A promoter with a unique vantage point hatched the idea for the Brothers and Sisters Blues Tour, an evening of music featuring four youthful guitarists and their bands. Steve Gates assembled the show, which plays a Bike Week set at Laconia’s Naswa Resort on June 12.
“I wanted to show everyone that the blues is young and vibrant and alive,” Gates said recently from his western Massachusetts home, adding that the players, Danielle Miraglia, Lydia Warren, Ryan Brooks Kelly and Jack Babineau, “all come at the blues from a different angle, but somehow they all wind up in the same place.”
In her late 20s, Warren is the most seasoned of the group, having spent nearly half her life as a professional musician. At age 15 she performed on NBC’s Today, causing a host to gush that Warren was “changing the face of the blues.”
Gates enthusiastically agrees. “When Lydia Warren rips into a blues song wearing a mini dress that looks like it’s out of the Sixties, ripping that guitar like Ronnie Earl and singing like Etta James, you go, ‘Wow, the blues is alive,’” he says.
Miraglia earned a reputation for mixing her songwriting and acoustic blues talents in folk clubs; she recently performed in the round with Amy Petty and Jen Kearney. “The folk circuit can be very exclusive, but she was right on the edge,” says Gates; Miraglia will release her first all-electric record later this year.
Gates met Babineau five years ago at Future Stars, an under-18 showcase the producer/musician runs in addition to recruiting talent for the summer Blues and Brews Festival, and booking shows at various New England venues. Gates spotted Babineau’s talent immediately and helped steer him toward a slot opening for Devon Allman at the Bull Run in Shirley, a club he regularly books.
“He sings like a man, someone with experience who has felt the pain and joy of the world. He’s got a voice that comes like it’s from somewhere else,” Gates says. “When he sings a Marvin Gaye song, women from the age of 10 to 90 melt.”
Babineau, now 20, fronts Don’t Blame Jack, a five-piece band that straddles a blues/rock line. “We like a lot of different music, so we can fit a lot of bills,” Babineau says. “I’ve always been a fan of Ryan, Danielle and Lydia, so when I had a chance to do this I jumped at it.” He says Gates talked about the idea for over a year. “Steve is a character, he would always say to me, ‘Oh, you gotta play with this Lydia Warren, she’s amazing.’ I would say, ‘All right, Steve. If you think so, make it happen.’”
Nashua native son Ryan Brooks Kelly and his band Smokestack Lightning have impressed bar audiences across the region for the past few years, though at age 19 he’s still too young to drink with any of them. Gates likens Kelly’s spitfire style to that of Joe Bonamassa and others who were first inspired by Stevie Ray Vaughn’s crossover blues. “Ryan comes from the ethos of those kids who came up in the Nineties,” he says. “Kenny Wayne Shepherd is a very good example.”
The Brothers and Sisters Tour includes 45-minute sets from each band, followed by six to eight songs from the ensemble.
Interestingly, the four guitarists hadn’t all met before performing together, though they all know each other by reputation and of course Gates’ constant prodding. But the first show was beyond smooth, Gates recalls. “A tear rolled down my face and I said I can die good now,” he says. “I did one good thing.”
“It’s cool, because we really just sit down with acoustic guitars and get to know each other,” says Babineau. ”We each have songs we want to do. I’ve been playing Ryan Kelly’s song because it’s stuck in my head, because it’s so good.”
The logistics of presenting four bands can be daunting. “We try to keep the backline pretty simple. Amps are pretty personal, but with the drums and bass rig we’re pretty flexible, so that helps a lot,” he says. “But the sound guys have a panic attack.”
The experience of performing with the assembled talent, adds Babineau, can be a bit awe-inspiring as well. “I feel lucky to be onstage with these musicians, but when they’re on the guitars ripping, and they look at me for the solo, I just shake my head. Nope, nope — you’re not gonna throw that at me.”
For Gates, the effort is a labor of love. “Hopefully, this will do something for the blues scene all over New England, and do great things for the careers of all four of these marvelous people,” he says. “What I want to show people with this tour is that these people are enormously talented but also very beautiful. They are what American Idol strives for but doesn’t get.”