Special to The Morning Star
Kat Danser not only plays the blues. She studies the blues. In fact, she has a PhD in Ethnomusicology from the University of Alberta to show for it.
So get ready to be seriously schooled in the blues as the Vernon Folk-Roots Music presents Kat Danser and the Tall Tales on Friday, March 22 at the Vernon Prestige Lodge and Conference Centre. Tickets are $25, $20 for members. Showtime is 7.30, Doors open at 6.30. Tickets are available through ticketseller.ca (250-549-7469), Expressions Of Time bookstore (2901- 30 Ave.) or at the door, if available – (cash only). Food (beef brisket sliders), beer and wine available at the show.
It’s one thing to play the blues. It’s quite another to study the blues and purposefully live in the deep south of the United States for three years while working towards a PhD.
“I lived in the birthplace of the blues – Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee for three of the last six years. Essentially, I spent the last 10 years in graduate work studying blues – the music I perform.”
While in the south – Danser delved more deeply into the personal circumstances and lives of blues musicians.
“I lived with them,” she says. “I ate with them, played music with them and learned about where they live and how they respond to life’s challenges. I was able to gather much more information than I would have by just studying their recordings and performances.”
Danser grew up poor in Saskatchewan. A connection between the prairies of Saskatchewan and the blues of the deep south of the U.S. seems unlikely – but Danser clearly sees and feels the connection.
The poor prairie girl from Saskatchewan immediately found things in common with the deep south.
“The first thing that jumped out at me was just how much landscape-wise, southern Saskatchewan and Mississippi have in common. The delta where the blues was born in Mississippi is almost like you’re standing out on a field in Saskatchewan.”
The similarities didn’t end there.
“I grew up in a very poor and marginalized family in Saskatchewan. It was a very violent family, full of alcoholics and all sorts of abuse,” she explains. “Those seem to be common characteristics rather than race, gender or location. The more common characteristic is people coming through hard times and communicating with each other through music.
“My mentors down there were Koko Taylor and David Honeyboy Edwards. At first, I was hesitant – being a white woman from western Canada,” she says with a laugh. “They never once asked about race or gender issues because with the blues you can hear when someone has had a really hard time in life. You can tell when someone is using that creativity to overcome the past. I discovered that if the blues is a feeling, it’s colour blind and gender blind.
“They simply told me back in 2008 that I needed to continue studying the blues and performing the blues for the rest of my life. I promised that I would continue going down to Mississippi to offer workshops to other musicians and those kinds of things. That was my commitment to them.”
The blues is about hard times. In her formative years, Danser was profoundly impacted by Dolly Parton and Coat of Many Colors.
“We grew up in a strict Catholic family and weren’t allowed to listen to much outside music. But when I heard Coat of Many Colors – I was transfixed. I realized this was a woman writing her own music. She’d grown up really poor and wore hand me down clothes just like me in my childhood. So I really felt I could find myself in her music.”
Hank Williams Sr. also influenced her early on.
“I heard elements of blues in his music. In fact, many of his songs have the world Blues in the title. The record industry created these different genres but when you go down south, everybody says, ‘There’s only two kinds of music- good music and bad music.’”
Quite surprisingly, Danser didn’t start playing music till the age of 31.
“I bought a guitar quite out of the blue when was I was 31. I wrote my first blues song two months later. I only took one lesson. I couldn’t stand being taught that way and so I just learned everything by ear. And so now, I write, play, arrange music and conduct the band- everything- by ear. I turned professional in 2007 and haven’t looked back since. It’s truly never too late to find your passion.”
Danser is looking to deliver a powerful night of blues with her band the Tall Tales.
“It’s a high energy show. The musicianship is outstanding. The way we we balance originals and cover tunes and stories – it’s really going to be something special. Any fans of music want to be there because they’re going to leave with a fantastic feeling in their heart.
“The thing that really unites people about the blues is finding your way through hard times and coming out the other side with hopefully a sense of humour, perhaps a little bit of personal growth and for sure partying it out and dancing it out.
“This is a very danceable show,” Danser says. “We’ve been touring across Canada and we always have lots of folks on the dance floor. Expect to grow in your understanding of blues while we present a cross-section of blues in a really fun, energetic manner. Expect to leave electrified.”
A $10 discount is available on purchases at Don’s Cherry’s Sports Grille and at the Lodge Kitchen & Bar with your tickets on the night of the show.