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Shemekia Copeland brings the blues to The Colonial

August 10, 2011
BETHLEHEM The Colonial shook with a powerful blast of blues, funk and soul Friday night as singer Shemekia Copeland and her band took to the stage for two hours of pure force and entertainment.

With a set of pipes that called to mind blues singer KoKo Taylor, Copeland opened with "Dirty Water" off her 2009 album "Never Going Back," and hardly a soul in the audience could keep their feet still.

She peppered her performance with quips about her songs and life, which drew the audience closer to her in the already intimate 300-seat theater.

"I've got 939 songs about ex-boyfriends, so it's gonna be a long night," joked Copeland as she slid into "Givin' Up You" a song about "giving up things that aren't good for you."

The 32-year-old has been steadily building her career since the 1998 release of her first album, "Turn the Heat Up," but her work truly goes back to her father, Johnny Copeland, a blues guitarist and singer who passed away in 1997.

He encouraged her singing, and, contrary to the stereotype of musicians, she said, "he was a great father." She dedicated her rendition of "Ghetto Child," which he also sang, to his memory and to her mother.

Throughout the night, Copeland teetered on a pair of fiery-red heels shoes are an obsession, she said but halfway through "Ghetto Child" she slipped them off and walked among the audience.

"I'm just the ghetto child

Somebody, please, please help the ghetto child

I'm just the ghetto child

In this so-called, in this so-called free land," she sang without a mic her big, spectacular voice didn't need the aid of technology.

Her style, as with "Salt in My Wounds," stirred up comparisons with Etta James, and she encouraged the audience in a "soul clap" to "Born a Penny," but it was "Big Lovin' Woman" that left many of the theater seats empty as people hurried to dance on the floor in front of the stage.

Her 13-year career has given rise to five albums, and in January of this year, Alligator Records released a deluxe edition of her work. At first that worried her, she said, as she thought deluxe editions meant a singer was on their way out. Then she eventually realized, "Deluxe just means you've put out a lot of records," and if her growing popularity is any indication, she will put out many more.

At the Chicago Blues Festival in June she was crowned "Queen of the Blues," a title held by KoKo Taylor until she passed away in 2009. Cookie Taylor, her daughter, presented Copeland with KoKo's tiara.

New Orleans' singer-songwriter Dr. John, another big influence on her career, helped her with her 2004 album, "Talking to Strangers," from which she sang "When a Woman's Had Enough." And Copeland has also shared stages with Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Tay Mahal and John Mayer, not to mention opening for the Rolling Stones and headlining many festivals around the world, according to her website.

Her band also has a lot of talent and is made up of Arthur Nielson -- who has played with her for 13 years on guitar, Kevin Jenkins on bass guitar, Willie Scandlyn on rhythm guitar and Morris Roberts on Drums.

Copeland was just one of many acts The Colonial has had and will have for its 10th season.

"We try to bring interesting, up-and-coming talent to the North Country all the time," said Stephen Dignazio, executive director.

Still on tap at the theater are tango pianist Pablo Ziegler with the North Country Chamber Players at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12; Alloy Orchestra, a three-man ensemble performing accompaniment to silent films, at 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27; North Country Chamber Players performing music from Jewish composers at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11; and Bruce Cockburn at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15. The theater also offers movies, entertainment for children and other special events.

The theater is working to meet a challenge donation of $35,000 and needs help raising another $10,000. Ed and Nancy Roberts of Littleton will donate $35,000 to the theater if it can match that amount, said Dignazio.

For more information about the theater, visit www.bethlehemcolonial.org. For more information about Copeland, visitwww.shemekiacopeland.com.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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