By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
When the Main Stage acts for the 2018 Black Swamp Arts Festival were first posted, a number of music fans lit up social media at the sight of Samantha Fish’s name as the festival closer.
Two months from now, on Sunday afternoon, rising blues star Fish will take the Main Stage to round out the weekend’s performances. The 26th Black Swamp Arts Festival runs from Sept. 7 through 9 in downtown Bowling Green.
Since the Kansas City, Missouri -based artist emerged on the blues scene about 10 years ago, she’s caught the eye and ear of blues lovers.
Last year she released her fifth solo album on Ruf Records. Those records are important, she said in a recent telephone interview, even in today’s changing music business landscape. “An album is a marker of growth. It’s a legacy …. People need something to take home to listen to.”
But a recording can only capture so much. The real connection between listener and performer comes in person. “There’s something about seeing someone live,” Fish said. “You see the passion. These guys sweating it out, really living in the moment, and delivering a song that connects to your life. You don’t get that from listening to a record.”
Hearing live shows, whether at a festival in Arkansas where she first heard the rawer version of Delta blues or a Kansas City club, where she heard the legends of the music, is what hooked Fish on the music.
That was when she was in her late teens. “I was looking for something real, and I found it there.”
Fish said she’d also had her eye on doing something in the entertainment business since she was a child. To those around her dancing and theater were “pipe dreams.”
She started playing drums at 13, and then picked up guitar at 15. Later she started going to jam sessions to hone her craft.
“I didn’t know how to go from wanting to do something to making it happen,” Fish said. “In those clubs, I saw that music was happening all over, not only Los Angeles. … It just gave me some hope I could write my songs and sing and play guitar and make a decent living out of it.”
She got a band together, and started making calls. It was like being “a telemarketer,” she said. The band landed some gigs, and that earned her some fans. It got her recognized as the Best New Artist at the Blues Music Awards in Memphis. A self-produced live album got her a record deal with Ruf Records.
“I got lucky,” Fish said. “We’ve connected with people and built an amazing fan base in such a short period of time. Fifteen-year-old Samantha is really shocked that this kind of stuff can happen.”
But a lot of hard work goes into capitalizing on that luck. “It’s been a long road.”
That road has passed through venues around the world. The live show is what drives her popularity. “That’s what we have the most practice doing since all those little gigs in Kansas City.
“The combination of being a strong woman playing guitar, singing and writing and putting together a really dynamic band with a lot of personality – that’s what connects with people.”
More and more her personality infuses her songs. “I used to color within the lines. Now I’ve started scribbling all over the coloring book.”
She’s searching for her own voice within the blues. “There’s such a strong tradition. People’s idea of blues music is rooted in these traditional styles. My job as an artist is to take what I know, take what inspired me, and make something new with it.
“When I’m writing I don’t have a lot of boundaries anymore. It’s the passion that puts the blues in it. It’s still rooted in blues even if it doesn’t fit the usual chord progression.”
Those songs are getting more personal. “Every record I do is going to cut a little closer to the bone because I’m less afraid of talking about my life and my experience. I’m getting more comfortable with myself.”
Yet even when those songs come from her life, once she performs them listeners relate them to their experience.
“It’s what music is always about, reaching out to other people. That’s why live music is so relevant because it’s something so personal and universally connecting to people.”