It’s often said blues music emerges through the struggles of real life. That’s certainly true for the Bridget Kelly Band’s latest album.
“Blues Warrior” pours out impassioned songs dealing with spousal abuse, human trafficking, homelessness, cancer and drug abuse.
“As you’re talking about it, it almost makes me cry,” Kelly said by phone as she described the deeply felt inspiration for the songs.
The Gainesville, Fla.-based band (Kelly herself is a Prescott native) will perform those and other tunes in two stops in the region: Saturday at Northwoods Blues Festival in Chippewa Falls and Tuesday, June 25, for the Tuesday Night Blues series at Owen Park in Eau Claire.
Kelly’s band includes her husband, singer-guitarist Tim Fik; Tim Mulberry on drums; and Greg Mullins on bass.
The band, she said, started working on the material the way they often do: just start playing and see what develops.
“It’s kind of like making soup where the music is the stock,” she said. “And then I’ll come in and “I’ll listen and I’ll get either a concept or Tim and I will write words together. But this particular CD was a huge emotional reaction by me. I had a huge emotional reaction to a bunch of things that happened in my life.”
First, she was struck by the #MeToo movement and the way it has played out.
“You know how things happen in a spiral …” she said. “That happened, and I was watching all these women saying that they had something happen. And I was kind of touched.”
“No Good Man Blues” came from that place.
She also found a troubling, familiar sight while they were touring across the U.S.
“I started seeing in all the bathrooms human trafficking signs,” she said. “And I started being aware, like, wow, this is a real problem. So I wrote the human trafficking song.”
In “Stolen,” the character tells the chilling story from a first-person vantage point.
The origins of her homeless song, “Nameless Nobody,” came from a band date at the Daytona (Fla.) Blues Festival. She decided to walk across a bridge to get to her hotel and discovered many homeless people bundled up in tarps.
She didn’t notice one of them, “like a little sardine tucked against the bridge.”
“So I’m walking along and all of a sudden I hit this guy’s foot,” she said.
That memory struck her especially hard when she learned later that same night some young people burned one of the those bridge dwellers.
Kelly sings all those songs with her trademark soulful conviction, Fik stirs more emotion with his guitar wails and Mulberry and Mullins bolster the tunes with their strong rhythmic and percussive force.
“I have to tell you I’m a happy person,” she said. In fact, she asked some radio announcers she knows whether the world was ready for such dark subjects.
“They’re like, ‘Yes,’” she said. “‘Yes, go ahead, that’s fine. Bring that out.”
Kelly’s Wisconsin ties include earning a sculpture Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from UW-Milwaukee along with a minor in dance. But with several artistic paths to pursue, music had the strongest pull.
She was in band in middle school but always loved singing; eventually her teacher kicked her out of band and sent her to chorus. In addition, her family, who she described as “fairly religious,” sent her to St. Joseph’s, the Catholic school in Prescott.
She started singing in church and from there moved on to a cappella choirs, where she won a number of awards.
All of that led to a folk singing career in Florida.
“It was just me and my guitar, and sometimes a bass and a mandolin,” she said.
But after meeting Fik, he offered a suggestion.
“He told me I should be a blues singer,” she said. “And I said, ‘No way; that would ruin my voice.’ And he said, ‘No, no, no; it will make it stronger.’”
Eventually, she got on the blues track, “and it’s been awesome.”
Kelly calls herself “very lucky” to have the band members she does.
“I can’t even describe what happens when I’m onstage with those guys,” she said. “Because I get goosebumps.”
The off-stage rapport helps keep them in sync when they’re making music.
“I think what’s luck is that all of us are a family,” she said. “There’s no ego in our band, which is great for me because they’re all very humble and kind. And so accomplished. It’s almost like a Maserati engine where all the parts are working together to support each other, and they all listen to each other.”
Among the Bridget Kelly Band’s credits is that of International Blues Challenge semifinalists in 2015 and 2016. A highlight of that experience were the personal interactions with the other participants.
“It was like this amazing family reunion of people I didn’t even know,” she said.
As for the accolade, “It was just such an honor,” she said.
In fact, in 2018 they returned to the competition because Fik won a Keeping the Blues Alive Award.
“I highly recommend that to any band that is interested in becoming an international touring band,” she said.
“Because so many people in the world are there. I met people from Germany, the U.K. It made our next four CDs go global.”
Kelly returns to the Minnesota-Wisconsin are at least every summer, she said. This year their dates include Prescott as well as the Boundary Waters Blues Festival on Labor Day weekend in Ely, Minn.; her band will perform Friday, Aug. 30.
She visits the area annually, and when she learned who the organizer was, she knocked on his door and handed him five of her CDs.
He greeted her, she recalled, with “What? You’re in!”