A night of blues in Kelowna

A night of blues in Kelowna

Photo credit and copyrights to Shane Collins & Gonzo Okanagan

Oct. 1, 2022

I packed up my camera and headed out the door. The night air was still balmy, especially for the first of October. I hopped in my car and drove along Water St. People walked along the boardwalk. Groups of friends and families made their way down the street as a motorcycle hammered its throttle and blasted by in a deafening roar. Kelowna. You gotta love it. 

Stepping into the foyer of Kelowna Community Theatre, I checked in at the front and a GONZO OKANAGAN press pass was waiting for me. I clipped it onto my jacket and headed inside. People had packed themselves in to see two of Canada’s best blues performers. Wine and beer was in the hands of most patrons. The crowd was of an older demographic and they were beaming with an excitement I also shared. I thought to myself, ‘I hope I’m still excited about live music when I get older.’ 

I’ve been listening to COLIN JAMES since I was young. Like, back in the days of free lunch, young. I spent a lot of time watching MUCH MUSIC when I was a kid. I used to take VHS tapes and record all my favorite music videos. I had a whole library going, I recall videos like, VOODOO THING, 5 LONG YEARS, JUST CAME BACK and KEEP ON LOVING ME BABY making their way onto my video tapes. Those songs seem to reach out from the fog of my youth, like a searching hand, grabbing me by my jacket and pulling me in. That love for music reaches way back from the 80’s and finds me here in this theater, all these years later. Listen to me. Jeeze. Talk about an aging demographic. 

The greenroom door was closed and security suggested I not disturb anyone. I asked about CRYSTAL SHAWANDA, the Juno award winning, Indigenous blues sensation who was there to get the whole show going. She was right behind the door. Same thing. Security politely asked to leave the performers alone so I made my way to the side of the stage and as soon as the camera was withdrawn from its bag, I saw Crystal Shawanda appear. She wore an elegant dress that sparkled. Her hair fell down along her back. The dancing light that glimmered off her high heel shoes illuminated the stage like mini disco balls.

Crystal Shawanda and the crowd

Her band started things off with a sweeping guitar riff and instrumental. Crystal began by showing why she’s touring with one of the best blues artists in the world. Her voice soared and captivated everyone in attendance. This was my first time shooting in that theatre. The lights are fantastic but the stage is huge. Everything was set up far away from me. Crystal Shawanda sings from the depths of her soul. Her song, THE WHOLE WORLD’S GOT THE BLUES really set the tone for the evening. My toes start tapping. It’s an involuntary reaction to good music. Sometimes my photos turn out blurry because of it.

Crystal Shawanda

Time passed. My attention was focused yet somehow time ripped past me like a biker on an open stretch of a Kelowna side street. It’s like a form of hypnosis. Blink twice and she’s already gone through another song. WANG DANG DOODLE, began and as I rotated through my lenses, she announced that this would be her last song of the evening! I raced to center stage and squatted down so the view wasn’t obstructed from the folks in the front row. Last thing they need is my butt in their faces. I felt myself groan as I dipped down into that catcher’s stance for the duration of her set and then, just like that, she waved goodbye. The lights came up and I gave myself a stretch. My joints creaked like rusted door hinges. It was time for a beer.

Everyone strolled into the theater’s lobby and mingled with a few old friends. A few people talked with me about how wonderful Crystal was. I agreed and showed them a few of the photos I was able to take.

After a short break, the lights dimmed and everyone headed for their seats. I walked down along the side of the stage. The room went dark. The crowd began to applaud. The band took the stage but Colin James was nowhere to be seen. Then, I looked up to the back of the theater. The spotlight sped across the walls. A door opened and there he was. He still has that style, charisma and energy from all those years ago. For 58, he’s looking damn good. He walked down the stairs with a white fender Stratocaster in his hands. He effortlessly worked his fingers across every fret of his guitar in a solo that sent the crowd into whistles, yelps, hollers and cheers.

Colin James knows how to make an entrance

He started the whole night off with VOODOO THING. What a thrill. He made his way onto the stage and started singing. He and his band cruised through some of his older hits and some of his newer stuff, too. Songs like, DOWN ON THE BOTTOM, WHY’D YOU LIE and INTO THE MYSTIC are all delivered with expert precision. A collection of guitars were rotated with each song. Real beauties, too. He would step back, sing for a while and as one verse was swapped for another, he would walk forward and hit us all with his legendary guitar solos. 

For me, a real highlight of his show was when he walked off stage, along the side of the theatre, up the aisle and out into the audience. Cast in the beam of the spotlight, I was fortunate to capture his shadow on the wall. It’s rare to see a musician enjoy actually being in the crowd so much. Scrolling through the photos, I saw some bangers in there. Satisfied, I put my camera away and took in the rest of his performance. That’s one of the great things about music photography. Confident that all the photos I needed to be taken had in fact been taken, it was time to relax, sit back and enjoy the show.

The shadow on the wall

If you’re just hearing about this guy, check out Colin James and his entire catalog. It’s no wonder he has won so many awards and sold so many albums over the span of 30 years. He brings his talent, a solid attitude, an excellent band and a showmanship that’s hard to find anymore.

And keep your eyes and ears open for Crystal Shawanda’s 2022, Juno award winning album, MIDNIGHT BLUES. We’ve added links to a few videos in this article. I implore you to check them out, crank up the volume and sit back for some high caliber blues from two of Canada’s finest musicians. 

It’s all about the attitude
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The Okanagan’s been my home since I was born. Life has taken me across the planet several times and through that transient lifestyle I developed a journalistic style to my photography and to my writing. My influences would be that of James Nachtwey, Annie Lebovitz, Ashley Maile, Hunter S Thompson, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Tom Robbins, Wes Anderson and Charles Bukowski. The world outside this incredible valley, its cultures and its mystery is what’s kept me working and trying to save my money, so I can keep getting back into the world. That’s the way it used to be. Covid has opened my eyes to the land I call my home and there are so many tales to tell right here in BC. From tales of the impoverished to the neglected to those who overcome adversity, to the spirit to overcome fear, the power of storytelling has never been more relevant. I’ve always been a storyteller. There’s a tale worth telling in every neighborhood. I just happen to write about what happens to me along the way and I’ve kept them close to my heart, hoping one day I’ll have an outlet so I can tell those stories the best way I know how; by writing them down. From adventures of long ago, both here or maybe far away, future interviews with musicians, artists of all kinds, the coverage of events, the people I meet along the way, whatever I get up to I intend to have you as my guest as I go back in time and dig up the bones of those old adventures or chase down new ones. Through the alchemy of storytelling, you can come along with me if you like. Before Covid-19 I was really coming into my own photographing live shows; punk rock bands, hip hop showcases, tattoo portraits, rock climbing adventures, Femme Fatale burlesque performances you name it, the phone was finally beginning to ring. Then Covid showed up like a hurricane and I guess it wiped us all out in one way or another. I have a real bone to pick with Covid-19 and if I can share some stories for our readers to enjoy, I’ll do that and when we can return to live music and to foreign travel and we can safely get to working on mending what’s been damaged I tell you I want to be ringside like Joe Rogan commentating on Covid getting its ass whooped. I want to see it tap out and watch us overcome this hardship, raise our collective hands triumphantly and move on into whatever new normal is waiting for us. I’ll be there and through my eyes, just like the boss man, Hunter himself, I’ll do it in Gonzo fashion and bring you kicking and screaming along with me. So hold on tight and dig in. It might not always be pretty but I won’t call it all ugly, neither. That’s for you to decide. My name is Shane Collins and I hope you’ll read along with me and our team here at Gonzookanagan.com


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