Nothing says it's the beginning of concert season like the Dallas International Guitar Festival, the oldest and largest guitar show in the U.S. Jimmy Wallace, owner, promoter, exhibitor and artist, always puts together an incredible lineup of guitarists and bands for the DIGF and every year it surpasses the previous show. International stars abound, as well as national shredders and, of course, Texas is well represented as there in so much talent in the Lone Star State from which to choose.
The vibe is even different from other concerts as it's one of the very few times the artists can get together with each other, jam together and talk shop. It's one of the places where the stars are calling and asking to be invited to perform.
Nila Brosch opened Friday's Girls Of Guitar day and immediately jumped into a scintillating riff of original instrumentals. Each note fit her playing style, which is straight-on rock. The Isreali-born and now Las Vegas-living Nila is immensely talented and her emotions channeled into her movements on stage, her soulful expressions toward the audience and her lightning fast fingering on the fret. To everyone's delight, she showed pure joy as she played and her fans, new and old, sent the energy right back to her.
She switched styles during her set and gave all the rockers a little more reason to start following her. She brought out drummer Mike Gage and bassist Zac Johnson as the backline as she added finger-picking and finger-tapping styles while the rhythm section, true professionals in every sense of the word, made the three-piece band sound larger than they were and as tight as if they had been playing together for quite a while. The nine-song set passed by much too quickly.
Teenage star-on-the-rise Kelsi Kee then came out looking rock-star chic as she took Lemmy's advice that people don't want to see someone onstage that dresses like your next-door neighbor. She already has the knack for picking songs that fit her maturing voice and showed her range by singing songs from Heart, Aerosmith and Led Zappelin, as well as two originals that will be on a soon-to-be released EP.
The original songs fit her voice perfectly and the emotional depth of the lyrics were impressive for one so young. She added additional emphasis and breadth to them that only the singer/songwriter can feel. She expanded her range to include a deep and sultry, smoky-bar chanteuse vibe to "I've Got A Spell On You." Guitarist Steven Goodsen and bassist Patrick Smith shined and earned nice applause for the tightly-knit band. It has been a joy to watch her grow from a singer to an entertainer and much more is expected from them in the future.
Ally Venable walked onstage while playing "Use Me," starting slow which allowed her to speed up and show the fast fingering for which she has become known. A finger-popping solo turned into a frenzy on the fret and her love of playing manifested itself into speed, energy and sound. Her tone was on point and her voice has continued to mature with a wider range and depth. Every song showcased her talents, whether playing or singing.
Ally's enthusiasm always shines through and the heralded guitar slinger has added another layer as a full-fledged entertainer. She also has upped her creativity level as a singer/songwriter with well-constructed lyrics and melodies to the point where she could enjoy success as a singer and her songwriting skills and master shredding makes her a triple threat in the blues/rock arena.
A couple of Venable's original songs showed that she could be the sultry singer in a dimly lit bar in New Orleans, while many others featured her as a badass rocker chick who leaves you spent at the end of the show. Exploring the stage and engaging with her ever-growing legion of fans kept raising the energy level on stage and in the audience as she provided an impetus for the cheering crowd who gave it back to the band.
All of Ally's albums have done well while the last two, Taste Honey and Heart Of Fire, have shot up the Blues Charts. She tours extensively to promote them and has worked with, or opened for, such blues legends as Dallas International Guitar Festival and Kenny Wayne Shepherd and producer Jim Gaines. It will be a delight to watch her continue to grow in the business as a great many more good things will happen in her future.
Joanna Connor and her band headlined the night and the guitar virtuoso from Chicago didn't disappoint. Beginning with a hard-charging version of Elmore Leonard's "Shake Your Moneymaker," it was a singalong for the knowledgable fans and the guitar licks caused the crowd to bob and weave their heads and to shake their own moneymakers. She put her own twist on the classics she played, yet stayed mostly true to the timeless songs from timeless blues legends.
Almost every song contained or ended with a rocking, and sometimes raucous, jam that pumped up the crowd and caused heart rates to rise. The Wrecking Crew was tight and she let them shine, as most great artists do. Dan Souvigny on keyboards was a wizard and played effortlessly while banging the keys with a deft touch that seemed to defy the laws of physics.
Shawn Gotti Calloway slapped the bass that made him an offensive weapon that was so much more than just keeping the beat. He soloed, as did everyone, and the deep notes echoed throughout. Joanna also gave her rendition of "Wasted And Can't Find My Way Home" with a solo that thrilled the fans. Whether playing Chicago Blues, Memphis Blues or Mississippi Blues, it was all Kick-Ass Blues. She made many more new fans along the way.
The first day was an unqualified success with all the artists, Jimmy Wallace, Lindsey, Nerissa and countless volunteers and helpers along the way. Special thanks to each and every one of them for a great weekend.