Lady sings the blues … and she does it mighty fine.
The lady in question can be captivating, wickedly soulful and eloquent all at the same time. She is none other than Pennsylvania’s First Lady of Blues, Octavia, a singer, songwriter, guitarist, harmonica player and blues-infused wonder.
How gifted is this Philly native? So gifted one might ponder how all that talent can be crammed into just one person.
This Saturday, the Bullfrog Brewery in downtown Williamsport, will host, in all its blues glory, the Octavia Blues Band for a night filled with soulful sounds and songs.
“Few ladies play wicked harmonica, sing, play guitar, write songs and engage an audience with a powerful performance. Over the decades I have developed my own style on the harmonica to which I have been told is recognizably different than other harmonica players,” said Octavia. “I usually get into the audience and ‘work’ the crowd! It’s great fun.”
Pictures of smiling audience members under “Octavia attack” (www.octaviablues.com) show this.
“We are not simply playing and singing a bunch of songs. This band takes you on a journey of feel good,” she said.
That euphoric blues feeling occurs from the band’s carefully arranged tight shows filled with back-to-back high-energy blues dance music.
Hailing from varied backgrounds, each band member adds a different flare to the music while spicing the blues with different genres such as R&B rock and smooth to gritty jazz.
“We each are hopelessly in love with music and performing which proves to be nothing short of infectious to the audience. Our interactive performance highlights the electric chemistry amongst these musicians,” she said.
The fellow musicians are Chip Stanilla on lead guitar and vocals, Sherick Guthrie providing bass guitar and vocals along with Jamie Furhman on drums.
“The chemistry is wonderful. We love what we do and adore sharing it with you,” Octavia said.
“Original music is the character of a band and defines bands from each other. We’ve got tons of good original music many of which will be on my soon-to-be-released sixth album. On the other hand, we all love covers as they seem to mark time.”
Although she attended the Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts majoring in sculpture and painting, music has always been her first love and consistent.
That love also helped change her life many years ago during an Etta James concert at the Keystone in Berkeley.
Upon hearing Octavia play a few notes from her trusty harmonica, James handed her the mic and shortly after the concert, James asked the young musician to join her tour.
During the next several years, after touring with James, Octavia continued performing with a wide variety of bands across the U.S. and in Europe including The Allman Brothers Band, Freddy King, Gil Scott-Heron and The Iguanas.
Equally impressive are the acts Octavia and her band have opened for. They include B.B. King, Taj Mahal, Mavis Staples, Delbert McClinton, Elvin Bishop and The Muddy Waters Blues Band.
Other high points for the band include performing at the Gettysburg Blues Festival last month and a gig at the Baltimore Zoo for a crowd of 4,500 where they performed a mix of covers and original tunes.
Those original tunes is what recently helped the band, based in Lancaster County, win the opportunity to attend the International Blues Challenge in Memphis early next year, an honor they are proud to have bestowed upon them.
“I always yearned to play music and found the guitar fulfilled my needs at age 13. I purchased my first harmonica at age 16 and have stayed on a constant road of honing my skills since then,” Octavia said. “There’s something about that harmonica, a magic from the first time I played it which has driven me to who I am today.”
And where she is just happens to be heading to the Susquehanna Valley this weekend for a return visit to the Bullfrog and the fans who turn out every time she comes to play.
“If you wish to be transported to a place that will touch your soul and take you from your troubles for a moment in time and if you like honest from-the-heart blues performed with fire in a tight, engaging show where musicians interact transporting you to a place that makes you smile ... come to an Octavia Blues Band show,” she said.
“It’s a joy to share the music. I live for this music and do not assume anything about it or the business. I appreciate the blessing to share my life with music and the people who derive so much joy from it.”