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From Indiana to Colorado, a strange trend has started. Restaurants and bars are filling up early. Couples unaware of the phenomenon walk in with smiles that quickly droop and turn to disappointed frowns as the host explains that it’s reservations only tonight. The house is full. Armed with menus and beers, the waitstaff try to please the patrons without realizing it’s not food they came for. Then it happens. A pretty, curly haired girl in cowgirl boots steps onto the stage. She’s got a guitar. Two more follow behind her. The countless people seated around the room, only a moment ago a group of unrelated strangers, suddenly have one thing in common: they’re all silent. The music starts, and for the next 3 hours, they all have two things in common: they can’t look away, and they’re smiling. The band tears into its business with a fiery confidence. Impassioned guitar solos and funky grooves weave a web of emotionally charged improvisations that sound like notes but feel like confessions and dreams and hope all wrapped up in one. The band plays on, and for three small hours, a miracle happens: 100 strangers sit in a room, and the prevailing thought is not how they differ, but rather how they agree: come hell or high water, they’re coming back next time.
THE SAD SAM BLUES JAM is all that and more! This band is oozing with talent, and people have started to notice. Across the country, teenage sisters Sadie (guitar) and Sam Johnson (bass) have been turning heads and dropping jaws with their rare combination of veteran skill and youthful energy. Krista Hess (guitar) and Matt McCarthy (drums) fill out the lineup, which has spent the past several years regularly converting strangers into fans, and fans into fanatics.
Band-leader Sadie Johnson began playing guitar at the age of 6. Now 17, Sadie has become one of the most well-rounded players in an alarmingly musical city. From an early entrance into the world renowned Bloomington High School advanced jazz program, to open jams and gigs, to lessons with local masters, the young guitarist/singer has soaked up influences and experiences from every corner of the regional music scene, and is stepping out onto the national stage a fiercely talented performer. Her already impressive resume of major American awards continues to grow, recently taking in the Ball State Jazz Fest’s Frank "Tooth" Mantooth Award for Outstanding Musician of the Festival. Sadie was also named one of the 12 best performers at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Fest in Idaho, out of 200+ schools in attendance. Recently, Sadie has been chosen to join the Brotherhood of the Guitar, a group started by rock photographer Robert Knight. Backed by Fender, the group seeks to help young talent establish musical careers. She has played with Samantha Fish, Kate Moss, Jimmy Carpenter, and Blues Traveler, to name a few.
What Sadie offers in the form of raw, prodigious musical ability, older sister Sam Johnson elevates and compliments with sheer force of showmanship. An accomplished musician herself (electric and upright bass, guitar, clarinet, drums, and vocals), Sam dominates the stage with her relentless energy, radiating a contagious sense of fun that audiences are more than happy to catch. Sam calls the shots on stage, keeping the band locked in and well directed with her dramatic movements and broad musical sensitivity. Boasting talents too great for any single pursuit, the 18 year old is already a published novelist, and is currently pursuing a degree in creative writing at the University of Evansville, in between gigs of course.
Things started happening fast for the sisters in the summer of 2012, when they met John Catt and Samantha Fish at the 10th Annual Blues from the Top Festival in Colorado. Evolving into a full blown band, The Sad Sam Blues Jam has since played at the International Blues Challenge in 2013 and 2014, provided entertainment at Lucas Oil Stadium for Colts games, been featured in countless blues festivals throughout the Midwest, and gigged several times weekly along the way. Just two years after their first trip, Sadie and Sam will return to the 2014 Blues from the Top Festival before beginning their first national tour, kicking off at legendary Kansas City blues venue, Knuckleheads, this summer.
But this time, they’re bringing friends. Krista Hess is a freshman in Belmont University’s prestigious guitar performance program. Her relentless pursuit of musical excellence and passion for the blues has landed Krista above and beyond her peers. Balancing aggressive, technically flawless guitar-work with soft, inviting vocals, Krista brings new colors to the band’s pallet. Drummer Matt McCarthy rounds out the group with a shockingly versatile musical track-record. A graduate of Indiana University, Matt has studied under internationally acclaimed teachers, performed with dozens of bands, done session work, taught private lessons, and toured previously. Recently, the band released its first EP, on which Matt served as both drummer and producer. His playing draws on the full range of his past drumming experiences, and he provides the musical artillery to back the girls’ fireworks.
While the sheer depth of musical experience and talent in the band speaks loudly enough to attract new ears, it’s only part of the equation. In a world where Youtube prodigies are only ever a click away, and where every garage band in the neighborhood has an album out, it is the sincerity of the connection formed between performer and audience member at a Sad Sam Blues Jam show that sets the band apart. Sadie herself summed it up best, saying “I play music not for the money, not for myself, not to be recognized. I do it because when I’m up on stage, there’s that one guy in the back corner who’s having a bad day ... and he starts watching. And you entertain everybody, but you keep your eye on that guy the whole show. And by the end he’s having a great time.”