When I met Eryn Allen Kane, moments before her first show in New York, I had one question for her. I knew she was from Detroit, and resides in Chicago. As a fan of blues and soul music, I asked her if she felt intimidated or burdened by representing the musical legacies of those cities. Ms. Kane, small, soft-spoken and easy to smile, understood where I was coming from. I could tell that she instantly felt the weight of my arrogant question. I can paraphrase her answer with a simple “no”, but that doesn’t convey the confidence with which she took to the stage. Faced with a full capacity crowd, literally from the door to the balcony, the diminutive singer reintroduced the full-throated sounds of The Great Migration to an audience that knew what they were coming for – without asking questions. It was all show and prove; an hour of loud answers, hand claps and call and response.
Two days and eighty-five miles separated the times I saw Eryn Allen Kane perform; New York (Rockwood Music Hall) and Philadelphia (Milkboy), respectively, which she admitted were only her second and third live shows. Her mother, who had driven up from DC this Thursday night would attest to this, though this writer, and everyone in attendance would never believe that. It just wouldn’t be believable. The nearest non-music comparison I can use to explain the scary potential of the Detroit born singer is Tim Duncan, the soon-to-be NBA Hall of Famer. It’s said that he didn’t start playing basketball until high school. He developed an unflashy, consistent beauty to his game that will be his legacy. Projecting forward, I’ll one day reflect on these two performances I witnessed, her second and third, and know we’ll have seen the birth of an all-star. The Philadelphia show was a modern set of burners, which Kane delivers with the wit and charm of a seasoned vet, while buoyed by a young vigor that makes blues fresh.
The close of her show naturally left the audience wanting more. She confided to me after that she didn’t have an encore song prepared, so she relied on her go-to karaoke song, “Hit The Road, Jack”. It’s important to remember that this song, originally written by Percy Mayfield in 1960 became famous after being performed by Ray Charles. It has since been used in movie soundtracks, commercials retirement parties – it’s part of the American landscape. So, there’s almost an element of camp to choosing such a song at a karaoke event. It’s instant fun. But, given to a prodigal talent like Ms. Kane, the well-known song is transformed into a hard blues romp, Chicago-style, of course, and slack-jawed two people standing beside me. She said to me afterwards, “I said to the band, let’s play it. They know the blues, and it’s just blues.” Welcome back, blues and soul. We missed you.
Craig Carpenter is a filmmaker and photographer based in Philadelphia and New York. He has worked in commercial production, feature films, concert and music videos. His photography has appeared in the MMT post “The Life Celebration of radio legend and activist E. Steven Collins.”