An extremely talented saxophonist and female blues musician will be in our area for two exciting gigs this week (and when we say extremely talented, this artist is a 2019 Blues Music Award Nominee for “Best Contemporary Female Blues Artist” and “Instrumentalist of the Year – Horn”, a 5-time BMA Nominee Overall!!) The first performance is a sold out, intimate performance at The Exchange as part of their Destination Blues Listening Room on Wednesday and the second is at the Berwick Brewing Company as part of the Destination Blues Festival this Saturday evening. This performer is none other than Vanessa Collier from Philadelphia, PA.
Vanessa started her music career from humble beginnings. She has been playing sax since she was 9 years old. She is originally from Columbia, Maryland but later moved to Philadelphia after her parents took jobs at the University of Delaware. Vanessa attended college at Berklee College of Music and in-between semesters she toured with Joe Louis Walker for a year and a half. It was through this tour that she was first introduced to Central PA through the Billtown Blues Festival. While on tour Joe encouraged her to strike out on her own. And strike out she did. From the Billtown Blues Festival, Vanessa went on to compete with her band at a local competition that sent her off to Memphis with two other bands. While in Memphis, she had fun packing out Club 52 for three consecutive nights. From Memphis, she participated in a Blues Cruise and was further connected with the great Blues musicians in the scene.
Her connection to Bloomsburg is all thanks to Bonnie Tallman, the Executive Director of the Billtown Blues Fest. Vanessa first started out at Destination Blues by playing the Gospel Sunday part of the Festival. Since that gig in 2015, she has been coming back for the past four years. She considers Central PA to be her home-base.
This year Vanessa will be starting things out at The Exchange on Wednesday evening with a much more intimate performance where it’s all about the music, nothing else. The Listening Room performance will feature Vanessa and phenomenal guitar player Arthur Neilson. This is the first time she’ll be playing with Arthur. Vanessa enjoys the intimate gigs as it provides more opportunity to experience the vocals and she feels more connected to the crowd. Those lucky enough to get a ticket before the event sold out are in for an amazing musical performance.
Following The Listening Room, Vanessa will be headed to Berwick to The Berwick Brewing Company for a lively performance featuring her full band starting at 8:30 PM on Saturday, March 2nd. There is no cover for this event it is part of the 5th annual Destination Blues Festival that features 25 acts across 18 venues in Bloomsburg, Berwick, and Danville.
When Vanessa is not on stage, she teaches saxophone, voice and music theory. While we were interviewing Vanessa, she jokingly stated: “Even the best artists have to teach.” She really enjoys teaching as it’s a way for her to give back to the community and bring up the next generation of musicians. Her teaching has fluctuated from ten students in the beginning to as many as thirty-five last year. Presently she teaches twenty-four students as a way to find that perfect work/touring/life balance.
Vanessa is really a great example of how hard work and collaboration can take you far. It’s through her willingness to partner up with other musicians or simply just tag along as a way to network and get more connected in the industry. Her stubbornness and focus on her vision for what she is after have led her to great things. In 2017 she was voted the most popular Briggs Farm act and was a featured artist in three major tours across Europe as part of Ruf’s 2017 Blues Caravan. Also at the Ottawa Blues Festival, she earned two front-page newspaper photos and rave reviews after her foot stomping debut there. She’s played the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise twice, where she earned the Jammingest Pro Award and was a featured artist with Tommy Castro’s Blues Review. If you have an opportunity to see Vanessa this weekend, I highly suggest you head on out to the Berwick Brewing Company.