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Chicago Blues Legend Headed to Kenlake
By Lew Jetton
AURORA - No doubt many of you have seen it by now: That viral video of a woman onstage in a bright purple dress, playing one absolute scorcher of a slide guitar solo. That’s Joanna Connor in her home turf of Chicago, with the firepower she delivers to local crowds on a nightly basis.  Blues fans will be able to see her in person, Saturday, August 24th at the Kenlake Hot August Blues Festival at Kenlake State Park in Aurora, Kentucky.  For discount tickets and more information, log onto KenlakeBlues.com. 

That video has gone around the world a few times on social media, getting millions of views and being re-posted in Japan, Russia and all over Europe. The viral phenomenon ironically happened while Connor herself has been off the road and out of the studio, devoting herself to being a mom and playing club residencies—not exactly laying low, since she does around 200 shows a year.

It prompted Blues superstar Joe Bonamassa to tweet, “Why isn't Joanna Connor a household name? She plays with the baddest of intentions in the best possible way.  This is ruling!!”  

 It's been a banner year so far for Connor, who has picked endorsement deals from Gibson Guitars and Orange Guitar Amplifiers and is spending the summer playing Blues festivals across the USA and Europe when she's not burning up the stages in Chicago.  In the Windy City, Connor is famous for her marathon shows at one of Chicago's top Blues Clubs, Kingston Mines, along with frequent appearances at The House of Blues. 

Connor’s original hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts is seldom named as a blues hotbed, but she was never one of those rock & roll kids who came to the blues secondhand. “My mom was actually the big influence in my musical life; she listened to blues, folk and rock as much as she could. So I heard Buddy Guy and Taj Mahal when I was a kid, and got into the more obscure artists as I went on. And I saw all the Chicago bands who came through town.” By her mid-teens she was playing the Worcester and Boston clubs with her own band, then moved to Chicago in 1984. Once in town she learned from the best, sitting in with the likes of James Cotton, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. After a spell in Dion Payton’s band, she launched her own group which debuted with 1989’s Believe It. A string of acclaimed albums followed, and in 2002 she made her MC label debut with The Joanna Connor Band. 

But just as the accolades were rolling in, Connor began a touring hiatus. “There were several factors: 9/11 had just gone down, the economy was changing and clubs were closing. But most of all, my daughter was pretty young at the time. She wound up deciding she wanted to become a big-time basketball player, so that required some dedication on both our parts.” That dream wound up coming true as her daughter is on scholarship as a college basketball player, while her son is pursuing his own musical career.

While Connor couldn’t get out to the audiences, they started coming to her. She debuted at the Chicago club Kingston Mines back in the ‘80s and still plays there three nights most weekends, between gigs at larger clubs and festivals. “It’s become kind of an institution: You go to Chicago, you go to Wrigley Field and then you go see Joanna Connor. The schedule is kind of brutal, but it’s great—Usually a packed house, with lots of adrenaline pumping. When it gets to be around midnight, the audience starts getting younger. And I love that—My son is 29, and he gets people looking at him and saying, ‘That’s your mom’?”

The crowds only increased after the video—lifted from a live version of “Walkin’ Blues” and posted by a Massachusetts fan whose handle was Sodafixer2—appeared two years ago. “It was just a phenomenal thing that happened. I was getting calls from America’s Got Talent and movie people reaching out; I even had a Russian billionaire fly me to Spain to play a birthday party. I think people loved the combination: Here’s a woman who looks like somebody’s mom, and she’s playing like this. What I remember most was that it was 90 degrees that day, so I was wearing the coolest dress I had.”

The viral video led to a new album, Six String Stories, and increasing demand at festivals and clubs throughout the nation and the world for Connor's scorching,  passionate guitar-slinging! Right now, Connor is putting the finishing touches on her latest album 

The 30th Edition of the Kenlake Hot August Blues Festival runs Friday and Saturday, August 23rd and 24th at Kenlake State Park in Aurora, Kentucky. Friday night's lineup features John Sutton, Alonzo Pennington and the Xtra Ordinary Gentlemen, and Jonathon Long with gates opening at 3 and music beginning at 6. . Saturday, August 24th, the gates open at 10AM, with music beginning at 11 with Olivia Faye, followed by Nightfish, The Gough-Martin Blues Band, The Beat Daddys, Boscoe France, Big Al and the Heavyweights, The Memphis All Stars, Reba Russell and Joanna Connor. A limited number of discount tickets are available at KenlakeBlues.com. Charities which benefit from the Hot August Blues Festival include the Marshall County Rescue Squad, The Shriner's  Children's Hospitals and the Knights of Columbus. 

Published 09:30 AM, Friday Jun. 14, 2019
Updated 08:13 AM, Saturday Jun. 15, 2019

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