Katie Knipp at the Sweetwater Music Hall, by Carolyn McCoy
Katie Knipp (photo: Carolyn McCoy)

Review by Carolyn McCoy

Katie Knipp saunters onto the stage as her backing band paves the way for her entrance with a healthy groove, her long brown hair flying after her as she takes a seat at her keyboard. Her smile is electric and she greets her audience with a huge hello then begins to pound away a bluesy strut on her keys. All at once, her voice pummels me with its brute force and the show begins — BAM! “I don’t sing for you anymore…”

Knipp hails from Sacramento and is fast becoming one of Northern California’s darlings in blues. Her most recent album, Take It With You, landed at #10 on Billboard’s Blues Album chart alongside blues masters like Buddy Guy and Kenny Wayne Shepard, not to mention she was on the ballot for a Grammy nomination. Knipp takes her music seriously, writing songs that span the gamut of blues-inspired subjects such as murder, abuse, war, drugs, sex, and psychotic love. She sings these songs with great exuberance, allowing her deep, powerful, and full voice to be the muse of the lyrics, punctuating each verse with syrupy vibrato, juicy howls, fierce moans, or a “fuck you” attitude — all controlled with sheer brilliance.

Her recent show at Mill Valley’s Sweetwater Music Hall was a wonderful showcase of her talents, as seeing her live one gets to witness the pure physicality of her performance style and virtuosity on keyboards, harmonica, and her dobro. Even though her music is blues, it’s definitely a modern version of the blues with a more rock and roll bent to the sound. “You Make It So Hard To Sing The Blues” bespeaks of how being in love made life better, “Metro In Paris” is a super sexy, piano-driven siren call to “bringing you home,” while “Get Out Of My Dream” tells of an old, forgotten lover resurfacing in her mind.

Knipp’s band has some sort of magnetic connection to her, and they hold Knipp’s songs like an attentive lover. “I feel safest when I am with them,” she tells me backstage. Lead guitarist Chris Martinez bounces off of Knipp’s playing with tandem magic, weaving pure blues chords in out and out her songs. Bassist Zachary Proteau and drummer Neil Campisano create such an intense pulse that I literally felt it in my bones, and percussionist/woodwind maven Otis Mourning adds such depth and feeling with his horns (sax, oboe) that melded so beautifully with the music.

Knipp has worked very hard to get to where she is, and she is grateful for her musical career. It’s been her strong drive and deep appreciation of her audience that makes it so fun for her, “I feel like a kid on a trampoline,” she states of her experiences of being onstage. “It’s wonderful, and I always want to bear hug every single person afterward.” And she did.