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INTERVIEW: Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Photo Cred: Mark Seliger

Known for his iconic guitar playing and songwriting, Kenny Wayne Shepherd has been a staple in the blues rock music arena for decades. Throughout his career, Shepherd has garnered multiple albums in the Top 10 of the blues charts. He has also been nominated for five Grammy Awards and has received two Billboard Music Awards. On Wednesday June 7th, fans will be able to experience the musical stylings of Shepherd firsthand, as he hosts the Backroads Blues Festival at The Rose Music Center at the Heights in Huber Heights, Ohio.

I had the privilege of talking with Shepherd about himself as a musician and the upcoming blues festival on what fans can expect, while attending the show.

What are you most proud of as a musician? What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment so far?
 I would say my greatest accomplishment is trying to do my best to raise my children. We have a fantastic family and I have six beautiful kids I am proud of. At the end of the day, I will not only leave a legacy with my music, but I will leave a legacy with my family. Ultimately looking back on my life, there were a lot of unknowns. We connected with a fan base early on with the release of the first album and the second one for sure. We built this foundation of this fan base that is incredibly loyal and reliable for us throughout this journey going on 30 years. The key to all of it is the connection with the fans and the support of the fans. Without the fans, none of this is possible.

As a renowned blues guitarist, what initially drew you to the blues genre?
 I grew up around it. I grew up around all kinds of music. There is something about the blues, as I was attracted to the guitar, as an instrument. The music is being played from the heart and I gravitated towards that.

Can you share any insights of advice for aspiring guitarists and musicians who are looking to establish themselves in the industry?
 It’s ultimately about connecting with listeners and fans. Is not all about being a creative artist, but you also have to be a businessperson too. Don’t compromise your musical integrity for anyone.

What inspired you to host this event and how did you come up with the idea?
 I have been thinking about it for years. I grew up going to music festivals as a kid. We did this project around 2007 called 10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads. We made a documentary film and a live record touring and traveling around with blues musicians and playing with them spontaneously on the spot. I felt this was an amazing project. This festival is an extension of that and my love and appreciation of the blues. That’s why it is called the Backroads Blues festival. We launched it last year and we had Buddy Guy and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram perform. We want to reach out to multiple generations, and we want to feature the hottest talent in the genre. At this festival in Huber Heights, Ohio you are going to have the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, Eric Gales and “King” Solomon Hicks.

How does this festival differ from other blues festivals out there?
 The goal is this is a traveling festival, so this one is on tour. We have been trying to hone in on what the actual format consists of. We are still experimenting exactly what the best format is to do it. I think flexibility is important, especially in a lineup. We are also reaching out to different markets each year, as we are growing this thing and figuring out which markets it really resonates with. The goal for us is to really hone in on areas that really want this and for it to be an annual thing that people look forward to each year and they know we will be featuring the best talent in the genre.

Will there be any opportunities for fans to meet you guys or interact with you all?
 Since COVID, a lot of bands have been kind of slow to embrace that kind of thing again. In my organization we are starting to look at that stuff again. We used to host VIP in person meet and greets before the shows prior to COVID. We enjoyed doing it and the fans enjoyed being able to participate in it. We are starting to take a hard look at reintroducing it into our shows at least.

Can you share with me any memorable moments from the previous year of hosting this festival?
 A lot of these shows in the past 10 years or so have become these touring shows with multiple artists, where they have a house band and each artist plays with the house band. The great thing about this is each artist is playing with their own band, so they each get to play their own featured set; then at the end of the show, everybody comes together for the encore into a big jam. What I really like about it is each artist gets to do their own set and represent themselves as best as possible. This gives the artist an opportunity for the band to give their best performance.

In your opinion, what makes a blues festival unique compared to other music festivals and why do you think it continues to attract a dedicated audience?
 Everybody is one big family. A lot of collaboration takes place and that is the case with this music festival.