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politely asked to leave the performers alone so I made my way to the side of the stage and as soon as the camera was withdrawn from its bag, I saw Crystal Shawanda appear.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.