Steve Strongman, the 2013 Maple Blues Guitarist of the Year, kicks off the Stir Crazy Blues Festival on Feb. 28.
Canada's reigning top blues guitarist, Steve Strongman, will be kicking off the 2013 Stir Crazy Blues Festival with a not-to-be-missed performance tonight.
Fresh off a trio of category wins at the 2013 Maple Blues Awards, Strongman will provide an unforgettable start to this year's three-day blues festival.
Strongman repeated as the prestigious Guitarist of the Year, along with earning SOCAN Songwriter of the Year honours, plus Recording/Producer of the Year for his third studio album A Natural Fact which was produced by Rob Szabo.
"I'm still taking it all in. It's started to settle in now, which is great. But I'm definitely still riding high from it," Strongman admitted during a phone interview in the midst of a blizzard from his Hamilton home.
Strongman was nominated in six Maple Blues Award categories for A Natural Fact, and he admits just that level of recognition for his work was memorable.
"To me, that's pretty amazing, the nominations themselves. I was really feeling like, it would be great if I won but if I didn't win I was still going to take pride and enjoyment out of the fact that I was nominated in six categories. But when they actually call your name it's a pretty great feeling. I still wasn't expecting it, I was just hoping to get one."
Strongman released A Natural fact in May 2012, a recording which featured his prowess as an acoustic artist in a departure from his trademark electric sound.
"It was a bit of a departure for me as an artists, because most people know me as a predominantly electric performer," he said. "But on all of my recordings there's always been an acoustic element, be it one song or two songs, and in my live performance there's an acoustic element as well. So to actually decide that I wanted to focus on the acoustic aspect of what it is that I do as an artist was sort of a big decision for me."
Strongman admits is has been rewarding for his acoustic album to be so well received.
"It's something I've always been drawn to. I played acoustic guitar for about five years before I ever even owned an electric guitar, so it's always been the basis for me. Most of the time even when I'm sitting around at home I'll play acoustic more than electric just because it's there and easy to grab and play," he said.
"The acoustic instrument has such an intense quality to it. I think that that really comes across."
When working on the album there were not only challenges in writing acoustic material, but also songs that remained true to his blues roots.
"I think that there's always challenges in trying to forge new ground, or to try and be fresh and original in a style of music like blues that's a more traditionally based style of music."
"I do write from personal experience," he admits. "Various songs on this album in particular, like the song Comin' Home Tonight, I wrote that when I was on tour in Europe and missing my family."
"I think that might be what's resonating with people is that as an artist you're trying to get that emotional connection with people through your songs, and if you're honest about what you're writing I think that that has a really good chance of hitting home."
Strongman kicks off the 2013 Stir Crazy Blues Festival on Feb. 28 at 9 p.m. at the Lyric Theatre. The festival line up also includes The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer on March 1, along with Shakura S’Aida on March 2.
Strongman will be performing his Swift Current show with his band but will also be doing a series of acoustic songs in order to cover the full spectrum of his music.
"It's sort of the best of both worlds for me, I like doing both," he said. "I think that people can expect a high energy, entertaining performance."
Strongman is looking forward to his six prairie concert dates on his current road trip, noting his Saskatchewan return is long overdue and he is happy to be returning. He is especially happy to have a trio of blues festival shows included in his mini tour.
"I love performing and doing what I do anyway. But I do think that there is a certain type of knowledge that happens with blues lovers that you can really connect with.
"It is a niche market and the people that are there are obviously big music fans, and I think that comes across in how attentive they are at shows and how supportive they are."
Strongman has toured extensively during a two decade blues career, but has also been able to reach music lovers around the world via social media and You Tube.
"It's a wonderful time to be an artist these days because you really have so much power as an artist to get to your fans and you have so much connection with your fans."
One YouTube posting is a video tutorial on how to play his song River, as he explains his picking pattern and chording in an intermediate to advanced tutorial. The idea came in response to a large number of fan emails asking Strongman how to do specific things on the guitar.
"What a great idea. Why don't I just throw something up there. And I think that's something that I'm going to start doing a little bit more of because the response has been so strong to that."
He has also been able to provide other fans with more direct insights to his playing. While touring overseas he gave a Master Class in France for the song River.
"It was amazing because the people in France couldn't really speak English that well, and I couldn't speak French that well, yet I was still able to teach them what I wanted to get across with that song. So it just proves that music is the universal language."
Stir Crazy Blues Festival advance tickets are available at Pharmasave, with additional information on tickets and corporate tables available by calling Shann at 306-778-2686.