I recently had the pleasure to attend a full concert of Vanessa Collier and her band. Including Pat Harrington and a guest appearance by Mike Welch. It was truly a night of special energy and love filling the nearly sold out crowd at The Bull Run Restaurant.
Earlier in July of 2018 I attended the North Atlantic Blues Festival where, for the first time, I personally witnessed this young and hyper talented lady truly blow away an entire festival crowd. Having started at the peak of a building off stage and playing her way down the stairs, through the crowd, and up on the stage she showed exactly what a performer is made of.
The crowd was instantly rapt in the music and talent that came completely fully into the open.
The love and following for Vanessa was evident throughout the set and by the line of people that were anxious to meet her and get pictures and autographs that stretched longer than you can imagine and carried on through the next artist set in its entirety. I was one of those at the early part of the line. I had to get over there and thank her for coming out and sharing a true blues heart and passion with the crowd and myself.
I’d been anxious ever since then to see this sax phenomenon in a full concert all her own.
That chance came in the form of one of my favorite, and should be one of yours too, venues. The Bull Run Restaurant made for an fantastic night of food, drink, music, and love.
The audience was packed in with a nearly sold out crowd and gave a resounding applause before she’d even started. Rising star that she is, the reputation that precedes her and is truly warranted!
With a passion that comes flying from her straight into the hearts of her audience there is no doubt that the years of practice, hard work, touring, and soul searching has ensured that a bright and continued successful future lays ahead.
With her, at the Bull Run, were Pat Harrington on guitar, Derrick Malloy on bass, and Nick Stevens on drums.
Pat Harrington the young guitarist, who also works with Victor Wainwright, is a native of Gasport, NY where he gained a reputation for phenomenal talent and showmanship that lead him to joining one of the finest bands touring the country. Based currently in Memphis TN he has not forgotten his northeast connections. He studied formally in college at Niagara Count Community College and grew to make connections with artists such as Mike Welch, Gary Clark Jr., and Bobby Whitlock (of Derek and The Dominos).
Having put his heart and soul into learning and connecting with artists to help further his ambition, Pat has begun what promises to be a long and storied carrier in the Blues Community.
Derrick Malloy brought the bass line in a finely honed fashion that fit perfectly with the hot and flying sax style of Vanessa. He showed throughout this amazing night that he is also a top notch musician who is destined to carry on in a fine and fabled fashion that matches the bass men of history in our community.
Driving the rhythm section on drums was Nick Stevens. A former symphony orchestra percussionist, and associate instructor at Indiana University, he brings a well instructed style to the stage. Moving a jazz beat and a hard driving blues pace he stands out on any speed of blues. I particularly enjoyed his gentle and skillful work with the slow blues numbers where the volume and pace were perfectly matched to the emotion and needs of the moment.
Vanessa herself has a long and storied history filled with awards and accolades. She stands out as a vocalist, sax player, and with a sneak attack guitar ability that brings the “old blues” right into the modern day. Belting out the blues her voice truly transcends the moment and takes you with her on a ride through the emotion and story of each song. There is no moment where you are left just listening, you are truly traveling.
With a wicked sense of humor she brought out “Sweatin Like a Pig, Singin Like an Angel”, a fun and inspired song from a tour stop in the south in the dead of the summer heat and humidity. It’s hard to believe that this much talent, soul, and skill comes from someone who is just 27 years old. That youthful energy, honed at the Berklee College of Music, radiates into the room and instantly electrifies an audience from the first to the last note of the night. She has racked up 11 awards for her amazing talent, each and every one earned with her dedication to the music.
She brought in much of her original music throughout the night, as mentioned before, where she also followed her mother’s advice that sometimes you have to be a little edgy as a woman in this world. This manifested in the song “Two Parts Sugar, One Part Lime.” A fun shuffle guaranteed to get you out of your seat and dancing.
Towards the end of the evening they brought up a couple of the amazing musicians that came out to see this beautiful and talented young lady, chief among them being Monster Mike Welch. In attendance were Ronnie Earl, Monster Mike Welch, Kit Holiday, and many more. A testament to the talent of this artist, that so many other musicians came out for a night of fun and music.
One of the truly special and soul touching moments was when Vanessa called out OV Wright classic “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry.” A moment that unbeknownst to Vanessa was the first song that Mike Welch and the late Mike Ledbetter had played together. It was one of those moments that was just meant to be. Vanessa’s soul rending and heart felt passionate vocals matched the tribute. The entire band moved to a whole new level of playing not just to a room or for an audience but putting their heart and soul into the clouds for the friend and artist that we have lost.
The moment that Mike Welch moved into his solo you could just FEEL the grieving pain and love pour into his music. He put every ounce of his being into playing for his dear friend. It was a moment that the entire audience got to share in as he took a healing step in front of a packed room. I was left speechless and overwhelmed with emotion as we experienced this unique and personal moment. It was a healing balm for Mike and for those of us who have closely lost a friend that forever changed our lives for the better. The videos capture a truly special moment but they will never be able to fully capture the energy and emotion of the room live and in person.
Such is the graceful talent and love that Vanessa and her band, with Pat Harrington, bring to the stage that proves that this young lady is following in the finest tradition of female blues artists who have brought their soul and being to bare on a music that is uniquely American, and the foundation of a community that pulls itself together throughout our lives but especially in times of pain and heartache.
Vanessa is continuing to tour throughout the US and will be working the upcoming Blues Cruise, where the Welch Ledbetter Connection will continue on with guests paying tribute to Mike Ledbetter.
There is also a fundraiser going to help the family of Mike Ledbetter and I ask/urge you to help this family as they work through one of the absolutely most painful times in their life. His two small children and their mother are now navigating their life without this amazing man, and can use all the support possible. Please consider donating and/or sharing this link to help others find a way to support the family.
*This review was not solicited by the musicians or venue.