200 chart, No. 16 on the R&B/hip-hop chart and No. 5 on the Indie chart. In October, he released “Strange Reign,” another in the “Collabos” series.

In November, Lady Gaga used Strange Music’s new sound stage at their Strangeland Studios in Lee’s Summit to rehearse for her show at the Sprint Center.

Making Movies

The Kansas City band released on double-vinyl the full-length “I Am Another You.” They collaborated with David Hidalgo of Los Lobos and then performed with Los Lobos on the ACL Live Stage in Austin. They were also tour support for Hurray for the Riff Raff, including a show at the Fillmore.

“As we loaded in and sound-checked we could all feel the magic in the building; the spiritual residue of all the legendary musicians who had graced that stage,” said lead vocalist and guitarist Enrique Chi.

“Juan-Carlos (Chaurand) and I wept before walking back onstage to join Hurray on their encore tune, a Bruce Springsteen cover. The whole moment felt triumphant. A few days later we landed on the Billboard charts and realized we had been set on an entirely new course.”

Other highights: Their “I Am Another You Experience” show at Knuckleheads alongside members of the Elders and Get Up Kids plus Bob Walkenhorst. And getting a citation from Kansas City Mayor Sly James for the band’s community work, including their youth music camp.

But the biggest highlight: “My musical hero Ruben Blades called us out at the Latin Grammys, where he won album of the year, and asked to collaborate with us.”

Victor and Penny

The 2017 highlights from Erin McGrane and Jeff Freling:

Performing with Grammy winner Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks at the Iguana in New York: “Vince agreed to lay two of our original compositions with the 12-piece band. It was thrilling to have a Grammy-winning band play our original songs with us.”

The Reno Uke Festival: “We were asked to headline the Reno Ukefest with our full band. The festival organizer also asked us to create a short set with Fogerty Band Keyboardists’ Bob Malone. We met Bob for the first time at sound check and briefly talked through tunes for our joint set. When he finally joined us onstage at the end of our concert, it was an electric moment. He sat at the grand piano and started playing with us and the music took off. The highlight was Bob trading blistering solos with Jeff and James (Isaac) on Dr. John’s, ‘Such a Night.’ 

Jazz in June Festival in Norman, Okla.: “We played an energetic set with the full band on the main stage late in the afternoon before the Cuban jazz-funk-rock powerhouse, the Harold Lopez-Nussa Trio. The onstage artistry, energy and communication were palpable. We all stayed at the same hotel and we had breakfast with them. They told us they flew into Oklahoma for this one gig, and they were flying directly back to Cuba.”

Yes You Are

Their song “HGX” was played in a Pepsi commercial that debuted during Super Bowl 51. It was also played during the World Series, “The Bachelor” finale, the Oscars, the Billboard Awards and during the recent Kansas City Chiefs/San Diego Chargers nationally televised game.

“It has continually played since February and always during some awesome, big events,” said Kianna Alarid, the band’s lead vocalist and co-songwriter. More recently, the song has been on radio commercials.

“Lots of friends are messaging us to let us know they’re hearing it play multiple times a day,” Alarid said. “In essence, our song is in rotation on radio stations across the country, maybe the world. We’d always wondered how to go about radio play and now we have it along with the lady saying, ‘If you like this song, then you have good taste.’ 

The Get Up Kids and Radar State

From Jim Suptic, who is in both bands: “For the Get Up Kids, the highlight was playing outside in downtown Lawrence to our biggest headlining crowd ever. For Radar State highlights were going on our first opening tour for Say Anything and playing at Riot Fest (in Chicago). Not bad for our second gig.”

Hermon Mehari, jazz trumpeter

In 2017, Mahari released ‘Bleu,’ his first album as a leader, which hit No. 1 on iTunes. Other highlights: “My successful release show in Mexico City and performing in several cities for the first time, particularly Istanbul, Batumi, Venice, Florence, Antwerp, Marseilles and Luxumbourg City.”

Krystle Warren, singer-songwriter

Warren released “Three the Hard Way”: “I’m incredibly proud of the work. The icing was the feedback we received.”

Other highlights:

▪ “I was invited to Joe’s Pub (in New York) as a guest of N-Harmonics, an a cappella group from New York. A tune of mine, “Central Park,” has been in their repertoire for some time. … Hearing these 20-year-olds sing a tune I wrote when I was their age, living in (New York) : I’d never had such a good cry.”

▪ “Playing in the Byrd Series, a private concert hosted and curated by Aaron Burt of KCRW. It was my first time performing my new album behind the kit. It was nerve-racking, which means it was perfect. I suppose what’s been so enriching about this year is I keep pushing myself.”


They supported the Descendants on a few dates and played several big rock festivals like Rock on the Range (alongside bands like Metallica, Soundgarden, Primus and Dillinger Escape Plan), Rock Allegiance, Louder Than Life (with Ozzy Osbourne), Riff Fest, the Elevation Festival and Pain in the Grass. Radkey also recorded a song that will be released in January and be included on an album to be released later in the year.

The Elders

Percussionist Kian Byrne talks about the highlights of 2017:

▪ “Getting inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame.”

▪ “Listening to the final mixes for our new record, ‘True,’ and sending in the orders for ‘True’ to be on vinyl.”

▪ “Playing our beloved Plaza lighting for a huge Kansas City crowd.”

▪ “An excellent gig at the Michigan Irish Fest with a huge crowd and getting the feeling you can only get from the stage.”

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain